Have you ever been afraid of water? When I was a kid I had a terrified awe of the swimming pool. We lived in this big old house near Detroit, Michigan, and it had an in ground pool in the back yard. I was fascinated with the water, but I was terrified of it. My mom would take me into the water, but I would grab onto her and scream bloody murder when she would try to take me under. Now, that’s pretty embarrassing for a 15 year-old. Just kidding. I was around 4 or 5 at the time. I would spend most of my time clinging to the edge of the pool and watching the other kids splashing and laughing and having a good time.
One evening it happened. I remember this moment like it was yesterday. It was dark and the lights were on in the pool. I was climbing down the ladder to get into the water. The ladder was shiny chrome – pretty slippery stuff. My foot slipped, my body fell, and sploosh, I was completely under the water, eyes wide open, staring into the light in the side of the pool.
In that moment two thoughts simultaneously flashed through my mind. The first was, “I’m not dead!” And the second was, “this is so cool!”
From that moment on I was a free man. I was doing cannon balls off the diving board, having under water breath holding competitions with my cousins, diving to the bottom of the deep end. It was awesome.
Water can be a scary thing. Have you ever noticed that water seems to be associated with the most severe storms. I can’t get that image out of my mind when the tsunami swept away a huge chunk of the Japanese shoreline. Or seeing images of thousands of houses in Minot up to the roof line in water. Just a couple weeks ago as we were driving to the airport to go on the Missions trip, it was raining so hard that we couldn’t see the buildings of the city from 94. I thought, “we could die right now.”
If you’ve ever been on a lake or the ocean during a severe storm, then you know how scary water can be. In the ancient world, the sea was associated with the god of chaos. They believed that from the beginning of time the amorphous, destructive, unpredictable power of chaos was battling against all that was good and right and orderly, trying to tear it apart.
Chaos. Blown about by forces greater than you. Feeling helpless, like a leaf, battered about by the wind.
Have you looked chaos in the eye lately? A sudden death? What you thought would be a routine trip to the doctor turns out to be a diagnosis that rocks your world? After years of marriage your spouse announces, “I just don’t love you any more and I’m leaving.” The home you raised your children in and thought would be your nest egg loses all its value and you get the foreclosure notice in the mail? A friend betrays you?
These are storms that rage in our lives every day. Chaos is a constant companion in life. How do we deal with it? How do we rise above the chaos?
In our Gospel story today we find the disciples staring chaos in the eye. The text begins in Matthew 14:22 and we find the disciples all alone, at night, in a boat, in the middle of the storm. Remember, in their ancient minds, this is synonymous with the god of chaos wreaking havoc around them. They are in a spiritual battle here. Chaos seems to be winning.
In order to understand the depth of their chaos we need to roll the tape back a little bit and see what has been happening in the story up to this point. Way back at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry his second cousin, named John, was out in the wilderness preaching to the people of Israel to repent and be baptized. He told them that God was about to bring the long awaited Messiah to finally bring in the Kingdom of God and rid the nation of their oppression. When he saw Jesus he said, “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Many people believed that John and Jesus were going to bring about a new dynasty of kingship and power to Israel and they were super excited about it.
Jesus knew that he had been sent to the Jews, and, I have to believe that there was a part of his humanness that got pretty excited about all the popularity he was enjoying in the country. I know I would have been pretty pumped about it. Things seemed to be going according to plan.
And then it happened. Back at the end of chapter 13, Matthew tells us that Jesus was totally rejected by the people of Nazareth. This was his home town. Rejected! And then, in the very next passage, Matthew tells the story of John the Baptist. Herod, the King of Israel, had John beheaded. Thwack!
Look what it says in 14:13
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
I think Jesus was shocked. I think this one-two punch of rejection set him back on his heels a little bit. He just wanted to get away. He needed to regroup. But, the people wouldn’t let him. They hunted him down and demanded that he heal their sick. Jesus, being the kind of guy he was, had compassion on them, went extra innings, healed their sick and then fed the 5,000 with the five loaves and two fish.
In other words, he was exhausted. Not only had his cousin been executed and he been rejected by his friends, he had served 5,000 people into the late night hours.
“Guys, go ahead of me. I need time to think and pray.”
Everything was in chaos. Jesus’ ministry seemed to be falling apart. The disciples were sent off in a boat on the sea alone, wondering what was happening with their leader and with their future. And then the spirit of chaos rips through the night and they are clinging to the side of the boat for dear life.
Chaos. Does it sound familiar?
In the next few sentences we learn four lessons about facing storms and how to rise above the chaos of life.
The wind is whipping around. It’s dark. The disciples are already keenly aware of the fact that the spirit of chaos is running amuck around them. Then they look out into this spiritual and physical chaos to see a human form walking right through it. They’re terrified. “oh, no!” they think, “chaos has taken on bodily form and he’s going right for us.”
“no, wait. It’s not chaos. It’s Jesus!”
Unsure, but hopeful of what he sees, Peter shouts out over the storm, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “Come on,” Jesus says.
Here’s the first lesson: If Jesus asks you to do it, you can do it. This is where we often get into trouble. So many times we have big plans. We work up the ideas and strategize and then we just set out into the chaos and try to fight against it.
When was the last time you actually stopped and said, in all honesty, “God, is this your plan? Or am I just trying to do things in my own power and hope that you bless my efforts?”
This is a difficult thing to discern and I know it is really complex to navigate, but it is important, that, no matter what we do, we make sure that it is actually something that God has called us to do.
There is a distinct difference between being driven and led. If you are driven to do something, you are the one driving the boat, and you will sink like a rock. But if you are being led, then God is pulling you into his plan and it will keep you afloat.
Back to the story. The wind is whipping, the waves are tossing the boat up and down. Then Peter does an amazing thing. He hoists his leg over the edge of the boat and steps out. The other leg follows, and he’s on the water. He’s doing it. He has risen above the chaos and is walking on top of it, defying its power.
Here’s the second lesson: If you want to do it, you have to get out of the boat. Most of the time, when you actually listen to God and discern what you are supposed to do to rise above the chaos, it is a crazy, scary step that you have to take. Maybe you have to have a really difficult conversation with someone. Maybe you have to admit your own sin in the situation and take some responsibility for the chaos. Maybe you have to forgive someone that you don’t think deserves it. Maybe you have to cut up your credit cards, or sell your house, or make drastic lifestyle changes. Whatever it is, it is totally overwhelming and seemingly impossible.
We have to look at Peter and say, “I’ll do it. I don’t know how this will work. It defies all logic, but if Jesus told me to, then I’ll step out.”
The next thing you know you’ll be experiencing supernatural things. God will give you peace that you didn’t think you could have. You’ll see God working in ways that you never thought possible. The storm will still be raging, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll be able to stand in it, in spite of it.
Back to the story. So, there’s Peter, defying all logic. He’s looking into the eyes of Jesus as chaos swirls around him and he’s amazed. And then he ran into a big but. In verse 30 it says,
“But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink.”
The New Living Translation says, “But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink.”
Freeze. Here’s the third lesson: When you focus on the wind and waves, you sink.
Can’t you just see Peter. He’s looking at Jesus and everything is wonderful. But then, he starts looking around and reality of what’s happening sets in. This isn’t supposed to be possible. Chaos. The wind and waves.
His focus shifted.
What do you spend your time thinking about? When you wake up in the morning do you immediately go to all the things that are standing against you today? The pile of laundry, the angry boss, the impossible deadline, the sadness in the house, the inevitable conflict waiting for you?
Or, do you focus on the one who has called you to step out in faith and has promised to be with you and support you every step of the way. Do you saturate your mind with Scripture and worship music and stand upon the promises of your loving God?
Each morning I believe we live this story, because let’s face it, have you ever had a time in your life when there wasn’t a storm blowing around you? Each day we are called by Jesus to step out, we are faced with the decision of Peter to actually take the step, and we are confronted by the wind and waves.
There is one final lesson that doesn’t come from the text. It is just my advice to you.
The fourth lesson: It’s all wind and waves.
Do this with me. Wave your hand in a big circle in front of your face. In the center of the circle is Jesus. Through God’s grace he has already rescued you from your sin. He has promised to be with you always. He loves you. That’s the center. All this, swirling around you is wind and waves.
Everything is wind and waves. Even the good stuff can be wind and waves. If it is not something that God has called you to do, then it is just a distraction that will take your eyes off of Jesus and you will sink.
Wind and Waves. If we focus on Jesus we will rise above the chaos.