At first reading, it may seem that today’s scripture lesson is about a storm the disciples were facing as the waves of the sea battered their boat. At second reading, however, it becomes apparent that the story is really about the storms Jesus was facing in his ministry.
To understand the storms Jesus was facing, we need to review the closing verses of the 13th chapter of Matthew and the beginning verses of the 14th chapter of Matthew. In reviewing these verses, we hear the growing rumble of a storm that Jesus was facing in his life when the people in his hometown of Nazareth took offense at him Jesus responded to the beginning of this storm in Matthew 13:57 when he stated that “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.”
The winds of this storm about Jesus’ ministry grow stronger in Matthew 14:1-12 as Jesus receives news that John the Baptist had been beheaded for speaking truth to the powers that be. If you will recall, John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin who prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry as he preached a message of repentance and preparation for the way of the Lord. Matthew 14:13 reports that Jesus responded to the news of John’s death by withdrawing in a boat to a deserted place by himself. Matthew 14:14-21 reports that Jesus’ attempt to reflect privately upon John the Baptist’s death was interrupted by the crowds who followed him on foot from the towns surrounding the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has compassion upon them by healing their sick and feeding 5,000 men plus women and children.
It is in the stormy reality of his hometown’s rejection of his ministry and the death of John the Baptist that we read about three miracles that occur as the storm surrounding Jesus’ identity and ministry is confirmed:
- Jesus walks on the sea to the disciples
- Peter walks on the sea to Jesus
- Jesus gets into the boat with the disciples
Rev. David Ewart reflects on the first two of these miracles by noting that at the time of Jesus, what happens in the story is NOT that Jesus walks on water. Instead, Matthew records that Jesus walks on the sea. In that time, the sea was understood to be a living, chaotic, potentially deadly spirit. When the disciples see Jesus is walking toward them on the sea, they are not relieved, they do not shout for joy expecting that Jesus has come to rescue them from the storm … Instead, they are terrified. … by the sight of Jesus as they say, “It is a ghost.” Matthew reports that Jesus speaks to his terrified disciples as his identity is confirmed as Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
The second miracle is Peter walking on the sea to Jesus as Peter, confirming Jesus’ identity, says, … “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you.” It is important to note that Peter does not act on his own impulse or authority. He asks to be commanded to come to Jesus. He gets out of the boat under the protection of the authority of Jesus. And Peter does not go for a stroll on the sea; he does only what he has been commanded, he comes toward Jesus. And for a few brief steps, it works! Peter, too, is able to walk on the back of the chaotic, dangerous spirit, the sea. But as we all know too well, there are many distractions in life that take our attention away from what we most cherish. And instead of keeping his focus on Jesus, Peter notices the wind, and his bond with Jesus is weakened.
Notice that Peter BEGINS to sink. That is, Peter is not walking on water. No one BEGINS to sink in water. Try standing on water yourself and see how much time you have to cry out while beginning to sink. And notice too, that Peter does NOT cry out, “Lord, IF it is you,” as he did when he was back in the boat. Now there are no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Now it is simply, “Lord, save me.” Jesus reaches out his hand and saves Peter. His comment and question to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt,” would be better translated as, “You of little trust, why did you hold back?”
Which leads to the third miracle – Jesus getting into the boat with his disciples. I suggest that this miracle is the most important of the three because in this miracle, Jesus’ identity and ministry are affirmed as, for the first time in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ disciples worship him as they say, “Truly you are the Son of God.” They affirm what they have seen as Jesus exerted his authority and the storm facing the disciples ceased as the spirits of the sea and the wind grow silent. Even more importantly, they affirm what they have seen as Jesus walks on the stormy sea he is encountering in his ministry. Getting into the boat with his disciples, Jesus is identified as not only a miracle worker who can heal the sick and who can multiply loaves and fish but as the Son of God. Getting into the boat with his disciples, Jesus sets sail for the storm that will confirm his identity as the Son of God in Matthew 27:54 where the centurion and those with him at the foot of the cross are terrified and say, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Any storms in your life? Times of unexpected realities when you need to hear Jesus say, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Any storms in your life? Perhaps it is time for Jesus to get into the boat with you.
Any Storms In Your Life?
by Pastor Marc Brown
August 13, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Matthew 14:22-33
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for August 13, 2023
Scripture Lesson Matthew 14:22-33
The Good News “Any Storms In Your Life?”
Music “Stand By Me” by Charles Tindley
Closing Music “Blessed Assurance” arr. Bill Wolaver