Immediately 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. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 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. Then 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?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:22-33
This is one of the passages that inspired the title of this blog, “Walking on Water”. It has to be one of the most well known passages from the life of Jesus. The connection to water is clear, but there are many eddies and undercurrents to explore here that sometimes get lost in the familiarity. In the first part of the passage Jesus reveals His heart and need for alone-time to be with God and pray. As someone who appreciates alone-time myself I can relate to the need for some space.
Jesus sent the people away, which it seems would have required divine intervention as it seems there was always someone who needed something from Him. He sends his disciples away in the boat across the lake too. This must have been somewhat puzzling to them at the time. Did they think he would hitch a ride on another boat or walk around the lake on foot? I suspect the idea of him walking across the water on foot did not occur to them. Jesus sent them on a difficult and dangerous path but he did it for a reason.
So the disciples are in a boat that they apparently just spent the night in during a wild storm. They may have been grumbling a bit about Jesus sending them out on the lake into a storm. It does say “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side”. This is not the first time that Jesus has “forced” the disciples to do things that they thought were hard or out of their comfort zone. They are wet, tired, afraid, and probably unsure about their decision to follow this young man who sent them out on the lake alone.
It is at this time, in their darkest hour just before the sun rose, that God showed up. Jesus clearly shows up in a way, and at a time, that they were not expecting. The Jewish people were also looking for the Messiah to show up. Jesus showed up in a way, and at a time, they were were not expecting.
The “walking on the lake” miracle has not been mastered by many other humans before or since. Clearly God wanted to use this suspension of the normal laws of physics for a reason. I do not think it was “rough magic” used simply to impress the disciples. He was pushing them to understand that not only do the waves obey Him, but He has mastery of the water itself. He is leading them by this difficult path to the only conclusion that is possible, that “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter, my namesake was called on to take a few extra steps down the difficult road. His difficult road led him right out of the safety of the boat and into the arms of Jesus. As long as his eyes were fixed on Jesus the way was clear and he was able to walk on water. There have been many times in my life when God has called on me to do hard things. None so difficult as Peter when he stepped out of that boat, but I think I can imagine the way he was feeling. Sort of like standing next to a steep cliff looking over the edge. Maybe he was thinking is this really where you need me to go Lord?
What I find interesting about these times is that when I look back on them the reason I was sent on the difficult road, or given the challenging task, is usually different than the reason I thought I was setting out on the road for in the first place. The disciples set out across a lake because Jesus asked them to and they found the very God who had sent them in the first place. This is a reassuring thing indeed and gives me confidence when I find myself embarking on a difficult road being distracted by the waves.
Prayer: God You are both the maker of waves and the one who can calm them. Help us to boldly set our where you need us to go.