The Miracle of Jesus: Walking on Water Read: Matthew 14:22-33
The Miracle of Jesus: Walking on Water Read: Matthew 14:22-33
When God’s people are in a difficulty, they are only between deliverances. Paul writes to the Corinthians that God “delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:10). In other words, God delivers His people again and again. And between those deliverances, God tests and stretches the faith of His people through trials in order that they would learn to love Him more, follow Him more closely, rely on His Word more exclusively, and glorify their Savior more heartily and deeply. This is what the miracle of Jesus walking on water shows us.
This passage comes right on the heels of the account of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. What a spectacular event that had been! Enthralled with that display of Christ’s power, the crowds were clamoring to make Him a national king (John 6:15). But Christ had not come for a crown without a cross.
In verse 22 of our passage, we read that Jesus “constrained” His disciples to get into a ship, alone, without Him. He would join them later after spending time alone with His Father (v. 23; John 6:15). This may not have been something the disciples were expecting; they may have been disappointed and confused by Christ’s wishes. But Christ had His plans and purposes for sending them off in their boat alone. He knew all about the storm they would encounter. And it wasn’t long before the disciples themselves realized that they were in deep trouble. From the time references in the text, we learn that, in the space of the next six hours, they were able to go a distance of only about three miles. Their night quickly turned into a time of agony, uncertainty, fear, and confusion! Why would Christ, who knew enough to multiply loaves and fishes for thousands, have sent them into such a vicious storm? Just hours ago, these same disciples were happily distributing loaves and fish to awe-struck multitudes. Now they were about to be swallowed up by death itself.
We will see more of what Christ was teaching His disciples below, but at this point, it is worth this initial lesson. Though we often see the difficulties we are in, we often don’t see the difficulty we could have been in if we had been left to ourselves. As difficult as the storm was, it was better for the disciples to be there than to be falling for the ideas of the crowd and seeking to turn Jesus away from His real mission. Who can tell how often God’s people are hemmed in by trials for their own protection?
Earlier there had been a storm at sea for the disciples, but then Christ had been with them in the boat (see 8:23-27). This time, Christ was not with them physically; however, He was with them spiritually. Though the disciples did not see Christ in the tempest on the lake, Mark tells us that Christ saw them: “And he saw them toiling in rowing” (6:48). This was supernatural sight, for through the darkness of the night, the distance, and the dreadful storm, no other human would have been able to see their ship.
What a comfort this is for believers! Perhaps you are in a place in life where you can’t see the Lord. You’re straining to see Him, but week in, week out, you’re not able to catch a glimpse of His presence like you did in the past. But when we lose sight of Him, it can be a great comfort that He doesn’t lose sight of us (compare Job 23:8, 9). By not being with them, He could end up giving them a more magnificent view of His glory.
Matthew describes it this way: “And in the fourth watch of the night (about 3:00 AM) Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea” (v. 25). Everything about Christ’s coming to His disciples was so majestic: the timing, the manner, the direction. There was nothing hurried, harried, or hazardous about it. The picture the text paints is that He simply willed to be with His disciples, and no obstacle could stand in the way of that will.
Years later, as they wrote about that night, they remembered their “hysterical shrieks” (that’s what Matthew’s phrase “cried out for fear” literally means) as they mistook Christ for a ghost or a phantom (v. 26; Mark 6:49, 50; John 6:19). They thought they were doomed!
Why, with Jesus so near, would they react like that? Think about it: wouldn’t we have responded the same way? These men were exhausted after hours of rowing. If only they had seen by faith that the form they were so terrified of was actually their Savior coming with deliverance. Think of William Cowper’s words:
“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.”
Christ called to the disciples across the water, and His words were filled with tender magnificence and magnificent tenderness: “Be of good cheer; it is I, be not afraid” (v. 27). Notice the three intricate parts of this statement, so filled with lessons: first, He encouraged them: “Be of good cheer.” The literal meaning in the original is: “Take courage.” Their courage had failed, and Christ tells them to take fresh courage.
Secondly, He revealed Himself as God. That was the reason they should take fresh courage. In the Old Testament, God gave His name to Moses as “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14). What Christ said here is short for exactly that. He means: “I am the faithful, covenant-keeping, immutable God, who saves His people in distress. Amid everything that is topsy-turvy, I give stability and solidity.” This self-revelation of Christ is the calm within their storm.
Thirdly, He consoled them. The first part of Christ’s words was a positive command. This last part is a negative command: “Be not afraid.” It is as if He brought in courage and cast out fear, and all because He is the Lord.
Perhaps as you read this, you are straining at the oars of life’s storm. Making no headway is getting old. Perhaps it is the fourth watch for you. Hear the One who says through His Word: “Take courage, It is I, be not afraid.” In this divine I, there is the calm you need; the stronghold in the midst of the waves. What you need is to be centered on Him.
Peter seems to have been the first to recognize Jesus, or at least the first one to dare to reply to Him. And certainly only Peter would dare to say: “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (v. 28). Some Bible students have disapproved of Peter for making this request; but Christ did not. “Come,” Christ said, and “when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water” (v. 29). By faith, Peter stepped onto the solid surface that Christ’s presence miraculously extended over the water.
But then something changed and Peter felt himself sinking. He must have thought for a moment: “I’m going to drown after all!” But Christ was still there, and was still the “I Am.” As Peter cried, “Lord, save me” (v. 30), we find that “immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (v. 31). Peter, whose name means stone, was held up by the solid Rock.
Notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter for having no faith; but He did rebuke him for being of “little faith” and for “doubting” (v. 31). That’s one thing that the Holy Spirit teaches His people in the storms of life: the secret to stability in storms is a centered focus on Christ.
It is significant to read that Peter only began to sink (v. 30). He didn’t end up sinking. Christ would not allow it, for He Himself on the cross would sink underneath the billows and waves of His Father’s wrath in order that He might hold Peter up. He cried out back in Psalm 69, a Messianic Psalm: “I sink in depths where none can stand, deep waters over me roll” (Ps. 69:2).
If you are outside of Christ, how will you stand when the floods of God’s wrath come to swallow you up? To die outside of Christ and then to meet Him at last will be more terrifying than meeting a ghost was for the disciples. Cry like Peter, “Lord, save me.” He is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him (see Heb. 7:25).
We read, “And the wind ceased” (v. 32). The wind had fulfilled its divine purpose. The trials God sends aim to drive us into the arms of Christ in worship, as the disciples did; they “worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matt. 14:32). Trials serve the glory of Christ. Why don’t we glorify Him sooner? Lord, why do we need storms to bring us to our knees in adoration?
“And immediately, the ship was at the land whither they went” (John 6:21). It had taken hours to go three miles. But now, with Christ on the boat, the next three miles were over just like that. With the Savior close, time passes quickly until God’s church reaches the other shore, where no storms can ever come and where God’s church will never be between difficulties, but forever delivered.
What does it mean that the Christian is “between deliverances”? What attitude and actions should this truth foster for a believer when in difficulty?
How can we be more mindful of all that God is keeping us from when He deems it necessary for us to have trials and storms? What begets humility and thankfulness even when in difficult circumstances?
Prove from the passage that no wave ever came between Christ and His disciples.
Why did Christ walk on the sea, and not just calm the storm from a distance? How would you answer those who said it was wrong for Peter to want to walk to Jesus?
Someone described Peter’s problem as Christ “moving from the center of his eyes to the corner” and the storm moving from “the corner of his eyes to the center.” Reflect on how that happens.
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