"How to Walk on Water"

Matthew 14:22-36
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, September 10, 1995
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew

How can we walk on water? In this passage, Matthew 14:22-33, we see the apostle Peter accomplishing a seemingly impossible task - walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. These waters are a metaphor for all the powers that are against a Christian and the problems in a Christian's life. Let us, then, examine how we also can walk on them.

In this passage Jesus compelled his disciples to get into a boat and to go across the lake westward to Capernaum without him. This was a new experience for the disciples. It was understood, of course, that Jesus would join them later, but they did not know how or when he would come. But their faith needed to be tried. They needed to grow up in their faith and in their knowledge of who Jesus was.

Jesus had just performed the great miracle of feeding over ten thousand people with five small barley cakes and two fish. The crowd was pleased and wanted to make him a king, we are told. They were looking for a political messiah, who would deliver them from the Roman yoke and usher in a time of great prosperity, a golden age. Even the disciples were looking for a political messiah. But Jesus could not allow himself to be placed in that role, because it would mean disaster for his mission. Rome would take measures to put down any such rebellion. So Jesus compelled the disciples to go away without him and then dismissed the crowd.

During Christ's temptation, Satan had wanted to make Jesus a king, and now he was trying to work through this crowd. But Jesus would not be distracted from his Father's mission, so he went up onto a mountain to pray and commune with God for over eight hours. He prayed that his Father would help him in fulfilling his redemptive mission through his death on the cross. This was the way of God-ordained humiliation. I am sure he also prayed for his disciples who were away in the boat. His disciples are always in his prayers, as we see in John 17 where Jesus prayed not only for himself, but also for his disciples, for his church, and for us. We are in his prayer! Jesus Christ ever lives to make intercession for each one of us, so we can have great confidence as we live our daily lives in this evil world. Jesus Commissions His Disciples

Let us look at a few points. First, Jesus was sending the disciples. He commissioned them to go across the lake. The Greek text tells us that they didn't want to go, but he compelled them to go without him. The disciples did not go on their own, but they were sent by Jesus Christ. If Jesus sends us, then it must be all right. We will arrive at our destination in spite of troubles and severe problems.

Do you remember the prophet Jonah? He did not go where Jehovah sent him. Instead, he went his own way, to Tarshish. When we go our own way, we cannot expect God to help us, and God sent a storm, Jonah was thrown overboard and he was disciplined. But here the disciples were going according to the commission and will of Jesus. They did not want to go without Jesus, but he forced them to go without him so that they could grow in faith. They departed in obedience.

When the disciples set out, the weather was calm, but soon it became stormy. Some people believe that if we are sent by God and going in his paths, everything will be all right. They think that no trouble or storm would ever face us, that no persecution will ever come our way, and that we'll have no sickness or poverty. They think that we will all live in peace, prosperity, and great health, but that is a false view. Now, remember, Jonah faced his storm because of his disobedience, but according to some people obedient Christians should not face any trials. But this is not true! Obedient Christians who are led by the Spirit of God will be tried very severely. The calm will change to a storm. It is the storms of life that try our faith, not the calms of life. It is the storms of life that cause us to be aroused and awakened, that we may trust in Jesus Christ alone.

So the disciples headed westward across the lake, and at first all was calm. But suddenly a fierce wind arose from the wrong direction. They were going west, and the wind came from the west. Like the disciples, we want wind, but only from the right direction, to assist us in our going forward. But instead we face storms that are against us - head winds.

The wind was against the disciples. The sea was rough. The waves battered against their boat. The disciples were probably tempted to change direction and go back, to have the wind assist them, but they didn't. Why? They were believers. Believers obey the commands of Jesus Christ. So they did not change their direction. Instead, they strained at the oars. They were struggling in their obedience to Jesus as believers. They must have wondered what would happen to them. Would they drown? Would Jesus come to join them? Did Christ see their troubles, or were they "out of sight, out of mind"?

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

Not only did Jesus command his disciples to go across the lake, but in verse 23 we see a Jesus who was praying for them. "After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside alone to pray." So we have a Jesus who commissions us, but we also have a Jesus who intercedes for us. Notice, he is praying privately. That is very important for you and me. We should have private prayer as well as public prayer. And here we see Jesus Christ praying for a long time. I am sure he prayed for himself, that the Father would strengthen him, keep him focused on his mission, and disclose his will to him. I am sure he thanked his heavenly Father for providing food for the multitudes, and for preventing the people from proclaiming him a political messiah. But I would say that Jesus was also praying for his disciples who were alone upon the stormy sea, that the heavenly Father would protect and save them.

This prayer reminds us of the prayer of Moses in Exodus 17:8-15. The Amalekites had come against the people of God, and Moses commissioned Joshua to fight them. Meanwhile, Moses went up on a hill and lifted his hands in prayer. After some time his hands grew weak and drooped, so we read that Aaron and Hur helped Moses by holding up his hands. Why? As long as Moses' hands were up, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. So Aaron and Hur held up Moses' hands as the battle raged, and eventually Joshua defeated the Amalekites with his sword.

So here in this passage you see Jesus on the mountain praying to his Father for his disciples, who represent all Christians. While the disciples were being buffeted by the storm and the waves, Jesus was praying for them. So we can ask: Will they be defeated by the storm? Will they be drowned in the waters of the lake? No! Why? The one who is praying for us is greater than Moses. Jesus does not need the assistance of an Aaron or a Hur. His prayer is always effectual. He is the eternal Son of God, the man without sin. Jesus is praying for us and no contrary wind, no fire, no storm, no flood and no enemy can ever defeat us.

Jesus Sees His Disciples

Not only does Jesus pray for us, but he also sees us in our struggles. Mark 6:48 says, "He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them." Think about this: it is dark; there is a contrary wind; there are boisterous waves battering the boat; Jesus is not with the disciples; and the disciples are struggling at the oars. Yet someone is observing these disciples, and this someone is the one who is able to do something about their situation. So while Jesus prayed he was also looking in the direction of his disciples. Jesus is the omniscient God, and nothing is hidden from his sight. He sees all things, and his eyes are especially upon us, his disciples.

So Jesus saw the disciples. PGM He saw them straining at the oars because the wind was against them. He had sent them there, and he knew the wind would be against them. In fact, he knew there had to be contrary wind, because the contrary wind is what tries our faith and causes it to grow. So do not ever think that Jesus does not know our condition. He knows! He who is seated on the right hand of the Father sees us and is interceding for us. He has saved us, he is saving us, and he will save us. Yes, Jesus commanded us to go. Yes, Jesus is praying for us. Yes, he is seeing us in all our struggles. We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with us in all our weaknesses.

Jesus Comes in His Time

Fourthly, Jesus not only commanded his disciples to go and prayed for them and saw them in their struggles, but he also came to them. He comes to us also, but not when we want him to come. He comes to us in his time. So we are told in this passage that he came during the fourth watch, which was after many, many hours. The fourth watch is between 3 and 6 a.m. The disciples probably began their trip at 6 p.m., but Jesus Christ came in the fourth watch.

Has that happened to you? You may want him to come right away. Like little children, if anything happens, we cry, but he doesn't always show up right away. He comes at his own time. Read the story of Lazarus. He was sick, and Jesus was told about it, but he refused to go until after his death. But the delay of Jesus is the delay of his love, and he always comes in the right time. He comes in the extremity of our weakness.

Jesus Walks on Water

So not only does Jesus see our struggles, but as he promised, he comes to aid us. How did he come? He walked on the sea. This is not a new idea. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Job 9:8 says: "God who alone stretched out the heavens and walked on the sea as on firm ground."

In one commentary on this passage, a famous scholar interprets this as meaning that Jesus Christ walked on the shore of the lake. Here is a great man with a fine mind who cannot really believe that Jesus Christ was walking on water. Like this great scholar, all who doubt the deity of Jesus will have a difficult time seeing our Jesus walking on the water as on firm ground. But Jesus is the Lord of the waters, and he can walk on water. Jesus has defeated all enemies on the cross and has made them a public spectacle. Jesus triumphed over all enemies by his death. No waters can drown him. He is the eternal God, the Redeemer of his people. He has conquered sin, death, the devil, the world and hell. He walks on the waters, and by faith we can also walk on the waters. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Look at Isaiah 43:1-3: "But now, this is what the Lord says -- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . .'"

Yes, Jesus sent you. Yes, he is praying for you. Yes, he is seeing you in all your straining and in all your struggles, and he is coming to you, walking on the water. By the power of God Moses divided the Red Sea, but he did not walk on water. But Jesus is greater than Moses. He does not need to dry up the sea. He walks on it, for he alone is God and Redeemer. And in Isaiah 49:26, we read: "'. . . Then all mankind will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.'"

Jesus Gives Us Courage

Do not think this one coming is a ghost. Do not think he is an enemy from the nether world, trying to destroy you. No! It is your Savior coming to you. It is doubt and unbelief that causes us to think that this one walking on the waters is a demon or a ghost. No, this is Jesus Christ himself, and in order to recognize him, we must have faith in him. We must believe the word of God and abide in it.

And this Jesus says, "'Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.'" No one can have courage unless Christ is preached. Preachers who do not preach Jesus Christ cannot tell their people to take courage. It is Jesus Christ alone who grants us the courage and confidence to face the waves and the wind. No one can have courage unless Christ is truly proclaimed. So I would say to this famous scholar, "Sir, you cannot tell people not to be afraid unless you first proclaim to them a Jesus Christ who is the eternal Son of God who became man."

And Jesus said, "It is I," or in the Greek, Ego eimi - I am! But Jesus is not simply saying, "You know, I am a human being," or "Here I am, mere Jesus, your friend." When he said "I am" he meant "I am the eternal one, the self-existent God. Before Abraham was, I am. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. I am the Messiah. I am from above. I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the door. I am the Son of God. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the Lord and master. I am the way, the truth and the life. I am! And I am here to help you, to save you, and to cast away every fear that is in you." So courage comes to us when we know experimentally and personally who Jesus Christ is.

Jesus Commands Us to Walk on Water

Jesus commands us to walk on water. You see, Peter understood that this one coming to him was Jesus Christ. Jesus was easily recognized by his voice, as we see in John 20 when he called Mary Magdalene by name. Immediately, she recognized him and said, "Rabboni!" His sheep know his voice. So Peter knew that this is Jesus Christ, and he said, "Because it is you, the "I AM," the eternal God, the Lord, will you command me to come to you?" He was not asking permission to experience this wonder of being able to walk on water. Oh, no. He wanted to come to Jesus and have fellowship with him. "Since it is you, bid me to come to you." And Jesus said, "Come!" That was a command from the eternal God saying, "Come, walk on water. Come!"

But how can we walk on water? We can do so only by faith in him who is already walking on the water. He alone has conquered all our enemies for us, and in him we are also able to trample upon all our enemies, to resist the devil and watch him flee, and to walk on water. But we should know who this Jesus is. We should know what he has done for us on the cross. It is he who bids us all to walk on waters - mighty waters.

So you see this Galilean, this fisherman, this man who was used to water stepping out of the boat, planting his feet upon the water, and being supported by the water. This tells us that we too can walk on water. We can resist our enemies and they will flee from us. Do not think the waves will drown you! There is one who is with you, who is our Creator and Redeemer. Focus on him and do not doubt. Do not have two minds. When Peter doubted, he began to sink. But he cried out, and Jesus immediately lifted him up, planting his feet upon the water. Jesus did not carry Peter. Did you notice that? He lifted him up and put him down and Peter walked again. Jesus wants us to learn to walk on waters by faith in him.

Doubt Sinks, Faith Walks

Jesus asked, "Why did you doubt, Mr. Oligopiste, Mr. Little Faith? Did I not command you to come? Did you not already walk on water? Did you not realize that I am with you? Did you not know that I am the Lord? Did you not know that I am the Savior?" James says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. So Peter just sank. But Peter, Mr. Little Faith, was also a believer. He was a Christian, and therefore he believes and prays and cries out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus saved him.

Doubt will sink us, but the prayer of faith will lift us up and we will once again be planted on the waters, resisting the devil and the enemy and everything that is negative. So St. Paul says, "I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengtheneth me." The issue is focusing on Jesus, thinking about Jesus and abiding in the word of God.

Remember Joshua and Caleb? In Numbers 13 and 14 they gave the minority report. The majority had said, "There is no way we are able to defeat them. We cannot walk on water. No one has ever walked on water." But Joshua and Caleb believed in God and said, "If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into the land." And then they said, "Their protection is gone. The Lord is with us." They had learned how to walk on water.

David said to Goliath, "In the name of the Lord I am coming against you." That is walking on water. In Psalm 42 the sons of Korah said, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? . . . Put your hope in God . . . my Savior, and my God." In Luke 10 Jesus told Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed." Only one thing is needed, and that is faith in Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Abraham was told by God that he would have a son and that the Messiah would come through him. He was one hundred years of age, and he began to wonder what was happening. But in Romans 4 we read that he was fully persuaded that "God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were . . . had the power to do what he had promised."

Jesus Wants Us to Walk on Water

Jesus said, "Take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33) He walked on water, and he wants us to walk on water. How do we do that? The writer to the Hebrews says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2) "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth," says Isaiah (Isaiah 45:22). They were not speaking about a casual, once-in-a-lifetime look. They meant a continual looking on and focusing on Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, our Redeemer, the Mighty One. If we do that, we know that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation" can sink us or separate us "from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

St. Paul also knew there would be winds and storms in life, and so in the sixth chapter of Ephesians he said, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:10-12)

But Jesus has defeated all our enemies! He has made them a public spectacle, "triumphing over them by the cross," so that now we can wrestle against them, resist them, trample on them, and walk on the water. And I want you to know that as Jesus reached out and grasped Peter's hand, we all are grasped by the hand of Christ and the hand of the Father. In John 10:28 Jesus said, "'I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.'"

Jesus Will Come to Us

Finally, we see that Jesus came to the boat. He who promised to come will come to us, because God is not a man that he should lie. The hope of the church is the second coming of Christ. Isn't that true? It is the blessed hope that causes us to live a focused and sanctified life, in which we don't love this world, but hope in the world to come. In the meantime, however, before Christ comes again, we will face the problems of darkness, storm, boisterous waves and the absence of Jesus.

Do you understand this? Even when Peter was walking on the water, there was still wind and waves. Jesus didn't still this storm. God is teaching us to walk on the waters while the waters are at their greatest power against us. But we need to remember that he has redeemed us by his death and resurrection. He is the Sovereign Lord of the universe, seated on the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us. And not only that, he has sent us the Holy Spirit, another Comforter, who indwells us, and guides us through the darkness, the storm, the wind and our wrestling against principalities and powers. This Holy Spirit is training us to grow in faith and to walk on water.

Soon our Lord shall come again! The Bible says, "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air," and then Paul says to the Thessalonians, "and so we will be with the Lord forever." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) The church will be with the Lord forever! No more separation! No more absence! He is coming again!

Jesus Comes to You

Have you trusted in this Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? Are you struggling and straining against the storms and winds of life? Are you wondering whether Jesus has forgotten his commission, whether he has forgotten that we are struggling at the oars? Have you asked, "Does he know? Does he understand what is going on in my life? Why is he not coming?" Let me tell you, he comes at the right time. The right time is his time, not your time. He does not come at your time so that you can learn patience. Tribulations worketh patience.

Are you being scared as he comes? Do you think he is a demon or a ghost from the nether world? Do you think that some power outside of the control of Jesus is being unleashed against you? Oh, no! Hear his voice. "My sheep will hear my voice." "Ego eimi -- I am," he says. "It is I, your Lord, your Savior, your God, your Master. It is I, your Shepherd. It is I, your Friend. It is I, your Older Brother."

Will you say, "Oh, Lord Jesus, this is wonderful. These waters are not drowning you. Teach me how to live a victorious Christian life, that I may walk on the waters also. Bid me to come to you!" Don't say this so that you can pridefully say, "You know, I have done this and that." No. Desire to have fellowship with such a Christ who walks on waters.

Have you been murmuring and grumbling at every little trouble? I beseech you to trust in your Savior, Jesus Christ. Know that he is for you. "If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . .Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." (Romans 8:31b, 34) Never doubt the love of Jesus Christ for you! And if you have never trusted in Jesus Christ, I exhort you to trust in Jesus Christ while you are alive, that you may be able to die in Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, we pray that you will make this word alive in our hearts, that we may be trained to face the storms that are contrary and the battering of the waves, and that we may be trained to walk on the water and live. For we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew

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