Of all the miracles Jesus performs, this one probably gets the most scrutiny from non-believers. Mainly because, on its surface, it seems like Jesus is just showing off. What reason could Jesus possibly have to be strolling on a lake? Most of the other miracles Jesus performs have an immediate impact on someone else’s life: a healing, the feeding of a crowd of thousands of people with a lunch fit for two, and exorcising demons.
I’ve heard this passage preached many times, most of which cover the “what” in this passage — namely, the part Peter plays in the story. We’ll get there soon enough, but before we do, let’s look a bit at why Jesus may have been out there standing on water in the first place.
That Alone Time…
A couple weeks ago we looked at Matthew 14:13-21 where we learned that Jesus was looking for some alone time after hearing about the death of John The Baptist. On his way there, a few thousand people (and by few, I mean at least eight or nine) came to see him for healing. He heals them, then feeds all of them until they were satisfied, with just two fish and five loaves.
This is the event preceding the “Immediately after” found at the start of Matt. 14:22. Immediately after the people had been healed and fed, and after he’d made his point with the 12 baskets of leftovers, Jesus put his disciples in a boat and told them go on ahead. Then he everyone away so that he could get back to that planned alone time on the mountainside with God.
He was there all night. In fact, he was there so long the boat carrying the disciples had gotten pretty far ahead of him.
There are many spiritual lessons in this passage, but I wonder how predetermined they were. For instance, some biblical commentaries suggest Jesus sent his disciples away intentionally into the storm in order to use it as a time for teaching. And I suppose that could be true.
But I see it far more simply. I think Jesus just needed to catch up with the disciples. I think the hour was late (or early), and that getting someone to give him a boat ride into a storm to catch up with the disciples was probably unlikely. So, he walked on the water.
As I study scripture, they don’t seem to suggest Jesus always knows everything before they happen. In fact, the scriptures often show what appears to be a spontaneity in Jesus. I imagine him often waiting to hear what the Spirit wants him to do next, and then doing it immediately.
As it were, I think the scene with Peter was an unplanned event. Peter, also clearly spontaneous, makes an already miraculous event even more so because of his willingness, at least for a moment, to act immediately on the word of Jesus; in the same way Jesus was so willing to act on the word of the Holy Spirit throughout his ministry.
Personally, I empathize deeply with Peter. In fact, if there is anyone in the Bible who I see myself in… it’s Peter. And I’m talking the gospels Peter, the not-quite-put-together version (though he has his unflattering moments in Acts as well).
But more than me, I see the Church in Peter as well. Peter gets it, and he doesn’t get it. One minute he’s saying Jesus is the Messiah, the next, he’s discouraging him from his main mission to go to the cross. One minute, he’s telling Jesus he’d die for him, the next he’s denying him. One minute he’s chopping off ears ready to fight, and the other, he’s running away scared… and one minute, he’s actually walking on water, and the very next, he’s sinking to the bottom in doubt.
This is so us. We flip flop the way Peter did, like fish fresh out of water. We flow from one extreme to the next. From contentment to anxiety. From freedom to fear. All in a matter of seconds. At times, the call of God is so clear, so real, and yet we are unable to sustain the sort of faith that will keep us moving. So many things stand in the way of our faith: our logic and reason, our sense of social responsibility, our need to please others, our fear of uncomfortable circumstances.
Jesus wants to do great things in and through us, but our doubt stands in the way of progress. Our doubt hitches us to our posts, keeping us from running free and unfettered. Jesus’ words, “Why did you doubt?” form a stinging inquiry that echoes in the hearts of Christians everywhere. It is as much a plea as it is a question.
Where in your life do you see Jesus walking on water? Has he called you out to walk with him? If he has, are you doing it? If not, what’s in the way? Do you not believe that God, the author and finisher of your faith, will complete in you the task he has called you to accomplish?
Perhaps it’s time you and I got out of the boat and into the storm… where Jesus is.
What’s God calling you to do? What’s stopping you from stepping out in faith in obedience to him?
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