As I thought about Sunday’s message — both before and after its delivery — the phrase “exegetical joy” came to me.
Exegesis is the art and science of drawing the meaning out of a biblical text (as opposed to eisegesis which is reading a (foreign) meaning into the text).
And exegesis done even remotely well is a thrilling experience, full of wonder, discovery, and, yes, joy.
My preparation with the Peter-walks-on-water story in Matthew 14:22-36 had all those elements. My own study was productive. My insights were confirmed and improved upon by the scholars whose work I researched. I was able to connect the water-walking story with Matthew’s larger narrative purpose and then able to celebrate some of Matthew’s phenomenal attention to detail that makes Peter’s character come to life.
So my prayer in advance was that the people of the church would share in the delight of biblical discovery with me on Sunday . . . that when they saw my appreciation for the artistry and theology of the story, they’d be more able to enter into the life of the text.
Really, I wanted my exegetical joy to be contagious.
I’ll let you decide if it was. Here’s the message. Called Daredevil, it landed at this bottom line:
To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
So in just a little bit, as part of Week 1 of Movementum, we’re going to take a look at a story in the Gospel of Matthew where Peter ever-so-briefly walks on water. It’s a story a lot of you have at least heard of if not read directly. It’s also the source of my wife Julie’s process for evaluating candidates she interviews for a job. It the person is really good: “he’s a water walker.” If not – you guessed it: “she’s no water walker, that’s for sure.” But before we actually look at the story, is it OK if I tell you Jesus’ “name,” his designation in the overall Gospel of Matthew? It’s Immanuel, which means “God with us.” It’s given to him in the Christmas story – you shall have a son and his name will be Immanuel – it’s the source of the Xmas hymn, O Come O Come Immanuel, it’s even where the Charleston church where the massacre happened got its name. And it is such a steady, comforting promise of a God who is and remains, with you.
Which is why the beginning of the water walking story is so great. Peter, if you remember, is a part of a large posse, an entourage as we will see next last week, of people who follow Jesus together. Scripture typically calls this group apostles. And what makes this story so interesting is how it starts in 14:22-23:
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.
Ah! See that?! This is the first time in Matthew that Jesus, the God with us, the Immanuel, is now apart from them. Not only does he separate from his posse, but he made them do it. By design and choice and force. The people hearing and reading Mt for the first time would have been like “Whoa! The God with us guy has become the God abandoned us guy.” And the disciples? When Jesus “made them go” for the first time . . . they must have been like “Immanuel is now Ain’t Near You All.”
And some of you know what that’s about. For some, you had at one time a kind of closeness where you felt tight with Jesus – maybe it was at a campfire, on a youth retreat, in the middle of a service project, or even in a church service that felt especially powerful. In fact, you felt so good, so close, you considered going into the ministry Some kind of ministry. Because what you felt was so close to him and you wanted to share that with people you know. And now? Crickets. You don’ know if it’s you or it’s him but it’s gone. (Righteous Bros clip?) And honestly, that earlier connection feels so distant you wonder if it was even legitimate.
But then others of you never had that earlier moment of closeness. You’re like that young friend of mine who I heard say in a meeting “I grew up thinking church was just something you DID or a place you GO; I never realized there could be more.” You’ve always thought of it as an activity, an obligation, and never as a connection. And so the thought of referring to Jesus as some sort of God with us has never made sense because you’ve never really felt anyone or anything with you at all.
And then a few of you just have those traumas to deal with. How can you feel God with us when the house burned, the marriage ended, the job vanished, the kid went AWOL? You spent so much time trying to restore what God allowed to fall apart that you can’t imagine any kind of closeness, thank you very much. So it was the guys on the boat in Matthew 14 and it’s us now & today: the promised God with you has become the Ain’t Near You.
Which makes the next turn of events so interesting:
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.
There’s always a storm! And then there comes Jesus, and he’s a water walker which freaks the guys out. I love how they are much less scared of the storm, because they’ve seen them before, and much more scared of the Savior, who they are seeing in an all new light. So Jesus attempts to calm them in 14:27:
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
See that “It is I”? Same basic language that occurs throughout the Gospel of John when Jesus repeatedly says I AM – his unique way of claiming to be God (and of giving us a church name!). So we’re alerted that this story has a whole lot to do with Jesus’ identity and his authority . . . like most other stories in the Gospels do.
Anyway, Peter, the movementum guy, issues a challenge to Jesus in 14:28:
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
Now: you’re NOT SUPPOSED to test the Lord your God, remember? But Jesus lets that one slide. Instead, he allows Peter to put him to the test in 14:29a:
29 “Come,” he said.
And then – here’s what I want you to notice. Because this series is called Movementum, right? And it’s called that because we see Peter the man and Peter the author as a perpetual motion machine. Well, look how 14:29b says it:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
See that?! GOT DOWN WALKED ON WATER CAME TOWARD JESUS. Three clear motion phrases: getting down, walking, coming toward. That kind of language, word choice, and repetition is not by accident! It’s designed! Brilliant design by a brilliant author! Conveying a constantly kinetic character!!!
And – even better – notice where Jesus is during the water walking. He is no longer with Peter. He is in front of Peter! The Immanuel has become the In Front U El!!! And I can’t help but think that’s where we most often find God – not by my side, in my pocket. Not my homeboy. Instead, way ahead of me, beckoning me with that simple Come of 14:29a! It makes sense now why Jesus left them at the beginning of the story. He had to! He had to in order stop being so with them and instead move ahead of them! I love the bible! By the way . . . he is likely ahead of you as well. You want him here, in your pocket, making you feel comfortable. And he’s moved beyond, calling you to leave comfort for the unpredictable. Which Peter has done.
Then in v. 30 there is the hilarious failure:
30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
How do you see wind? I love that. But this is the part most people remember! Peter failed because he took his eyes off his Savior and put them on his situation. Very common preaching line! (Unless I just invented it!) But you know what is more true? 11 weenies are still in the boat! One leaped! Eleven sniveled! Only one moved! And only one came toward Jesus. Eleven shriveled up and hid from him. Peter is the only one that night who got remotely close to the Emmanuel who had become the In Front U El. And so you know what that tells me? To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus. That’s it. Some of us who had that closeness and now want it back . . . but we have never ventured from safety and security. Others who’ve never had it and are vaguely curious about it but want some spine tingling experience simply to drop from heaven. It so rarely happens that way. More often closeness to, intimacy with, the Savior FOLLOWS and does not precede risking for him. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
I’ve seen this on a small scale for sure. Most of you don’t know this, but I am scared of dogs. Never been bit, but I have this irrational fear of them. Like simply hearing dog tags shake (Audio clip?) outside in public and I am sure Cujo is right behind me (AV!!). Yet I am part of (OK, I started it & do it about every week) this ministry called BTH where we knock on doors of newcomers and give them a welcome, a magnet and an invite. In fact, there is a pretty good chance I knocked on YOUR door! But anyway, do you know what happens with increasing frequency? We ring a doorbell and this is the response I get: (Audio of vicious dog!) And every time I’m like THIS!!! But yet I keep going. Why? (Because if a dog’s not there . . . ) Because when I’m done on Thursday evenings there has invariably been at least one of those incredible visits where I’m like, “ah, this is why I got into ministry. This is what it means to invite all ppl into living relationship with Jesus Christ.” To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
But more. And bigger. My Indian friends (AV). I was speaking with one of the pastors a few years ago and he mentioned – casually – that he’d been beaten up and jailed because he is a Xn. And I asked him if he’d considered – you know – shying away from to save his own neck. “No,” came the simple answer. “Why not?” I asked. “Because Jesus is God.” Which you know especially well when you’ve been beaten up and jailed on his behalf. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
Man, if in your life Jesus seems distant or uninvolved or like an activity you do or a place you go … that’s because you’re with the 11 wienies in the boat! There is something about risk and adventure for Jesus that breeds connection with Jesus like nothing else. Because when you venture out, when you are raw and exposed and you KNOW that if he does not intervene and provide you’re sunk … well then you discover how good and faithful and powerful he really is. And this intersects your life in so many ways.
You risk for him with your money – by becoming a person of regular, planned, percentage generosity – and you will discover that he really is the ultimate provider and that what you give away was never yours to begin with. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
You risk your reputation at work by walking away from the gossip-fest – a gossip-fest that you have been in the middle of and that you love for its delicious-ness – and you will learn first hand that when you priority is the kingdom your reputation will more than take care of itself. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
When you risk your comfort and spend at night in RITI or a Sat lunch in CRM you will discover your life is not your own. Get this: I’m not going to promise you that old cliché they will minister to you more than you minister to them because by & large that DOESN’T happen. What will happen is that you will know and understand that simply in investing time in the life of another, you free yourself of relentless self-absorption. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
You risk a family relationship by honestly sharing the gospel with the toughest nut to crack … and you’ll see that people you love aren’t offended when you care about their eternity even if there is no conversion. And sometimes there is! Through it all you’ll remember that, as RD said, the best you is when you’re sharing him. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
You risk a Sunday convenience by investing your life as one more voice into the life of a child, student, or new guest here and you’ll realize that Lazy Boy Xnty is for the birds and you get so much more out of being a player than a spectator anyway. REF It’s risky obedience and it is so much more of a living relationship that casual faith ever, ever could be. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
Because do you know what is coolest of all about Peter’s foray into water walking. That in the ancient mind, it wasn’t gravity that he conquered; it was chaos he overcame. The sea for the ancients was not a place of study & exploration; it was a place of utter chaos. (Sharks, 1900!) So I love that for Matthew and his original audience, Peter’s great miracle was not so much that he didn’t sink; it was very much that he overcame chaos.
Listen: your risk will likely hurl you into some kind of chaos – and only in radical dependence can you overcome it. Not your skill or your strength; your trust. To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus.
This matters to me because this is true of entire churches. That early on churches are Risk Takers. And then they get established and have buildings (!) and they become Care Takers. And if they’re not careful and if they get priorities mixed up, they can then become Under Takers.
Not us. Not now. Not ever. But that only happens as you in your own life recognize To get close TO Jesus you have to risk something FOR Jesus. Because Jesus is way more in front of you than he is beside you.