Sermon: Jesus Walks on Water
There are some Christians who seem to think Christianity is meant to be an insurance policy against all difficulty and suffering. They dogmatically believe every sick person should be healed and that God wants Christians to be affluent. They think that life should be one uninterrupted string of miracles.
But the Christian life isn’t like that. Such people are ignorant of the world church (where millions of Christians suffer much more than we do), church history (where some of the greatest saints have suffered terribly) and of the New Testament (which doesn’t support their views). And the story in today’s reading begins with a difficult situation.
“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” (verses 22-23). But then, just when things got difficult for the disciples, they had to face:
The apparent absence of Jesus
“When evening came, [Jesus] was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” (verses 23-24). The disciples were facing a storm and Jesus was not there. Apparently he didn’t know about their difficulties.
The fact is that sometimes it seems Jesus is not there just when we need him. Our prayers are not answered. In fact the opposite happens to what we prayed for. This happened to my wife and me recently. We were praying about something important and decided to have a time of fasting and prayer. During that time there was a phone call and it seemed that a positive answer to our prayers was coming. It was a remarkable “coincidence” and we were encouraged. Then, three hours later, just the opposite of what we had prayed for happened. Have you had that sort of experience?
There is some truth in the saying: “Just when it seems life can’t get any worse, it does.” It sometimes seems that Jesus is not there or he’s not listening or he isn’t aware of our needs and problems.
But that’s an illusion. The disciples felt they were on their own, having to face the storm without Jesus. Then, writes Matthew, “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake” (verse 25). Jesus knew of their need and came to them.
Secondly, Peter was called upon to face:
The exciting challenge of Jesus
“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” (verses 27-29).
So Peter was called out of the relative safety of the boat to walk on the water like Jesus. This was a great act of faith on Peter’s part.
Because our faith-relationship with him is the most important thing in our lives, Jesus often challenges and stretches our faith. He calls out of our comfort zones.
Here are some of the comfort zones Jesus calls us out of: not letting on we’re Christians, not speaking about our faith, not taking a stand for the truth.
However, there is another vital truth in this story. That is:
The crucial centrality of Jesus
Poor Peter. He made this amazing act of faith and, to begin with, all was well. Nowadays he might have had visions of travelling the evangelical/charismatic conference scene, proclaiming the “Walking on the Water Ministry” which all really switched-on Christians should be involved in!
Then, he took his eyes off Jesus. “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?’” (verses 29-31).
There is a spiritual lesson here. We “sink” when we take our eyes off Jesus and look at the worrying, threatening circumstances. We sink into anxiety, stress and depression. Whilst we look at Jesus, i.e. remember he is with us we shall “walk on the water” – have the faith to overcome anxiety, stress and depression.
The boat may be rocking but he is here. The storm may be raging but he is here. The shore may be far away but he is here. And that makes all the difference.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page