Test #2 (Jesus Walks on Water)
In 2017 CNN stated that Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. Other sources confirm this, although much of the growth is due merely to the fact that Muslim families birth more children on average than families of other religions. In the United States alone, the Muslim growth rate is 100,000 per year, again mostly due to Muslim families having many kids, but also due to continued migration of Muslims to America. But on the other hand, the 21st century has seen more Muslims coming to faith in Jesus than there has ever been since the start of Islam.
According to the news agency Al-Jazeerah, in Africa alone there are 6 million Muslims that leave Islam and embrace Christianity every year. It’s estimated that 10 million worldwide are leaving Islam and following Jesus. Jesus has been appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions and has been calling the Muslim people to Himself in miraculous ways. Muslims have experienced the violent and destructive nature of Islam and their hearts are open to receive the true Prince of Peace, Jesus. Because of these 2 dynamics- the rapid growth of Islam, and the rapid way in which Muslims are becoming followers of Jesus- I believe that we as followers of Jesus need to understand a little bit about the religion of Islam.
This morning in Connect groups, we had available to you a little fact sheet, giving some statistics and information about Islam. Over the next several weeks we will slowly unpack some of this information as well as additional information, and as we do this I encourage you to have an open heart to understand and have compassion for those who are Muslims. So many are very sincere in their zeal to please the creator God who will one day judge the earth, but they are very mistaken in what they believe concerning the creator God who will one day judge the earth. As we learn together, we will see some of the commonalities as well as some of the vast differences between Islam and Christianity.
Test #2 (Jesus walks on Water) Matthew 14:22-33
This morning we’re going to look at a passage in Matthew 14. Last week we looked at the 12 apostles returning from going into towns and villages proclaiming Jesus- casting out demons and healing the sick. Jesus and these 12 were re-united, and seeking some rest, they got into the boat and crossed the Sea of Galilee. Instead of finding rest, they were immediately met by thousands of people whom Jesus began to teach. As the day ended, Jesus tested His disciples, asking them to feed the massive crowd. And Jesus multiplied 5 loaves of bread, and 2 fish in order to feed perhaps some 15,000-20,000 men, women, and children. We talked about some of the possible ways in which Jesus was aiming to test His disciples, and we emphasized the significance of the 12 leftover baskets of food that the 12 apostles picked up after the meal. This morning we’re going to see another testing of the disciples as we continue the narrative through the apostle Matthew’s account, with the support of some of the details mentioned by the book of John. Let’s look together at Matthew 14:22.
Now this is really interesting, Matthew says “immediately” Jesus made the disciples get into the boat while He sent the crowds away. So right after everyone had eaten- right after the disciples picked up the 12 baskets of left-over food- Jesus immediately said, “get in the boat, I’ll meet you on the other side of the Lake.” Why the sudden dismissal? Well, John lets us know what was going on, in John 6:14-15 he says: “Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, [the multiplying of the food] they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
So, it wasn’t only the disciples who realized the powerful miracle Jesus had performed, the thousands of people there realized it too. I’m sure they were thinking “this is the Messiah King, the One promised to come to save Israel. And He’s even better than we anticipated, why we won’t even have to work for food- He can just create or multiply food to where there’s more than enough for everyone!” And I have a feeling that the disciples probably didn’t disagree, I mentioned last week that perhaps they were getting a little taste of fame and glory for themselves after they had been empowered by Jesus to perform miracles themselves. Jesus though, knew that the time to rule as an earthly King was not that time and so He had to react quickly before everyone seized Him and His disciples and carried them off to pronounce Jesus as Israel’s new governing King that was going to overthrow the Roman occupation. So back to Matthew 14:22, Matthew says immediately He “made” them get into the boat and take off. They probably did not want to leave- things were just starting to get fun- but, He made them get into the boat. Verse 23
Escaping the crowds was probably easier if Jesus and the disciples split up, but a thought probably more compelling is that Jesus needed time alone in prayer- perhaps even praying for God to strengthen His disciples, unveiling their eyes so that they would not miss what Jesus was teaching and wanting to establish in them. Verse 24
While Jesus was praying, the disciples were struggling to move the boat. And they weren’t close to land struggling, they were far from land, in the middle of the Lake. John lets us know in John 6:19 that “they had rowed about three or four miles”. Assuming they had a boat with a sail- which if they didn’t- that sure would make me feel better that my family’s car doesn’t have power windows or locks- but assuming they had a sail, at this point they had to take the sail down because the wind was too powerful. The wind would have or already had ripped the sail, or perhaps in leaving the sail up the boat would have been turned over in the wind- either way, there’s no sail and the disciples are rowing against the wind and the waves. Verse 25
This is incredible, the fourth watch of the night was considered the time period between 3am and 6am! Think about this with me: It appears Jesus sent the disciples away before evening, there in verse 22- before dark- since verse 23 says that by the time Jesus got up to the mountain top alone it was evening. So, if this is correct, the disciples had been crossing the lake for at least 9 hours now! Perhaps they began around 6pm or slightly before, and Jesus didn’t come to rescue them until the 4th watch- sometime after 3am! This idea is further supported by the way verses 23 and 24 seem to link together: “when it was evening, He was there alone. 24 But [meanwhile] -the Greek word actually is “And” the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves…” So, in other words, as evening fell Jesus was alone on the mountain, and/but the disciples were fighting the waves. What a miserable night! Remember this whole boat trip started out as a retreat, a time of rest specifically for the disciples- and instead they became food servers to 20,000 people, and before they could recuperate from dishing out all the food, they were rushed off -perhaps unwillingly- by Jesus to get into the boat, and now they were rowing against wind and waves, seemingly not getting anywhere, in the dark- wet, tired, cold- at 3am in the morning. The Galilee at its greatest width is about 8 miles, this particular trip was much less that 8 miles- by sailing or rowing this should have been a 1-2 hour trip at max, yet here they are at 9 hours or more. If it had been me, I would have been pretty frustrated with Jesus. I know that because even now- in lesser of circumstances- I somehow have the incredible ability to get upset at God when I feel like He let me down- my expectations unmet, my needs unattended to. Do you get upset with God in that way at times? Lord forgive us! Verse 26
These men totally weren’t expecting Jesus. They were planning on Him coming later, traveling on foot along the shoreline of the lake in order to meet them. Just recently they were on these waters and encountered a similar storm and then were met by a man filled with thousands of evil spirits. With that experience playing over in their minds, it would have been very easy in seeing the image of a man walking towards the boat, to have immediately thought it was a ghost, a spirit, a demon. No, I don’t shame the disciples at all in assuming this. How easy it is to have our past experiences shape our perception of current experiences. But what’s interesting, is that even if it had been a spirit- they had already been given the power to cast out evil spirits, and had done so in their recent mission trip. Why then would they have anything to fear? Perhaps in their exhaustion and sleep deprived state, they let fear control their reaction instead of letting the empowerment of Jesus control their reaction.
We too are often vulnerable to fear when we feel tired, let down, stressed, or discouraged. Be on guard. Even those in the secular world realize this concept- counselors and phycologists recommend the H.A.L.T. principle when making decisions. H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. It’s recommended to never make a decision when you are feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. I’m sure the disciples given the circumstances were feeling a little bit of all four of these adjectives. Hungry since they were still awake at 3am and had been rowing all night. Angry that their retreat hadn’t worked out as planned. Lonely in that Jesus deserted them- after all if He had been in the boat, even sleeping, they could have woken Him up and He would have surely calmed the storm. Tired – it’s 3am! In these HALT moments, we especially need His presence and grace in our lives. Verse 27
This is yet another really neat moment where Jesus reveals His identity to His disciples and to us. Job, in describing God says: “Who alone stretches out the heavens And tramples down the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8) In other words, who is the only one that can walk on top of water? The answer being: God alone. Perhaps even Jesus saying “it is I”, even echoed God’s words to Moses as He described His name as “I Am”. It is I, I Am is here, do not be afraid. Verse 28 (Matthew 14:28-31)
I don’t believe Peter’s intent was to show off and get another miracle under his belt. I believe his wanting to come out to Jesus was purely out of love and a desire to be rejoined in the company of his master, in whose presence fear does not reside. Notice Peter didn’t just jump out of the boat thinking, “if Jesus did it, then I as His disciple should be able to do it!” His faith and trust were not just in the person of Jesus- as in faith that Jesus existed, faith that Jesus did this or that, faith that Jesus was the Messiah, etc.- but Peter wanted His faith to be put in Jesus’s word- “Command me to come”. And Jesus responded: “Come!” And only then, at Jesus’s command, did Peter jump out of the boat.
You can believe that Jesus existed, believe that He did do miracles, that God did send Him as the Messiah- but you will miss out if you do not treasure His word; applying it to your life- placing your faith, hope, and trust in His eternal, trustworthy, and sufficient word.
Notice too that it doesn’t appear Peter started to sink in a traditional manner. You might say “beginning to sink” concerning a boat that is filling up with water- that happens slowly and is a process. But you typically wouldn’t say “beginning to sink” concerning a man that is on top of water and then gravity takes over. That kind of sinking happens much faster. If you’ve ever been in a dunking booth or ever fallen into a pool, you know that there is no “beginning to sink” about it, it happens immediately that the body breaks the water’s surface and goes under the water. So, Peter starts to focus more on the object of his fear, and in that moment, he starts to slowly sink. Jesus in His grace and mercy didn’t let gravity fully take over and WHAM Peter goes from walking to swimming- no, He graciously let him sink slowly so that he would be awakened to refocus his attention to where it should be.
I’m sure there are times when we get distracted by fear and circumstances, that God allows us to sink down just a little in order to wake us up and refocus our attention on Him. And it’s beautiful that immediately upon crying out to Jesus- Jesus was immediately there with His hand to help. From the way verse 29 and 30 read it seems Peter was walking toward Jesus when he began to sink- he hadn’t made it there to Him yet. But as soon as He called out for Jesus, it was like Jesus teleported the several yards distance and was immediately close enough to reach out and grab Peter. Jesus is able to be just as quick in your circumstance. No matter how far you feel from Jesus, no matter what you are fearing or experiencing, an honest surrender to Jesus will be immediately attended by His presence.
We sometimes beat up on Peter here for his little faith, but even his “little” faith appears to be more than the faith of the other disciples, who were still in the boat. I believe that even a little bit of faith, although perhaps even mixed with some doubt, can be commendable. A little bit of faith is a starting place. What’s beautiful about following Jesus, is that in comparison to following other world religions, it really doesn’t take a whole lot of faith to believe and follow Jesus. There is a faith component, but it’s really not that big. Let me explain what I mean. There are many religions of the world that take an extreme amount of faith to buy in to and believe the concepts and teachings that they present. Followers are encouraged or even commanded not to examine the facts, not to explore, not to question, not to investigate- rather they are expected to blindly believe and adhere to the tenants of that faith.
Following Jesus is not like that. Proclaiming the Bible as the standard we trust and live by does not take a huge amount of blind faith. So many facts are verifiable, history AND experience verify its truth. There is an amazing amount of evidence that supports the truth of the Bible through testimonies, history, science, and logic. If you have doubts concerning anything that the Bible teaches, I assure you, there are honest logical answers to most any question you could present. I’m not saying that you can prove everything contained in the Bible, but what I am saying is that God’s Word is a treasure that we have been given whose truth has an overwhelming amount of support and that faith in it is not a blind faith. Take what little faith you have, and press in to God’s word for answers. Verse 32 (Matthew 14:32-33)
Jesus didn’t even call out to the wind “Be still!” (Mark 4:39) as he had last time during the storm. At His mere presence in the boat the wind immediately stopped. Last time when Jesus calmed the storm the disciples said to one another “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41) It was a question, they were starting to question if Jesus was more than just the Messiah, questioning if perhaps He was even a form of God Himself, but now they are growing even
further in their understanding, proclaiming “You are certainly God’s Son!” The question has turned into a statement. But I believe that in this point of the Bible narrative, the disciples are still going to grow even more in their understanding of what “God’s Son” really means. Look at the detail John gives us, John 6:21 says that upon receiving Jesus into the boat, “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” This time Jesus teletransported not only Himself, but the disciples too. Who can do that other than God Himself? Yeah, Star Trek just thought they had an original idea.
Many of you might be waiting on the Lord. Perhaps hungry, angry, lonely, tired, stressed, fearful- perhaps having a little amount of faith mixed with some doubt. I believe Jesus wants to meet you there- in whatever circumstance it is that you are in. Trust in His word! If you have doubts, call out to Him! Seek Him, and You will find Him. This theme of calling out to God, seeking Him, is expressed throughout the Bible. If you’ll look to the screen, here are just a few passages that I want you to prayerfully meditate on. (Deuteronomy 4:29, Proverbs 8:17, Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7, Acts 17:27)