There’s a lesson in this text for all who wish to be disciples of Jesus: If you are faithful and obedient to Jesus, sooner or later you’ll sink.
I’m not kidding. Jesus just told the disciples to feed the thousands with a little bread and few fish. Now he “makes” the disciples get into the boat and go to the other side of the sea. Then he dismisses the crowds and goes up a mountain to pray.
He’s the one who sends them out into a stormy sea while he is praying by himself. The disciples, who are only doing what they were told to do by Jesus, are fighting the wind and the waves all night long. They are exhausted, having been trying to stay alive. And in the dark, before the light of dawn, Jesus strolls out to them on top of the water. In their exhausted, frightened state, they believe him to be a ghost or a demon, and I can’t blame them. Jesus reassures them, but Peter is willing to check it out.
“If it’s you, command me to get out of the boat and come out into the storm with you.” Jesus tells him to come on out, and Peter does.
Nothing but faith, obedience, and trust in Jesus. Jesus sends them into the stormy sea, and they go. Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and step out into the waves, and he does. What does he get for his faithfulness and trust? He sinks. And the rest of us Christians all over the world shake our heads and say, “Yup, dumb ol’ Peter. Never shoulda taken his eyes of Jesus. That’s what he did wrong. Shows he just doesn’t have enough faith.”
Of course, that might mean a little more if we weren’t critiquing him from the relative safety of dry land. The disciples, only because they trust Jesus and do what he commands them, are in the fight of their lives in a storm that’s threatening to sink them. And Peter, only because he trusts Jesus and does what he commands him, gets out of he only protection he has–their boat–and steps right into the waves and the wind.
I hear people all the time saying things like, “If you give your life to Jesus all will be well.” “Trust in Jesus and prosper.” “Everything fell into place; it must be God’s will.”
Uhmm. . . Read this text again. Trusting Jesus, obeying Jesus means we will end up right in the heart of a storm. It means we’ll be fighting wind and waves in the darkness. It means we’ll sink. It means we will fail. The storms and the winds will get the better of us. Follow Jesus and we risk our lives. Trust Jesus and things will be hard. Obey Jesus and we will sink. Jesus doesn’t keep us free from the waves, he sends us into them. He doesn’t keep us from sinking, he reaches down under the water and pulls us up. He doesn’t help us to be successful, he commands us to come to him–even if it means stepping out of the boat and into the storm.
And there we will sink.
Think about it. Can you honestly say that following Jesus–really following Jesus–is safe and easy? Have you failed at forgiving someone whose deeply hurt you? Have you begun to sink in your guilt for not being generous enough? Have you ever passed a homeless person without helping them or a hungry person without feeding them? Have you ever avoided sacrifice for the sake of convenience?
We all have, right? We have all stepped out of the boat and sunk. We’ve all been battered by the waves and beaten by the wind. We try to be faithful. We try to trust Jesus. And we’ve all failed sometimes. We’ve all sunk under the surface sometimes. We’ve all had to cry out, “Lord, save me!” because the wind is too frightening. It’s one of the things we all have in common.
We know what these disciples are experiencing. Peter floundering is more familiar to us than we might think. But because the wind is so fierce, because the waves are so high, these disciples come to the point where they fall down in worship, “Truly you are the Son of God!”
The love, compassion, power, and identity of Jesus are most evident in the chaos of the storm, because that’s when he comes to us and lifts us out of the depths and gets into the boat with us.
Oh, yes, we’ll sink, we’ll fail, we’ll mess things up. Even when we’re trying our very best, we’ll still fall below the waves. Following Jesus pretty much guarantees that we’ll be stepping into the storm. And we will be frightened and we will sink, because the wind and the waves of this world are very, very real. And they are frightening. And who really wants to sink?
When have your failed in your discipleship? What about following Jesus makes you want to just stay on the shore where it’s safe? Where are you sinking?
When we’re sinking, we need to know two things: 1) It’s not because you’re a bad disciple. It’s entirely possible that, like Peter, you are experiencing failure because you ARE trusting Jesus! If you’re not following him, you’re not in the storm right?
And 2) It’s when you’re sinking that Jesus reaches out to save you. And it’s when Jesus does save you and brings you back into the boat, gets in it with you, and calms the waves, that’s when you really say with Peter and the other disciples, “Truly you are the Son of God!”