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Matthew

Walks On Water

Matthew 14:13-36

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This section has a very rare characteristic: it is told in each of the four Gospels. It evidently was a very powerful experience.

Feeding the Five Thousand

Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" They *said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." And He said, "Bring them here to Me." Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.

(Mat 14:13-21 NASB)

Christ into the desert

We so often hear of Christ going away into some desolate place to pray that we think little of it. But the question must be asked: why this time? It is on the heels of the news that John the Baptist has been executed; Herod seems to think that Jesus is John, risen from the dead. Is this simply fear of the authorities? It is certainly reasonable to think that John’s execution caused his escape to the desert; but the connection might not be what you think.

  • It is certainly convenient to escape Herod’s clutches. But consider that Christ leaves no chance to Herod to “add murder to murder.” There is little chance that Herod will repent; but not “no chance.”
  • The primary reason is this: it is not time. His sacrifice on the Cross is about a year away. The Divine Appointment will be kept.
  • Finally, it is an example to us. Some of us will stick around to be martyrs to the cause; but most of us want to run away. Jesus sets us the example of fleeing persecution.
The crowds follow

Jesus hasn’t exactly made it easy for the crowds. See what barriers those who want to follow Jesus had to face:

  • They’re going after him on foot – in the desert. For those of you who have ever walked the desert, you know how quickly the urge to give up comes.
  • Hunger is their companion; there is nothing to eat where they are going.

It is no surprise, then, that Christ heals the sick among them. But note carefully: their good work in following Him is not the reason He heals – His compassion is.

Miracle of the old creation

One value of this section of Scripture is that it defines, by example, two different kinds of miracles. This is a miracle of the old creation; a point which may be determined by its action.

  • The loaves are divided and then are multiplied. Isn’t this a picture of the natural method? Barley seeds (the pieces) are planted and much barley grows, making for more bread. As it is with the seed, so with the Master.
  • The loaves are given to the disciples to give to the people. God speaks to the people only through His children.

It’s a principle of the Christian life: Christ often starts with what you will bring to Him, and then multiplies it in kind.

Walks on Water

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to Him, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water." And He said, "Come!" And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!" When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick; and they implored Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.

(Mat 14:22-36 NASB)

The Disciples

Perhaps this might strike you as unimportant; but let’s look at the disciples, first. Their actions and attitudes form the background for Peter’s actions.

  • Christ had to send the disciples away. They went unwillingly, but obediently. He had to make them get into the boat.
  • They are sent into the storm – so that they will know on whom they should call. We teach our children to dial 911; He teaches His disciples much the same.
  • The action is in the 4th watch – approximately 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM. They have been obliged to struggle throughout most of the night.

Sometimes our Lord puts us in the boat, sends the boat into the storm and lets us struggle until, in His time, He comes to our rescue.

Peter

Peter is a man of action, if nothing else. We may learn from his actions how we are to behave as well.

  • He starts with the lordship of Christ . He won’t come out of the boat except by the command of his Lord. But he has the courage to ask that the command be given.
  • He’s still not sure if it is Jesus – but he is sure of Jesus.
  • If there is one picture we may gain from this episode, it is this: fear and faith are opposites. Often our problem with faith is not doubt – it’s fear.

Peter demonstrates something that may surprise Christians: one man can be both strong and weak in the faith. Would you have the courage to ask that the command be given? To walk on the water? Would you then be so weak as to take counsel of your fears? Strong and weak in the faith – same man, same time.

Christ

Christ’s reaction to Peter (and the disciples) is instructive:

  • As Peter begins to sink, He does not chide him for his lack of faith. Rather, He reaches out to save him. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
  • Note, too, that only after He gets into the boat does he calm the storm – and then it’s a short trip to harbor.

It’s only after the storm they worship Him as the Son of God. Like many of us, they wait until the storm is over to praise God.

This is a miracle of the new creation – the creation coming at Christ’s return. He walks on water; He passes through locked doors after the Resurrection. We know little about it, but it seems that some direct control over nature is implied. Someday we will know. Soon, please Lord, soon.

Miracles

There is a good deal of misunderstanding about miracles, especially in this scientific age. You will often hear something like: “Miracles are scientifically impossible, and therefore they don’t happen.” This is a tautology. It presumes its conclusion. Imagine the sequence as follows:

  1. The definition of “miracle” is something which appears contrary to the known laws of the universe. Both the incidents listed here qualify.
  2. We have a book that records many miracles.
  3. But miracles are scientifically impossible; therefore the book must be false.
  4. Therefore there is no historic evidence for miracles.
  5. Therefore they never happened.

Do you see that step three presumes the conclusion? It’s a logical fallacy which used to be familiar to Americans. But we decided to make high school geometry more relevant – and stopped teaching logic therein.

May I give you a non-miraculous parallel? Consider the Yeti – the “abominable snowman” of the Himalayas. Scraps of evidence surround many physical sightings of this creature. Yet the biologists insist (and rightly) on a full specimen before they will believe the creature is real. It is not unreasonable to believe that the Yeti exists (from the historical evidence); it is not scientifically proven, either.

The source records of the miraculous are historical, not scientific. Let me give you an example of why this must be. A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times, in its role as bulwark of the truth, published the results of a scientific study. In this study, two groups of patients having serious illnesses were selected. One group was simply there as a comparison; the other group names were passed on to devout Christians to be prayed for. The results were then compared.

It may come as a surprise to you to find that the study concluded that prayer had absolutely no effect upon the outcome for these patients. This sounds odd at first (prayer changes things) but it isn’t. God is not fooled by the labels. This is an attempt to manipulate God and measure the results. Such a god is one who can be commanded by men – if you have the right incantation.

But if God is who the Scriptures describe, He is far above our puny experiments. Would He not be insulted by the arrogance of the investigators? They, after all, are trying to manipulate the God of creation. Hint for you fellows: it doesn’t work.

It is the central problem of any experiment purporting to determine the existence or characteristics by scientific means. God is not “the force”. As Richard Feynman once pointed out, such an experiment is doomed from the start. The basic method of science is to set up two identical situations, and for one of them you have God, and in the other you don’t. The problem with this is simply this: if God doesn’t exist, how do you turn Him on. And if He does exist, how do you turn Him off?

Science and magic, twins

Science has the same presumption as magic: if you manipulate things in accordance with the laws of the universe, you can produce desired results. Either with the right chemicals or the right incantation, there is power. The only real difference is that, in western civilization, magic doesn’t work very well – science does.

So then, how is that miracles can possibly happen, given our faith in science? There are two common explanations:

  • Augustine puts it this way: there is a hierarchy of natural laws. Miracles appeal to higher ones; daily life is run by the lower ones.
  • C. S. Lewis (after Boethius) put it this way: miracles are an injection into reality by God. Drinking too much miraculous wine makes you drunk, not miraculous.
Why is all this important?

Simply this: the church is at a crossroads. Either miracles happen or they don’t. Either the histories are right or they’re not. In particular, two miracles are intrinsically linked with orthodox Christianity: the Incarnation and the Resurrection. If there are no miracles, then Christ is not God in the flesh. If He is not God in the flesh, he is not an acceptable sacrifice for sin. If He did not rise from the grave, then everyone who believes in Him is a complete fool. It’s that important.

The church has come to the point in the last fifty years where she must either embrace or explain away miracles. Those who embrace them stay within the ranks of orthodox Christians of all times.

Those who do not find themselves without a compass. They can no longer trust the Bible; it is no wonder that they find themselves picking and choosing the bits and pieces of Christianity (and other religions) as they see fit. But do you not see that this puts the purported Christian in the position of judging God? It appears that all religions are equally valid; but as Orwell might have put it, some are more equally valid than others.

They touched the hem of His garment; we touch His body and blood. They believed and took hold. As for us, …

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