When Peter noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water. "Save me, Lord!" he cried. At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him.
There is a lot that can be said about this episode in the gospel account. Itís a favourite story of children and retold at Sunday School, Scripture lessons, kids talks and we have heard a multitude of sermons on this text and been involved in heaps of Bible studies on this story with its many themes. There is something about this whole event that captures our imagination - the disciples out on the lake on a stormy night, the ghostly figure coming across the water towards them, their fear, and their screams of terror. This is contrasted with their relief when a familiar voice says, "Donít stress. Itís me - Jesus. No need to be afraid".
Then there is Peterís bold request to be able to walk out on the water with Jesus. Jesus commands, "Come" and Peter obeys. He steps over the side of the boat. He actually walks on water, that is, until his boldness and confidence give way to fear and he sinks into the turbulent water. Jesus recues him and together they walk back to the boat and the wind dies down and the waves are stilled.
The action, the drama, the emotions, the themes of obedience, fear and faith, doubt and confidence, trust and belief, are all there especially when Peter, so full of confidence and trust in Jesus, walks on water until he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses on the white capped waves and the wind tearing at his clothes and he realises that there is nothing holding him up except water and his boldness suddenly melts away.
We relate well with Peter Ė so full of faith and yet lacking in faith when the chips are down. This is our story. We all have our own fears; the times when we feel as if we are sinking beneath a whole lot of trouble, the occasions when worry and anxiety grips our hearts and we canít seem to focus on anything or anyone else not even Jesus.
Today I want to focus not so much on Peter but on the last part of this story. When Peter was struggling to keep his head above water and calls out to Jesus, "Save me" we read, "At once Jesus reached out and grabbed hold of him". We can get carried away with all sorts of other themes in this story and focus particularly on Peterí obedience, faith and doubt but this sentence brings us right back to why this event was recorded by the gospel writers in the first place. This is a story that tells us something about Jesus; something about who he is; something about his power and presence in our lives when we are the most vulnerable.
Itís interesting to note that the last sentence in the story is a confession of faith about who Jesus is. When Jesus and Peter got back into the boat the disciples worshipped Jesus saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." This incident in Matthew 14 is followed quickly by two more statements about who Jesus is. Peter states in Matthew chapter 16, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And then in chapter 17 the voice of God says, "This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleasedólisten to him!"
The message is clear Ė Jesus is God's Son Ė but what is interesting is that while the disciples are hearing this confession that Jesus is the Son of the living God Jesus is also telling them that they are on their way to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die. You see here are the beginnings of a paradox Ė Jesus is the Son of the living God in whom people trust but Jesus, the Son of the living God will suffer and die as a common criminal. He is preparing them for his death and hopefully when Good Friday and Easter arrive, these events will be given new meaning because the disciples have said and heard that Jesus is not only a man on a cross but also the Son of the living God.
The days ahead were terrifying ones for the disciples. We know how fearful the disciples were after Jesusí death and how the appearance of Jesus changed them completely. At first they thought he was a ghost. He calmly spoke to them and urged them not to be afraid. He held out his hands; he showed them the nail marks; they worshipped him. They confessed, "My Lord and my God".
Whether we are talking about the fear of the disciples as they saw a ghost-like person walking across the water or Peterís fear of the waves or the fear of the disciples when they saw what they thought was the ghost of Jesus on Easter day, or the doubts of Thomas who found it hard to believe that Jesus was alive again, whatever the feelings we have and the situation in our lives, Jesus knows what we are going through. He reassured his disciples as he reassures us that there is nothing to be afraid of.
Thatís where that beautiful picture of Jesus and Peter comes in as we visualise them out there in the middle of the lake in the thick of a storm. Peter has been overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. What was he doing out there in the middle of a storm? How could he possibly survive the dangers and the terrible fate that lay ahead of him? And as his fear grew he found himself neck deep in water. Instinctively he called out as anyone of us would have done, "Help! Save me". He addressed his plea for help to Jesus calling him ĎLordí. Maybe he was clutching at straws and maybe there was just a glimmer of faith that believed that if there was anyone who could save him it was Jesus.
Jesus later described Peter as "a man of little faith"; a man with so many doubts. This is not as story about a person being saved because of his great faith. This is not a story about people receiving great things because of the great faith they have. This miracle is not about sinking or surviving depending on how much faith we have. It is not about surviving the storms because of anything we do.
This is a story about Jesus reaching out and grabbing the hand of a sinking, fearful disciple and lifting him above the stormy water and walking with him across the waves. The storm hasnít stopped, the water is still lapping around Peterís feet, the white capped waves are still there but now Jesus is walking with him, maybe still holding him by the arm reassuring him that he is there and will not let him go. That walk back to the boat must have been a magnificent moment for Peter. With Jesus by his side the wind could howl as much as it liked, the water could swirl around and threaten but there was nothing to fear.
This is a story about the Son of God who calms our fears and gives us the peace that comes from knowing that Jesusí hand is always reaching out to grab a hold of us, to support us and hold us when we donít have the will or even the faith to do it ourselves.
This is a story about the love that reaches out to well-intentioned but faltering disciples, and the forgiveness that never stops, and the understanding that assures sinners that the almighty God knows what is happening in our lives and always assures us, "Donít be afraid, It is I".
This is a story about Jesus never giving up on a person whose faith is hot one minute and cold the next. Jesus knows very well that faith and doubt live side by side in each of us and yet he still loves us, he even forgives us for being hot and cold in our faith, and still calls us his own and members of his family.
This is a story about those times when we find that for some reason Jesus seems distant and we canít come to him, but instead Jesus comes to us. When we can't walk to Jesus, Jesus walks toward us and climbs into our boat full of trouble and tragedy to bring us the help that we need. The moment Jesus stepped into the boat, the sea became calm and the wind was stilled and everyone knew they were in the presence of the Almighty God.
This story reminds us that it is not only in some quiet, out of the way place far removed from the storms of life that we meet Jesus. Often it is in the middle of wild and threatening life-situations that we meet Jesus face to face. We can expect to meet Jesus, to be brought to faith like Peter and the disciples - in the middle of a storm.
Imagine yourself as the fear-filled and doubting Peter floundering in the waves and Jesus grabbing you by the hand, holding you firmly, walking with you and whether the storms stops in this life or when you take your last breath, you know that the one who is walking with you is truly the Son of God.
© Pastor Vince
7th August 2011