Peter Swims with the Fishes : Matthew 14:22-33

(If you want to walk on water you’ve got to get out of the boat)


There was once a farmer who wanted to impress his hunting buddies. So he went out and 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 his 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 shoot a few of them down. Several ducks fell in the water. The farmer looked at the dog and said, "Go get ‘em!" 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 kind of swelled up with pride as his dog walked across the water and retrieved each of the birds one by one. Kind of smugly, he looked at one of his buddies and asked, "Do you notice anything unusual about my dog?” One of them sat back and rubbed his chin and thought about it for a little while and finally said, “Yeah, come to think of it, I do! That stupid dog doesn’t know how to swim does he?”

Many give Peter the same reaction. Instead of recognizing that he was the only disciple who even got out of the boat, he’s criticized for his lack of faith. In the last fortnight we did some walking or should I say riding on water around the coastline of Skiathos - a beautiful Greek island - water skiing, banana boating, wake boarding and we even spent a whole day at sea, circumnavigating the island on a rather old but still sea worthy ship that the captain literally brought ashore at various intervals by raming the bows into the shingle and sand onto the beaches, then inviting us to disembark across and through the waves at a steep angle via a rather wobbly gang plank.


Not quite the drama we see in our reading but close to it.

Let’s remember what was going on here. The disciples had just spent a day feeding 5,000 men (no telling how many women and children there were), and then had collected up all the uneaten food. And then Jesus tells the disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side. The Greek says that He strongly urged them to get into the boat and go to the other side. And the next thing you know, along comes a storm.


This morning I want us to discover some principles for walking on water from Matthew 14. The best "how-to" book on the subject is by John Ortberg. I’d like to recommend it as your Summer time reading. My outline and much of the content of this sermon draws on John's book - I commend it to you. Which brings me to my first point about water walking.


1. Water Walkers will face Storms (14:22-24)

When you are serving God, and trying to be obedient to Christ, you will have to face storms. I’m not talking about physical storms that are common in nature, but the storms of trials and difficulty. Even sitting here today, you may be going through a storm. Maybe it’s money problems, or problems in a relationship. You might be having family problems, or problems at your job or school. We all have storms in life. Anyone who tells you Christianity is smooth sailing doesn’t understand what the Bible teaches about serving the Lord. 2 Tim. 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”


Remember, the disciples were in a storm because they were trying to be obedient to Christ. Now that’s not the only reason storms come in the lives of believers. Remember Jonah? He had to go through a storm for correction, but on this occasion, for the disciples, this wasn’t a corrective storm because they were doing what Jesus had commanded them to do. Verse 22 says “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side” And they did, or at least they tried to. And six hours later they had not made much progress. So remember first of all, obedient water walkers will face storms. Not if, but when you do, remember secondly,


2. Water walkers recognize God’s presence (14:25-28)

Recognise God’s presence in the storms. Jesus wanted to be alone to pray, so they were sent ahead without him. To them it was no big deal – they used boats for fishing on a daily basis.  But this huge storm blew in – bigger than most storms. Matthew says that the boat was “buffeted” by the waves.  It was so violent that the only thing the disciples could do was to keep the boat upright. (14:24)


I can imagine… that they wished the sides were a little higher and the wood a little thicker. By 3:00 am the storm was getting really bad.   I can imagine that at that point – they weren’t worried about making it to the other side,  – they just wanted to stay alive. Let that sink in.  The disciples were in distress.  It is about this time that Jesus decides to come toward them.


It’s interesting… he wasn’t in a boat and the disciples didn’t recognize him. (v. 25) It’s also interesting… being boatless didn’t seem to slow Jesus down at all. The disciples were convinced he was a ghost, so they were terrified and cried out in fear. (v.26)  But Matthew wants us to know that sometimes it takes eyes of faith to recognize when Jesus is around.


Often during our own lives…  we are tormented by waves of disappointment and doubt.  And we are no better at recognizing his presence than they were. Probe with me a little today…  what was Jesus up to, walking around on the lake at 3:00 am in the morning?


Mark tells us that Jesus “intended to pass them by” on the water, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost. Why did Jesus want to “pass by them?”  “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them” (Mark 6:48)


Did he want to race them?  Did he want to impress them with a really neat trick? The verb “to pass by” (parerchomai) is a greek translation of the old testament “theophanys.” What is a theophany?  It is those defining moments when God reveals himself on earth.” God put Moses in a cleft in a rock so Moses could see God as his glory passed by. God told Elijah to stand on the mountain “for the lord is about to pass by.” There is a pattern to these stories.  In each case – God had to get people’s attention… through a burning bush; wind; fire;  or… walking on water. With each person – God would end up calling him or her to do something extraordinary. In each situation the person that God called felt afraid. But every time that people said, “yes” to their calling, they experienced the power of God in their lives. So when Jesus came to the disciples on the water intending “to pass them by,” he was not just doing a neat magic trick.


He was revealing his divine presence and power. It is interesting that the disciples entered the boat in the first place at Jesus’ command. (Matthew 14:22). They would have to learn – as does everyone in this room – that obedience is no guarantee of being spared adversity. But now… the storm has their full attention.  Jesus decided that it was time for the disciples to get to know a little bit more about the guy who was piloting this storm.


Basically… Jesus wanted them to be able to trust him also in the storms. The problem was… “they just didn’t get it.”  God was visiting them while walking on the water but they couldn’t see it. Matthew wants his readers to know that Jesus often comes when least expected – 3:00 a.m., in the middle of a storm. I believe that human extremity is a frequent meeting place with God. These are those divinely appointed defining moments that come into all of our lives. And… if you’re not looking for him, you just might miss him.


Twelve disciples sat in the boat and we don’t know how the other eleven responded to that voice. Were they confused?  Did they respond with wonder?  Disbelief?  Or perhaps… a little of each!  But one of them, Peter, was about to become a water walker.  He recognized that God was present – even in the most unlikely place. He realized that this was an extraordinary opportunity for spiritual adventure and growth.  So he got an idea. He decided to do something religious.


Remember, first, water walkers will face storms.

Secondly, water walkers recognize God’s presence.


3. Water walkers discern between faith and foolishness (14:28)

Peter blurted out to the water walker, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) Why does Matthew include this detail? Why doesn’t Peter just plunge into the water? I think it’s for a very important reason.  This is not just a story about risk taking; it is primarily a story about obedience. That means i will have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on my part. Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment. Matthew is not just glorifying risk-taking. This is not a story about extreme sports.  Its about extreme discipleship! This means that before Peter gets out of the boat – he had better make sure Jesus thinks it’s good idea.  So he asks for clarity, “if it is you, command me…” I don’t know… but in that darkness – i think Jesus smiled.  Maybe he laughed because one person got it. Peter had some inkling of what it is that the master was doing.


Not only that, Peter had enough faith to believe that he too could share the adventure. He decided he wanted to be part of history’s original water-walk.  “command me.” Water walkers will face storms. Water walkers recognize God’s presence. Water walkers discern between faith and foolishness.


4. Water walkers get out of the boat (14:29)

Put yourself in the story. Picture in your mind how violent the storm must have been.  It was strong enough to keep seasoned professionals struggling just to avoid being capsized. Imagine the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of this night – and … no acupressure wrist bands or sea-legs tablets. These were the conditions under which Peter was gong to get out of the boat. It would be tough enough to try to walk on water when the water is calm, the sun is bright, and the air is still. Imagine trying to do it when the waves are crashing, the wind is at gale force, and it’s 3:00 a.m. in the morning… and you are terrified! 


Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment.  You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing – the lord is passing by. Jesus is inviting you to go the adventure of your life.  But at the same time, you’re scared to death.  What would you choose – the water or the boat?  The boat is safe, secure, and comfortable. On the other hand, the water is rough.  The waves are high.  The wind is strong.  There’s a storm out there. And if you get out of the boat – whatever your boat happens to be – there’s a good chance you might sink!  But… if you don’t get out of the boat – there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. If you want to walk on water –you’ve got to get out of the boat. I believe there is something – someone – inside us who tells us there is more to life than sitting in the boat.


You and i were made for something more than merely avoiding failure.  There’s something inside you that wants to walk on the water – to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God. So let me ask you a very important question: what’s your boat? ·  your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself. · your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy. · your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves. · your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship. Do you want to know what your boat is?  Your fear will tell you.  Just ask yourself this:  what is it that most produces fear in me – especially when i think of leaving it behind and stepping out in faith? Vocation?  Relationship?  Successes?  Failures? What area(s) in your life are shrinking back from fully and courageously trusting God? Fear will tell you what your boat is. Leaving it may be the hardest thing you ever do. But if you want to walk on the water, you’ve got to get out of the boat! Lets recap. Water walkers will face storms.


Water walkers recognize God’s presence.

Water walkers discern between faith and foolishness

Water walkers get out of the boat.

5. Water walkers face their fears to grow (14:30)

So Peter goes to the side of the boat.  The other disciples are watching closely.  They have seen Peter shoot off his mouth before – in fact… he did it a lot. They wonder how far he will take this thing. He puts one foot over the side, carefully gripping the edge of the boat.  Then he puts the other foot.  He’s holding on with for dear life.


For a while it’s as if Peter and Jesus are present on the water.  Peter is beaming with delight.  Jesus is thrilled with his student.    Like master, like disciple. Then it happens – Peter” saw the wind.” Reality sets in, and Peter asks himself, what was i thinking?  He realized he was on the water in the middle of a storm with no boat beneath him – and he’s terrified!


Now… nothing has really changed.  The storm shouldn’t have been a surprise – it had been there the whole time. What really had taken place was that Peter’s focus had shifted from Jesus to the storm. We are all the same.  We start something filled with hope – then reality sets in.  Setbacks.  Opposition.  Unexpected obstacles.  You see the wind.  It should be expected.  The world’s a pretty stormy place.  But somehow trouble still has the power to catch us be surprise. Because of the wind – some people decide to never leave the boat. If you get out of the boat, you will face the wind and the storms out there. But you should know… there is no guarantee that life in the boat is going to be any safer.


Eileen Guder once wrote: “you can live on bland food so as to avoid an ulcer, drink no tea, coffee or other stimulants in the name of health, go to bed early, stay away from night life, avoid all controversial subjects so as never to give offense, mind your own business, avoid involvement in other people’s problems, spend money only on necessities and save all you can… you can still break your neck in the bath tub, and it will serve you right.”


Peter faced a choice, as we all do. The choice to follow Jesus – the choice to grow – is the choice for the constant recurrence of fear. You’ve got to get out of the boat a little every day! Here’s a deep truth about water walking:  the fear will never go away. The fear will never go away. Why?  Because each time i want to grow, it will involve going into new territory, taking on new challenges.  And… each time i do that – i will experience fear again. As you see in this story… you will always have choices… risk and comfort.  Every time you get out of the boat, you become a little more likely to get out the next time. It’s not that the fear goes away – but that you get used to living with fear. You realize that it doesn’t have the power to destroy you. On the other hand… every time you resist that voice, every time you choose to stay in the boat rather than heed its call, the voice gets a little quieter in you.

Then… at last you don’t hear its call at all. Lets recap.


Water walkers will face storms.

Water walkers recognize God’s presence.

Water walkers discern between faith and foolishness

Water walkers get out of the boat
Water walkers face their fears to grow


6. Water walkers master failure management (14:30)

As a result of seeing the wind and giving in to fear, Peter began to sink into the water. So here is the question:  Did Peter fail? Before i offer you an answer let me make an observation about failure. Failure is not an event, but rather a judgment about an event. Failure is not something that happens to us, or a label we attach to things.  It is a way we think about outcomes. Did you know for example that

·                          Before Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio that finally worked, he tried 200 unsuccessful times.

·                          When Thomas Edison was branded a failure in his attempts to create a light bulb he said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

·                          Before James Dyson invented the perfect vacuum cleaner he went through 5,127 prototypes.

·                          somebody once asked Winston Churchill what most prepared him to risk political suicide by speaking out against Adolf Hitler.  His answer was that it was the time that he had to repeat an exam at school.

Asked, “you mean you failed an exam at school?” Churchill replied, “I never failed anything in my life. I was given a second opportunity to get it right.”  


So…  did Peter fail?  Probably.  He took his eyes off the Lord and sank. But i think there were eleven bigger failures sitting in the boat.  At least Peter got out of the water and walked on water – even if it was for a short while. Why?  Because he got out of the boat. The worst failure is to never get out of the boat! Water walkers see failure as an opportunity to grow. As soon as Peter asks for help, Jesus was there.  “Lord… save me.”  Jesus helps him physically by pulling him from the water.  But he also helps Peter grow by pinpointing the problem:  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I don’t think Jesus is being harsh or critical here.  Jesus makes this comment to Peter while they are still out on the water alone. Jesus didn’t embarrass him in front of his peers. The problem was clear: whether Peter sank or water walked depended on whether he focused on the storm or on Jesus.


It was Peter’s willingness to risk failure that helped him to grow. Failure is indispensable, irreplaceable part of learning and growth. Failure doesn’t shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you. Where did we get to?


Water walkers will face storms.

Water walkers recognize God’s presence.

Water walkers discern between faith and foolishness

Water walkers get out of the boat
Water walkers face their fears to grow

Water walkers master failure management


7.  Water walking brings a deeper relationship with God (14:32-33)
Read verses. Peter leant a significant lesson that morning but so did the other 11. Jesus is still looking for people who will get out of the boat.  So why should you risk it?


it is the only way to real growth

it is the way true faith develops

it is part of discovering and obeying your calling


I believe that there are many good reasons to get out of the boat.  But there is one that stands above them all… the water is where Jesus is. The water may be dark, wet, and dangerous.  But Jesus is not in the boat. The main reason Peter got out of the boat is that he wanted to be where Jesus was. Matthew keeps referring to this reality.  Peter’s request is, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you.”  Then Peter got out of the boat “and came toward Jesus.” (14:28) Because Peter did this – both he and his friends came to a deeper understanding of their master than ever before. So… how about you?  When’s the last time you got out of the boat?  Then God “passes us by” and shakes up everything.  The call to get out of the boat involves crisis, opportunity, often failure, generally fear and sometimes suffering. It is always a call with a task too big for us.  But there is no other way to grow closer to God!


So where are you this morning?

Huddled in the boat with a life jacket and your seat belt on?

One leg in, one leg out?

Out of the boat - but the wind looks pretty bad?

Looking into the eyes of Jesus and walking on water?


Maybe there was a time in your life when you were walking on water on a regular basis – a time when your heart was much like Peter’s: “command me.  Tell me to come to you.” Or perhaps its been a while since you’ve got out of the boat – but the lord is passing by.  Jesus is still looking for people who are willing to get out of the boat!


Rick Warren says, two things will happen if you get out: “The first is that when you fail - and you will fail sometimes - Jesus will be there to pick you up. You will not fail alone. You will find he is wholly adequate to save. And the other thing is, every once in a while you will walk on the water. So do something religious. Get out of the boat.”

Lets pray.


“Lord Jesus help me to walk with you. Help me to recognise what ever it is that keeps me from coming to you, keeps me from trusting you, keeps me from obeying you. Help me to face what ever it is that I am afraid of and to trust you to save me.”



With grateful thanks to John Ortberg, teaching pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, California for the outline and inspiration of this sermon, based on his book “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat” (Zondervan) and also to a sermon by Bill Burnett of New Life Chapel, California “If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat”