In New South Wales, Australia, we have the remarkable privilege of teaching Special Religious Education, what we call “Scripture”, in the state’s public schools. A new school year started last week, so I had the pleasure of preaching at the Scripture Dedication Service in our town, Corowa. This is my sermon on the account of Peter walking on the water with Jesus in Matthew chapter 14.
Matthew chapter 14 is a great story. It’s got everything, men in boats, raging winds, people walking on water. What more does it need? But I don’t want you to go home thinking that you can do the impossible, if you just believe. Because you can’t do the impossible, no matter how much you believe. If you jump out of a perfectly working boat without a life jacket, miles from shore into water over your head, you will sink and you will drown, unless you are a very strong swimmer. And the last time I checked, swimming is a lot different to walking on water. You can’t walk on water and you won’t. You can’t do the impossible, no matter how much you believe. But Jesus can.
If that’s what we can’t say, what can we say? Well, the first of five things that we can say is that by walking on water, Jesus showed that he was Lord. He had sent the disciples on ahead of him to cross the lake in the boat. They were fishermen. They had a boat. It seemed a sensible decision at the time. And just before dawn, Jesus thought it was time for him to catch up with them. Of course, he could have walked around the shore. But that would be so mainstream. So he decided to take the short cut, walking across the lake on top of the water. As you do.
Here we see that for the Lord of heaven and earth, the laws of physics are just guidelines. Suggestions, not commandments. Gravity is not his master. It is servant to do his will. Jesus Christ makes the extraordinary ordinary. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He reached out and touched the leper, and instead of Jesus catching leprosy the man caught health.
This is the Lord we follow, not a wise man who taught us not to be afraid of the dark. But our creator who said, “Let there be light.” And the darkness ran away. Jesus walked on the water because he is lord of water. And he is lord of Corowa. He is lord of the school. And he is lord of the classroom. Believe me, there are dark places in this town that chill me to the bone. But when I walk into a classroom and open the Bible and let the light of God’s Word shine, the darkness runs away. Scripture is a game played on Jesus’ home ground.
Secondly, we see the great privilege of prayer. Jesus caught up to them because the wind was against them. And when they saw Jesus, they didn’t say, “Look, it’s Jesus because we are simple fishermen who believe anything. No, they said, “It’s a ghost,” because it was an experience beyond their experience. But Jesus said, “It is me, do not fear.”
And Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, and I’m not saying it isn’t, but just for the sake of argument let’s assume it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And it is this bold request that led to Peter’s adventure among the waves.
This is the privilege of prayer. I’m not saying that God needs your permission to perform a miracle. And I’m not saying that God needs your help to come up with new ideas. But I am saying that under the sovereignty of God, by which he governs all things according to his will, he still gives us the great freedom to ask for new things. To imagine things never seen or done before. To put them into words. To ask for remarkable things. Impossible things.
Sometimes, I think, we like to keep our prayers small and vague to save ourselves the disappointment that God will say no. Or maybe just in case we ask for something that God can’t do. So we just don’t ask. Friends, never be afraid to make big, bold, brave prayers. About that tricky child in your Scripture class. Or that teacher and teacher’s aid who won’t stop talking during your lesson. Or that Bible story that you are struggling to understand so you can explain it to 8 year olds. Don’t forget that every classroom adventure starts with prayer.
Thirdly, we see in this story the power of obedience. Jesus said, “Come.” And when the Lord tells you to come, staying in your boat is disobedience. Peter got out of the boat and he went to Jesus. Walking on the water.
But it was not the power of Peter’s belief that was holding him up above the waves. But it was the power of the Lord whom he believed. Because by saying “Come,” Jesus had clearly revealed his will. Peter wanted to be with Jesus and Jesus wanted Peter to be with him. And what the Lord wills happens.
This is the lesson we learn in Genesis 1. “Let there be a firmament in the sky. Let the waters be gathered into one place. Let us make human beings in our image.” This is the power of the Word of God. God puts his will into words and what God says happens. And so the power of obedience is simply the courage to do the Lord’s clearly, unmistakably revealed will.
Now don’t confuse your strong certain feelings for the voice of Jesus. Because I had a good feeling that Ash Barty was going to win the Australian Open, right up until a couple of days ago. And now I’ve got a good feeling that I’m glad I don’t waste my money betting on that kind of feeling. So listen to the voice of Jesus in his clearly, unmistakably revealed will, which to ignore is just plain disobedience. His voice in the gospel that says come, deny yourself, and take up your cross and follow me. His voice in the gospel that says go, go into all the world, making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them. Even in our small corner of the world.
When you leave the safety of your home and go into the classroom with the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, you are joining Jesus’ mission. And he has promised, I will be with you always to the end of the age. Because you can’t do the impossible. You can’t make the children believe. You can’t make them want to put that faith into practice. You can’t even make them sit still and listen to you. But the Lord of the classroom can.
Fourthly we see that although Peter’s faith does not hold him, his lack of faith makes him sink. He took his eyes off the Lord of water and started to look at the water. And his fear distracted him from the path of obedience.
Have you noticed, for example, how your fear can make what you fear happen? It happens to me on the golf course. I’m so afraid of hitting the ball in the water that I end up hitting the ball in the water. Sometimes I’m so afraid of making a mistake in sharing the gospel that I don’t share the gospel, which is the biggest mistake. And sometimes we are so afraid of the children and the teacher and the teacher’s aide stapling that artwork at the back of the classroom, that we start worrying about what they’re going to think of us. And that’s when we start to look like a fool.
Fear makes what we fear happen. We need to remember to stop looking at the terrors of the classroom and to keep our faith in the lord of the classroom.
Lastly, we see that the Lord chooses people of little faith to do his will. People like me. People like you. People like Peter. Peter started to sink. But Jesus grabbed hold of him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And they got in the boat.
It reminds us that the Lord doesn’t need our certainty. He doesn’t need our confidence. He doesn’t need our ability. He doesn’t need our outgoing personality and sense of humour. He doesn’t need our powerful faith that can do the impossible. Because Jesus calls people of little faith into his service. All he wants is our obedience to his clearly, unmistakably revealed will. Which to ignore is just plain disobedience.
Jesus said to Peter, “Come,” and while Peter kept his eyes on Jesus he walked on water, held by the power of the lord of water. So I invite you to hear the clear, unmistakable voice of Jesus in the gospel. In which Jesus says, “Come. Come to me.” And in which Jesus says, “Go. Go into all the world,” even into this small corner of the world. “And I will be with you always to the end of the age.” I invite you to join me in the extraordinary adventure of the classroom. And the lord of the classroom will make the extraordinary ordinary.