by Pastor Doug Stratton — August 9, 2020

Matthew 14: 22-33

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.”4

CCI: Following Jesus means stepping into the storms of Life because we want to be near Jesus.

On Tuesday morning tropical storm Isaias slammed into our region with wind, rain, lightning, thunder, tornadoes and flooding. From what I understand, some of you are still without electricity in your homes. It was a frightful storm. On Wednesday morning there were 4 million people without power and at least 6 dead from the storm. Storms will turn our lives upside down. 

In fact, we don’t have to work very hard to see Isaias as a metaphor for what our nation and in fact our world is experiencing right now. As we approach 5 million cases and 160,000 deaths in our nation, we are in the midst of a storm unprecedented in modern times in our nation. When we add to that the economic disruption of 55 million first time unemployment claims and 23 million people who fear eviction when the moratorium ends we see that we are in the midst of a storm caused by a virus that is sweeping through our nation and around our world. 

But the storms don’t stop there, the politicalization of almost every aspect of our lives is a storm in itself. Whether we question the reality of systemic racism or look for political messages in the choice of scriptures that read at church, we are dividing ourselves amidst a storm that requires us to work together. The longing for a voice that comes from Black Lives Matter marchers direct us to the storm of injustice that has been part of our national identity since 1619. While there have been many wonderful contributions our nation has made to the world, the storm of racism that continues to rage is an evil that we must face. 

Storms, some are physical, some are social and some are very personal. We encounter personal storms when we face crises of forgiveness, or deep illness in our families, or fire, or job loss, or even exhaustion from doing good things. And when all the storms rage before us and around us at one time, fear is the most common human response. 

The story we just read from Matthew is a picture of storms that can overwhelm. As Matthew 14 opens, we read about the execution of John the Baptizer. We know that John was a significant influence in Jesus’ life. He was a relative, he baptized Jesus and while he was in prison he contacted Jesus to confirm He was the One they were waiting for. 

When Jesus learned of his death, he had a strong desire to step away from the crowds and spend time alone with God. Verse 13 says,

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” Jesus was facing a personal storm of grief. But as often happened, the crowd found him and before sending 5,000 men and their wives and children home, he fed them with 5 loaves and 2 fish. 

Then, Jesus sent his disciples on, and he went into the mountain to pray. That is when the physical storm began. The disciples were rowing across the lake and suddenly a storm came down through the hills and turned the Galilee into a washing machine. These men were experienced on the lake, but the storm frightened them. As they struggled with their boat, suddenly they saw an apparition approaching their boat. It was Jesus walking on the waves but they did not recognize him. The vision struck fear in their heart so Jesus said what he often said when, “It is I, do not be afraid.” Notice Jesus did not have to say, “It’s Jesus.” His voice was enough to identify him. Jesus had said, “My sheep hear my voice” and we see that it is true. 

Peter, recognizing Jesus, cried out, “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” We have often seen this as a test that Peter throws out. Peter wants proof and so he throws out this challenge. But could it be, instead Peter was simply eager to be near Jesus? Instead of testing Jesus, I think he simply wanted to be near him. How desperate he must have been for Jesus’ presence. Oh, what we can learn from that! To long for Jesus’ presence. 

If this is what Peter was seeking, then we can hear Jesus’ response as almost playful. He says to Peter, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat. 

That is a powerful phrase. And Peter got out of the boat. The boat may not have been the safest place in the world, but he was in a boat, it may have even been taking on water, but he was in a boat. Getting out of the boat was an act of faith driven by his desire to be near Jesus, but, getting out the boat meant stepping into the storm. When we leave the relative safety of the boat, even in response to Jesus, we are stepping into a storm. 

Psalm 69 captures the danger of the storm in a powerful way:

Save me, O God,

    for the waters have come up to my neck.

I sink in the miry depths,

    where there is no foothold.

I have come into the deep waters;

    the floods engulf me.

This is the danger of the storm, and this is what we face every time we choose to step out of the boat and into the storm with only Jesus to carry us through. 

Bryon has found this passage and this story to be powerful in his life, so have asked him to talk a bit about stepping out of the boat and into the storm. 

  1. What does the image of stepping out of the boat mean to you? 
  2. How have you experienced the storm after stepping out?
  3. Have you ever experienced sinking?
  4. What do you want to say to your sisters and brothers?

Peter stepped into the storm, and for a moment, he walked on the water, but the nature of storms is that they grab your attention. And when he realized how severe the storm was, when the wind and the rain grabbed his attention, he began to sink. Think about that phrase: He began to sink. I am not a great swimmer, and when I have fallen out of a boat, I don’t begin to sink, I just sink. But it says, Peter, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord save me.”

As Bryon shared (I am assuming) walking on water through the storm often does not go smoothly. But notice that the first thing Peter did was cry out to Jesus. 

And that is what we need to do. When the storms close in, when the waters rise, when direction seems lost, let us call out Jesus who will be there to take our hands and lead us back to safety, and notice that Jesus led Peter right back to the boat. 

The boat to which he leads us may look familiar, but when we enter it with Jesus, everything changes.

The World Mission Conference this year was held as an online event. The sessions with various missionaries are available at the International Ministries website. 

At the first session Kristy Engel told the story of the House of Hope in Cochabamba, Columbia. Cochabamba located in the mountains at an altitude of 9-10,000 feet. The ministry began with a simple question. After seeing the tremendous need around them, they asked, “How can a poor group like us do anything to make a difference?” And someone asked, “What do we have to work with? One person said, “I have soap.” Another said, I have buckets to carry water.” Someone said, “I have towels.” And so they began their ministry by bathing babies because that is what they could do. Those were the resources they had been given. And so they bathed babies. Since that time they have continued to share the love of Jesus with tribal people who come to the larger cities to make a better life. But almost immediately they become the target of conmen and soon lose everything they brought with them. The men then leave to find work and the women often live in tents or on the streets. The ministry of bathing babies has grown into mobile medical clinics, education opportunities for women and shelters for those who are homeless. And all this grew out of the question, “What do we have that we can use to show Jesus’ love?” And then they stepped out of the boat, encountered Jesus, and returned with Him. 

When Jesus and Peter stepped into the boat, the sea calmed. This is the second time in Matthew that Jesus has calmed a stormy sea. The first time is in Chapter 8. This is near the beginning of Jesus ministry.

When he awoke and stilled the storm, the disciples responded by asking, “What kind of man is this?” But here, after they had been with Jesus for a time, when he stilled the storm they declared, “Truly you are the Son of God.” What was the difference? It was time they spent with Jesus. Peter wanted to join Jesus because he had discovered there was no better place to be. And the rest of the disciples knew why being with Jesus was so important. 

What boat are you hanging onto today? What is the storm that is blowing around you? What is standing in the way of your being in Jesus’s presence? What do you have that God might be able to use? These may be the most important questions you will ask as we traverse the storms today. 

May you long for Jesus’ presence even to the point of leaving the safe place to experience it, and may you discover the power of the risen Jesus each day.

~ Pastor Doug