Scripture Reference: Matthew 14:22-33
While Walking on Water, I SankDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | March 8, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
There is no situation in life that is either a surprise to Christ, that catches Him off guard, or for which He is ill prepared. He is the God that has been watching you, and He always shows up at the moment that you desperately need Him.
When I was in Germany this past summer in the city of Leipzig, I saw a statue to Goethe. Many people mispronounce his name, and with good reason, but one of the things about this statue that arrested our attention was his head was turned to look at the university, but his feet were going to the tavern where he liked to spend a lot of time. It’s a beautiful example of the fact that we do have a conflict of interests, don’t we? We do have a conflict of pressures. There is our attempt to look at Christ but there are also the tremendous pressures of the world and circumstances that constantly get us distracted.
If you have been with us, you know that this is the third in a series of messages on the life of Peter. And I’m going to ask you to take your Bibles and turn to the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew where we have a story of Peter learning some fundamental lessons about doing the impossible. The context of the story is that Jesus had just fed a multitude of five thousand people. Imagine! I’m saying five thousand people but that isn’t quite right. It was a lot more than that because it says five thousand men. That might well mean that there were at least ten thousand or maybe fifteen. This is in verse 21 of the fourteenth chapter.
We know from other Gospels that when Jesus did that the crowd said, “Let us make you king.” They wanted to crown Him. And Jesus said no to that. He could have been a great political hero because the people believed in those days that the Messiah would do exactly what Moses had done, namely to bring bread from heaven. And if there’s anyone who knew how to bring bread from heaven it was Jesus, and they wanted a king like that. They believed that this king would be wiser than Solomon and have a kingdom of great splendor. And that’s why the text says in verse 22 that He made the disciples get into a boat. The Greek word is that He compelled them. He said, “Don’t even stay around here. Get into a boat. Go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” And meanwhile what does Jesus do in the midst of great political accomplishment where He could have been a great candidate for office? It says in the middle of verse 23, “He went up to the mountain Himself to pray.” And He prayed there for seven or eight hours.
You know Jesus loved to pray, and Jesus, as a man, even needed to pray. And you and I think that we can get by without it, but Christ, the eternal Son of God, whenever He had a spare moment spent it in communion with His heavenly Father. He loved to pray. And then Jesus leaves and finds out, and of course He knew all along (didn’t He?), that the disciples were still not across the Sea of Galilee. They were agonizing because there in the midst of the sea was the biggest storm they had ever encountered.
Let me give you a couple of preliminary observations before I get to the heart of my message. You know that the disciples didn’t know that when Christ was on the mount He could see them and that He knew precisely their longitude and latitude. He knew where they were even though they couldn’t see Him. And you know that in the storms of life sometimes we can’t see God, but I want you to know that that is not nearly as important as the fact that God sees us. And some of you, this past week, feel as if God has hid His face from you. And I want you to know that that’s okay if you don’t see His face because He’s watching you even when you can’t see Him.
And then, in a preliminary way, I want you to be reminded of the fact that they were in the will of God when they encountered this storm. If they were living in this generation, they’d say to themselves, “You know, we must be out of God’s will because the will of God is always tranquil. If you marry the right one there’s never any conflict. But if you have an argument it must be because you married the wrong one.”
Well, the answer, of course, is that oftentimes in the midst of the will of God, in obedience to Christ who said, “Get into the boat and go to the other side,” the greatest storms of life sometimes encompass us at the very moment when we are obedient to God. And some of you are going through storms today, not because you’ve been disobedient, not because you are out of God’s will, but because you have been obedient and you are in God’s will. And that’s why the storm is so fierce.
Also I look at this passage and I am reminded of the fact that when Jesus came to them, they didn’t recognize Him. It says in verse 25, “And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ (the Greek word is phantom) and they cried out in fear.” And you know that they did not know that the thing that made them afraid was actually God who was going to comfort them. And some of you this past week received news that may have made you afraid. It may well be that there is something that has happened in your life that is inexplicable, and the bottom has fallen out. What you don’t understand is that in those moments of desperation and hurt, actually God is near you and going to use that event to put His arms around you.
Dr. Harry Ironside, who preached from this pulpit many times, a long time before I was around, said that one day he was playing with his little boy, and he (that is, Dr. Ironside) was pretending to be a bear. And suddenly the little boy ran up to him and said, “You’re not a bear. You’re my papa.” And sometimes that which we fear (the bear) turns out to be the arms of God. And His arms are big enough even if you have a son who has AIDS. You find out that His arms are able to envelope you, and that which you fear can also become a means that God can turn into blessing.
All of that is by way of introduction. Aren’t you glad that you came? If that’s the introduction, how long is the sermon going to be? Well, relax. I already checked it out. You have nothing to do this afternoon. Alright?
Peter! Here’s Peter and we’d like to take three snapshots of him in this passage of Scripture. In snapshot number one, Peter sees Christ. Verse 27: “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’” And the minute His voice wafted across the waters, they knew who it was, and Peter saw that this was Jesus, and he recognized Him to be his King.
Peter saw the Lord. What kind of a Lord did he see? Well, he saw a Lord who was omniscient, that is to say a Lord that knows all things. Jesus knew that they were filled with fear. He knew the whereabouts of the boat, and by the way, when Jesus walked unto them the Gospel of John says that the boat was four miles from the shore, and Jesus is walking on this water. He is the God who is omniscient. He knows all things. He is also the God who is omnipotent. He is the God of power, the God of might and the God who can defy the laws of gravity. Jesus was walking across the water, and He wasn’t sinking.
I remember physics in the eleventh grade, and it’s the only thing that I remember from eleventh grade physics. “The buoyant force exerted by a liquid is equal to the weight of the water displaced.” Do you remember that? How many of you remember that formula? Fourteen of you! (laughter) The rest of you can walk on water.
The fact is that you’re not supposed to be able to walk on water. He wasn’t skiing. This wasn’t a motorboat experience. He is walking on water because He was displacing very little water, perhaps almost none, and yet He was not sinking. And my eleventh grade physics teacher said that that ain’t supposed to happen. If he said it that way he should have actually been in an English class, but nevertheless, you’re not supposed to be able to do that. But this isn’t your ordinary person. This is the creator of the sun, the moon and the stars. This is God, and if God wants to walk on water, God walks on water! And that’s who Peter saw. Snapshot number one, he saw Christ.
Snapshot number two, given his nimble mind, he saw an incredible opportunity. It says in verse 28: “Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord…’” I know that our translation says, “if it is you.” The Greek text says, “Since it is you.” There was no doubt in his mind as to who it was that was walking on the water. “Since it is You, command me to come to You on the water. Speak the word, Lord, and I’ll do what You’re doing.”
I know that generally we think that Peter was so impetuous that he always was the kind of person who wanted to do the big heroic act. We might interpret this to mean that Peter wanted to say, “Hey look, Ma, no hands! Believe me!” I’m not so sure. I think Peter so loved Christ that when he saw Christ walking on the water, his desire to get to be with Christ and to be with Christ was so strong that he was almost saying, “Lord, I can’t wait till You make it to the boat. Let me come to You.” And so he asks permission. He is not entirely impetuous. He could have just presumptuously hopped in and said, “I’m coming, Lord. Now save me.” But he didn’t. What did he do? He said, “Lord, command me to come. Give me the word, and I will do it. Speak Lord!” And Jesus very graciously said in a single word, “Come!” Peter hops out of the boat, and for a moment, if you had been there with a video camera you would have noticed something – that there was no longer just one person walking on the water, but there are now two people walking on the water. Incredibly, two people!
So far as we know throughout history there have only been two people who have ever walked on the water, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ and Peter. Everybody else who tells you that they have walked on the water are the people who know where the rocks are.
For a brief moment Peter is doing what his Lord is doing. He is also triumphant over the laws of nature. He is also breaking that law of physics that a buoyant force exerted by a liquid is equal to the weight of the water displaced. And Peter is walking with his Master on the Sea of Galilee, and he feels firmness beneath his feet as he walks to Christ. That’s snapshot number two. Peter saw an opportunity and he took it.
Snapshot number three – verse 30: “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out (and you know there’s a time for prayers, and some of you think that happens every Sunday morning, and then there are times when you just don’t have time for a long prayer and so you say it in three words), ‘Lord, save me.’” And this was a time for a short prayer. And what does the text say? “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus did not rebuke Peter because he was so desirous to come to Him, but he did rebuke him for his lack of faith. Why did Peter look at the wind and the waves? Why did he do that? Well just think! Think for a moment because he recognized that he was doing something that no normal person is supposed to be able to do. You’re not supposed to be able to walk on water. It hasn’t happened before. And furthermore, once he began to do it, it seemed to be so supernatural and the wind was so strong, it was pushing against him, and the waves were making so much noise that in his distraction he glanced over there and saw what it was that he was doing, and he took his eyes off Christ. That’s what happened to Peter, and so he had to cry out, “Lord, save me.”
What are the lessons to be learned here? Lesson number one, will you remember that the water that threatens to be over your head in the storms of life, the water that threatens to be over your head is water, believe me, that is under Christ’s feet. That is because if you are a believer you share in the victory of a very triumphant, omnipotent, omniscient Savior, and He’s walking on the water in which you are drowning. Always remember that. I want you to know that there is no situation in life, even the situations that took place in your life this past week, that are either a surprise to Christ, that catch Him off guard or for which He is ill prepared. He is the God who has been watching you in that storm, and He knew exactly when to come to the disciples at the fourth watch of the night when it was as if they were exhausted, and Jesus shows up at the moment when they desperately needed Him. He was monitoring it all from the hilltop. I want you to know today that Jesus Christ is triumphant over the storm that you are experiencing.
At 7:30 this morning the phone rings in the Lutzer household. It’s a relative of ours who is in another state who is going through a messy awful divorce from a husband who was unfaithful. And now it’s time to get that divorce, you know, and now suddenly he wants partial custody of the kids that he never loved when he lived with her. You know why he wants that, don’t you? Is it because he loves them? Of course it’s not because he loves them. He wants them because he needs to assuage his guilt so that he thinks to himself, “You know, I’m a good father after all because I really do want these kids.” And secondly, that’s the bargaining chip to get at his wife, you see, and so the preliminary hearing says that he’s supposed to get the children at least a little bit of the time. And the children go over there and they cry because they don’t want to be with Daddy. They want to be with Mommy. And Mommy has to sit there and go through this anguish and anger, wondering how in the world she’s going to make it. And so she phoned us at 7:30 today just for a little bit of encouragement because she said, “I don’t know if I can go on.”
I said to her, “Well, I want you to know that this morning I am preaching at The Moody Church on Peter walking on the water,” and I said, “I want you to know that the water that engulfs you is water on which Christ is triumphant and is walking.” But I said to her, “Remember this. Just because you look at Christ does not mean that the wind is going to stop. It does not mean that the waves are going to cease to make their noise because even when Peter was walking on water the storm was still blowing and the waves were still high. I don’t know, dear lady, how much pain you are going to have to go through. I don’t know how many tears you are going to have to shed. I don’t know how long these situations are going to drag on because I’ve noticed that sometimes they drag on for months and years and sometimes it seems as if the storm never ends. But remember that in your trial Jesus Christ knows, He understands, and He’s walking on the water that is threatening to pull you under.” She said, “I wish I would be there to hear your sermon.” I said, “I’ll send you a cassette tape,” so I’ll send you a cassette tape, Julie. I want you to know today that Christ is triumphant. Christ is walking on the water that seems to drown you.
Now when I was in seminary many, many years ago, we used to always be told that there should be only one point to a message really. You may have an outline, but basically there’s one bottom line. Well, I’ve given you one, but do you know what? For no extra charge, you are getting two today. Aren’t you glad you came?
The second bottom line is not only that Christ walks on the water that seeks to engulf us, but also the strength of our feet is determined by the focus of our eyes. You see, as long as Peter was looking at the Lord Jesus Christ, as long as he was looking into His eyes, the eyes of the Savior, he was walking, let the storm come as it may. But as soon as he looked at the wind he said, “My word, I can’t believe what I’m doing,” and he went under.
How long did it take for Peter to begin to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus? A second? I think of the many times I have failed Christ, and I have failed Christ more times than I would ever like to admit, and I have admitted those times to Him, all those times when I’ve done my own thing and when I thought my own thoughts. And I ask Him, “How long does it take for me to cease thinking about Christ and keeping my focus on Him before I collapse and fall into sin? And the answer is, “Not very long.”
Those of you who are battling anger today, and you are filled with resentment, have you ever noticed that when your mind goes along those trails and you begin to look at those waves and you begin to hear that wind, have you ever noticed how quickly it will engulf you, and how soon you are going to be drowned? And then you don’t even know where to go because you can’t swim and the water is pulling you down. It doesn’t take long.
Those of you who are filled with fears and anxieties, and you look at those fears and those anxieties, as you begin to look at them they grow in strength, and they begin to say, “I got you, I got you.” And you try to look at Jesus but He’s so far away that all that you can do is to see the wind, and all that you can see are the waves that are coming toward you. And they engulf you, and they say, “Where is Jesus now? I don’t even see Him.” It doesn’t take long.
Early Friday morning I flew to Cleveland, and when I was on that United Airlines flight, God, knowing that I was going to have to preach this message today, very kindly looked down from heaven and said, “You know, I’d like to give Erwin Lutzer a concluding illustration for that message he’s working on.” Now wasn’t that gracious? He wouldn’t have had to do that, but it was just an extra-unexpected blessing.
I was sitting beside a man who used to be a commercial airline pilot and now flies a little plane – his own little plane. We were talking about flying and he said, “You know, many people think that these big huge jets are built more safely, and that they are safer than those little planes.” And he said, “They think that because there are so many little plane crashes in comparison to those big jets, but that’s not true.” He said, “The reason that you have so many little light planes crash is not because of bad equipment. It is because of inexperienced pilots.”
I said, “Tell me more.” He said, “Do you know what inexperienced pilots do? Their error is they refuse to believe their instruments.” He said, “They are absolutely convinced, for example, that the altitude of the plane is increasing. There’s an internal mechanism that tells them that, but it’s not, and they disbelieve the instruments and they begin to adjust the plane accordingly, or they begin to think that the plane is actually turning, that it’s banking, and it’s not. And they adjust to bring it back to where their sense of intuition says it should be, and eventually something happens and they end up crashing.”
He said, “You wouldn’t have nearly as many light planes crash if those pilots blindly and devotedly believed their instrument panel rather than accepting information that is coming to them through their senses.” I shook his hand and I said, “I want to thank you for that sermon illustration.”
You think of all the Christians who have crashed. There are some of you who want to give up on the Christian life because you are saying, “Jesus doesn’t work,” and you are about to crash. We wouldn’t have nearly as many crashes spiritually if we ceased accepting information from our senses and from the wind and the waves and the circumstances of life, and the people who do us in, and the job that doesn’t work out, and the struggles that seem to engulf us. If we didn’t receive information from them but kept our eyes on Jesus – on the instrument panel – we’d make it even in a storm.
You say, “Well, how do you keep your eyes on Jesus?” Well, I don’t have much new to say, but I’ll tell you that what I’m going to say now is incredibly important. First of all, of course, it’s through the Word of God. You know, there are some of you here whose souls need to be purified by the Word. What you need to do is to read several chapters of the Bible out loud every single day. You read the chapters and you memorize the verses.
On Wednesday evening a woman in this church who is here this morning, but I am not now looking at her, told me that memorizing the first seventeen verses of Colossians totally changed her attitude and really changed her home. It’s amazing what the Word of God can do.
You say, “Well, we came here to The Moody Church. We gave money in the offering plate to hear stuff that we already know.” I know that you already know it, but that’s not why I’m telling it to you. I’m telling it to you that you might do what you know, and that’s a big difference. The infusion of the Word of God, meditating in the Law of God day and night! That’s number one.
Number two is prayer, and then number three is absolutely essential. You and I don’t sing in the choir here, and in many instances there may be reasons for that, but I’ll tell you there is nothing like singing, and like a song to keep your eyes on Jesus. There is absolutely nothing like it. In fact, when some of those songs are in your mind and heart (and you know you can sing these to yourself so nobody’s going to think that you need special counseling or anything), and when you fill your mind with the Word of God and when you begin to pray, and when you have in your mind the hymns, the songs that exalt Christ, when you have that you will be absolutely amazed.
But here’s what’s going to happen. The winds and the waves are going to constantly keep beating against you. Always these distractions! Always this problem is going to occupy your mind. That problem is going to occupy your mind, and what it really wants to do is not just occupy your mind. Ultimately it wants to absorb your mind. It wants to take all that is in your mind, and it wants to grab you and drown you in despair.
You say, “Well, that’s the way I feel this morning.” Well, for openers, would you do what Peter did? “Lord, save me. Help me. Jesus, I need you. I cannot bear my burdens alone. The load is too heavy. I’m tired.” Like the lady said to me at 7:30 this morning. “I can’t take it anymore.”
“Lord, save me. Help me.” Did Jesus say, “Well, you got yourself in this fix; it’s up to you to get out of it, Buddy? Tough!” No! Immediately (verse 31) Jesus stretched out His hand and said, “Oh, you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And together they got into the boat, and then the storm stopped.
Jesus is here! And He’s here not just to help you in your storm, but He’s also here to save you from your sin. He is the triumphant Christ who walks on water, and I invite you to Him today. I ask you and I urge you to come to Him, whether as a Christian who has burdens that are far too heavy for you to bear or someone who doesn’t know where he stands in his relationship with Christ. I ask you to come to the triumphant Savior, Christ the Lord, who is the only one who can keep us from drowning.
Father, we confess that we have often been engulfed by circumstances that we could have endured much better if we had looked to You. And so, Father, I pray in the name of Christ that You might help us at this moment to, like Peter, look into Your eyes and say, “Jesus, You are going to be my focus. You are going to be my life. You are going to be my all.” Whatever our spiritual need is, from those who are unsaved that may be listening, to those who know You as Savior but are walking in such defeat, drowning and wallowing in self-pity and sin and despair, come and help us, Jesus. Lord, save us. We need You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.