Open Matthew 14:22-33
Some disasters are manmade. We hurt each other in our families, businesses, and communities. We’re harmed by war, racism, the injustices of power. We also face disasters beyond human control: cyclones, earthquakes, pandemics. Which kind does Jesus save us from?
Matthew 14 answers that question.
The ruler of Galilee held a dinner party in his own honour, with music, dancing and fine cuisine. John the Baptist spoiled the merriment in his final unplanned prophetic act: his head on Herod’s platter revealed death as the power behind the rulers of this world (14:1-12).
Jesus responded by withdrawing to isolated places, only to find the crowds joining him there. What a contrast: better to be without food in a desert with Jesus than at a party in a palace with this world’s ruler. With heaven’s help, Jesus provided a basic meal for them, bread and fish more satisfying than anything from Herod’s kitchen (14:13-21).
After cleaning up the desert behind the crowd, Jesus insisted the disciples head back home across the lake while he spent some time with his Father. They knew their way by the stars and the outline of Mount Arbel, but that night they struggled to make headway against a strong westerly and the waves it whipped up against them. Not long before dawn, they saw someone approaching — across the water.
“Be encouraged! I’m here. Don’t be frightened.” Peter knew that voice. Exhausted from rowing all night, Peter wanted out of that boat. “If it’s you, can I walk home with you?”
“Come on,” Jesus invited. Peter climbed out and started walking towards Jesus until the waves began to swallow him. The lifesaver was right there. “You trusted me so little that you doubted me?” Jesus asked.
As they climbed into the boat, the wind subsided. That’s when they began to understand what kind of saviour Jesus is. He saves the world not only from abusive rulers like Herod and their man-made injustice. The forces of nature submit to him as well.
Remember the Red Sea? Pharaoh’s military had them trapped between the heights and the depths. Pharaoh thought the land was under his control, and the sea was beyond control. He was wrong. The true ruler has the earth, the sea, and the winds at his command. If the sea represents the place where things rise up beyond our control, then in God’s vision of the world there is no sea (Revelation 21:1).
That night as Jesus climbed into their boat and the wind died, the disciples saw what authority had been placed in Jesus’ hands. Nothing — not even the sea — was beyond his control. Herod’s power rested on death, but Jesus was the life saver. They bowed to acknowledge their king, “Truly you are God’s Son.”
Our very existence can be threatened by the abusive injustice of human rule and the forces of nature. Facing tyrants and tempests, we may feel doubt and despair. But our lifesaver is not a ghost. He’s with us in the storm, bringing it under his authority. Don’t doubt him. He has a way forward. Even through the unruly seas.
Matthew 14:22-33 (original translation)
22 At that point, he insisted his followers climb aboard the boat and cross to the other side ahead of him while he dismissed the crowds. 23 After dismissing the crowds, he went up the mountain on his own to pray. When evening fell, he was alone there. 24 By now, the boat was well away from land, pummelled by the waves because of the headwind.
25 In the pre-dawn hours, he came to them walking across the sea. 26 When his followers saw him walking across the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they cried out in fear.
27 At that point, Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! I’m here. Don’t be frightened.” 28 Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, give the order for me to come to you across the waters.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Climbing out of the boat, Peter walked across the waters towards Jesus. 30 But in view of the blustery wind, he feared, and starting to drown he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and took hold of him and said to him, “You trusted me so little that you doubted me?”
32 As they climbed into the boat, the wind stopped blowing. 33 Those in the boat worshipped him, “Truly, you are God’s Son.”
What others are saying
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 566-567:
Behind their reaction lies the OT imagery of God walking on or through the sea (Job 9:8; Ps 77:19; Isa 43:16), a potent symbol of the Creator’s control over the unruly forces of his world. It thus follows naturally that when Jesus, like God, walks on the water the storm yields to his authority.