“ ‘It’s a ghost’, they said, and cried out in fear” I suppose seeing the shape of a man walking across water is weird. I can’t imagine what I would have done. But then the shape spoke saying “It is I. Don’t be afraid”. In other words “Relax, this isn’t bad, it’s me!” Well yes; it was Jesus; it wasn’t bad, but it was scary!
Most people experience fear when confronted with the supernatural. We find the supernatural to be weird because it cuts against our normal experience. But the assumption that all that’s supernatural is bad is simply wrong. In fact the original source of all supernatural things is God; and he is good. But even among the people of God there is much scepticism when it comes to the supernatural. In fact this tendency is even recorded in Scripture. When the Church first spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost they were accused by fellow Jewish believers of having too much wine. And among Christians today it still happens. If believers in church fall to the ground when the Holy Spirit comes on them some assume it’s a bad thing; most likely because, like a man walking across water, it’s simply weird. And I believe there are a lot of times in the present where Jesus would want to say “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
One of the problems with fear is that it paralyses. When we are afraid we cannot move. In fact we often use the word ‘petrified,’ which describes a living organism that has turned to stone, to describe fear. No doubt, the disciples were petrified; stuck to their seats; eyes wide open, when they saw the figure crossing the water. And I have seen this in church when the Holy Spirit comes and a few people shake, fall or do something odd. People who are not used to it freeze and stare in horror. But the sound of Jesus’ voice struck a cord in one of the disciples and it set him free. Peter was moved and said “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water”. Peter must have thought “I know that voice; it sounds like Him.” But Peter is tentative; he is not totally sure; so he says, “Lord, if it’s you.” Now, this is one of Jesus’ closest disciples speaking. He recognises something but there is a tussle in his heart because it’s still odd. Those who have had many experiences of Jesus are often quicker to react, but they still find themselves saying “Is that you, Lord,” especially when it’s odd. Well certainly I do.
But this is only the first half of Peter’s sentence. Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Now, would you have said that? If you were ‘iffy’ about this being Jesus, would you have joined this weird figure on the water? What would make Peter attach “Tell me to come” to “If it’s you?” I think the answer is in what happened the day before. If you back up to Mt 14.13-21 you will see how Jesus fed 5000 with 5 loaves and two fish (I preached on this last week. See Handing out the Bread of Life). Here Jesus involved the disciples in his miracle, and they got to see the bread multiplying in their own hands. If Peter learnt anything from that it would have been this: “Jesus wants us to do it with him”. So here we are the next morning and Peter says “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” In others words, “Let me join you in the miracle once again.” It’s almost as if Peter is testing to see if this is indeed Jesus, and he knows that Jesus would allow him to be involved in the miracle. And he was right, it was Jesus and he did involve Peter yet again. This is a big lesson for all of us. Jesus wants to involve you and I in the miracles he is doing; even the weird ones!
This brings us to something else that must have been in Peter’s mind: “If Jesus is doing it, I can do it with him.” This is quite different from “If Jesus did it, I can do it too.” Many people preach the later. We must find out what Jesus is doing now and do it with him. If we do what he is doing we will see his power. It’s no use walking across water today if Jesus isn’t doing it, you will sink no matter how much faith you have. It’s no use healing someone today if Jesus isn’t doing it, it won’t work no matter how much faith you have. This is the key; we have to know what Jesus is doing now and do it with him.
Jesus then responded to Peter saying “Come.” This word is vital; it is the permission of God. Peter didn’t really walk on water; he walked on God’s word. Again the power is in knowing what God is saying and doing. When pastors prepare a sermon they must look for what God’s is saying and only preach what he is saying. That is when the message will have life and power. When we lay hands on people and pray we must look for what God is saying and doing and work with him, then God’s kingdom will break through.
“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?’” Peter looked good and bad in a matter of seconds. First he looks like a man of great faith; then he looks like a complete idiot that has to be rescued. I can imagine the banter and laughter about it later that day, but no one would have called Peter a coward; he may have looked a clown right at the end, but he was the only one with the guts to get out the boat and have a go. And in the end only he and Jesus knew what it was like to walk on water. Peter was prepared to be a fool for Christ; he was prepared to look bad if it meant he could take a walk with his Lord. How about you, do you feel the same way? The fact is we will never learn how to walk with Jesus if we are worried about how we look. And learning to do what Jesus is doing involves moments of success and failure. But it’s always better than being the ones left in the boat!
Finally, why does God do water walking? It doesn’t help the poor; it doesn’t heal relationships; it doesn’t heal bodies? And even if we claim Jesus had a practical need to cross the lake, surely Peter didn’t have a practical need to join him? Why does God do this stuff? I think it was purely to increase belief. It certainly did that: When Jesus climbed into the boat the disciples worshiped him saying “Truly you are the Son of God.” And I think God often does supernatural things, even weird stuff, for that reason. We have seen it in our church. When the Holy Spirit comes in power our faith is lifted, we get excited, we want to worship, we want the meeting to continue, and we don’t want to go home.
Let us step out for Jesus, let us be fools for Christ, let us do what he is doing and see his kingdom come.