Summary: The Christian life is like "Walking on Water" and to do it successfully we need to be assured that Jesus Prays for Us; He’s Present with Us, Helps Us to cope with Fear and Urges Us to Move Out in Faith.
WALKING ON WATER
“Walking on water” – this is a biblical phrase which has found its way in everyday use. What does it mean? The secular meaning is that a person is doing wonders - but we can’t quite understand how they’re doing it and there’s a hint of danger that it could all go wrong! The saying, of course, comes from the Bible. Anyone who knows the life of Jesus will be familiar with the story of both our Lord and Peter “Walking on Water” (Matt 14:22-33).
I think it’s helpful to ask the question: out of the hundreds of remarkable things that Jesus did, why was this story singled out for preservation? It must be because it’s got some valuable teaching for successive generations of Christian believers. The very first sentence of the story alerts us to the fact that this was a planned event by Jesus. We’re told that “he made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him.” Why, you may ask, does Jesus send the disciples on ahead in the boat – to their own danger?
This story is more than an event in a storm in far-off Palestine; it’s the sign and symbol of what He always does for His people, when the wind is contrary and we’re in danger of being overwhelmed by the storms of life. Our Christian pilgrimage is much like being in a boat, shaped by our experiences. But it’s when we’re confronted by the storms on the sea of life that the challenge to our faith becomes a reality.
In the Scriptures, the “sea” is a powerful image of the turmoil of life’s experiences here on Earth. If we’ve suffered from sea-sickness we can be thankful that the book of the Revelation assures us that in heaven there’s no more sea! The “boat” in which we find ourselves is a metaphor of the Church, the Body of Christ. The disciples unexpectedly were caught up in a life threatening situation. Their little craft was “buffeted by the waves”. The word used by Matthew means “tormented”, with the suggestion that the disciples were battling against cosmic forces of evil.
In the culture of that time, there were stories of a primeval watery chaos, teeming with monsters. This imagery is found in the Old Testament. It was only the power of God, who maintains order in the created world, that prevented these flood waters from breaking loose. The psalmist writes, “O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them” (89:9,10). Nevertheless, these enemies are real, as the disciples and especially Peter, found out for themselves.
It’s clear that there was a definite purpose in Jesus’ action, by the strength of the word used: He “compelled” the disciples to embark. This reminds us that the circumstances of Christians aren’t haphazard events strung together, but planned by a loving Heavenly Father, who knows the end from the beginning. The disciples were at the start of a great faith adventure, something that we have in common with them, as someone put it, “in our short and uncertain earthly life and pilgrimage”. So what can we learn from this real life story?
WE MUST REMEMBER THAT JESUS IS PRAYING FOR US
The setting of the story is at night. The previous day Jesus had been ministering to the crowds who were now following Him. We read, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (14), and then He had met their physical needs by feeding them, miraculously, by five loaves and two fish. But as nightfall came, Jesus “dismissed” the crowds and “went up into the hills by himself to pray”. The disciples were now in the middle of the lake.
I don’t suppose the disciples remembered that while they were on the stormy water that Jesus was on the nearby hillside in prayer. It’s so easy for us, too, to forget that the Lord Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father interceding for us. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that “because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (7:24,25).
One of the sudden storms, for which Galilee was notorious, had come down, and the disciples were struggling against the winds and the waves, making little progress across the lake. It was in the fourth watch of the night which runs from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., that the incident took place. If there’s a time when we feel most vulnerable, it’s in the dark and in the middle of the night. It’s when we’re naturally at our lowest ebb, body, mind and spirit, that difficulties loom largest – but take heart, Jesus knows all about them and that’s when He comes to meet us.