Sermon: Walking on the water

Joshua 3:5-16

5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

7 And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

Matthew 14:22-33

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. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 During the fourth watch of the night 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 worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


If you want to walk on the water, you’ve got to get out of the boat. It’s such a simple thing to say but it is full of pregnant possibilities. It’s about a step of faith towards Jesus, and trusting Him in impossible situations. That’s what I spoke about two weeks ago. Then I raised the point about how little faith we need in the face of the greatness of God. Some were skeptical, I think, so I want to address the situation again, to examine, in part, our hesitancy to trust God for the impossible, but especially to emphasize that without that trust, our life in Christ will always fall short of God’s intention. We will not see the amazing things God intends to do amongst us.

Was Peter being stupid when he got out of the boat thinking he could walk on water? It was dark, the boat was a considerable distance from the land. The wind was up, buffeting the waves against the boat.

It was a foolish thing to do but then choosing to follow Christ is “foolish” in the eyes of the world. John Wimber tells of an event which led to his own conversion. He saw a man with one of those sandwich board advertising signs. On the front it said, “I am a fool for Christ”, and on the back, it read, “whose fool are you?” He chose to become Christ’s fool…

But Peter was not so much being stupid or foolish, as he was responding to Jesus’ invitation to step out of his comfort zone, to trust Jesus in what the Lord Himself was doing.

Faith calls us to “take courage” and not to be afraid when we see what Jesus is doing. Sometimes that is really hard. Of the twelve disciples, eleven of them chose to stay in the safe place. Only Peter ventured forth – and in typical Peter fashion – he was often impetuous, rising to the immediate challenge, without considering what happens next.

We are often like that too – sometimes staying in the comfort zone, sometimes acting on the spur of the moment – without the follow through. But at least Peter did have that kernel of mustard seed faith to ask Jesus to invite him to come onto the water. He took a step to walking on the water – and if you want to walk on water with Jesus, you’ve got to get out of the boat.

What is your boat?
What is it that represents your safety and security?
What do you put your trust in? Is your trust in this physical world?In what is possible according to the human mind.
The path of faith is found by following Jesus into what He is doing – that makes all things possible, because it is the Lord of the Universe who calls us out.

And here is the caveat. If the Lord has not called, or spoken to you, then you ARE limited by the realm of physical possibilities. Don’t pray for someone and tell them that they are healed, unless the Lord has told you that. The problem with the “name it and claim it” brigade is that it takes more than just that. You need to hear the voice of Jesus in the situation. You can’t walk on water by just getting out of the boat, you also need to hear the Lord’s invitation – “Come!

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge the eleven disciples who didn’t get out of the boat. They didn’t get the invitation to walk on the water, but then they didn’t ask for it either. Faith is prayerful listening – it is asking and then, it is being obedient to God’s response. And if God makes no response, then that is the response. It doesn’t mean that we can’t ask again. If there is still no response then that again is the response. To get to grips with this notion of God’s lack of response being the response you have to understand two very important things – first, God’s grace. He does want to respond in a loving way to His children. And He does amazing, impossible things sometimes when He does respond. But also, God is sovereign. He has charge over all things – He is omniscient and omnipotent. All seeing and all powerful. He knows things that we do not know and He can do things that we cannot understand.

And so sometimes, for His sovereign purpose, He will bring about a miraculous and instantaneous healing, He will save people we have written off, He will call us to walk on water. But sometimes He will not. He did not answer my prayers for my younger brother, instead he died, not yet forty years old, of an alcohol related condition, just when it seemed that his life was coming together. Or perhaps God did answer my prayers. He had, at the last, found salvation in Christ. But his physical and social condition was such that he would almost certainly have been an invalid for the rest of his life, both physically and in the community who would only remember him as the town drunk.

Its always more comfortable in the boat, but Jesus is not always in the boat with us, able to still storms. Sometimes He is out on the water – on the surging waves, and He wants us out there with Him. That’s when faith becomes a risk. That’s when we need to be clearly aware of Him, who He is – the Son of God; and of His call for us to step out in faith with Him.

The generous grace of God ensures that we when do take that step of faith then even when we become frightened out there in the realm of physical impossibility, He will always be ready to reach out His hand into ours, to still the waves and to put us back into the safe place.

But I want to leave you with this strong challenge this morning.  

When we are with God, when He calls us to follow by faith, He does lead us to good places. We do not need to fear and to be hesitant. Before us is His goal for us and He invites us in. The challenge is to take the step.

Listen to this… The Lord’s word to Joshua was “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” I believe that it is His word to us also today.

In my spirit I sense that God is about to do amazing things among us. The priests were to take up the ark and to move ahead of the people. They were to set their feet into the Jordan in its flood stage. They were to do that with confidence trusting God’s word that as soon as their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream would stop flowing. And then the people were to cross over – into the Promised Land – on dry ground.  

We, the present believers, are the priests. Our task is to take up the Ark – with the stone tablets of God’s Covenant, God’s promise of His Presence in Aaron’s budding staff and God’s provision in the jar of manna. We are to symbolically take up the constancy of God and lead a wandering people through the raging flood into the place of God’s promise.

The challenge is simple – Will you trust God in this?

Will you say, “If this is you, Lord, call me to come to you.” And if He says “Come”, will you get out of the boat to walk on the water with Him.

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