My journey to church this morning revealed the beauty of God’s creation in the flowers of spring. There is the reminder even in the third week of May that winter’s grasp is not gone. It is Blackberry Winter now in the mountains of North Carolina. Here and there, depending on your elevation, you can find pockets of white blanketing the landscape. Unlike the frozen precipitation, these are the tiny white flowers of the indigenous wild blackberries. They not only symbolize that in roughly two months, there will be the ripe, delectable berries for which they are named, but it also symbolizes that the last cold spell is upon us. To many folks, the temperatures drop far below what is considered normal during this time of year. While there have been many summer-like days with temperatures nearing the 80’s, during Blackberry Winter, there can even be a late frost with nighttime temperatures dropping near freezing or below.
While this seemingly unseasonable weather is not uncommon, it is still a shock to our senses. We quickly grow accustomed to the more leisurely days of warmth and look forward to the summertime, where living out-of-doors is more pleasant.
Why is it we so promptly become complacent in our lives and take the path of least resistance?
One could surmise that is simply our nature. We perceive the world around us through our senses, our natural instincts. When we rely on these alone, we are nothing more than the beasts of the field. Yet, God made us distinctly different from the wild animals of the forests and the beasts of the field. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Although we are of the earth, we have been given the ability to choose to serve a higher power – Yahweh. But too often, we get caught up in the worries and struggles of living from day to day and forget, if we knew at all, what our purpose is in life. Some never realize this or awaken to know God but live from birth to death in a valley of life where a shadow of death overshadows all that they do. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
It was in this vein of thought this past week that the scene of Jesus walking on the sea stood out.
First, in the Gospel of John, “And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.20 But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.”
From the Gospel of Matthew, “And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”
Now, there is much to unwrap in these few lines of scripture. But if we focus on the idea of how the natural man perceives the world around him, and from this, either believes or rejects the supernatural, then we can find a greater meaning in this miracle. We see not only that Jesus walked on water, but that he called one out of the boat to do likewise. Yet, immersed in the surrounding passages are concepts that apply to us today.
“The disciples went down to the sea and entered into the ship. It was dark and Jesus had not come with them.” The ship was their comfort zone. Several of his disciples had been fishermen. Their familiarity with the Sea of Galilee would have made this travel almost routine. Like so many things in our lives, we stick with what is familiar. Going outside of our box is uncomfortable, yet Jesus told his disciples at the end of the gospel of Matthew to, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..” He wanted them to leave everything behind, going to the ends of the earth if necessary. But before they were prepared to embark on such a journey, they had to be shown that they were capable. When we sit in our institutional churches and hear the weekly sermon, too often when we walk out the doors to go to lunch, we leave it behind. We put our faith right next to the Bible on the shelf, where it waits until the following Sunday – if at all.
Then there is the point that Jesus did not go with them, “It was dark, and Jesus had not come with them.” As with Philip, when he said that “This he said to prove him knowing himself what he would do,” it is probably safe to say that Jesus knew in advance that he would purposely surprise his disciples. Yet, he didn’t just show up walking on the sea in the dark. It was far worse than that, for, “The sea arose by reason of a great wind which blew.” In the last scene of episode 4 of Season 2 of the series “The Chosen,” Peter makes a comment regarding the healing of the man by the pool on the Sabbath when Jesus could have easily waited, and Jesus replies, “Sometimes you gotta stir up the water.”
The disciples knowingly went out on the Sea of Galilee at night. Was this by choice, or was this planned? The winds often pick up on large bodies of water during the day, so the night crossing would have been safer and easier under normal circumstances. But these were anything but normal circumstances. Remember their comfort zone – the boat? Knowing that these seasoned sailors would haven’t been bothered by the night crossing, I like to think that Jesus did a little stirring up of the water that night. When we are shoved out of our comfort zone, it is then we realize we need Him most. So it was, that dark stormy night, after they had rowed 25 or 30 furlongs, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing nigh unto their boat, and they were afraid. Yes, grown men, hardened sailors were now scared, so much so that Christ had to call to them, “It is I, be not afraid.”
Now, the Gospel of Matthew next tells of how Peter, possibly not believing that it was really Jesus, calls out to the Spirit, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” We must wonder if it was Peter’s disbelief or was it the fact that he was emboldened by the miracle that he called out to Jesus. Nonetheless, Jesus answers and simply says, “Come.” Peter then, fully vested in his belief, gets out of the boat.
Friends, this is the moment that we should all gasp!
For this is the exact parallel to our lives today. We have been asked to go to all nations, making disciples for Christ, yet, we cannot leave the church walls before we are swept back into the boat. We fail to even dare step out of our comfort zone for fear of drowning. Yes, it is a leap of faith. Yes, it is daring and will require more of your dedication and commitment than ever before, but think for a moment of those first few steps that Peter took.
For a few brief seconds, a man was walking on the substance that sustains life. It was not frozen; it was swashing all around; the sea was boisterous, scary, and dark. Yet, Peter stood on the water as if it were solid ground, as did the Son of God! For those brief seconds, Peter was able to walk again where Yahweh stood. When we step out in faith, the impossible becomes possible. When we put God at the center of our lives, we are no longer a slave to the sins of this world. We are set free.
Leaving the confines of our comfort level will never be easy. We cannot expect to succeed at every step. In fact, we will be forced to rely on Yahweh all the more. The next few steps that Peter took revealed how quickly we lose focus. For in that brief instance of time, as he stood on water, Peter quickly realized the tumultuous seas around him and began to sink. As John the Baptist told his disciples, “He must increase that I may decrease.” And so it is with us. The more we give up, the more we rely on Him to provide for us.
Lastly, we see Peter returning to the ship with Jesus. As the Gospel of John tells it, “They willingly received him into the ship.” Soaking wet, having nearly drowned, Peter is now humiliated but relieved to be back into the confines of the vessel. However, he is not alone, for Jesus is with them all. As we picture that dark night on the sea of Galilee, those men once more were shown how the impossible becomes possible when we give it all to God.
But there is one last thought to this story, one final twist – Christ got into the boat.
“So, what is your point,” you ask?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Getting into the boat, Jesus entered into their world. He didn’t have to ride in a boat, yet, as God coming to earth in the form of a man, Christ got into the boat so that he could prove he too was the Son of Man.
When the weather turns cold after we’ve become accustomed to the warm, beautiful cloudless days of sunshine, let us not grow bitter, for the landscape becomes white of blooms of the Blackberry Winter. Let not your world be troubled by the change, but embrace it and seek to go beyond what is comfortable.
Take that step out in faith and watch what impossible becomes possible.
And remember, the first step might be the scariest, but it will always be remembered as the best.
Thanks be to God.
 John 3:6 KJV
 1 Corinthians 2:14 KJV
 John 6:16-21 KJV
 Matthew 14:22-29 KJV
 Matthew 28:19 KJV
 John 3:16-17 KJV