Sunday the 13th of August 2017
Matthew 14: 22-33
I wonder if you have had experiences in your life that have really rocked you, that have shaken you up a bit. Those times in life where everything seems to be going to plan and then all of a sudden something happens that changes things. Maybe it was the death of the loved one; the loss of a close friend; the loss of a job; maybe even the realization that life was not going to go how you hoped it would. These are only examples; I am sure there are many other things that interrupt our lives and cause us to be unsettled. It is not surprising that in these times it is not only in life that we are unsettled, but that our relationship with our Lord can also become difficult.
This morning I am going to preach on the Gospel reading from Matthew 14 which is the very well known account of Jesus walking on the water and Peter coming out to him and sinking. I have heard many sermons over the years that have put the emphasis on Peter and his stepping out in faith, but then taking his eyes off Jesus and sinking. I am sure that we can all identify with Peter here and see how this applies to our own lives. But this morning I want to take a deeper look at what’s going on in this account and look at it from a different perspective.
The beginning of Matthew 14 begins with the tragic death of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a person of great significance for the ministry of Jesus, as it was John who told people of the coming Kingdom of God; it was John who pointed people to Jesus; it was John who spoke God’s Word about what was coming. Because of John, the expectations around what was going to happen at the time were high, and now all of a sudden he was dead.
Jesus, upon hearing this news, tried to get away (in last week’s reading), but the crowds followed him. And in today’s reading he sent his disciples out ahead of him, so that he could be alone, so that he could be by himself. The death of John the Baptist had an impact on Jesus and he needed to be by himself. At this point in time, the disciples may well have wondered about Jesus’ ministry. What did John’s death mean for the future? Did John get it wrong? Is Jesus really the messiah? How could something like this happen? They had experienced a shock and now Jesus went off to be by himself. What did this mean?
In last week’s reading, Jesus shows himself to be the incarnation of the Lord, the one who multiplies food in the wilderness and in today’s reading he again demonstrates who he is when he controls the wind and the sea (and the laws of physics). Both of these miracles are attested to in the Old Testament. Jesus was making a statement of who he is.
And yet even a disciple as bold and as courageous as Peter was not convinced. I suspect that many would think of Peter’s doubting when he began to sink in the water. But his first doubt came earlier. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Jesus had just spoken to the disciples, assuring them, speaking to them and yet what does Peter say?
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Lord, if it’s you.” Even at this point Peter is not confident in Jesus’ words. He does not trust what Jesus says to him.
In the times of life where things are not going to plan, when things seem to be chaotic, where we are uncertain, do you and I trust Jesus’ words to us? Do we trust that Jesus has everything in order, that we are in his hands, that he is looking after us, that he will not leave us? We may believe that Jesus is that miracle worker, that great teacher, but do we trust his words of promise to us?
29 “Come,” he [Jesus] said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Even as Peter was walking, putting one foot in front of the other, he did not trust. Yes, he was bold, and yes, he did step out of the boat, but he still did not trust Jesus, so when the wind and waves came he sank.
I believe that it is important to see that this account is about Jesus and his identity; it is about who Jesus Christ really is, and not so much about Peter. It is easy to come to the conclusion on the surface that you and I should be like Peter in our walk with Jesus; to conclude that we can or should step out in faith or learn to walk on water, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that we can overcome the struggles and storms in our own lives. The problem is, as I see it, Peter failed miserably at both these. I would not suggest following his example in this situation. The one thing that Peter did do that was right was to call out: “Lord, save me!” When he did this, “31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Jesus chastised him for his doubt and unbelief and got back into the boat. 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
As much as the spotlight is put on Peter in this account, the real character of the account is actually Jesus.
In the Old Testament there are various places that refer to today’s account. I would like to highlight a few.
In Job 9:8 it says of the Lord: “8 He alone stretches out the heaven and treads on the waves of the sea.” Isaiah 43:16 16 This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters…” This account is about Jesus’ confirmation of who he is, as the one who has authority of creation. This is the one who the disciples confess together is “the son of God”; this is the one who has authority and power to command his creation, but he is also the one who will save his people from their sins. He is the one who is the redeemer. In times of doubt that we all face in this life, the point is not so much thinking that we can overcome our doubts, but to do as Peter, to cry out to Jesus: “Lord, save me!” It is in the midst of these times of upheaval and uncertainties that we are ready to see Jesus for who he truly is, that is, the one who saves us.
The reality is that we face times of difficulty and times when the storms of life seem to be getting at us, and during these times it is easy to wonder about Jesus, to wonder if he will keep his word to us. But in the midst of these doubts and trials the most important thing that we can do is to call out to the one who is our redeemer, the one who saves us from our sins. Then we will know how close he actually is to us, that he is right there to pick us up.
My encouragement is to keep your attention on Jesus and who he is, rather than putting your attention on your faith, or perhaps lack of it. For it is Jesus Christ who has you in his hands; he is the one who keeps us from going under. He is the one who keeps us safe and in his care. Instead of trying to rely on your own strength, trust that Jesus has everything in his hands.