The reason the disciples were in the boat on their own is because Jesus was up on the mountain, praying in isolation, as he often did after performing large miracles. There are a few reasons for this.

Most obviously, it is easier to pray without distraction. Jesus often climbed high places to be closer to God, in a symbolic gesture of the heavenly kingdom being above us and around us. But arguably, most importantly, the reason Jesus prayed alone in this way was to set an example. He modelled best practice. Jesus is the type of teacher who gives an instruction, and then gives a demonstration – which I can confirm as a former teacher myself is usually the best approach if you really want something to sink in with your pupils. Jesus told us to go into our room and pray in private, not to make a great show of things like the Pharisees, and then he went off somewhere private to quietly say his prayers. In the modern context, secularists will often talk about meditation or reflection, and how important it is to find a quiet isolated space – what they might not realise is they’re talking about prayer. We find God in the silence, that where his voice is loudest.

In this instance, though, in Matthew 14, I also believe Jesus might have been giving his disciples another lesson. He made them get into the boat and go ahead of him, showing that they can still follow his way even when they cannot see him. Was he preparing them for a time he would not be physically present, but present in spirit? Getting ready for his final return to Glory?

When things got tough, when the storm hit and the boat started getting battered by the waves, he was there for them immediately. They didn’t need to ask for him to be there, he just was. Jesus walked across the water to be present with his disciples. He told them to take heart and not be afraid.

As an aside, we see parallels here with the Old Testament. In Genesis, the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the surface of the waters. Now we see Jesus Christ – the incarnate spirit of the Lord literally walking on the surface of the waters.

Just as Jesus prepared his disciples 2,000 years ago, he was also preparing us as his disciples, too. He is not here with us physically as god incarnate, but he is always with us in spirit as our mediator and advocate. And when we experience times of trouble in our lives, when the storm hits, we know that he will be there for us immediately; he is already with us. We can take heart, and we have no need to be afraid.

Of course, this is often easier said than done. Jesus told Peter to follow him. “Come” he said, and Peter walked out on the water to meet his Lord. However, he got distracted by the strong winds, became frightened again and began to sink. Haven’t we all been there? We’re here because we are committed Christians, we have faith in our Lord and rely on him in our times of trouble; but every now and then we get distracted by worldy troubles. Perhaps a huge bill comes in and we don’t know how we’re going to afford it, or we don’t get that job, or we lose a friend over something trivial, or worse, we lose a loved one, a family member dies too soon. And we become frightened and for a moment begin to sink. That is the time to remind ourselves – and to remind each other – that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is stronger than the wind, he alone has the power to calm that storm, and all we need to do is walk toward him in faith. He will reach out and grab our hand as we splutter and panic. Utter the prayer, “Lord, save me!” and he will pick us up, smile, and say “Oh, ye of little faith.”

The Scriptures speak to us through the power of the Holy Spirit and passages become relevant in different contexts that would have been unimaginable at the time. What strikes me about this passage is the boat. I spoke about us being the disciples in the boat, we are the followers of Christ, his Christian people, but it’s also worth nothing that the boat itself is a symbol for the church. The vast majority of church buildings in this country are designed to remind us of that. Look up at the ceiling in a traditional English church and you’ll see the nave – the shape of a boat’s hull. Looking up, toward God, is like looking down toward the boat. Much like in the Old Testament, Noah builds a boat to save God’s chosen people from the coming storm. The boat is the church, just as we are the church. And in this passage in the Gospel according to St Matthew we learn that Christ comes to his church at the moment it is in danger or under threat. That is why I believe Christ is with us now, here, today, at High Leigh. Because his Church in this country has not been in this much trouble for hundreds of years. The Church is in decline in this land, and has been since the 1920s, in a way we have never seen before. I pray for a renewed strength in our Christian conviction, in our calling to disciple the nation. But I also take great comfort and thanks to be here with you good people, his people, for you are his church, we are his church, and therefore He is with us.

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