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WALKING ON THE WATER

Matthew 14:22-14:36
Key Verse: 14:31

It is always inspiring that Jesus fed the crowd of five thousand with five loaves and two fish. We thank God for Jesus’ command, “They do not need to go away. You give them something eat,” and his following command of solution, “Bring them here to me.” May we constantly apply these two commands of Jesus to feeding a crowd or doing assumingly impossible tasks. In today’s passage Jesus walks on the water and he wants us to do the same with faith.

First, Jesus walked on the lake (23:27). Look at verse 22. “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.” When Jesus fed the hungry crowd of five thousand, they tried to make Jesus a king (Jn 6:15). This was not what Jesus had expected. They were greatly mistaken. Immediately Jesus made the disciples go to the other side by boat, and dismissed the crowd. After having dismissed the crowd, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Jesus praying is another divine picture of Jesus along with his feeding the crowd. Matthew did not write about Jesus praying except for this case and his prayer at Gethsemane. Thus he stressed Jesus’ praying at this time. After doing such a great miracle, he came to God in prayer to give thanks to God and listen to God for a new direction.

Look at verses 23b-24. “When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffet by the waves because the wind was against it.” When the disciples got into the boat, they must have been excited to sail on the Sea of Galilee as veteran rowers, whistling and saying, “Yahoo.” At first their sailing was very smooth and they could enjoy the cool wind and the gentle waves of the sea. Their boat glided on the lake and now the boat reached a considerable distance from the land. According to John’s gospel the distance was three or three and a half miles, five or six km, Greek twenty-five stadia (Jn 6:19). According to Mark, they were in the middle of the lake (Mk 6:47). Then the boat stuck there, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. They were straining at the oars. It was in the evening.

Then what happened next? Look at verse 25. “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” The fourth watch of the night was between 3:00 – 6:00 A.M. It indicated that the disciples strained in the middle of the lake for at least nine hours. Jesus certainly knew their situation from the beginning of the strain, the previous evening. Then why did Jesus let them struggle so hard in the middle of the sea for such a long night? Jesus went out to them during the fourth watch of the night. Jesus could have gone to them earlier. As we studied in Matthew 8, he was in control over the stormy sea. When he rebuked the winds and the waves, the sea was completely calm. At this time he could have prevented the wind and waves from blowing and beating against them. But he let them strain. This was because Jesus probably wanted them to know their human limitation and learn to depend on God, not on themselves. This is the same Jesus who stayed where he was two days more after hearing of the sickness of Nazareth from his sisters, whom Jesus loved. During the two days, Nazareth died. Jesus purposely delayed two days so that he might plant resurrection faith in the hearts of his beloved ones. Jesus’ main concern for his disciples was implant faith in them through all situations. Without learning faith in God, they would not be the servants whom God could use for his great purpose. They had to learn to depend on God in reaching their human limitation so that God’s power might be displayed in and through them. From time to time we wonder, “Why did God allow this kind of thing happen to me? But he wants us to welcome any adverse situation and be disciplined in faith so that we may become his useful servants.

At the dark night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. Jesus did not walk on the lake to show his supernatural power to the world. No. He walked on the lake to help his disciples. At the deep darkness of the night, in the middle of the sea the disciples must have thought that they were left there all by themselves accidently and there would no help for them at all. Where could aid come from in such a situation? When no human help and care was expected, Jesus had been caring for them and was coming to help them, even walking on the lake. This Jesus is always caring and available.

But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. Their reaction revealed their spiritual condition and that Jesus’ coming to them was totally unexpected. At best, they thought he was a ghost. To their logic, it was more likely for a ghost to appear to them rather than Jesus. Who is this Jesus who came to them, walking on the lake for 5 or 6 km? At this time his body was not ruled by the law of gravity. In Matthew chapter 8 at his rebuke the winds and the waves obeyed and it was completely calm. His word was above natural phenomena. Now even his body was above the natural law. He was beyond human. The disciples thought he was a ghost and cried in fear. But he was not a ghost, who could not speak to them personally. He was not a stranger ghost, but a familiar one whose voice they could recognize. When they cried in fear, he said, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” How much do we need courage in life, especially in a fearful situation? Our Lord Jesus wants us to take courage at each moment of life. It is interesting that Jesus did not say, “It’s me” but “It is I.” Obviously here “I” refers to Jesus. Also, “I” can refer to LORD. In Exodus 3, when Moses asked God of his name, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites; ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:13-14). Isaiah 43:11 says, “I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.” And Isaiah 43:15 says, “I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.” Most importantly this Jesus who came to them walking on the water spoke to them very personally, knowing their fearful heart and fearsome situation perfectly. This Jesus ensured that he was with them always coming to them on the water when they needed it. He was with them not only on the land but also in the sea and in everywhere. With him we have nothing to fear in our voyage in this world and enough reason to take courage. Whenever any kind of fear assails us, we should be aware of his all around presence and his words, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Second, Peter attempted to walk on the water (28-33). Matthew wrote something very interesting here after the event of Jesus’ walking on the lake. Look at verse 28. “‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’” Peter was a really funny and weird guy. In that situation no one could even think of such a thing. After having been terrified at Jesus’ coming on the water and heard Jesus’ words, “Take courage…” Peter took courage right away and wanted to come to Jesus on the water. At this time he was courageous and adventurous. What did Jesus say to him? Did Jesus say, “You are too impulsive and presumptuous. Please, come down, Peter.”? No. He said, “Come.” Jesus was glad at Peter’s such request. Then, Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. Wow! Cool! This was a historical event. The other disciples must have envied him very much, saying, “Oh, Peter, how could you do that? That’s awesome. You are a truly great.” Yet, we know that it was not Peter’s own power or ability. He could do so when he trusted in Jesus and followed his word.

Now there was a drastic change. Look at verse 30. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” When he saw Jesus, he was completely okay. But as soon as he saw the wind, fear came into his heart and he began to sink. Whether looking at Jesus made all the difference in the same situation. This can be an excellent illustration of what a life of faith is. It is to look at and fix our eyes on Jesus in this distracting world.

When Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Then what did he say to Peter? He said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Of course, these words were the words of Jesus’ rebuke. At the same time these words were the words of great encouragement and hope. His words meant, “If you did not doubt but kept faith, you could have done it.” According to Jesus walking on the water was not matter of Peter’s ability but his faith. Jesus wanted Peter to continue to walk on the water with faith. Peter could not walk on the water continuously because of his doubt. Jesus asked him, “Why did you doubt?” It is noticeable that Jesus did not say to him, “Why were you afraid?” Rather he said, “Why did you doubt?” In verse 30, when Peter saw the wind, he was afraid. But Jesus dealt with Peter’s doubt. Here we see that doubt is a fundamental problem. Doubt precedes fear. Then where did Peter’s doubt come from? Doubt came when he lost sight of Jesus and saw the wind; after that, fear came. When he heard Jesus’ words, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” and looked at Jesus, he was full of faith and courageous and confident enough to attempt to come to Jesus on the water. Here we learn that one can overcome doubt by fixing his eyes on Jesus and holding onto his words absolutely.

Our Lord Jesus encourages all his disciples to walk on the water with faith. A life of faith is, in a sense, to walk on the water. It does not need faith to walk on the land. It is so natural. But walking on the water is a different level. Ordinary people cannot even think of walking on the water. But our Lord Jesus wants his people to attempt to walk on the water and succeed in doing it with faith. By faith it is possible. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. But by faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned (Heb 11:29). In the Book of Esther, the Jewish race was in the danger of being annihilated. At this time of crisis, Queen Esther decided to go to the king, even though it was against the law and could mean losing her life. But with the faith, “If I perish, I perish”, she went to the king and her own people could be saved. (Esther 4:16). As for Esther, it was walking on the water with faith. Daniel was an exile in Babylon. Yet, he could have the privilege of receiving high education for his future, enjoying even gourmet food in the palace. But he decided not to defile himself with royal food and wine. He refused King Nebuchadnezzar’s great favour, though it could be interpreted as disobeying the king’s direction. He made such a resolution as a young man because he wanted to keep his heart and faith pure before God. For him, it was to walk on the water with faith. God was very pleased with his decision and faith and blessed his life immeasurably.

When we think of Peter, at this time it turned out that he failed in walking on the water. Yet, he was the one who made an attempt and tasted the thrill of walking on the water even for a bit. More importantly he could receive Jesus’ words personally, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” This experience and Jesus’ personal words must have remained in his heart throughout his life. Peter repeated ups and downs in his life of faith. Through this he could grow in faith. In Acts we can see the power of his faith. He said to a man crippled from birth, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Then the man’s feet and ankles became strong, and he jumped to his feet and began to walk (Ac 3:6-8). On another occasion, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Even through the falling of his shadow people could be healed (Ac 5:15-16). Peter also raised a dead. Most importantly he could become a fearless spiritual leader who could encourage the early Christians, teaching them the meaning of their present sufferings, that is, to be refined in faith through all kinds of trials in life so that their faith might become greater worth than gold (1 Pe 1:6-7).

As for us, it was not easy at all to have EBC in the midst of our leaders’ and Bible students’ final exams. It was like walking on the water. But when we challenged it by faith, all of us did it and could experience the power of faith. When the risen Jesus gave his disciples a great commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing…and teaching them…” it was none other than helping them to walk on the water with faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised to be with them to the very end of the age. We know that teaching the Bible to students, especially to U of T students, is not easy at all. To get and teach one Bible student after another is walking on the water with faith. Raising disciples among the campus students is another stage of walking on the water. Naturally we don’t want to walk on the water. But when we walk only on the land, we remain as weaklings. Our Lord Jesus wants us to walk on the water with faith, in doing our mission and our personal lives as well. He wants us to attempt it again and again. We cannot trust in politics. But the result of last week’s election was a big surprise to me, especially in GTA (32 of 47 – Conservatives). I was encouraged to pray continually for Toronto to be a holy city. More concretely we have the prayer topic that God may establish 12 shepherds’ families from among U of T students in 10 years. It is none other than our desire to walk on the water with faith and please God. May we become the disciples who can walk on the water with faith, overcoming any doubt.

Look at verses 32-33. “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.’” One’s life of faith can be a good expression of worshipping him. As we attempt to walk on the water with faith time and again, our confession of faith in Jesus the Son of God may grow.

Look at verses 34-36. “When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick to touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.” On the lake Jesus helped his disciples to put their faith in him. On the land he healed those who came to him and begged for his mercy. No one is a stranger to Jesus. What matters to him is faith.

In today’s passage Jesus walked on the water and said to his terrifying disciples, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” He said to Peter who attempted to come to Jesus on the water but began to sink, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” In our voyage of life may we courageously walk on the water with absolute faith in him, defeating any doubt by his words.

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