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Matthew 14:22-33 1
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But 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. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Background

It is always important to take a story out of Scripture and place it in context with the events that both preceded and followed it. The story of Jesus walking on the water follows the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. As they did then, they do once again. The disciples try to find the resources within themselves to resolve the problem–but without success. Once again, they learn that they need Jesus to save the situation–and themselves.

While Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21 also tell this story, Matthew is the only one to include the story of Peter attempting to walk on the water to meet Jesus even though Matthew uses Mark as one of his sources.  Matthew ends his story is quite differently. In Mark, the story ends with the disciples being astounded, not understanding. In Matthew, the disciples worship Jesus and acknowledge that He is the Son of God.

This story is similar to Matthew 8:23-27, where a storm threatened to sink the boat while Jesus slept. In that story, Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea, and they obeyed him. In both stories:

  • The disciples are in a boat.
  • There is a sense in which Jesus is absent from the disciples. In Matthew 14, he sends the disciples ahead by themselves. In Matthew 8, He was in the boat, but He was asleep.
  • The disciples are caught in a storm and afraid.
  • Jesus uses the word, oligopistos (“of little faith”) to rebuke the disciples.
  • The disciples are amazed at Jesus’ power. In the Matthew 8 story, they said, “What kind of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” In the Matthew 14 story, they say, “You are truly the Son of God.”

At the time of the writing of this Gospel, Matthew’s church is weathering a storm of persecution. By this time, Peter has most likely been crucified. These Christians are not in rebellion, but are faithfully serving God. The story of the disciples on the sea, therefore, mirrors exactly the situation of Matthew’s church. It holds a promise that Jesus comes to Christians in the midst of the storm. The storm does not hold the upper hand because Christ is present with us in the storm and redeems us from the storm. The two storm stories address issues of danger, fear and faith for every Christian. This passage was meant to bring great comfort to the early Christians. While not spared suffering and death, they were to be confident that Christ would save them even if they were to die.

None of the Gospels tells us how far Peter walks but, when he falters, he is close enough to Jesus that Jesus can reach out and catch him. Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (v. 31b). This is the only place that Jesus applies “you of little faith” to one disciple rather than the group as a whole. Note that Jesus first saves Peter, then He rebukes him. It is comforting to know that our Savior first saves. Amen.

The real question you must ask yourself is whether you believe Jesus really worked miracles. If He could heal the sick without medicine and feed hungry crowds with only a little food, there is no reason to believe that Jesus could not walk on water. If no miracles are true, then we would have to even question the resurrection. There is no way to prove conclusively that Jesus worked miracles. Belief in miracles and the resurrection are a matter of faith, not proof. The best evidence of miracles will be the changes that you see in your life and the lives of others as a result of your/their relationship with Christ.

Items for Discussion

  • How is faith created?
  • How is faith strengthened?
  • Is the difference on one’s faith between seeing something and hearing about something? Does it have contemporary implications?
  • Peter was able to walk on the water because he had faith in Jesus’ word to come. Why did he then begin to sink? See John 12:48-49; 2 Corinthians 5:6-7; Colossians 3:17; Hebrew 12:1-3
  • What are some examples of how we let doubt overcome our faith?
  • What are some of the storms people commonly experience? What are the causes of these storms?
  • Think about the story’s details: Peter could not walk on water like Jesus. What parts of the story might convince the other disciples that Jesus was the “Son of God?”

Discussion Challenge

  • How does a gathering of believers strengthen one’s faith?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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