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Walking On Water
“Spiritual Growth: Faith and Obedience”
Text: Matthew 14:22-33 (Mark 6:47-52, John 6:16-21)

Preached by Ken Sapp @KPRBC
May 23, 1999

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (NIV)


I read about an interesting Scientific experiment that was conducted a while back. A group of behavioral Scientists put some rats in a tank of water, with smooth sides so they could not escape nor rest and observed them to see how long they would survive before drowning. The average time was 17 minutes.

Then, they repeated the experiment, but this time they “rescued” the rats just before the point of drowning, dried them off and returned them to their cages…. fed them, and let them play for a few days, and repeated the drowning experiment. This time, the average survival time for these rats increased from 17 minutes to 36 hours! The scientists explained that phenomenon by pointing out that the second time around, the rats had HOPE. They believed that they could survive this, because they had received a helping hand before.

In today’s passage Peter went through a similar faith/hope building experience

Peter’s Background

Steps of Faith
Christ is walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and he sees two fishermen casting their nets into the sea. And upon seeing them, He replies, “Come, follow me and I will make you fisher’s of men.” And in Matthew 4:11 we read “At once they left their nets and followed him.” One of those two fishemen is Simon Peter. Imagine those steps of faith Peter first made. A man of whom he knows nothing or little, asks him to follow him and he immediately drops his nets and obeys. Blind faith? Maybe but we don’t know how much Peter has heard about Christ before this occasion. Obedience. Definitely. But this step of faith is only the beginning, he takes another step of faith in Matthew 14, not fishing in the calm seas of the sea of Galilee, but in a storm.

Eyes on Jesus
In Matthew 9 Peter sees Christ interact with two blind men. After the interaction, their first sight is that of Jesus and they tell the entire region about it. In Matthew 14 Peter also sees Jesus, but then he focuses his eyes on the waves and the storm and begins to sink.

An Outreached hand
In Matt. 8:14 Christ visits the house of Peter’s mother in law who is lying in bed with a fever. Jesus reaches out his hand and touches her, and immediately the fever leaves her and she rises up and begins to wait on Jesus. In Matthew 14 Jesus will reach out his hand to Peter and Peter also will rise up and continue to serve Him.

A Calmed Storm
In Matthew 8:23 Jesus is in a boat asleep while a furious storm heaps waves over the boat and Peter is among the disciples who fear for their lives. And Peter is amazed because Jesus rebukes the waves and the storm becomes completely calm. In Matthew 14 as soon as Jesus steps into the boat, the storm is calmed.

A Lesson Learned
As Peter continues to follow Jesus, he sees Christ cast out demons, heal various diseases and illnesses, raise a young girl from the dead, and teach a great many truths of the Kingdom of God. But in today’s passage Peter learns a truth that will take him one step closer to the greatest truth of all. “Who do you say that I am?” Christ asks. And Peter will reply “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 16:16)

Today we look at Matthew 14.

Background of the Passage
News of Herod’s murder of John the Baptist reaches Jesus and his followers. (John is the cousin of Jesus) It is with this news that Jesus withdraws to a solitary place, but the crowds follow him. It is late and the multitude is hungry, so with five loaves and two fishes, he feeds 5,000 people. It’s Jesus’ only miracle mentioned in all four Gospels. Then after he feeds the crowd, he sends the disciples away, dismisses the crowd, and goes up into the hills to pray.

But Jesus didn’t just send the disciples away, Christ commands the disciples to cross the lake, at the exact time that a storm will blow in and we find the disciples in the boat, struggling to reach thier destination, buffeted by waves. And then Jesus “went out to them walking on the lake.” The disciples are terrified! It must be a ghost! But it is not. Jesus identifies himself. Peter, seeing Christ walk on the water wants to draw near to him. So he asks Christ for permission to come to him across the water. Jesus says “Come” and Peter steps out of the boat and begins to walk across the water. But the wind is howling and the waves are high, and for a brief moment, he takes his eyes off of Jesus and he begins to sink. “Lord, Save me” he cries out. And Jesus reaches out his hand and lifts him up.

It’s one of the most famous narratives in the scriptures, but one for which Peter gets a lot of criticism.

Charles Swindoll in his book “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back” tells the story of a farmer who wanted to impress his hunting buddies. To impress them, he bought the smartest, most expensive hunting dog he could find. He trained this dog to do things no other dog on earth could do—impossible feats that would surely amaze anyone. Then he invited the neighbors to go duck hunting with him. After a long patient wait in the boat a group of ducks flew over and the hunters were able to make a few hits. Several ducks fell in the water. “Go get ‘em!” shouted the proud owner to his magnificent dog. The dog leaped out of the boat, walked on the water, and picked up a bird and returned to the boat. As soon as he dropped the duck in the boat he trotted off across the water again and grabbed another duck and brought it back to the boat. The owner beamed with pride as his wonderful dog walked across the water and retrieved each of the birds one by one. Unable to resist the opportunity to brag a bit he aked his fellow hunters, “Do you notice anything unusual my dog? One of them rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Yes,” he finally said. “Come to think of it, I do! That silly dog doesn’t know how to swim does he??” (paraphrased)

Many give Peter much the same reaction. Instead of recognizing that he was the only disciple to have the faith to even step out of the boat, he is criticized for his lack of faith. He draws close to Christ while 11 other disciples sit in the boat, content in their perceived safety.

I. Step of Faith
II. Eye’s on the Savior
III. Helping Hand

I. Step of Faith

As we look at Peter’s step of faith it is important to note the circumstances in which he makes this important step.

Storms can be frightening. Like the disciples in our text we often find ourselves in the middle of storms. Maybe not storms of thunder and lightning, but the storms of trials and difficulty. Even today, you may be facing storms: an economic crisis, a marital conflict, a misunderstanding with your teenager. Others may be in the storms of physical illness, doubts about their faith, balancing a new job, or dealing with a child recently born into the family. You may have a stormy relationship with a member of the church. We all have storms in life. Anyone who tells you Christianity is smooth sailing on a calm sea doesn’t understand the truth of God’s working in our lives. While it is true that sometimes God calms the storms, more often he calms us in order for us to walk through the storms.

Notice that its the fault of Jesus that the disciples are in the storm. According to this passage and the passage in Mark, Jesus “made” or “constrained his disciples to get into the ship.” The word “constrained” means that Jesus ordered or commanded His disciples to take the ship across the Sea of Galilee. The disciples were in a storm because Jesus ordered them to go across in the boat. I believe Jesus, the master of the waves and the winds, knew the storm would come as was frequent for the sea of Galilee. And while they are making their way across “the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.” (Mathew 14:18) And we are told that the ship was tossed or buffeted by the waves. The phrase in Matthew 14:24 is variously translated “beaten, battered, tormented, tossed by the waves.”

When the Lord sends us into a storm… there is a purpose.

Sometimes the Lord’s Purpose is Correction. Let’s look at an illustration of that. Remember Jonah. He jumped on a ship and was going in the wrong direction so God sent a storm and some interesting transportation to get him back in the right direction.

Sometimes the Lord’s Purpose is spiritual growth. The Lord will use a storm to help us grow and mature in our spiritual walk with Jesus–to help our faith and obedience grow. Remember what Paul said in Romans 5:3 and 5:4, We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance produces character; and character produces hope. Remember James 1:2-5, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I believe that the whole purpose of the storm was to help the disciples grow in their faith. For the disciples, this was not a corrective storm for they were doing what the Lord had commanded them to do. They had to learn to trust Him…even when He was not physically present with them.

Buffeted by the Waves
So in Matthew and Mark we see the disciples, buffeted by the waves, straining at the oars, trying to go where Christ has commanded, but finding the going difficult. We too, when seeking to be obedient to Christ strain at the oars. We’re trying to do what the Lord has asked us to do, but there is resistance. — Perhaps that resistance is the displeasure of other people, differences of opinion, personality conflicts, swimming against the prevailing ideas or traditions. Maybe it is fatigue or circumstances which seem to be out of control. Perhaps the resistance lies within us. Maybe we are content to merely stay in the boat. For some we have chosen a destination and a goal and have forgot that the ultimate destination or goal is to draw closer to Jesus.

Peter’s Step is one of Great Faith, of Great Expectations
William Carey said, “Expect great things of God, and attempt great things for God.” Certainly Peter did! Most of us are satisfied with little things from God, but not Peter. Out of the 12, only Peter asks to join Jesus in walking on the water. A simple command, “Come” was the only thing Peter had to base his faith upon. Relying on the Lord’s promise, Peter climbed out of the boat, stepped on the water, and walked on the sea toward the Lord. From the context of the Scripture, we aren’t sure how far he had walked or how many steps he had taken before he started to sink. But we are sure that he did actually walk on water –overcoming the natural laws of the universe.

First, You see, Peter wanted to be with Jesus regardless of the risk and he knew that whatever God commands of us, He empowers us to do.

Secondly, Peter realizes that it is better to be with Jesus, without a boat, than it is to be in a boat without Jesus.

Peter understood that it was better to be out in the lake, with the waves swelling, the lightning flashing, the wind howling, the thunder rolling, the boat sinking, than to be in the boat without Jesus. F.B. Meyer writes, “Unbelief puts our circumstance between us and God, but faith puts God between us and our circumstances.”

So Peter took a step of faith
• To follow Jesus,
• To be close to Jesus,
• To walk as Jesus walked.

Faith can never be called true faith unless it is accompanied by action, by obedience

So Peter obeyed, Jesus’ command to come and stepped out in faith. James tells us, Faith without works is dead.

Peter began well – he actually got out of the boat! But then he began to sink (literally) back into his old way of thinking. His faith became a bit watered down. Why? He took his eyes off of Jesus.

II. Eyes on Jesus

Matt: 14″…But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink…”

Peter took his eyes off Jesus and as a result begin to sink… Verse 30. Peter began to look at his circumstances; the water, the wind, the waves, the storm about him. And when he did, he begin to sink in fear. Remember the quote from F.B. Meyer? “Unbelief puts our circumstance between us and God, but faith puts God between us and our circumstances.” Suddenly Peter noticed the wind and the waves and as soon as they became the focus of his attention they came between him and God.

You see, the difference between walking on water and sinking in despair is in our eyes. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we’re able to walk on water. Our is desire is only on drawing near to him and nothing will stand in our way. But when we start looking: at our circumstances, at our situation, at the storms in life– We lose faith… And a lost faith causes us to sink.

What we focus on in life will either feed our faith or feed our fear. Which will it be for you? Ever have that sinking feeling? We all have. Peter wanted to be with Jesus, but to do so, he had to keep his eyes fixed on Him, regardless of the circumstances.

Today, attempts are made walk as Jesus walked, often in very difficult situations. When totally concentrating on the Person of the Lord and obeying in simple faith, we can walk on water. As soon as we become intimidated by our circumstances we will sink. But when we sink, are not lost.

Jesus will reach out…

III. An Uplifting Hand

Not a finger pointed in accusation, but a hand stretched out to uplift
While we may remark on Christ’s criticism of Peter’s lack of faith, the greatest element of this story is that Christ Lifts Peter up. He doesn’t merely point a finger in rebuke, he stretches out his hand in help. When Peter is sinking, Christ lifts him up. He doesn’t overlook Peter’s doubt but he does do something about it.. he helps Peter back to his feet. At the crucial moment, the One who understands human weakness completely, immediately stretches out His hand and catches Peter, preventing him from sinking further. The focal point of this narrative is what what happened when Peter sunk, more specifically, how Christ responded when Peter got that sinking feeling.

It is written that “Jesus immediately extends his hand and takes hold of him. It says “immediately.” So it is that Christ took hold of Peter and it is not that Peter grabbed hold of the extended hand.

Christ called what was going on in Peter’s heart “doubt.” “Why did you doubt?” What is this “doubt” of which Christ speaks? James 1 calls he who doubts a “double minded man.” Peter’s heart had been divided in two. He trusted Christ enough to step out of the boat, but when he began to sink he feared for his life and doubted Christ would save him. As Peter began to sink into the raging waves, he feared for his life, even though Jesus was close by. Our Lord immediately reached out and caught Peter, then made the remark in question. I don’t believe Jesus was calling Peter’s wave-walking faith into question, but Peter’s lack of faith in Christ’s ability to save him after he began to sink. Jesus in effect was saying: “Peter, after bringing you out on the water, why did you doubt I wouldn’t save you, when you began to falter?” You lost sight of me, but that doesn’t mean I am not here to lift you up.

Stay in the Boat?
I really don’t believe Jesus chided Peter for his water walking faith. To buy into this misconception means you should stay safe in the boat until sure you’d never take your eyes off Jesus, which could well mean you’d stay in the boat forever. What God wants and this world desperately needs is more people willing to get out of the boat and walk on spiritual water when Jesus says, “Come.” The Lord knows we’re weak, imperfect and likely to take our eyes off Him and fearfully glance at the threatening waves. The important thing with God is that we obediently try, not that we don’t sink some from time to time. I don’t believe Jesus wants us to be like the 11 disciples cowering in the boat, safe, but not drawing any nearer to Christ–safe and afraid to follow Peter’s lead. Too often we want enough faith to save us, but not enough faith to draw near to Jesus. Jesus wants us to draw near to Him, knowing full well that we are going to sink from time to time when we don’t stay focused on Him. And when we do start to falter and sink, Jesus wants us to remember His rescuing hand is only a quick prayer away.

The Body of Christ is the Hand of Christ Today
But there is another lesson to be learned today about a helping hand. Today the body of Christ is that helping hand. When we see someone struggling in the waves, buffeted by storms, sinking in despair and doubt we need to reach out a hand and help them up. Too often we stop at the proclamation of their lack of faith and never extend a hand to help. I find it strange that so many Christians are quick to criticize but are unwilling to help someone when they are down. I’ve heard people say, “That person should know better. He isn’t a teen any more.” Some seem content to push them under or remain in the boat and point a finger. They would rather point a finger than extend a helping hand. They can be so content sitting in the boat when there are people around them sinking. After all, its the persons own fault they are sinking right? I am sure Peter is thankful Christ didn’t have the same attitude.

Our mission as the Church is not to be filled with judgment but to walk the path of Christ. We need to reach out when a follower is sinking, to be the hope where there is despair, to be the strength where there is no faith, to be the love amidst the hatred in this world. Our mission is a continuation of Christ’s – to reach out and help one another through the storms of life.

Two longstanding church members were in a boat fishing with a new Christian. Fishing is a great time for conversation and each was proclaiming his fervent faith and devotion to God. As they were discussing their faith, one’s hat blew into the water. So he stood up, calmly stepped onto the water, walked over to his hat, picked it up off the water, and walked backed to the boat. The new Christian was amazed how this Christian could seemingly walk on water. As the new Christian was pondering this, the other church member’s hat blew into the water. He also very calmly stepped onto the water, walked over to his hat, picked it up off the water, and walked backed to the boat. The new Christian was overwhelmed at how spiritual these men must be to have walked on the water as they did. Then the new Christian thought to himself, “Well, if these guys can do it, so can I”, and he “helped” his hat blow into the water. He very calmly stepped out of the boat and sank beneath the surface. As he fought his way to the surface, gasping for breath, the two long-standing church members turned to each other and said, “I think we should have told him about the stepping stones.”

We have many people in our church struggling with their faith. They are trying to walk like Jesus, but they are sinking. And they need some of you to be willing to step in and show them where the stepping stones are to a closer walk with Jesus. Are you willing?

Lets look at the RESULTS of Peter’s step of faith….

All of them worshiped Jesus and said: “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matthew 14:33) And the next day Peter, in the name of all of them, said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.” John 6:68-69. And I believe it was this incident that took Peter a step closer to the greatest truth of all. “Who do you say that I am?” Christ asks. And Peter will reply “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 16:16)


I heard about a guy out in Texas who invited a lot of bachelors out to his ranch for a BBQ. He got them all around and once he got them all in place he stood up before them and said, “Look over this edge at my little lake on my ranch. I have filled it with crocodiles and alligators.” He said, “If there is anyone willing to walk across these alligators and crocodiles and go from this end of the lake and get out on the other side alive, I’ll give you one of three things. I’ll give you a 500 acre ranch, a million dollars in cash, or the hand of my daughter in marriage. Which ever one you want.” He had no sooner said it than somebody jumped into that lake. “Splash,” he heard it and looked over the edge and there was a guy in that lake who didn’t even take his shoes off. He still had a three piece suit on. He was running across those gaters and crocs as fast as humanly possible. Water was flying everywhere. Crocodiles snapping and alligators chasing him and this guy was going through it all. He made it all the way to the other end. He climbed out soaking wet but without a scratch on him. He was breathing deeply trying to get his breath. The rich Texan went over to him and this is what he said, “Son, I meant this as a practical joke. I didn’t really mean for anyone to swim that lake. But you did it and I’m as good as my word. Which one do you want, the five hundred acre ranch, the one million dollars in cash, or my daughter’s hand in marriage?” The young man looked at the rich Texan and said, “I don’t want neither one of them. I just want to get my hands on the man that pushed me! That’s what I want!”

[You know, I have found out that to get some church members to step out of the boat sometimes you have to nudge them a little bit.]


I want to nudge you a bit as well. If you see someone sinking in their faith, don’t point your finger, extend a hand to lift them up. Maybe you need to invite some of the young adults over for a BBQ (without the alligators and crocodiles please) and reach out to them in love.

Jesus has called us all to walk in his footsteps… to step out of the boat and to follow him, draw close to him, and to walk as he walks. Are will you merely sitting in the boat? I want to give you a push. Yeah there is a storm out there… there may even be a few alligators and crocodiles but you’ve stayed in the boat too long. You are struggling with the oars trying to go places for God when Jesus wants you to draw near to him. Don’t be content with just enough faith to be safe, step out and draw near to Jesus, focus on him and not the circumstances and the storms, and if you get that sinking feeling remember he wants to reach out his hand and lift you up and expects you to do the same when you see someone else faltering.

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