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August 10, 2014 - Matthew 14.22-33

“Rocks Sink”

Matthew 14:22-33

August 10, 2014

 

22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus disperses the crowds, puts the disciples on a boat, and sends them ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. In the meantime he goes up on a nearby mountain to pray. Jesus is praying. The disciples are paddling. It doesn't take long for them to run headlong into a storm at sea. The wind blows against them. They struggle all night against the storm, paddling as hard as they could, trying their best to make it to the other side.

By four o'clock in the morning, they are cold, wet, exhausted, and afraid for their lives. It started to look as if they might never make it to the other side. Theirs would not be the first boat to embark on the journey across the dark waters of the deep, never to be heard from again. Many boats and many sailors had met their fate in the chaotic waters. By four in the morning they have had about all they can take. They're wearied, battered, and seasick from the rough waves. Their hands are blistered from their struggle against the storm. It looks like it is curtains for them.

Just then one of the disciples looks up, and amidst the sea mist and clouds he sees a figure coming closer on the dark waves. As if the storm wasn't scary enough, now they are all terrified by what looks like a ghost walking on the whitecaps.

Sensing their fear, Jesus is quick to identify himself. "Don't be afraid. It's me." But they're still not sure. So, Peter speaks up. "Lord, if it's really you, then tell me to walk on water with you."

Is it just me, or is that a strange request? I would have expected Peter to say, "Lord, if it's you, then calm this storm." After all, Jesus has already done that in the Gospel of Matthew. Back in chapter eight, all the disciples are again in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, only this time Jesus was with them. He was asleep in the stern of the boat when a vicious storm came out of nowhere. The disciples thought they were all going to die. But Jesus woke up, lifted his hands toward heaven and said, "Peace. Be still." And everything was still. Not even a bird chirped in the air. Nothing but silence.

Well, here they have been trying to steer a course into this storm all night. They're tired. They're cold. They're wet. I would think Peter would say, "Jesus, if that's really you, then make this storm stop." But he doesn't.

Or, since they have just had this miraculous dinner of fish and bread, I would think Peter might say, "Lord, if it's really you, then what did we have for dinner?" But instead he says, "Lord, if it's you, then tell me to walk on water with you."

I don't think that would have occurred to me. If I'm in a boat being battered by waves, seasick and tired, out on seas that are tossing my boat around like a toy, the last place I would think to ask to go would be out of the boat. But when the ghostly figure comes walking out to them on the water and identifies himself as Jesus, the first way Peter thinks of for him to prove it was to ask to walk on water.

Why would this be the thing that Peter would ask of Jesus?

To understand Peter's request, I think we have to understand a little about the background of Jesus' world. See, Peter was Jesus' disciple. When we think of the word disciple, we generally equate it with the word student. When we think of disciples, we think of the 12 people - Peter, James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Judas, Philip, and Bartholomew (the rest get a little fuzzy, but you get the point) - who sat at Jesus' feet and listened to his teachings. A disciple as somebody who knows what his master knows.

A disciple wanted to do what his teacher did. A disciple wanted to talk like his teacher talked. A disciple wanted to walk like his teacher walked. A disciple devoted his entire life to being just like his rabbi.

So Peter is just being a good disciple when he asks to walk on water with Jesus. He wants to do what his rabbi is doing. He wants to be just like Jesus walking on the waves. Because Jesus is walking on the whitecaps, Peter wants to too.

But notice that Peter doesn't just jump out of the boat and start walking. He's smart enough to know that if he's going to do something as impossible as walking on water, it will be because Jesus calls him. And if Jesus calls him, then it's sort of understood that Jesus will make the impossible possible. Peter knows that if he just hops out on his own initiative, he will sink like a rock. But if Jesus calls him out of the boat to walk on the water, it will be like he's walking on solid ground. So Peter says, "Lord, if it is you please call me to come to you on the water. Call me to do what you are doing. Call me to be like you."

Peter is my hero.  Often times he is the one who speaks up.  He is the one that is bold and brave.  He is the most passionate disciple.  In our text today, we see a real Peter kind of moment.  Walking on water.  Peter walks on water – for a little bit.  Then he sinks.  I have heard sermon after sermon on this, and they always say the same thing:  “Peter could have kept on walking on the water, if he had just kept his eyes on Jesus.  So you keep your eyes on Jesus.”  Well, that’s good.  It’s true, he could have.  And we all need to keep our eyes on Jesus.  But is that all we can get from this?  Is there something more we can learn from Pete?

 

This is a story for the church.  It is just Jesus and the disciples.  It is sandwiched between two crowd stories.  The sea always represents chaos in Hebrew thought.  To be at sea was scary – evoking images of death.  The disciples are an image of the church.  Church is always seen as a boat.  The sea is the world in which we find ourselves and the church of Christ is the boat, which keeps us safe.

 

The church is always thought of as a ship on the sea.  The nave, etc.  The church is in trouble and here comes Jesus to them over the stormy waves.

 

Isn’t Peter’s problem not just that he took his eyes off of Jesus, but also that he wants proof of Jesus presence?  What would have been the point of Peter walking on the water with Jesus?  It would have made him a lot cooler than the other disciples.  Would they have just walked along the top of the sea?  Jesus was going somewhere, and Peter just wasn’t willing to wait.  Peter was scared.  Peter wanted proof that it was Jesus coming to them.  Isn’t that like testing God, kind of like Satan did to Jesus in the desert?  “If you are really the Son of God, turn these stones to bread…If that is really you, Jesus, make me walk on water out to you…” Very similar.  Jesus tells him, “ye of little faith – why did you doubt?”  He doubted it was Jesus. 

 

Seems to me that Peter fails an awful lot.  His name is Rock, after all. Jesus calls him “Satan”.  Charcoal fire, pt. I. – his denial.  Charcoal fire, pt. II – Jesus reminding him of his duties.

 

Peter seems to me to be there to always blurt out the wrong thing at the wrong time, and you have to love him for it.  That’s when I feel like Peter is speaking for me.  I never feel like the Peter that actually walks on the water for a bit, but I can identify with the one that sinks.  Often he says what we say:

  • “Lord, I have been good and I have served you well.Please make my life easy and keep me exempt from the storm of illness.”

  • “God, since I have gone to the trouble to be here at church, in the middle of summer, even when the club tournament teed of 40 minutes ago, I really think you ought to show me some irrefutable sign of your presence, don’t you?That way I will feel my faith has been justified.”

  • “God, I really want to be Super Christian!I will believe with such conviction that the storms of life will not even phase me!”

  • “You have just got to have faith!Don’t let these storms of life scare you.If you are scared, you must not lose faith.Just close your eyes, jump and demand that God catch you, and He will.”

Are those approaches to faith real?  Is that what Jesus wants us to do?

 

I do not think that Matthew’s main point is that if Peter had had enough faith, he could have walked on the water.  Just as I do not believe that if we all have enough faith, we will not need to go to the doctor.  I do not believe that all my financial concerns will vanish if I simply “claim my faith promise,” no matter how many letters Benny Hinn sends me.  God is not some cosmic Santa Claus that gives us enough faith to pick the winning numbers for the lottery.  If we try to think that way, we have really missed the point of faith.

 

Peter doubts that what he is seeing is Jesus.  Peter is scared.  But Peter has the courage to leave the boat, which is good.  Perhaps the real point here is that Peter acknowledges his doubts and fear to Jesus!  He is the only disciple to stand up and say, “Jesus, if that is really you…” Everyone else keeps quiet.  No one is shouting “Good! Here comes Jesus to save us!”  But they should have been.  They were all scared!  Only Peter says something.  Only Peter has the courage to try…and fail.  No one else fails, but neither do they succeed.  That’s why Peter was called Rock.  Not because he sinks, but because the faith he shows is the foundation of our life as Disciples of Jesus.

 

Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is the foundation of all of our faith.

 

Jesus announces to his disciples, “It is I!”  Peter is honest and responds, “Lord, if that really is you…” and the entire group says “Lord you are truly the Son of God.”

 

The failure Peter is later transformed into the Peter preaching in Acts, where the power of God flows through him like lightning from a thundercloud.  Would Peter, who sank like a Rock, have been able to be who he was if he had not had the faith in Jesus to risk admitting his doubts?  Would he have become who he was if he had not been willing to jump ship?  I don’t think so. 

 

What about you?  What kind of faith do you have?  Do you have the faith that calls out to Jesus in fear and doubt and is willing to plunge into the water to be with Him?  Or are you willing to be silent and sit in the boat?  Are you even in the boat at all?