Walking On The Water
May 20, 2001 / No. 3046
Dear radio friends,
Standing out among all the rich promises of God in His Word is the one that we find in Isaiah 26:3, 4: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.”
We have a very clear command: Trust in the Lord forever, in every moment of every day, in every possible circumstance; trust, that is, look with the eye of faith to God, stay or rest your heart upon Him. And then we have the unqualified promise: Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace. God will give you to experience in your heart a peace beyond expression. Very simple. Very clear. Yet, this is the lesson that we are never finished learning in this life. We are prone now, due to the littleness of our faith and remaining sin, to do exactly the opposite. We look at ourselves. We look at man. We look at the difficulties, problems, and fears. And God also, in an endless variety of ways and in each one of us, constantly puts our faith under the trial and calls us to trust in Him.
Faith is the gift of God in us. But that faith is always in need of being strengthened. That is the purpose of God in your life. You may compare the faith that God gave you to the muscle of your arm. If your muscles are not exercised strenuously, they soon actually decay, lose tone, become flabby, dull, and you do not want to do anything. So God exercises the faith implanted in our hearts. He does so by leading us into impossible situations. He brings us to those moments when we think His promises must fail, when we cannot see out or attain to His purposes, when all that we see is that we do not see and that we would be swallowed up in hopelessness and despair. Then He calls me (and you): Trust in Jehovah. Stay your mind upon Him.
All of this comes out so vividly in the well-known incident of Peter walking on the water. You may find that incident in the ministry of our Lord in Matthew 14:22-33.
Things had been going so well, the disciples thought. Finally it appeared that Jesus was going to show His power to be a great king. Look at the power that He had just shown. He had fed the 5,000 with but a few loaves and fishes. At last, the disciples believed, things were happening. The corner had been turned. No longer were they living in expectation. They could see the fulfillment. Christ was being accepted by the multitudes. Here He would show what kind of man He was, what kind of King He could be.
We read, “And straightway (after that miracle) Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side.” Constrained, literally, forced, compelled. “Go,” He said. “Go quickly. Do it now. Get out of here.” The Lord was saying to them (and us), “Your place as My disciples is not the hillside, sunning yourself in My success, imagining a great earthly kingdom and everything that you want. You must not spend your time thinking of yourself as the head of a great mass of people. Your place as My people and as My church is out on the sea where you will be tossed and threatened and become weary. Christ is not the Christ that man would naturally want. He is not a Christ to make you rich and feed your belly, to give you popularity and ease. That is not who He is. He is Savior. He is the only Savior. He is the Son of God. He is the One who, through His death, now holds the souls of His people in His hand. And you, as His child, must learn that. And you learn that on the sea, when you are tossed and tried.
We read that, while Jesus spent the night praying alone, the disciples spent that night rowing for all that they were worth. For God had arranged for their good a great storm. God had arranged that storm to prevent the disciples from being carried away by the earthly. Jesus saw the experience of the feeding of 5000 as something His disciples needed to be separated from. The disciples had more than just a little sympathy with the idea of the multitude that Jesus could be a great king. And the Lord saw the danger of leaving them in a crowd where such a frenzy was at work under the strong, seductive dream of earthly prestige and power. He constrains them to get into a ship. And sovereignly He arranges a great storm so that now all that they could do was to think of the strength they would need for the next pull on the oars. They had no time to think of earthly kingdoms, which but a few hours ago had seemed so near.
There is a word of God in that for you. The trials of your faith are used of God to bring you back to the reality of your spiritual life, to prevent and correct your heart from being enamored with this present life.
Can you look back at situations in your life to see that this was true? As a young man or woman, the world was before you. Friends were saying very complimentary things about you. It was a temptation. You began to be enamored with pleasures and pursuits of the world. You thought that the world was at the tip of your finger. The Lord saw you at the edge of a whirlpool. And so He sent sickness. Or, perhaps, the death of a young person whom you knew.
You, as a man, have become over involved in your business. You are beginning to envision all the money and all of the power you are going to have. How successful you are! And you think that things, and the new home, is going to be the answer for everything. What did God do? He sent sickness to your child. He sent some trouble into your life so that you may be delivered from the spell that the world had cast upon you.
But although the Lord had sent this storm upon His disciples, His eye never left them while they were in it. We read, “He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone (praying). But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.” It was then, in that night, that the Savior brought great and glorious petitions to His Father, prayers also for His disciples. So much were the disciples upon the heart of Jesus that they were not borne simply by the waves, but they were borne, throughout the night, by the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were never out of His hands.
So the Scriptures say to us in the midst of our trials. We, too, have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ, the righteous. We have a great high-priest who ever lives to make intercession for us. And I fear sometimes that we Christians make too little of the intercession of Jesus Christ. We reject all other mediators. The saints cannot mediate or help you. The virgin Mary cannot help you. Prayer beads, even if rubbed frantically, cannot help you. That is superstition. But let us not forget that we do have One who ever lives to make intercession for us: Jesus, the Son of God, the One who knows our soul in every affliction.
The distress which had come upon the disciples was very real. It seemed that that little boat could not survive in those seas. The Sea of Galilee is nestled between high, rocky peaks. It is seven miles wide, thirteen miles long, and 700 feet below sea level. It could get very hot on that sea. Winds would come down from the heights above, collide with different temperatures, and break out across this sea. Great storms would arise, and this one was in fact extraordinary in its power and threat. The disciples, you remember, were experienced with this sea. They were fishermen who had spent many an hour on this sea. They knew its characteristics. But now all night long, though experienced and crafty sailors, they are held in the midst of the sea. All they could do was row all the night long. And they had succeeded in nothing. They could not get out of the grip of that storm. They were exhausted.
It is also significant that the Lord did not come to them immediately. In fact, the Lord did not come to them while any strength was left in their arms. No, He came in the fourth watch, very early in the morning.
All of this is arranged of Christ to be a picture to you and to me as believers, and to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true church. Christ is making a graphic picture of the church in the midst of this world. The Lord will say to His disciples in John 16: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” We are not left with uncertainty as to what we are to expect as Christians and as the church in this world. The place of the true church in the world will be distress. The apostle says in II Timothy 3, “Perilous times shall come.” That stormy sea, then, symbolizes the world in its attempt to destroy and to drown the church under its own waves of sin and iniquity. The world is united in opposition to the cause of God, whether that is expressed in outright persecution or in mockery, scorn, seduction, and the powers of world conformity. The church is in the midst of that world. We are not called, as the church or as believers, to flee this world. We are to be in the midst of that world. But the world, spiritually, will attempt to swallow up the believer into its black depths and to extinguish the light of the gospel and to silence the voice of God’s Word.
Right now there is for you, too, distress. Do not be deceived! The waves of immorality and shamelessness and the availability and advocacy of every sexual uncleanness is to be seen as a great crashing wave coming down upon the vessel of God’s church in an attempt to destroy it and to have it sink down into murky, black evil. Do not be deceived. The advocacy today of tolerance; the acceptance of all religions, of all life-styles; the acceptance of evolution – all of these things are not the evidence of man showing how broadminded he can be and how culturally sophisticated he can be. These things are mighty, cresting waves intended to smash the witness of the church and of the believer. What is our witness? Thy Word is truth. God is the God of the truth. Billows, waves, higher and higher on every side, crash down upon the ship of God. God does not give you as a believer or the true church to confess the truth in a world of calm water, of spiritual neutrality. But He gives you to confess it where there is a hurricane wind of unbelief.
That is true also in our own lives. Troubles, disappointments, slanders, distress, afflictions of our body, shattering of our cherished hopes – this is the picture of the church and the believer in the world. The ship was in the midst of the sea tossed with waves.
It was to them that the Lord came walking on the water. He came to strengthen their faith. Peter possessed faith. We read, “But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” The message of the Lord to us today is, do not fear. In your trial today, do not be afraid. Look to Me. It is I, says the Lord. Be not afraid. Your trust and faith must be stayed and focused upon the Lord. Jehovah salvation, the Son of God, Christ in all of His fullness, majesty, and glory, the God-man who came to bear our sins – look to Him. That is faith. Faith is the gift of God to look to Christ, to Christ who walks on the water, the mighty Savior. Not an impotent Christ who cannot attain something unless the will of the sinner is enlisted to cooperate first with Him, but the Christ of the Scriptures who commands: “Look at me! I am the One who has created you unto God, created in your heart to believe in Me. Now I call you, look at Me!”
Do you? You see, faith is not a dead thing. It is not an inactive power within the believer. Faith is the eye so that we see something – Christ. Faith is the mouth so that we taste something – that the Lord is good. Faith is the hand God gives to us whereby, by His grace, we lay hold on Christ.
Peter had that faith. Do not criticize Peter for getting out of the ship. There are those who would do that. They would say, “Oh, here is Peter’s problem again. He should have stayed in that ship. He is being rash. Peter, Peter, there you go again. You’ve got the ‘Me first’ attitude. Evidently you think you’ve got to show everybody your steel and your faith! And you’re going to distinguish yourself again with vain glory before the other disciples.” No. Although that is true of Peter many times and it is true of you and me often, that is not the problem here. The problem was not rashness or vain glory. The Lord gave to Peter faith and he came out of the boat and walked on the water. That was the courage of faith. Do not think otherwise.
No, the problem was that Peter took his eyes off Christ. That was the problem. He began very well. Who of us would have walked on the water? Here is the problem: he took his eyes off Jesus. When he took his eyes off Jesus he began to sink.
The state of your soul today is determined by this: Are you, by faith, looking at the One who holds all things in His hands and who has sworn over a bloody cross and empty grave to be faithful to you? Then, continue steadfastly in your trial to look to Christ. Your sins, you say, mount up as a towering wave. Faith must look to Christ for full forgiveness. We walk in the midst of the waves of our sin. I see sometimes sins so great, as a vast, troubled sea. My own sins, ready to drown me under. All of those sins we see in ourselves so deliberate and so proud. Where are we going to look? Do not look within! Do not look without to someone else. Surely you will sink in despair. Look to Christ! Walk in the assurance that all of our sins are pardoned in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes in our lives everything can appear so contrary to the promises of God. God has promised that all things work together for good to them that love Him. All things! But sometimes we cannot see that. When God sends cancer – how is that for my good? What about my children, my wife – how can that be for my good? Childless? But I have desired to have children – how can that be for my good? A person, perhaps, is risen up in your office who seems simply to believe it is his mission to make you miserable and to heap guilt upon you. You cannot sleep. It is bothering you. Or, perhaps, your job is threatened. A disease has come into your body – how is that for your good? I cannot do my work. Or, perhaps, lonely. There is no one for you to talk to. Is this for your good? Would it not be better that these things did not happen? All these things are for us?
Listen to the answer: Look to Christ. Do not look at the waves. Look to Him who walks on the water. That is the calling of faith. Walk by faith, not by sight. Faith is not a superstitious “I hope so,” but faith is rooted and builded in Christ, revealed upon the pages of holy Scripture. Look to Him by faith.
By faith, we walk on the water. By faith we trust in Christ who, even though we doubt and have no strength, is a faithful Savior. You remember that Peter, as he began to sink down, cried out, “Lord, save me.” Immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him. There is the power of the love of Jesus. Could Peter sink away from Jesus? Could the waves hinder Jesus from saving Peter? Could the waves hide Peter from the Lord’s vision? Never! For, you see, although Peter did take his eye from Jesus, Jesus never removed His eye from Peter. That is our comfort. That is our boast. We have not a Savior who does not know and cannot see and circumstances will prevent Him from helping. But we have the all-sufficient Son of God whom we worship.
So we walk on the water. Oh, yes, not only Peter. Later on, Paul walked on the water when, as a missionary to the Gentiles, he was confronted by slander and friendlessness, hatred and reproach, and the whole might of the Roman empire rose up against him and the gospel he proclaimed. Paul was faithful. He preached Christ. He walked on the water.
Martin Luther walked on the water. When he stood before pope and counsel and princes and cardinals and they said to him, “Luther, renounce all of your Reformed writings!” He responded: “Here I stand. Unless I am convinced from Scripture, I can do nothing else.” He walked on the water.
Thousands of people whose names are not written in any book but are written in God’s book of remembrance have walked on the water.
You see the waves about you? You see everything that makes you afraid today? You think these things are going to do you in, they are all against you? Hear Him, the mighty Son of God. “Do not be afraid, it is I. I have overcome the world. Look to Me. Turn your eye upon Jesus!”
And the waves are calmed and the wind ceases and we bow to worship.
Father in heaven, bless Thy Word this day to our hearts. Amen.