A few years ago Julie, my wife, and I went to see a wonderful movie entitled “We Bought a Zoo.” It starred Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, and it’s the true story of a man named Benjamin Mee and his children who bought a 30-acre zoo. He had all kinds of animals, but was unable to open it because it was so rundown. Faced with a series of challenges, he attempted to get it open again for the community. Rat infestation, finding money to feed the animals, animals escaping – it wasn’t easy. Mee admitted at one point, “There were lots of times when I thought, ‘What have I done?’”
So why did Benjamin Mee buy and remodel the zoo? In the film he says, “Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it.”
That is about how long it took for the apostle Peter to get out of the boat in our story for today. Jesus has just fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. They are ecstatic about the great powers Jesus has! The disciples are ecstatic as well. The crowd wants to make Him a king, and the disciples are probably nodding their heads saying, Why not?
So Jesus breaks up the party and makes the disciples immediately get into a boat, pushes them out into the sea, says He’ll meet them later. Then He dismisses the crowds and goes up into the hills to pray. While the disciples are out on the water, a fierce storm comes up. They are afraid they are going to go down. The disciples fought this storm for nine hours! Can you imagine? I can hardly take two hours on rough water when I’m out boating. About 3:00 in the morning, Jesus comes toward them, and they think it’s a ghost. He cries out to them, “It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
Then something really amazing happened – Peter in his impulsiveness opened his mouth and said, “Lord, if it’s you, bid me to come out on the water with you.” Of all things, as if to say, I dare you, Jesus replies, “Come on out!” And before anyone could stop Peter, he got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he noticed the threatening waves, he panicked and began to sink like a rock. But give him credit, he had the wherewithal to cry out, “Lord, help me!”
Suddenly a hand grabbed him by the collar and pulled him up out of the water. There was the face of Jesus saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they were back into the boat, the storm stopped and the disciples all worshiped Jesus saying, “You are the Son of God.”
Jesus’ statement – You of little faith, why did you doubt? – is a key statement in the story. I have a picture of Jesus pulling Peter out of the water on my wall. Below it are the words, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I like it. Why? Because it describes me sometimes – little faith.
We learn something important in this story: Jesus loves it when we exercise daring faith in Him. Remember, Peter did walk on the water. Though it was brief, he stepped out in faith! Eyewitnesses saw it.
Perhaps Jesus was prepping Peter for bigger things ahead, bigger than a little walk on the water that day. One day after the resurrection, Peter would hear Jesus tell him, Feed my sheep and tend my lambs . . . You will be my witness in this world. I wonder if the other disciples were wishing they had walked on water like Peter. How did it feel? Is it possible that the story was saved to not only show us who Jesus really is – the Son of God who came to die on a cross to save us from sin and rise again – but also to encourage us and challenge us to step out in faith as followers of Jesus Christ.
If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat in faith. I think that lesson has been applied in various times in the history of Christianity. One example that comes to mind is Martin Luther. I just finished reading his biography that was recently released by Eric Metaxis. It’s the 500th anniversary of Luther – I imagine that’s the inspiration behind this new book. I recommend this good read.
But I wonder, if there were twenty seconds where Luther thought, Somebody has to speak up here and challenge what’s going on in the church. I guess if it is gonna be someone, it’s gonna have to be me, and so he wrote down the 95 theses to get the conversation started on how the church needed to be changed. Did it take him twenty seconds to say Yes! I think I’ll go and post them publicly with a challenge for a debate. Thus a new movement began and evolved into a full-blown reformation. As you read Martin Luther’s story, you know it wasn’t easy on him or any of his followers, but it was an adventure and it made a big difference for the kingdom of God.
This year my congregation, Shepherd of the Valley, is celebrating our 40th anniversary, and we learned that same truth. If you want to walk on the water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. Our beginnings as a congregation were like that.
Two women, Delores and Merle, believed God wanted a church to be formed in the valley in which we exist, a Lutheran Church. When they went to some of the powers that be in the denomination, they were turned down and told it wasn’t a good idea. However, they were insistent and went after it anyway. Soon there was a little church meeting in the City Hall in Lakeland.
This church began to grow and soon they needed to buy some land. Though they didn’t have a lot of money, they put up a building. The church continued to grow, and they soon needed to add on. Then we needed to relocate, so we picked up all our belongings and bought thirty acres of land a couple miles away so we could expand some more. Every time we took a step of faith, God seemed to bless it.
Now, here we are, years later, with another addition a few years ago, and we’re still being blessed as we take on new challenges for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When people ask what’s next for our congregation, my response is, Only God knows that, but we have learned a couple things along the way. God loves it when we exercise big faith. We also learned that if you want walk on water, you really do have to get out of the boat.
I love what Martin Luther King, Jr. said one time about faith. Faith is about taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. Again and again I’ve witnessed this kind of faith happening in people’s lives as they step out in faith. When followers of Jesus sense Him calling them to do something.
My friend Amy, left a six-figure salary in the business world and a very promising career to go into ministry. Now she’s making a third of that and she loves it! She is changing lives through her work with outreach for Christ’s cause. When you talk to her, you sense no regret. What you do see is a growing, vibrant faith.
Another friend of mine, Dick, walked away from the teaching profession in which he was comfortably situated and doing excellent work when he sensed God was calling him to accept the challenge I had thrown out to him about leaving teaching to come and work on our staff. He is helping us develop a small groups ministry to change lives. Dick took the challenge and created this program for us. It has changed hundreds of lives. Not a regret does he have that he got out of the boat and walked on the water, and we were blessed because of it.
My friend Jim knows a man who was a really tough nut to crack when it came to spiritual matters. He definitely needed Jesus. Jim, being concerned for him, stewed about that and wondered how he could talk to Jim about Jesus. One day I received a call – it was Jim on the phone! He said, “You won’t believe what happened to me this morning. The door opened!”
I asked, “What door?”
“The door opened for me to share the gospel with Joe, and guess what? He asked Jesus Christ into his life!”
I said, “How do you feel right now?”
He said, “I feel like I’m walking two feet off the ground right now.” He was walking on water. He has had the same experience happen again and again with other people whom God has brought across his pathway.
I think of Julio and Suzette, friends of mine who left Haiti when they were young and came to the United States. They got a good college education and were headed toward a much more comfortable and promising life than they ever had in Haiti. But they sensed God calling them back to set up a ministry to their fellow Haitians. So they got out of the boat and went back to Haiti. Today, hundreds of people are glad they did, young men and women who were getting job training, being discipled, and becoming Christian leaders in their own communities. Lives are being changed in Haiti. When you hear Julio and Suzette talk about this, they have such passion, and they talk with such exhilaration about their experiences
I think of Larry who is skilled with tools and wood. He started volunteering at disaster locations around the United States and in Latin America. He works on teams doing reconstruction work, using his vacation time, spending is own money for travel expenses, and living in uncomfortable situations. When he’s home, he goes down to the gospel mission and serves homeless people. God is taking care of Larry. People’s lives have been touched by the gospel through Larry stepping out. When he’s not on the road, he’s helping somewhere. Now he’s talking retirement so he can spend more time doing what he sensed God is calling him to do – help people in Christ’s name.
If you walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. We see it happening in lives like these.
I love what Oswald Chambers said one time. He said, “Beware of worshiping Jesus as the Son of God and professing your faith in Him as the Savior of the world while you blaspheme Him by the complete evidence in your daily life that He is powerless to do anything in and through you.” I think every once in while, we need to stop and check our spiritual pulse. Are we stretching ourselves past the boundaries of just being nice and pious?
We have a good reason to live like water walkers. We have a God who is trustworthy. He loves us. He gave His Son to die for us on a cross. Nothing can snatch us from His hand. We are safe in His arms.
Can I ask you a personal question? Have you gotten out of the boat lately with Jesus? Have you answered the calling He’s put out there for you? When was the last time you felt yourself stepping out, being excited, and growing in your walk with Jesus Christ?
By the way, you’re never too old or too young to get out of the boat and keep your faith growing and glowing. For instance, if you’re living in a senior citizen setting, is there someone you’ve notice who perhaps sits alone in the dining room? Someone who needs some attention and Christlike love? Could it be that you’ve noticed Jesus is calling YOU to step out toward that individual?
Maybe you see a need for a Bible study group where you live. You had one when you were in your old church, but now you’re missing that. You know of other people who’ve mentioned they’d like to be in a group like that. Or maybe you know people who are searching for some spiritual answers in their lives. Could it be Jesus is calling YOU to get out of the boat – to form a group, facilitate something in your present setting?
Perhaps you’re tired of listening to people you have coffee with each day gripe and complain and gossip about everything. You know in your heart it’s wrong. Could it be that Jesus is calling you to step out and gently speak up your friends, to be the person who brings some healthy conversation back into that group life? Is there a person in your circle of friends who needs to know Jesus Christ? Is there a ministry opportunity that looks challenging, and you wonder, “Should I get involved? I’m not sure I’m the one that can do that.”
My appeal this day is to have some faith. You are safe in your Father’s arms. He can use you to do some great things for Him and others as He works through you. You need only to exercise some daring faith, and believe this truth – that if you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat with Jesus. He’s calling you. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer