The Fourth Watch

Have you ever thought, “I didn’t sign up for this!” in life, in ministry, in your family? Oh the ideals we chase, and the reality we crash into! So often, even my best intentions are short sighted. And I end up feeling like I’m stuck in a place not my choosing! I think Jesus’ disciples felt this way often.

In Matthew 14 after he has miraculously fed thousands of people on the mountainside, Jesus dismisses the crowds and insists that his disciples get into the boat and cross the lake without him. They’re all-in with Jesus by this time, so they go. But night closes in around them, and the wind picks up. The waves are crashing, rocking them violently. Verse 24 says, “The disciples were in trouble far away from land…” Imagine their shouts above the wind, “Where is Jesus! What was he thinking sending us out in this! I didn’t sign up for this!”  After all he was the one who insisted they cross over without him. He had disappeared into the hills to pray, alone. And he had sent them off into a storm! But the shouting doesn’t last. They don’t have any energy to spare as they frantically bail the sinking vessel.

By the middle of the night, these guys are soaking, cold and despairing of their own lives. Verse 25 says, “Now in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went to them, walking on the water…” In the darkest hour of the night, they are not alone. Jesus is walking toward them on the water.

When I’m in my darkest hour, my tendency is to cry out in despair, to complain, and even rebel. “I didn’t sign up for this!” I exclaim. And I want a way out!

The disciples have spent a good part of the night in that very place. But they aren’t alone. And at just the right time, Jesus walks toward them on the water.  The minute he comes on the scene everything changes.

For an instant they are wracked with a worse fear than death by drowning! “It’s a ghost!” They cry out. But Jesus’ reassuring voice reaches them over the wind and waves. “Cheer up! It is I!”

The waves are huge, the boat is still sinking, but Peter has dropped his baling can and is about to jump right out of the boat! And Jesus is encouraging him! “Come on!” He says! So off Peter goes.  Only it’s momentary. The storm has lasted for hours, Peter’s jaunt on the stormy sea, only seconds. And then he is sinking and crying out to Jesus to save him—which, of course, Jesus does, even as he asks, “Why did you doubt?” Have you ever stopped to wonder where Peter would have ended up if he hadn’t doubted?   Now some might be hard on Peter for his lack of faith. I’m wondering what the other 11 in the boat were thinking. Peter got out of the boat in the middle of a storm! And he walked on water! Who among us can say, “I’ve walked on water in the middle of a stormy lake”? Peter could.

As Jesus and Peter climb into the boat, the disciples get what they have been waiting for…the storm ends suddenly. The wind ceases! Everything is quite. The terror of the fourth watch is over, a distant memory as the sky clears and the first pink ribbons of dawn can be seen on the horizon.

And then the moment Jesus has been waiting for, “They came and worshiped him, and said, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”

In the fourth watch, when we have despaired of the sun ever shining, let us not moan in terror. Let us not wail, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Let us wait and watch. For we are not alone. He is coming to us in the storm. And he is inviting us to walk on water.

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