I’ve been on a boat but haven’t seen anything as strange as a man walking toward me in the dark, padding effortlessly across the liquid H2O like it were January in Michigan. It gets cold enough here to freeze the lakes, but that wasn’t how this worked. No, no. Jesus walked on water.
His disciples were, naturally, terrified. Supernaturally, this was just Jesus doing His thing, taking the shortest walk possible out to the boat to catch up with the guys. Assuming right away that He was a ghost (the Holy Ghost? Ha!) they screamed the screams of absolute terror. Remember — these are fisherman, streetwise and experienced. Oh, they’ve seen some things. But not like this. Dude was walking on the water.
This would be about as shocking as a magician, in an attempt to prove the validity of their illusion, sawing a woman in half and then letting the legs walk around the stage while the torso just stumped. Gaaaaah. Terrifying, yes? It was a nightmare mirage, but real.
Jesus really was walking on the water. That was no trick (illusion). The illusion was that He seemed to be a ghost — that was an illusion. Isn’t it interesting how the presence of Jesus can be utterly terrifying, especially if we’ve made the snap judgement that it couldn’t possibly be Him?
Peter, in an act of sheer faith and utter boldness, asked to join Jesus out on the water. He said “Come.” So Peter did. One foot out the boat, on solid water. Then the other. Then the footsteps. Then the delight. Then the “hey guys! Check it out!” Then the noticing of the waves and the feeling of the strong winds. Then the fear. Then the sinking. “Lord! Save me!” he shouted, as Jesus saved him the old fashioned way.
Jesus doesn’t always to comfort us. Often He comes to call us to riskier places that take comfort right out of the picture. You’d think that the Good Shepherd would be all about guarding the sheep and keeping all danger away. Nah. He has the sheep walking on water — inches from disaster. I’d say that Peter probably felt a sensation in that moment, and I don’t mean wet feet. I bet that Peter, standing eye-to-eye with Jesus on the surface of liquid, probably felt fully alive. If anything, we should see that Jesus has a very different view of what’s truly dangerous. Being the Son of God, I imagine His perspective seems a bit, well, skewed, when compared to how we mere mortals see things. I mean, if you made water, you can probably make water stick together. Or was it a couple of giant fish giving him a platform? Or angels, holding His feet up?
He walked on water. First Jesus, then Peter.
And that’s where Jesus calls us to be. We ask Him to get us out of danger like all the time. Yet He’s inviting us to even greater danger! I guess we should be careful about praying for guidance, eh? Do we really want to get out of the boat and do the impossible? To say adios to guaranteed natural safety in exchange for the supernatural? Risky. But, as I’m learning, worth it.
We either operate out of fear or faith. Actually, I don’t think it’s fair to make such a firm distinction, since we’re all an amalgam of both, especially as we all process what it means to live in a world that sees tragedy on a daily basis. Someone asked me if I’m afraid of what will happen next — be it a terror attack, the elections, the social unrest that we must address, etc. I instantly blurted out “no!” but then realized that this is hardly accurate, as there are times where I do fear what might happen next, even if only for a second. Left to my own analysis and risk assessment of our world, I could probably get myself into the fetal position pretty quickly. Time me!
Whenever I give fear even a square inch of real estate in my field of attention, it gobbles up many miles. Internally, fear spreads like a fire that jumps from one fuel source to the next, getting hotter and hotter until I feel, well, burned out. Some psychologists have suggested that the US is experiencing some of the early stages of a sort of communal PTSD. While certainly not as serious and genuine as those who have this diagnosis, it is strange to see us get worn out by an endless cascade of bad news. We are compassionate, but some people are overwhelmed. We don’t see as many facebook pic changes to reflect support. Turkey/Orlando/France/Germany/Another/Another. Too many watermarks. When’s the last time you saw our flags at full staff across the nation? We stand with those who hurt. We know what that’s like.
Listen: living like this is not sustainable. Where is faith? Where is hope? Where is Jesus?
Jesus is walking on water. He was up on a mountain all night, spending time with the Father. And now the early dawn is nearly here, and the boat is waaaaay out there and… welp… I guess I’ll just hop across the water here and AHHHH Guys! It’s just me! Don’t be afraid! You what? You want to come out on the water? Sure. Come on out. Yah! Right? I do this all the time, but usually you guys are asleep! No, no… don’t look over there. I know, I know. Look at me. They’re just waves. Ride ’em! Pete? Peter — look here. That’s just a little breeze PETER! Come here. Get up here. We need you. Knucklehead.
Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt? Why did you stop looking to me?
There is no suitable answer to this. We looked away because we like control. Being in control means assessing risk and being afraid of failure. Yet we don’t maintain anywhere near the control or responsiveness that we think we do. How humbling. How bizarre. And how gracious of Jesus to lift us up and ask a really good yet really rhetorical question. He asks the question so that the next time we’re out on the water with Jesus, we’ll keep our eyes squarely on Him, effectively ignoring the risks.
This is the only way to walk on water.
We live either by fear or by faith. Between the two, where do you find yourself today?
Fear is based on what I can’t do. Faith is based on what God can do.
Fear is based on what I control. Faith is based on surrendering to Jesus’ control.
Fear is based on what I do and don’t know. Faith is based on who I know.
Fear is based on my self-sufficiency. Faith is based on the sufficiency of Christ.
Fear is loud and grating. Faith is silence in the middle of chaos.
Fear keeps me up, but Faith lets me sleep.
Fear puts me at the very center. Faith puts Jesus at the center.
Fear paralyzes our faith. It’s a parody — a veiled idolatry that makes me the sustainer and provider, not God. When Peter and Jesus got back in the boat, they worshipped the Messiah, saying “truly you are the Son of God.” No doubt.
What’s the miracle here? Is it that Jesus walked on water? Nah. That’s easy. Was it that Peter walked on water? Nah. That’s easy, too. I think the miracle is that, for one moment, Peter, in an act of free will and total trust, surrendered control of everything to Jesus. And in that moment, Peter gave us just a glimpse of how it could be for us all the time. That the Creator actually pursues us and invites us — and it works — is a true miracle. This is the miracle of salvation. This is the miracle of faith. This crucifies the authority of fear and reminds us that we are really quite fragile, yet held in the hands of One who can always be counted on.
This is not a new message from God. Since the early days, He’s been reminding us of His presence and the effect it should have on our souls. Joshua 1:9 says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
As He is truly present to us, may we be truly present to Him. And may the peace of God reign.