Walking upon the Sea of Galilee

Please read 2 Kings 6 v 1-6 and Matthew 14 v 22-36 and then pray; Almighty God, for whom nothing is impossible, strengthen my faith in Jesus, in his word, and in his unlimited power to save. Amen!

Matthew 14 is dominated by the presence and the supernatural miraculous power of Jesus Christ. In the stories contained in this chapter, we encounter both his humanity and his divinity, his immense compassion for broken people, and his unlimited power and authority over everything. The only sensible conclusion we can come to is that of the disciples who exclaimed with one voice; “Truly, you are the Son of God.” (v 33) Like them, we are left worshipping the man who was God.

The gospels are written with the intention of declaring that Jesus Christ was someone who performed countless extraordinary miracles, signs, and wonders. Towards the conclusion of his gospel, the apostle John explains this important fact;

Jesus did many other miraculous signs and wonders in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may life in his name. (John 20: 30-31)

The miracles performed by Jesus, witnessed by his disciples, provide clear evidence of his majestic power, deity, and sovereignty. One of the interesting facts about the Bible is that it is not a book or a library of books which is full of miracles. Miracles occur intermittently in the historical biblical story. After the incredible miracle of creation, we wait a long time before we hear about the miraculous story of Moses and the exodus, the wilderness journey, and entrance into the promised land. Then there is another long gap to the miracles which occur in the rather bizarre and extraordinary prophetical ministries of Elijah and Elisha. There is yet another lengthy time gap before we encounter miracles in the lives of Daniel and his friends during the period of the exile. Several hundred years after Daniel, we encounter the miraculous story of the incarnation of the “Son of God” at the outset of the NT period. (Matthew 1:20-25, Luke 1:30-32) The Word of God became flesh and lived among us. As the apostle Paul writes; “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great.” (1 Timothy 3: 16)

It is only when Jesus begins his ministry after his baptism that there is then a truly unprecedented explosion of miraculous activity as the Kingdom of God is introduced to the world through Jesus and his powerful and comprehensive healing ministry. The two great miracles we have before us in Matthew 14 (Jesus feeding the multitude and walking on water) are book ended by Jesus’s remarkable and astonishing healing activity. (v14, 35-36) We must never just glide over verses in the bible like Matthew 14:26. We must pause and wonder and worship.

People brought ALL THEIR SICK to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

One single touch from Jesus, or of Jesus, brought healing to the sick who came to him with faith. The merest touch of the edge of his garment was sufficient. (Matthew 9:20-22) If you foolishly attempt to explain or strip away the miraculous from life and ministry of Jesus, you put an end to faith and eternal life before you even get near to it. (John 20:31) There is no “Christ” (the anointed One) or Christianity without the miraculous, and to imagine otherwise is to be guilty of the greatest folly and the most tragic delusion. The disciples were eye-witnesses of these miracles. As we come to the story of Jesus walking upon the water, we come to one of those mind-boggling miraculous events in which the disciples must have struggled to believe what their own eyes were witnessing. Some miracles terrified them! (14:26) Do not ever be misled. Jesus’s ministry of healing and deliverance produced fear as well as wonder and utter astonishment.

The story of Jesus walking on water cannot be separated from the story of the feeding of the multitude which we considered last week. This is all part of the same time frame. A quite extraordinary day was immediately followed by another. The disciples were to witness two of their Master’s greatest miracles in the space of about 12 hours; one in the early hours of an evening (feeding 5000+), the other in the early hours of the following morning (walking on the water).

After Jesus had fed the 5000 men plus women and children, (21) he quickly dismissed the great crowd and sent his disciples away in the boat. Jesus sensed an unhealthy appetite within the mood of crowd to immediately make him their political Leader and Messiah by exerting force and pressure. (John 6: 14-15) This was not will of God for Jesus, and he is quick and decisive in dispersing the crowd and getting his disciples away from a potentially volatile situation.

Jesus now finally gets the quiet time he had desired since the beginning of this challenging day. (13) He finds a remote and private place upon a mountainside (23) and retreats into prayer for many hours. Jesus is by himself with only His Father for company. Sometimes, we too, need to be alone, with our heavenly Father, and offer to him our needs, our concerns, and our requests. (6:6) Do you need to find quiet time alone with God this week?

As Jesus comes down from his prayerful isolation, and looks out to sea, he can discern the disciples in their boat. Jesus can see that they are contending with a strong wind that is against them. They are a considerable distance from the shore by now but their boat is being buffeted by the waves. They are straining at the oars and making little to no progress.

During the fourth watch of the night (between 3-6am), Jesus goes out “to them” – walking on the lake. (25) What is impossible for men, is possible for God! The impossible becomes easily possible for Jesus. The God who made an axe head float to the surface of the water through the faithful ministry of Elisha his prophet, now walks several kilometres on the surface the lake toward a rocking boat and its tired and weary crew. You may say, “I can’t believe this.” That is how the disciples initially reacted as they saw a figure approaching them. They cried out in terror, believing the figure had to be a ghostly apparition. It could not be a man, could it? It could not possibly be a man.

But it was a man – a real physical human being, a man who was also God; for only God (as the OT reveals) possesses power and authority over the sea. The One who had in an earlier terrifying life-threatening incident calmed the sea and rebuked the wind, (Matthew 8: 23-27) now walked upon it. The terror and fear of the disciples begins to be quelled as Jesus responds “immediately” (27) to their alarm and fearful panic. Jesus speaks with clarity and authority;

Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid. (so many echoes of the voice of Yahweh in the OT: Isaiah 43:1-5)

I wonder how many of us would have responded to Jesus’s words of comfort in the same way the impetuous Peter did. Right Lord, if it is you, tell me to come and walk out to you on the water. Would that have been your response? Or would you have waited just a bit longer for Jesus to get nearer and join you inside the boat and show you that it really was him? Would you have stayed where you were in the boat, or would you have done what Peter did?

Jesus invites the brave Peter to “Come.” A disciple can experience and participate in the miraculous when responding to a specific word from their Lord. “Come.” Peter did step out of that unstable boat. He stepped on to the water and started walking toward Jesus. All was well for the first few steps. Peter’s bold faith suddenly weakened when he became aware of the strength of the wind and the choppiness of the water beneath his feet. His focus moved from the power of Lord Jesus to the power of the elements and he began to sink. May be some of the disciples in the boat now started to say – “I knew he shouldn’t have gone.” “I told you he was mad.” “Look – Peter’s going down – he’s sinking.”

Peter cries out to Jesus in desperation – “Lord, save me.”  And Jesus does indeed save Peter. He saved his disciple by grasping his hand. As the commentator John Legg writes; “Our safety and salvation depend, not on our grasp of Christ, but on his grasp of us.” Jesus asks Peter why he allowed doubt to get the better of him. Moments later, they were both in the boat with the others, and the wind immediately abated. Calmness was completely restored. Jesus was in the boat with them. And it was Jesus in the flesh. The One who had just walked upon the water was now relaxing in the boat upon a calm sea.

The story ends with the disciples worshipping the Lord Jesus and declaring through their worship;

Truly, you are the Son of God.

This declaration of Jesus’s sonship is repeated at the end of the gospel at the foot of His cross by a Roman centurion and others with him who had taken part in his crucifixion. The sky mysteriously darkened and the land beneath them shook. The great curtain in the Temple was rent in two! Surely, he was the Son of God. (Matthew 27: 54) And this is where we start with the personal application of this amazing story for our own lives and faith.

Firstly, are we people who have come to firmly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore worthy of our worship? A Christian is a person who does not merely believe in Jesus and seeks to follow him, but one who bends the knee and worships him as their God – God the Son. In two of the songs, we have sung today, we have deliberately ascribed worship to Jesus the Lord. Has that come from the very depths of our hearts? Do we joyfully sing with the elders and the angelic living creatures in Revelation;

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise. (Revelation 5:12-13) To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever!

We worship Jesus because we fundamentally believe he was no mere man. He was God in flesh. He is the Saviour and Lord of the world and possesses all authority and power in heaven and on earth. As the Pastor and writer Peter Lewis states in his great book entitled The Glory of Christ;

For almost twenty centuries the Church has placed one historic figure where it has placed no other man. It has taken the carpenter from first-century Nazareth, Jesus, and ranged him on the side of deity: making his teaching the absolute authority in our knowledge of God, his work the ground of our salvation, and his person the object of our faith and worship. Its members drawn from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9) have known him and served him, loved him, and hymned him, preached him and praised him.

As that quotation makes clear, we not only worship Jesus as God and Saviour, Lord and King, we are to place our faith completely in him and in his death upon the cross for our salvation. We also place our faith in the fact that he rose from the dead and has defeated death. Stories like the one we have focused on today should strengthen and deepen our faith in the almighty person and work of Jesus. I sincerely hope this story has achieved that purpose for you today!

Secondly, it is important that our faith continues to be strengthened and remain strong. The one who endures to the end will be saved. Peter was chastened by Jesus because he demonstrated “little faith,” although I think simply getting out of the boat and on to the water showed remarkable faith in the word of Jesus. But Peter’s faith did not last too long. It was weak in the sense that before very long, he had allowed his focus and trust in Jesus to be sidelined by his greater concern for the howling wind and the rough sea. The challenge for us all is to aim to make sure our faith remains consistent and unwavering. Even when we sense much around us that would divert our attention away from faith in Christ, we must quickly revert-back to placing our eyes on Jesus and maintain our faith in his unlimited power and love. Our faith must remain strong even when we come up against difficult obstacles. He can enable us to walk on water even when our world is rocking and stormy. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed; (43: 1-2)

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames with not set you ablaze.

If at any time, we believe ourselves to be slipping and sinking spiritually, perhaps drowning in despair and difficulty, we like Peter, should cry out to the Lord to save us, to take our hand – and He will do. Do you need to do that today? Jesus is committed to our salvation and to our safe landing in heavens harbour. As hymn writer puts it so memorably, “O love that wilt not let me go – I rest my weary soul on Thee.” Jesus will grasp our hand as we cry out, and he will lift us to safety. Speaking of Yahweh, the Psalmist writes;

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them” (Psalm 145: 18-19)

Jesus is Yahweh. Jesus is Lord! Are you sinking or slipping today in your faith at the moment? Cry out to the Jesus who can and will rescue you and pull you clear from drowning. This is the Jesus who has called you and summoned you by name and is committed to your salvation which he bought for you on the cross. Never will He leave you or forsake you! (Hebrews 13:5) His grasp of your hand is firm!

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

And finally, and astonishingly, this story reveals that disciples of the Lord Jesus can be led by him to participate in events which very much include the supernatural. Apostles like Peter were going to be involved in the mission of Christ with miracles and wonders being part of their experience. Peter would experience miraculous deliverance (Acts 12), miraculous healing and the raising of the dead (Acts 9:32 -42). He would witness many people miraculously responding to the message of the gospel and being baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2: 40-41, Acts 8:17). The supernatural power of God was a part of Peter’s world – and it remains a part of the world and mission of the Church of Jesus Christ today! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

People still experience remarkable healing and deliverance today. Still today, there are astonishing answers to prayer and responses to the gospel message. There is miraculous provision for the Church and instances of remarkable deliverance and supernatural protection. Read the biographies of any missionary you care to choose. Thirteen years ago, Christ specifically called me to rebuild a Church in urban Havana in Cuba which had been destroyed by a hurricane. Over a period of 2-3 years God provided all the resources needed to fulfil that vision, often causing me and the Church I served to watch and wonder at the astonishing ways God provided and multiplied money and resources.

As those who follow the Jesus who fed the multitude and walked on water, we are to expect the impossible becoming possible through faith in the man who was God. Jesus promised his disciples;

I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea” and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21 :21-22)

The apostle Paul wrote that “he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength” (Philippians 4: 13-14) and he told the Ephesians that the Lord Jesus who lived in them (as individuals and as a Church) “was able to do immeasurably more than all they asked or imagined according to his power that was at work within them.” (Ephesians 3:20-21) Graham Kendrick the great modern hymn writer writes in one of his most loved songs;

God is at work in us, His purpose to perform – building a kingdom of power not of words; where things impossible, by faith shall be possible: let’s give the glory to him now.

If God is for us, who can be against? (Romans 8:31) Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Genesis 18:14) For nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:30) These are words of faith and hope upon which we can and should take our lead and our stand!

To the Lord Jesus Christ be all the glory, honour, and praise, and may his great kingdom extend to every corner of the earth. May his kingdom be among us. Amen!

(Revd Peter J Clarkson 13.8.23)