Matthew 14:22-36: “A Walk on the Water”
Sunday morning worship, August 12, 2018
Let me set the stage. We’re a conquered nation living under an oppressive rule that is taxing us to death. Still, some of our own leaders are getting quite wealthy and enjoying a pretty good life by collaborating with the enemy. No one presently sticks up for us; no one defends our cause, the cause of the disenfranchised. The rules are oppressive and life is wearing us down. Along comes a man named Jesus who speaks words that make sense and resonate deeply. His words are the kind of words the great Old Testament prophets said our Savior, the Messiah, would utter one day. This Jesus does more than say pretty words. He has already brought back to life ordinary people like us. He has cast out demons and restored men and children, actually bringing families joyfully back to wholeness. He has healed the lame, the blind, and all kinds of diseases. He’s not a warrior; He’s a man of peace.
But our minds wander: “If we revolt against Rome and this Jesus is our king, then if we die on the battlefield he can bring us back to life. If we are wounded or hurting, he can make us well again. He doesn’t ask for money, but what He teaches about money is far superior to the demands of those presently ruling us religiously and politically.” Now this Jesus has just fed 5,000 men and more women and children with a paltry lunch any of us could afford. Hope is returning. The thoughts in our minds are coalescing. John writes in his Gospel: “After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (6:14-15).
Now let’s narrow our thoughts from the general populace; we are one of the chosen 12. Matthew writes, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” (14:22-24).
More than likely our thoughts were the same thoughts the general populace was thinking. We know from the Garden of Gethsemane Peter was ready to go to war against the oppressive Jewish leadership and even Rome itself (see John 18:10f). We know Judas wanted a different kingdom than Jesus would offer (see Matthew 26:14f). We know another one of the Apostles was a zealot, a Jewish religious group dedicated to overthrowing the Roman government (Matthew 10:4). More than likely that’s why “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side while he dismissed the crowd.” Look at that sentence again: “Jesus made the disciples..go on ahead of him.”
Think about every sermon you’ve ever heard about “walking with Holy Spirit.” Did anyone ever hear a pastor or a teacher say it’s a good thing to get ahead of Jesus? Doesn’t “walking with” someone mean being at their side? So even though the Apostles’ and the crowd’s thoughts were already running ahead of God’s plan for mankind and the Jewish nation in particular, it really doesn’t make sense for the Apostles to get ahead of Jesus and His plan. So why would Jesus make them go ahead of Him?
I think a better way for us to think about Jesus’ actions is to remember the crowd and the Apostles were already going ahead of Jesus. They already had formulated a plan contrary to the plan God had for Jesus. If Jesus didn’t send them on ahead the Apostles and the crowd might be tempted to join forces with a plan that was the same plan Satan offered Jesus before Jesus began His public ministry. “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9).
Jesus turned that offer down once; now Jesus rejected the same offer a second time. He dismissed the crowd, let the Apostles see that human strength is, was, and always will be insufficient to accomplish God’s plans or build God’s kingdom, and then went and kept Himself in the center of God’s plans by opening His heart and mind to His Father in prayer.
“Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down” (Matthew 14:25-32).
I love this story. I love being on the water even though I’ve been seasick a few times. I put myself right in that boat as John writes, “A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles” (6:18-19).
Sailors have a long history of seeing things in and on the water that aren’t there. Anyone who can think a manatee is a mermaid can believe Jesus walking on the water was a ghostly apparition. I don’t believe Peter got out of the boat as some great act of faith. I believe Peter didn’t believe the real Jesus was there when he was in trouble. Think it through for a moment. I don’t know how many could row a boat at a time, but if up to 12 of them couldn’t get anywhere against the wind, how could a person walk faster than they could row? Jesus wasn’t in a boat. They had left Jesus on the shore with the crowd. Now it seemed as if Jesus was within a few feet of their boat.
Why would Jesus even want to walk on the water in the midst of a storm? I thought about that a lot this week. The best answer I could come up with was, “How else was Jesus going to reach them to rescue them?” Jesus was a man with human limitations. I admit walking on water is stretching those limitations, but Jesus couldn’t be in a body and be two places at once. If the apostles were on the lake and Jesus wanted to help them get back to walking WITH Jesus instead of RUNNING AHEAD of Jesus, they were going to need His help. So He went to them. But Jesus could only be one place at one time in a human body. That’s why Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit can be WITH everyone everywhere at the same time.
Let’s review. When we run ahead of Jesus’ plans for us or Jesus lets us have our own way and we get ahead of Him, chances are good we are soon going to find ourselves in trouble. When we are in trouble, chances are good we are first going to try harder—row harder, so to speak. It’s only when we cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” that we get the help we need.
Jesus will come to us when we are in trouble, but Mark’s version of this story says, “Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them” (6:48). So even though Jesus went to them when they were in trouble, Jesus would have kept walking and passed them by unless they cried out to Him for help. Can we see why I love this story so much? Can we really understand how life is supposed to work from this story? Throw in Jesus’ comment to Peter about his lack of faith and the fact that once they were reunited in the boat all of their problems went away, all of our answers are here if we care to find them. Happy hunting!