Yesterday at church we had two baptisms. For us at Baptist churches, baptism is where people who have decided to become Christians get fully immersed in water. It was a great time. This is the message that I shared as we led up to communion after the baptisms.
Matthew 14:22-34 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.
What a weird bible reading for a baptism service or communion! Is that what you are thinking? Or do you need me to read it again? What does Peter walking on water to do with being baptised or sharing communion? What does it have to do with receiving two young people into membership of the church? Perhaps you’re thinking that Richard might be getting a bit messed up in the head (and you could well be right). Even still, if I am going a bit nuts, it’s still a fantastic part of the walk that Peter had with Jesus. What an amazing memory that Peter would have of that moment as he gets older. You can almost hear him now talking to the grandkids “Back in my day, we didn’t have all this new fandangled stuff you kids have these days. We spent nearly a whole night trying to get across that sea. If it weren’t for Jesus, we would have all died! Did I ever tell you that I walked on water that night? I did huh? Want me to tell you again? It was the most amazing thing…” Would have been pretty funny.
But we do need to get serious. We need to take a quick look at this passage and see what we can glean from it for today after witnessing two baptisms this morning and as we gather at the communion table together.
I love the word immediately. It is used occasionally in Matthew (well twice here) but many more times in Mark. It gives us the sense of urgency that Jesus must have had. Immediately Jesus gets the disciples to get into the boat and go on to the other side.
The storm comes, they fight against it all through the night. It wasn’t until the fourth watch that Jesus heads out to them. This fourth watch would have been somewhere between 3.00am and 6.00am. These disciples must have been absolutely wrecked! They had spent so much time watching the storm that they didn’t recognise Jesus walking toward them. It came down to their focus. They were looking at the waves and the wind and didn’t recognise their teacher. Jesus says to them “Take Courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus is not just telling them not to worry because he is there. He isn’t saying Hey! Don’t stress it’s just me, Jesus! The wording that is used for it is the same wording that would get him crucified. It’s the same wording the God used when Moses asked God what His name was. I am. Jesus is telling them quite plainly don’t be afraid. The Lord, their God, is there with them. Amongst this storm, amongst the fatigue and the fear, Jesus is telling them that He is God! There is a weight to this little sentence that is easy to miss.
The impetuous Peter believes him and asks Jesus to confirm that He is Jesus. Maybe Peter believed that this person on the water was God but didn’t quite believe that it was Jesus. Maybe Peter was a bit like us and needed to see something a little more concrete than just a ghost walking on water. Whatever Peter’s motivation (anything we say is pure speculation isn’t it?), he asks Jesus to tell Him to come, which Jesus does. Peter is the only person I have heard of who has walked on water. There are youtube clips showing people appear to manage it but Mythbusters has disproved them all. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? What a way to confirm that Jesus is God. By walking on water.
It must have been a great feeling. To be looking at Jesus, to be standing on top of the water, to be feeling as though you were the most important person to Jesus at that moment. Then suddenly, the wind and the waves come into Peter’s head again. He loses his focus and begins to sink. The good news is that Peter doesn’t wait until he is drowning to ask Jesus to save him. He does as he begins to sink. The other piece to the good news is that Jesus is right there to catch Him. He does that, and they both head to the boat. They get in, the wind dies down, and the other disciples begin to worship Him.
What has this got to do with today? How does Peter walking on water relate to baptism and communion? To tell you, I need you to do something with me. Put each of your index fingers in the air. Now put one close to your nose and one as far away as possible.
Some of you have already guessed it. If you focus on one finger, can you see the other? What about if you switch fingers? Can you still only see one finger? That’s what this story of Peter walking on water is about. It’s not about the miracle of walking on water (well, not entirely). It’s about what we focus on. If we focus on the storm around us, we will only see the storm. We can’t focus on Jesus if we focus on the storm. And the opposite is true. If we focus on Jesus, we can’t focus on the storm.
Today, we have had our attention snapped back to Jesus with two people being baptised. Their baptisms aren’t all about them. Their baptisms are just as much a reminder for us as it is a step of obedience for them. Watching two young people going down into the water of baptism symbolising their death to self, watching them come up out of the water as Christ was resurrected into a new life. Bang! Jesus is our focus. The same with communion. Sure, we may get a little distracted by how we do it, why we do it or even how it can feel a little weird, the whole body and blood thing. But, communion is all about shifting our focus back to where we need it to be. That’s on Jesus. Today, we get a double shot of focus. Today, we get to be reminded of how important it is to keep Jesus in focus.
If we lose our focus on Jesus, we will end up with our focus on something else. Just like Peter. We will end up looking at the storm. That’s not what Jesus wants for us. That’s not what he wanted for Peter either.
When I read about Peter walking on water, I want him to stay focused. I want him to stay on the water — every time. I want the story to change.
For everyone one of you who are focusing on the storm right now, I want your story to change, for your focus to change for your focus to be on Jesus.
My simple challenge for you as we head into communion is this; this week, as you rush headlong into it, as you see the storm, hear the crashing waves of life, remember this (show your fingers) and ask yourself “what am I focusing on”?
If it’s not Jesus, you can make a choice. Refocus.
3rd December 2018