Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Walking on Water

All of us have heard the story about the time that Christ, and for a short time, Peter, walked on water. We know that the wind was blowing and that Peter took a few steps on the choppy sea before he began to doubt and sink. We’ve talked at church and at home about the importance of keeping our focus on Christ and how Christ will help us when we falter. We know this stuff, and it is important, but we also miss a lot when we examine this experience as an isolated incident. Consider for a moment the many lessons available for us in the context of this story:

Less than 24 hours before Christ traversed the surface of the stormy sea, he learned that his cousin, friend and predecessor, John the Baptist, had been killed unjustly to satisfy a young woman who had danced for the king. The news was a heavy blow and Christ soon boarded a ship across the Sea of Galilee to the wilderness where he could be alone to grieve.

When he reached the opposite coast however, Christ found that thousands of people had walked the several miles around the sea to be with him when he arrived. Rather than sending them away or being frustrated that he couldn’t get a moment for himself, Christ spent the rest of the day preaching and healing the sick.

When evening came and there was no food, Christ could have very easily dismissed the crowd with no ill will. Surely after the loss of John and a full day of ministering to the multitude, he would have been justified in doing so. But the scriptures say that he was moved with compassion and instead performed a miracle to feed the multitude.

Finally, sometime after dinnertime, Christ told the disciples to take the boat and head home. He stayed with the crowd a little longer and then sent them to their homes as well. It had been a full day. Christ was probably physically and emotionally exhausted, but he was finally alone. Still seeking solace himself, he climbed a nearby mountain to pray.

Hours later, the disciples were struggling to get home. The five-mile journey that might normally take about two hours had stretched into a very difficult nine or more hours of rowing in a choppy sea against a blasting wind. What physical strength they had was likely exhausted. Different personalities in the boat may have been upset or annoyed or even a little incredulous that they had battled through the entire night and were still stuck out in the middle of the sea. Some might have been scared that they weren’t going to make it across at all.

Then, sometime between three and six in the morning, the disciples saw a mysterious figure out on the water. Christ had seen them struggling from the temple-mountain where he had been praying and had walked the five or more miles to where they were. He was unrecognizable in the dark of night and the disciples cried out in fear of what they thought may be an evil spirit. Christ responded, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”

Peter recognized the voice of the Lord and answered, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” Peter’s qualifying statement, “if it be thou”, indicates that Christ was probably still at least partially hidden by the darkness. Christ told Peter to come to him.

Most of us recognize that it is a bit irrational under normal circumstances to get out of a boat that is nowhere near land. By this logic, it is then completely irrational to do so at night amid high wind and waves when you are completely exhausted from a full day of service and a full night of rowing and your peers are terrified of what they see outside the boat. Peter knew this, but Peter got out of the boat.

In utter contradiction to everything he knew to be possible, Peter then walked on the water. He took a few obedient steps before suddenly becoming aware again that he was in the middle of the storm and that what he was doing was impossible. As he sensed himself beginning to falter, he called out, “Lord, save me.” Immediately, the Savior stretched forth his hand and caught Peter. When both men had reached to boat, the storm ceased. The rest of the disciples then recognized the Lord and worshipped him.

The boat made landfall in early morning and again Christ was met by crowds of people seeking healing for themselves and their loved ones. Despite all that had happened and now more than 24 hours without sleep, Christ spent the day ministering unto the people, healing their sick, contending with the Pharisees, and performing another miracle to feed the multitudes.

In the 24 verses adjacent to the story of Christ walking on the water in Matthew 14, we find a rich context with filled with insightful details and instructive gospel lessons. In these verses we learn that Christ always has time for us and is always ready to provide help and healing. We learn that when we serve others even when we are grieved or sad, we are following the example of our Savior. We learn that we can find solace in the temple and in prayer, just as the Savior did.

The context prepares our heart and mind to learn that even though God might not always spare us from the storms of life, he is aware of us and will come to our aid; that we get credit for trying; and that if we will try to come to him he will catch us when we start to sink. It helps us see the power of love and the deceit of fear.

From Peter we learn that sometimes we cannot overcome our trials on our own or even with the support of friends and family; but that doesn’t mean our trials cannot be overcome. We learn the importance of recognizing the voice of the Lord and trusting his voice above the fearful voices of the world or even our own logic. We do not have to see Christ to know he is there. And though it may not always be rational or even possible to obey his voice, the Lord will help us do the impossible if we will just get out of the boat. Indeed, the boat is often our biggest obstacle.

The story of Christ walking on the water is one of the best-known Bible stories worldwide. Its richness is enhanced when we understand the emotions, symbols and other details surrounding it. And best of all, it is true and so are the principles we learn from it. Jesus Christ is the Creator of heaven and Earth. He is our Savior. He loves us. He wants each of us to come to him. He wants each of us to walk on water.

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