There’s no turning back / Nothing in the past / My eyes on you again / Can’t see nothing at all but Your outstretched arms / Help me believe it / Though I falter, You’ve got me walking on water – NeedToBreathe, Walking on Water, from the 2017 album “Hard Cuts: Songs from the Hard Love”
I earn a living by waiting tables at a local casino. And last Wednesday night was the worst night of my 15 years doing so. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. You name it, it happened. Two hours into my eight hour shift, I was ready to go home. Two hours after that, I was ready to quit. I even snapped at a co-worker. The manager on duty had to reprimand me and later said she thought the night was so crazy because of the full moon. It didn’t matter to me. I went home devastated and questioning everything about myself, my career choice, and life itself.
What do you do when life just falls apart? When you have more questions than answers? When everything around you is dark?
I don’t know Jesus’ state of mind when He heard the news about His cousin John the Baptist being executed by Herod Antipas, but Matthew says He wanted some time to Himself. That’s understandable. Yet the crowds find Him and interrupt His solitude. In His compassion, He heals and feeds them. All 10,000 plus of them. “Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home…[then] he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone” (v. 22-23). Finally He gets His “me time”.
“Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen and they were fighting heavy waves” (v. 25). They are on the Sea of Galilee, which is a significant body of water for that region. Can you imagine? What a roller coaster of a day for everybody involved. First the disturbing and disheartening news about John the Baptist. Then the miraculous feeding of the 10,000+. Now their lives are in danger and Jesus is nowhere to be found.
This story is also recounted in Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21. Remember that some of the disciples had been fishermen, so they are fully aware of what a storm on the water can do. Mark’s account says that Jesus “saw they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and the waves” (v. 48). John states they had rowed for three or four miles (v. 19). That’s a lot of work and quite a distance! But the next part is even more surprising than Jesus leaving them to fend for themselves for such a time.
Mark writes “About three o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. He intended to go past them but when they saw him walking on the water they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him” (v. 48b-50).
Can you imagine? You are tired and struggling in a situation where you know your life may be in danger in the middle of the night and then you see the impossible: a human figure walking on the water! What the heck is going on? I would be terrified too.
“But Jesus spoke to them at once, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘Take courage! I am here!’” (Matthew 14:27). Isn’t that just like Him?
I don’t know why Mark writes that Jesus intended to go past them. Maybe He knew they had the situation handled even if they didn’t feel like it at the time. But it’s their reaction to seeing Him that causes Him to intervene. Mark and John both record that immediately Jesus got in the boat and somehow the boat instantly arrives at the shoreline. But Matthew embellishes the story by involving the disciple known as Peter. Yes, THAT Peter. He basically says to Jesus that if it’s Him, “…tell me to come to you, walking on the water” (v. 28). Jesus says Yes and Peter climbs out of the boat and actually starts to walk on water with Jesus (v. 29).
“But when he saw the strong wind and waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!’” (v. 30). In other words, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus. He let himself be distracted by what was going on around him. I’m a lot like Peter sometimes. Especially last Wednesday night. I got so caught up in what was happening around me, I forgot to act like a child of the King and I started to immediately sink into the raging waters. I almost drowned.
Fortunately, for Peter “Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said, ‘Why did you doubt me?’” (v. 31). And there it is in a nutshell. Poor Peter – he’s on a roller coaster. Riding high, walking on the waves, and suddenly realizing that human beings don’t do these kinds of things. In other words, doubting. And he falls. I can totally relate. But Peter is smarter than I was – at least he cried out for help. I managed to forget that it’s okay to ask for help. Jesus would have immediately reached out for me too.
When Peter and Jesus climb back into the boat, the wind stops that instant (v. 32). “Then the disciples worshipped him. ‘You really are the Son of God!’ they exclaimed” (v. 33). He clearly demonstrates His authority over nature and they reach the proper conclusion. How differently things might have turned out for me last Wednesday night had I reacted like the disciples.
Max Lucado says it quite well, “Man by himself cannot deal with his own guilt. He must have help from the outside. In order to forgive himself, he must have forgiveness from the one he has offended. Yet man is unworthy to ask God for forgiveness. That then, is the whole reason for the cross” (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, p. 139-140).
It’s not unusual for Jesus to ask us to get out of our boat and do the impossible with Him. We, like Peter, must be willing. And then we, unlike Peter, must have faith it can be done and keep our eyes on the One who initially called us. It may be forgiving the unforgiveable, or showing mercy to the unmerciful, or loving the unlovable. Walking on water (figuratively) is possible. But only with the One who knows how to bend those natural rules.