Is not human life like a boat ride on uncertain waters? Even if we believe we have the faith to step out, are we really as tough as we think?
I hope that we can all learn to step out on faith, but by looking at Jesus.
We will look at the story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:22-33 and see what that could mean for us today.
Faith & Fear
While the disciples crossed Lake Galilee by boat, Jesus surprised them by walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33). It was a bad crossing. Jesus came walking towards them on the water. Their first reaction was sheer terror. Peter wanted to walk on the water too. However, after a few steps of faith, fear took over. Is faith often mixed with fear? Peter got distracted by circumstances, the wind and the waves. He did the right thing, immediately requesting Jesus' help. Do we also call upon the Lord, or just shrink back and do nothing? The original language shows Jesus suggesting that Peter had a divided mind. Where Jesus is present, fear is needless. Like Peter, do should we step out on faith and ask Jesus for help? Is He not ready to step in and save us out of life's difficulties? One of life’s difficulties can be church politics.
Church politics can be troublesome. Can we become so wrapped up in fear of various church decisions that we lose sight of Jesus? It doesn’t matter what the denomination or the particular vocabulary used, we are still dealing with human beings. The origin of the word politics is in words for city and citizen. As long as we have two people in a church are we not going to have politics? In Matthew 14:22-33 Peter took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the troubles around him. Just like Peter, can we too look at the waves and winds of church politics and become afraid? Are we afraid of the homosexual agenda, the feminist agenda, the liberal agenda or the fundamentalist agenda? Do not these things come and go, but Jesus remains? Ought not we keep our eyes on Jesus? Are these winds of human politics a faith test?
Faith Litmus Test
Do we will sink or walk on water in matters of faith? A litmus test is the answer to the question, “Where are we looking?” Are we watching the world news and getting upset and anxious or are we watching Jesus? Are not most of us watching the drama around us and not Jesus? In Matthew 14:22-33 did not Peter have the same problem? Were his eyes on Jesus or on the water and a fear of sinking? His lack of faith caused him to become a weight instead of a water-walker. As the disciples battled the waves it was the darkest part of the night. Does not Jesus sometimes intervene in our lives when events are darkest? Do we struggle with walking on the water of faith while daily events threaten to drown us? What is Jesus doing in the world? Is he real to us or like a ghost?
It’s a Ghost
As Jesus approached the disciples’ boat in the dark of night by walking on the water, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” (Matthew 14:22-33) They were terrified. How often do we object in fear as Jesus approaches? Do we find comfort in the law, but as Jesus approaches do we fear his grace? Grace can be a fearful thing. Do we find comfort in our Talmuds, Disciplines and Canon Laws but as Jesus comes near, do we fear his teachings which often contradict our human rules? Have we in fear buried Jesus’ teachings under our traditions or fads? Fear is one thing that can keep us out of heaven (Revelation 21:7-9). Jesus tells us not to fear his presence. Let us then also take action. Should we too take steps in faith to walk where Jesus walked?
Walking Where Jesus Walked
When the disciples heard Jesus confirm that it was him walking on the water, Peter requested of him, “Urge me to come to you.” Peter asked to walk where Jesus walked. Jesus invited him at his request (Matthew 14:22-33). Did Jesus condemn the disciples who stayed in the boat, or chide Peter for presumptuousness? No. Is it then wrong to claim that we are being disobedient or presumptuous if we do or don’t all walk on water in faith? Perhaps so. Is then being called to join Jesus on a particular task sometimes optional? Perhaps some tasks are by mutual agreement? Is it sometimes a dialog between the one being called and Jesus, the one doing the calling? Does this indicate the nature of Jesus’ leadership? Is it not a bossy, authoritarian leadership that forces faith, but one that gently nurtures it? What of human leadership?
Criticism of Leadership
Is not a great weakness of democracy that it encourages criticism of leadership and thus sows the seeds of its own destruction? When such criticism enters the Church can it also sow destruction? Is it not a given that Church leaders will be faulty and make mistakes? Is it also not a given that there will be corruption? Ought it also be a given that Jesus expects us to show grace towards our Church leaders for the sake of the kingdom of heaven? If the story of Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33) could be viewed as a metaphor for Church leadership, do we find only one in twelve with the faith to walk on water, and even that one who falters in faith? Ought we pray for Church leadership and show them the grace that Jesus shows? Will he save them too from sinking?
Saved from Sinking
When our businesses are about to go under who is there for us? When our marriages are about sink into oblivion who is there to lift us up? When we are about to sink into sin who is there to rescue us from temptation? When our personal finances are about to sink into the toilet who can we turn to? Peter’s faith as he tried to walk on water was weak. Is it not folly to have faith in human beings? Is not our responsibility towards our leaders to love them and pray for them, not look to them for salvation? There is no salvation in human leadership. Jesus alone is Savior. Is lesson of Jesus walking on the water that in order for us to be saved from sinking we too need to look to Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33)? Ought walk calmly on rough waters?
Walking Calmly on Rough Waters
Have we ever tried to picture Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33)? What did it look like? The sea was rough and yet there is nothing that seems to indicate that his steps followed the motion of the waves. It would have been like trying to walk on a bucking bronco, yet his steps seem to have been sure and steady. Do the waves serve to indicate the hysteria of the disciples, and Jesus’ steps the calmness of his spirit? Life bounces us around from time to time. It can appear as if we can find no sure footing. As we learn to trust Jesus in the storms of life, do we learn not to hold back? In the midst of hysteria and fear, do we calmly move forward when walking on rough waters? Is that a trust issue?
We have all been deceived by dishonest business advertising and disappointed by politics. Yet, why do we still seek gurus who claim they can save us? Does our naivety feed politics and business? Are they not selling snake oil? Even the ancient Psalmist wrote not to trust human leaders because they are just weak men who cannot save (Psalm 146:3). Do we come to Jesus with inbuilt distrust? Yet, there he is walking on the water. The boat that the disciples used may have been 8 meters (26 feet) long and 2 meters (6 feet) wide. It’s clearance above the waterline may have only been about a meter (3 feet). It was easily swamped in a storm. We trust no man, including ourselves. Does Jesus asks us to trust him in an open boat with no life jackets (Matthew 14:22-33)? Will we in troubled western churches still trust him?
Western Christianity in Rough Waters
Greece and Rome which were once pagan republics, later became Christian as Emperor Constantine adopted it as his religion and gave Christianity official status. Western countries in America and Europe seem to be heading in the opposite direction. European Christians who first settled American shores to establish religious freedom and governments supportive of Christian principles have found public faith abandoned to popular sentiment in modern Greek and Roman style democracies. European Christians face similar dilemmas. The Christian cross still graces the flags of many European flags, but can faith still be found on the once Christian continent? As Christians in the west face increasingly hostile waters (Matthew 14:22-33) how will we respond? Will we panic and lose heart as the anti-Christian storm rages around us or step out in faith, looking to Jesus who calmly walks on water by our side? Is there calm in the nave?
Calm in the Nave
A traditional architectural term for the place where the main body of believers sits in a church building is the nave. It is a nautical term, meaning the ship. A ship is also one of the most ancient symbols of the church. It comes from stories such as that found in Matthew 14:22-33. The Church is often tossed about by winds and storms just as the disciples were. Biblical symbolism for the nations includes a sea. And just as that boat containing the first disciples of Christianity was buffeted by the sea, so too is the Church buffeted by the world. A Church without Jesus’ presence is bound to sink into the darkness of history. However, when we invite Jesus into the boat he can command that the waters and wind be calm. Should we invite him into our churches? In all honesty, is that not the most important thing?
In the battle between liberal and conservative Christianity is not something missing? Does it really matter whether we are traditional or progressive, as long as we are in line with the teachings of Jesus? Are liberalism and conservatism more important than honesty with the facts no matter where they lead us? Is any one of us really capable of complete honesty? Do not cultural biases prejudice our thinking? Must we not all include a little honest self-doubt, a little humility with our conclusions? Can any human conclusions really be dogma? Do we not rush to judgment just a little too quickly? Must not our ideas at best be tentative until further facts come to light? In this stormy sea of controversy should we not look to Jesus, so that we can all walk on water and not sink into the abyss of our own faulty opinions (Matthew 14:22-33)? Does not humility require faith?
Little and Great Faith
Have we ever noticed how a story of the great faith of a Gentile woman (Matthew 15:10-28) was placed immediately after a story of Peter’s little faith (Matthew 14:22-33)? The inspired contrast is even more poignant when we understand that Peter was a Jew with lifelong living under the teachings of the Old Testament. He was also in the midst of personal training under the Son of God. Yet, here was a persistent Gentile woman who had not grown up in the “right” church and probably did not keep the law of God? Did Jesus describe her faith as great and Peter’s as little? Was there something important missing from the disciples, even though they had the Old Testament and the blessing of personal training with Jesus? Does faith then transcend law and even knowledge of the Bible?
Is not human life like a boat ride on uncertain waters? Even if we believe we have the faith to step out, must we not in the end look to Jesus?