“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.” “Come,” He said. Matthew 14:28-29
There is an old hymn that says, “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea.”
In our text this morning, Jesus indeed calls out to His disciples in the midst of the winds and waves of the sea, yet He is not calling them away from the storm. Instead, He calls them into the storm. The text also says that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat. A better translation of the verb would be “to force” or “to compel.” Jesus did not give the disciples a choice. He compelled them to get into the boat and leave Him alone with the crowds.
It was the disciples who wanted Jesus to get rid of the crowds before the great miracle of the feeding. Only after the feeding this multitude does Jesus send everyone away: the crowds and the disciples. Jesus then goes up the mountainside to pray. Twice, Matthew tells us that Jesus is by Himself (Matt. 14:13, 23)
The disciples are not a “considerable distance” from land and the boat is being tossed around by the winds and waves. This is reminiscent of Jesus calming the sea (Matthew 8:23-27). But in this passage, Jesus is not with the disciples in the boat. The disciples have been struggling for a while. It is not until the early hours of the morning (3:00 – 6:00 AM) that Jesus decides to come to them in the middle of the sea, while it is still dark.
The disciples, though, do not recognize Jesus in the midst of the storm. In their fear and exhaustion (they are probably exhausted from being up all night, fighting the wind and waves), they mistake Jesus for a ghost. Over their cries of fear, Jesus reassures them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” A more literal translation of “It is I. Do not be afraid” is “I AM. Do not be afraid.” To Matthew’s Jewish audience, Jesus’ words echo the divine name. In that self-revelation is a disclosure of Jesus’ source of power and authority. In the middle of the wind, waves and storm, Jesus does only what God can do.
When confronted with Jesus’ revelation, Peter does the unthinkable: he asks to meet Jesus in the storm. Jesus does not call the seas to make Peter’s steps easier. In fact, it is the winds and waves that scares Peter and cause him to sing. It was Jesus invitation that made possible for Peter to walk on water in the first place.
In the first miracle on the sea, the narrative ends with the question, “What kind of man is this?” (Matthew 8:27). This text, however, ends by answering that question with the declaration, “Truly, You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:33).
Matthew tells us this story to reveal who Jesus is. But that revelation is only made possible in the midst of the storm and chaos. If Jesus had not compelled the disciples to get on the boat on this uncertain journey, they would have missed the opportunity to see God revealed in their midst.