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Today’s lesson is what sparked the idea for this series about a year and a half ago. We live on the outskirts of a lake town, so we cross over the lake every morning when I take my kids to school. One very windy day I noticed how big the waves were, and I thought to myself how difficult it would have been for Peter to step out of the boat into waves much bigger than the ones I was looking at. That’s when the “Peter’s three boats” series hit me:)
And that’s where we’re going today…
Peter’s Second “Boat Moment”: The Call to Step Out!
The story of Peter walking on water took place right after another miracle - the Feeding of the 5,000. By this time, Jesus was well into his ministry and had been training the twelve apostles for ministry. In fact, Jesus had sent the Twelve out to “preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-6), and the Feeding of the 5,000 took place when the apostles returned:
10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
Flexibility Breeds Opportunity
We have to stop here for just a second. Remember in our last lesson we talked about availability. In this lesson we’re going to talk about flexibility. Jesus was trying to go to a solitary place with His disciples, but people followed Him. And not just a few people - a LOT of people. This passage is titled “The Feeding of the 5,000”, but Scripture tells us this was just the number of men. Bible scholars believe the actual number, including women and children, could have been closer to 15,000-20,000! And what did Jesus do? “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.”
When the crowd showed up, Jesus’ physical agenda took a backseat to His spiritual agenda. Goodness this is hard for us in our perfectly planned, agenda-driven culture! But...
if we stay flexible with our physical agenda, God might just show up and provide a spiritual one.
Oh Lord, help me to hold my plans loosely so I never miss Yours.
Okay, back to the story. When it was late in the day the disciples realized the people would need to eat, but all they could pull together was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Jesus multiplied that 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish to feed 15,000-20,000 people, and they had 12 basketfuls of food left over!
This brings us to the stormy night in which Jesus and Peter walked on water:
22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
Get Alone with God
Again, we’ve got to stop here for a second. Remember, before the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus had been trying to withdraw for some quiet time with His disciples. Mark 6:31 tells us Jesus had told the Twelve to come and spend some time with Him in “a quiet place and get some rest.” Then, after the feeding of the 5,000, we see that Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to pray and spend time alone with God.
If Jesus told His disciples to come with Him to a quiet place and rest, we need to realize He calls us to do the same thing! Furthermore, if the Son of God, He Who is ONE with God, needed time to be alone with God, how much more do we need the same?! We cannot underestimate the importance of rest and spending solitary time with God. It’s vital to our very existence. It’s vital to our ability to give out. In fact, God has been showing me lately that the care we take of ourselves is actually a matter of stewardship.
If we don’t steward ourselves well physically, mentally, emotionally, and especially spiritually, then everything else God calls us to steward will be affected.
There was one more thing about the first part of this passage that jumped out at me. The boat was going to leave without Jesus, and He was content to catch up to them later. I think sometimes we feel like if we withdraw, if our self care or alone time with God requires us to say “no” to other things, the boat is going to move on without us. But be assured,
if we prioritize our personal rest and time with God, then God will be ready to do a miracle to get us to where we need to be!
God will always honor our time spent with Him.
Into the Storm
Okay, let’s keep reading the rest of the story in Matthew:
23Later that night, he [Jesus] was there alone, 24and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
The first thing we have to talk about is the timing mentioned in this story. The passage says “later that night” the boat was “a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”
I want to show you what Mark’s Gospel says about these events:
47Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he [Jesus] was alone on land. 48He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.
The storm was no surprise to Jesus. He knew He was sending His disciples into a storm. The passage in Mark says Jesus even “saw the disciples straining at the oars.” But when did Jesus show up? Not until “shortly before dawn.”
Oh here we go!
In our TRUST series we talked about the fact that sometimes our obedience leads us straight into situations of pain or discomfort and that most of the time God’s timing isn’t what we would choose. In this story, the disciples’ obedience led them straight into a storm - and Jesus knew it! Not only did He know it, but He allowed them to struggle for several hours before He showed up. The time difference between “later that night” and “shortly before dawn” is several hours, so the disciples fought the storm many hours of the night before Jesus showed up to calm it. BUT, if it hadn’t been for the storm, the disciples would have already been across the lake long before Jesus showed up. It was in the midst of this storm that Jesus had another miracle, a further revelation of Himself, waiting for them that they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.
When our obedience leads us into a storm, we better believe there’s a miracle in the works,
a miracle that will give us a greater revelation of Who God is, just as we studied in the story of Lazarus. Remember, in the story of Lazarus they already knew Jesus to be their Healer, but they didn’t yet know He was also their Resurrector!
Our storms have purpose. Even if God lets us linger in them awhile, lets us fight the wind and the waves, He’s just setting us up for His dramatic entrance. Without the storm, Peter wouldn’t have walked on the water. I bet Peter looked back and saw that storm as a blessing.
Our storm might just be our catalyst to walking on water with Jesus!
Walking on Water
Both boat moments required Peter to act in faith, and both involved a miracle. However, the first miracle Peter observed. The second miracle Peter participated in. The first required a familiarity of Jesus, while the second required a knowing of Jesus. The first required minimal risk. The second required great risk. This is just how our relationship with God works!
The further we go in our relationship with Jesus Christ, the greater the risk of the adventure He calls us to. But with the size of the risk comes the size of the miracle!
There was one other difference between the first and second boat moments that jumped out at me. The first time, Peter responded to Jesus’ ask. The second time, Peter responded to a prompting - and he asked Jesus! The further we go in our walk with God, the more God wants us to learn to recognize and act based on the prompting of the Holy Spirit within us.
It had to be terrifying for Peter to step out of the boat into those waves, but we have to remember that it wasn’t “all good” back on the boat either. We might think we’re safe if we stay in the boat, but the truth is we’re not. It’s windy. It’s wavy. It’s no longer comfortable.
So what is the difference between staying in the boat or stepping out into the waves?
Jesus is in the waves! The adventure is in the waves. The miracle is in the waves.
Sometimes the place of the known, even if it’s no longer comfortable, feels safer to us than the place of the unknown. The thing we’ve done before seems safer than the thing we’ve never done. The place we feel we have a little control feels safer than the place we know we have no control. But it is the surrendering of control, of stepping into the unfamiliar and the unknown, where the miracle happens.
Our greatest miracles happen in the places where we allow ourselves to step outside of our control to be at the mercy of our Savior.
That’s the place we walk on water with Jesus! That’s the place we meet Jesus in a whole new way. It might just be the place where we settle something within us that prepares us for what God has called us. It might even be the place where our faith causes others to see God in a whole new way!
Remember, Matthew 14:33 says:
33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
And there’s one more thing we find out from Mark’s Gospel:
Then he [Jesus] climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
How could the disciples “not understand” and have “hardened” hearts when they had just returned from a ministry tour in which they had preached, driven out demons, and healed sick people (Mark 6:12-13)?! Not only that, but they had experienced all sorts of miracles done by Jesus, including, that very day, Jesus feeding at least 15,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish!
At first glance this just doesn’t make sense. But what this verse is saying is that when the disciples were facing this storm, they failed to REMEMBER the miracle they had just experienced. Their hearts were hardened (“petrified, dull, and unreceptive”) - not to Jesus, but to the power of Jesus. Even though they had experienced so much of Jesus, there was still more they needed to learn!
This blew my mind. There’s always more! It’s so easy when the storms of life are raging all around us to forget what God has done in the past and forget the power of the God we serve.
So what did Jesus do to get the revelation of Who He was to sink deeper into their understanding and their hearts?
Oh, the overwhelming grace and patience of our God.
And this time, they got it.
The disciples already knew Jesus could calm the storm because He had done that once before. But Jesus needed His disciples to understand that not only did He have authority to stop the wind and waves, He had authority within the wind and waves!
Stepping out is much easier said than done. When I first started Unlock Freedom in 2012, I felt that I had stepped out of the boat into the risky unknown and was at the mercy of my God. It was my ocean...until it wasn’t. Somewhere along the way my ocean became my boat, and once again God began to call me to step out. And that is my message to my team still:
If your ocean ever becomes your boat, step out.
Don’t stay in the boat if God is calling you to step out.
While the first step OUT is always scary, it is the first step IN to your greatest adventure yet!
Oh Lord, thank You for the moments You have revealed Yourself to me, and help me to believe that my storms will be opportunities to walk on water with You. Let me hold my plans loosely so that I am available for opportunities You might bring my way. Give me a resolve to be purposeful about spending time with You, and make me sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit that might be telling me to step out. Amen.