After sending the people away, he went up a hill by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone; and by this time the boat was far out in the lake, tossed about by the waves, because the wind was blowing against it. Between three and six o'clock in the morning Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water. When they saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. It's a ghost! they said, and screamed with fear. Jesus spoke to them at once. Courage! he said. It is I. Don't be afraid! Then Peter spoke up. Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you. Come! answered Jesus. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. Save me, Lord! he cried. At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, What little faith you have! Why did you doubt? They both got into the boat, and the wind died down. Matthew 14:22-32
There are times in our lives when even the bravest and most fearless of us are afraid. There are times when everything in our lives suddenly seems dark and heavy. It seems as if the light has slowly ebbed away into nothing, we are lost in the darkness and we cannot see our way out. Everything weighs us down, everything is insurmountable. The waves lash over us, the storm rages around us and we long for still, calm, cool waters to sooth us and bring us peace. We start to sink into the dark waters, as everything piles up on top of us, everything in our lives seems negative, everything seems impossible, everything becomes frightening as we feel that we are sinking deeper and deeper.
I think Peter must have felt like this as he walked towards Jesus that night in Galilee, one minute he was walking on water, then suddenly everything goes dark as he starts to sink into the sea. It’s a horrible place to be, I know because I have experienced that dark place - but the good news is that this scripture tells us what we should do when we become afraid and when we see no way out of situations, this scripture shows us how we can leave the darkness and step out into the light.
I think that this is a really important piece of scripture because there is so much in it to encourage us when we experience difficulties and feel our faith is low. If we go back to the start of the story, the disciples see Jesus walking on the water towards them and they are afraid, they think he is a ghost. Jesus calls out to them and tells them to have courage, he tells them not to be afraid, he assures them it is him and they have nothing to fear. He is reassuring them and at the same time preparing them. The path that follows Christ is not an easy one and we will all need courage at times, but we must all remember that Jesus is always there to guide us. When Peter realises it is Jesus walking towards him he calls out to him:
“Lord if it is really you order me to come out on the water to you”.
How many times do we try to make bargains with God when we hit difficulties? How many times do we say ‘Lord, if you would just answer this prayer I promise I will be a model Christian for the rest of my days’. On that night in Galilee I think that Peter does this, he tests Jesus, somehow he still seems to need proof, even after all the miracles he has seen , even after all he has heard Jesus preach– even after he saw 5000 people fed with just five loaves and two fishes earlier that day. Even then he still says :
“Lord if it is really you order me to come out on the water to you.”
And Jesus answers “Come”. So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to Jesus.
In response to his request, Jesus shows Peter His authority over the elements, not just because he wants Peter to know His power, but He also wants Peter to know his own weakness. Because it is Jesus who gives Peter the ability to walk on water and it is when Peter takes his eyes off Jesus that he starts to sink. Jesus is showing Peter that he can’t do anything in his own strength, he can only do the impossible in Gods strength, how does he do this? By keeping his eyes on Jesus and by standing on God’s word - in other words - faith. When Jesus rebukes him at the end of the passage he says: ‘What little faith you have’. When Jesus says ‘come’, He is asking Peter to trust him and have faith, to stand on His word. The same can be applied to us and to our walk with Jesus. The times when we are strong and fearless are the times when we have strong faith. It is when we lose focus and take our eyes off Jesus that life will get in the way of our view of him – when we can no longer see him we then start to see difficulties and problems, our faith starts to diminish we see our limitations, we start to doubt, we lose faith and it is at this point that everything becomes too much for us. When we turn our eyes from the cross we see nothing but problems, but lifting our eyes to Him offers all the solutions. Because it is only when we trust in God; when we relentlessly pursue Him and stand firmly on His word that we become fearless in faith. It is then that we can make the impossible possible – this is because we are working in His strength not our own.
Going back to the scripture, Jesus asks Peter to get out of the boat and walk towards him, to trust him and leave behind all that is safe. Obediently he does, and the impossible is made possible through Jesus’ authority and Peter’s faith. Once again this message is for us, when we are prepared to get out of the boat and follow Jesus we can also do what we would normally see as impossible. Paul said to me some time ago, faith is often spelt RISK. Peter was taking a risk when he stepped out of the boat, but he trusted Jesus and he stepped out into the unknown. When we trust Jesus he will furnish us with all we need to battle against the storms of life. It is our own weakness that makes us sink – not Gods. It is when we start to doubt and we start to lose faith that things go wrong…..then we stop standing on the word and then we try to find the answers ourselves and of course we can’t find them, we lose hope, we make the wrong decisions we lose direction and everything gets worse and worse. It is as this point, when we are at our weakest that the enemy moves in. This is the worst thing that can happen because he will make mischief, he will bind us and he will use our fears to turn out the light that God brings into our lives. He will make us frightened, he will take away our confidence, he will tell us lies so that we feel we that there is no way out and that our faith isn’t big enough to ask for help. Satan makes us more afraid – when we limit God, we think He can’t solve our problem and so we don’t ask because we don’t really expect an answer and we become afraid of what will happen if we don’t get the answer we want.
As Jesus shows Peter what is possible if we keep our eyes on Him, he also shows us that we too can do great things as long as we do it in His strength and not our own. It was when Peter allowed fear to dominate him and when he started to think of his own limitations rather than the Lords expectations, that he started to sink. Jesus was still there, right in front of him, it was Peter who looked away.
If we go back to the word again:
But when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. Save me, Lord! He cried. At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him and said, what little faith you have! Why did you doubt? They both got into the boat, and the wind died down.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t stop the storm immediately; he reaches out, holds Peter then carries him to the safety of the boat and it is then that the winds drop. This is another point - Jesus doesn’t stop the storm, he carries Peter through the storm. This is so important and so crucial in our walk with Jesus. Because following Jesus doesn’t mean that there won’t be storms in life, there will, the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, in Matthew 5:45 it says:
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Loving Jesus and being a Christian does not exclude us from hardship. We won’t live a charmed life free of problems and pain. But- and this is the important bit, if we have faith and we stand on the word and if we keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, He will carry us through the storm. Doesn’t it say in the scripture that He will take our burdens and carry them, doesn’t He tells us not to be afraid. In Matthew 11 verse 28 he says:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
It is when we cry out to God and when we feel that we can no longer go on that we become closest to Him. Peter cries out :Save me, Lord! And At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him.
It is when we cry out to God that He holds us tightly and He comforts us, and it is during these times that we are at our most intimate with Him. It is through these times that we become stronger in our faith and closer to God. The storm dies down because of the intimacy that Peter shares with Christ as he carries him through the storm. The storm dies down because faith is restored and strengthened. Christ is our saviour – He will save us - when we call out to Him He will stretch out his arms to us lift us, hold us and carry us. Even on the stormiest of days he is always there and he is always ready to help us through the storm. Two weeks ago I had a routine mammogram and a week later I was called back, they had found a lump. I was frightened , I feared the worst, but I decided to stand on the word of God because I believe with all my heart and soul that God will turn all things for good for those who love him. My prayer was simple – that whatever the result was of the next set of tests, I was determined that my actions would be a testimony to my faith and that everything would be to Gods glory. The Lord drew me near and sent his angels to hold me up in prayer, at the service at Buxton rock on Sunday he gave Paul words to comfort me and the songs we sang in worship gave me strength. On the way to the hospital on Monday I put UCB on my iphone, something I had never done before, the words of scripture rang out....Matthew 11... Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
the words I have just read to you. He was with me and I was not afraid. After numerous tests that day they couldn’t find the lump – I got the all clear.
The words in the song that I played earlier remind me of how I felt during those 4 days of waiting for the tests, the song tells us to praise God during these dark times:
And I'll praise you in this storm ,and I will lift my hands for You are who You are ,no matter where I am
I know that Praising God in the storm is so hard when everything seems so dark, sometimes it’s the last thing we want to do or even think of doing. But look at the bible, look at how often do we hear the psalmist praising God in the storms of his life, how often do we hear him crying out in desperation followed by an outpouring of love and praise and gratitude? It is at this point that God lifts him and restores him, and God will do exactly the same for us, He will lift us, just like Jesus did when Peter cried out to him that night, He loves us just as much as He loved his closest friend Peter. It is at this moment when we are on our knees in desperation and we cry to our lord and saviour that He will come, He will lift us and He will carry us to safety.
Finally, I also feel that this scripture is commissioning us as followers of Jesus. Jesus invites Peter to step out in faith, to step out of the boat and follow him. He commands him to come, to do the impossible. After the resurrection He commissions his disciples to step out in faith, to stand on the word and to stand in His strength – and through the Holy Spirit teach the word, heal the sick and bring people to know God. He commissions us to do the same - it’s a frightening thought, but it is possible - because we can do all things through Christ. It’s all right here in the bible. The bible will always tells us exactly what we should do in these situations. It’s so simple, but for some reason, when we are in the darkness we cant see any alternatives and nothing seems possible and more often than not we are too afraid to ask God for help. Our lack of faith limits us and this causes us to limit God. This is when we lose our way. It was Peter who took his eyes off Jesus, not the other way round. He was the one who stopped trusting Jesus and believing that the storms would over power him. But what did Jesus do? He lifted him, carried him through the storm and gently put him on safe ground. And he will do the same for you and me. In the darkest times he is waiting to bring us light....he is waiting, all we have to do is cry out and he will be there and he will carry us to a safe place. He will bring us light so that we may see.