Rotation.org Writing Team
Peter Sinks, Jesus Saves!
The story of Jesus walking on water
A Water-telling Workshop
Summary of Activities
In this "hands-in" lesson, after hearing a storyteller's version of the Bible story, students will gather around "The Sea of Galilee" (a pool of water) to re-enact the story with an extra focus on the meaning of the waves and boat in the story, and watch their fears sink.
*The recommended pool in this lesson is of simple construction. Prior to class, thick (4 or 6 mil) plastic tarp is laid inside a wood frame and filled with water. The frame is four 8" high boards laid on their edges and well-fastened at the corners. Size the pool according to your expected class sizes. You do not want it too small. To contain any water that might splash out during the wind and waves beach towels can be placed, on the floor, around the outside of the frame. Getting wet is definitely a possibility and should not be avoided as it will heighten their enthusiasm and memory, just as surely as it did for Peter and the disciples. The framed pool can be placed indoors over a tarp, if necessary, to protect carpeting. However, the thick plastic sheeting (available from any good hardware store) will not leak. Fill it with a hose or buckets, and empty it with buckets when you no longer need it (you'll have plenty of enthusiastic help from students). If you plan on using the pool water a second week, add a cap-full of bleach to it after use.
Scripture for the Lesson
In this lesson, the scripture is re-told by a storyteller (or the teacher).
See the Bible Background at rotation.org for this set's complete list of objectives.
And that's when you realize
that you never have to be afraid of anything ever again
—not because you have Jesus,
but because Jesus has YOU.
From "Peter and Jesus on the Water," (found below).
Preparation and Materials
- Read the Bible Background and scripture.
- Heavy "freezer" paper with a shiny side (semi-waterproof). See tips below. Pre-cut the paper into roughly 8 x 11 sizes (smaller is harder for smaller hands).
- Plain 8.5 x 11" copy paper (for the "fear" boats you will make ahead of time).
- A thick plastic drop cloth (4 or 6 mil) large enough to cover your wood frame, *see recommended pool details above. (Optionally, a large baby pool.)
- Tarp (for underneath your pool.)
- Both water-color and permanent markers (for the two kinds of boats you'll make.)
- Source of water (pool requires 2" to 3" of water).
- Fan or leaf blower.
- Plenty of bath or beach towels.
- Small plastic characters (to represent Jesus and Peter) attached to dowel sticks. (Lego People or "Little People" toys work well (for younger children - see adaptations.)
What scares you the most? Read two at a time, and ask students to pick WHICH of the two scares them more by moving to one side of the room or the other. After each vote, ask a student or two why they voted as they did.
Which are you more afraid of?
- The Dark, or Clowns?
- The Dentist, or the sight of Blood?
- Heights or Tight Spaces?
- Snakes or Cockroaches?
- Dying or Ghosts?
- Speaking in front of class or Being made fun of?
- Dark Water or Storms?
- Being tossed about by crashing waves or Being Lost in the Woods?
Say: In today's lesson, we're going to look at one of the scariest stories in the New Testament, and see what Jesus had to say about our fears.
Story-telling Tips: Conduct the storytelling away from the water. If you have a story-telling tent, use it, or have everyone lay down flat on their backs to listen. You may also tell this "scary" story in the dark surrounding a candle (which calms and focuses). The story-teller should read from this script, and remind everyone that it comes from Matthew 14.
Tell The Story:
I want you to close your eyes for a moment, while I tell you something really scary. (Feel free to embellish this story!) I want you to imagine yourself out on an open boat with your friends far from shore, when all of the sudden, the winds starts to howl, and the waves start to pound your boat. And everyone is screaming.
And that's when you see him... Jesus, or what looks like Jesus, standing out there in the middle of the waves. Someone yells, "It's a ghost," but then you realize it sure looks like the real Jesus walking on the water. You shake your head a few times and blink a bunch, and you're sure it is Jesus. Then you realize it even sounds like Jesus! ...Because he's looking right at you and saying, "Get out of the boat and step into the waves with me."
Now you know that there is 100 feet of dark water beneath you, and this just sounds crazy. But then you realize that maybe this is a test, so you decide to step out of the boat and into the waves because, after all, Jesus is standing there on the water! And he told you to do it.
So you look right into Jesus' eyes and step out, and holey moley! ...your foot stands firm on top of the water! A big smile comes across your face as you take another firm step on the water. And you're thinking, "This is pretty cool! I'm walking on water!" ...and that's when it happens. You look down and see all that dark water beneath your feet and the waves crashing around you, and that's when you start to sink. Slowly down into the dark foamy water you go, until only your head is above the waves and you're about to go under and drown. "Jesus!" you gurgle, "Save Me!" you sputter as the water takes you down. And as you feel yourself sinking and flipped over by a wave, your last thought is probably, "I'm an idiot," and, "So ends the life of an unfaithful disciple."
And that's when you feel it. Something grabs your wrist and starts pulling on you. Your arm goes straight up in the water, and you feel the tug of your clothing holding you back as a powerful force pulls you upward until you break the surface. And the next thing you know, you're face to face with Jesus, and he's saying directly to you in an unusually calming tone, "O Ye of Little Faith. Have no doubts about me."
And the next thing you know you are being lifted over the railing of the boat. You clunk down into the bottom of the boat, coughing and spitting up water. A strong hand turns you over, and as the water drains from your eyes you see Jesus leaning over you. "Peter, are you okay?" he asks, and you would answer but you're still spitting up water. You look behind him, and see your friends coiled up in various positions of shock and amazement and unable to say a word. Jesus looks around at all of you, then shakes his head from side to side as a wide grin begins to form at the corners of his mouth
It's then you realize that the boat has stopped rocking, and the wind has died down. And as you pick yourself up off the floor of the boat, you see Jesus sitting there —staring back at you –still with that strange and comforting smile. And that's when you realize that you never have to be afraid of anything ever again —not because you can walk on water or even need to, but because Jesus can and does, and will for you. Not because you "have Jesus," but because Jesus has YOU.
(Adapted with permission from "Peter and Jesus on the Water," a sermon by Neil MacQueen)
- Do you think Jesus knew Peter would sink? (Yes, he knew. That's what people do: sink.)
- Do you think Peter could possibly have enough faith to walk like Jesus on the water. (The story says no, and sets up the point that Jesus saves in spite of our lack of faith.)
- When Jesus puts Peter back in the boat, is Jesus angry or understanding?
- If we don't have to fear not having enough faith, and don't have to fear storms and sinking in doubt, or the dark, or being lost, or death, because we know that come what may, Jesus has us, ...Jesus holds our life, what do we have to fear?
Why we don't "have Jesus" ~ A theological point of view
You may want to share some of this with older students during the Boat Building and Floating activities. Otherwise, it is intended to help the teacher shape their sharing.
Some people of faith talk about Jesus as if he is their servant. They think if they just pray hard enough, or with the right words, Jesus will do what they ask. Others talk about looking for and "finding" Jesus, ...as if they only need to look really hard and he will come to them. Truth is, Jesus is the one who is looking for us. We're the ones who are lost. Some people talk about the "power" that Jesus gives them to do great things, even perform miracles. They believe their faith and power is the product of doing a lot of important things, like going to church, volunteering, reading the Bible. They hear the story of Peter on the water and think, "if he'd only kept his eye on Jesus." Indeed, that's what many of us were taught in Sunday School.
The doctrine of "Saved by Grace" means we are saved (rescued) in spite of ourselves, ...that we are not worthy. That we cannot walk on water, no matter how hard we try to "keep our eye on Jesus." When Jesus asks Peter "why did you doubt?" the truth is that Peter had a million reasons to doubt, and Jesus knew them all, but saved Peter anyway. This is not a story of how to have faith. It is a LESSON from JESUS about what happens when we don't have enough of it. And the answer is don't be afraid, Jesus has enough, and he has you.
This is the source of our freedom: Because of Christ we have nothing to fear, including our own doubts and lack of faith.
Fold the Jesus Boats
The "Jesus Boats" you are going to fold and float, and the "Fear Boats" you are about to label and sink, are intended to provide a strong memory hook for the point you have just made:
Jesus has us. He saves and provides us with "the boats" to get us through the wind and waves. We don't have to walk on water, (and in fact, we can't, only he can do that), just stick together and trust that Jesus saves, ...that Jesus has our life in his hands. Jesus didn't have to call every other disciple out onto the water because everyone got the message. "I save, I have you, I can do all things, don't doubt it."
The "Float" activity below has more to share.As you go through the rest of this activity, continue to reinforce these points.
There are many online "how to" videos, some with folding variations. We found this one easiest to follow and well-presented. See the "Notes About Boats" at the end of this lesson for how to use this video in the classroom.
- Give each student a sheet of freezer paper.
- If you'd like, have them color the shiny side using crayons.
- Have them follow your folding instructions to make their boat. Be sure that the shiny side of the freezer paper is facing upwards when you make your first fold, so that the shiny side will be in contact with the water and keep the paper from getting waterlogged.
- Using permanent markers, now have them write key words and phrases from today's story or scripture reading onto the freezer paper boats. Feel free to re-phrase them into sayings, like, "Don't worry." "Don't be afraid." "I will rescue." "Jesus saves me." Be sure to use non-water-color markers so that the writing won't smudge in the water.
Write on the Fear Boats
After they have made their own boat out of freezer paper, produce a bag of boats that YOU have made out of plain paper. "Plain" because we want these plain boats to sink in the water, which they'll do when they become water logged in a few minutes.
Give each student one of your plain paper boats, and a water color marker. The water color "fears" they write on the fear boats will disintegrate along with the paper boat.
Discuss what kind of "fears" disciples have:
Write these on the board. Then have students write the fear that they have the most on their plain paper boat (they will sink them later).
I'm afraid I don't have enough faith.
I'm afraid others will think I'm not a good Christian.
I'm afraid I don't read the Bible or pray enough.
I'm afraid I don't give enough to the church.
I'm afraid God will punish me when I do bad things.
I'm afraid God will punish me for not coming to church enough.
I'm afraid that my doubts and questions will offend God.
(For non-readers, early readers, simplify, let them pick one out, and write it for them.)
Float Your Boats!
The following questions and discussions are things to do at the pool with the Jesus and Fear boats.
1. Question: What does the Jesus boat represent or mean?
Ask the question as you put one Jesus boat in the pool.
The boat can represent "the church." We are in it together. But don't stop there. The boat can represent the knowledge that you are rescued, saved, embraced, safe. It can represent the knowledge that we don't need to walk on water. That Jesus provides, protects and guides. And there's room on the boat for all kinds of disciples, from those who think Jesus is a ghost, to those willing to step overboard.
Do: Now have everyone put their Jesus Boats in the water. Gently make a few waves to make them move.
2. Question: What could the rough waves and wind in the story represent? What's rough in our lives that we need Jesus to help us with?
School problem waves.
Self-esteem/bullying, substance abuse.
Sickness, death in the family, divorce.
Moving, losing friends.
Forces (like wind) trying to get us to do/think/say/believe the wrong things.
As students give an answer, have them swoosh their hand to make some waves. This will encourage others to give answers so that they get to swoosh the waves too.
Do: Now have everyone work together to make some waves. Try making a whirlpool by having everyone wave their hand in one direction around the pool. Be careful not to sink the Jesus Boats!
Ask: How can Jesus save us from these situations? ("Save" doesn't mean get rid of them. Jesus doesn't stop bullying, but he does make the bullied unafraid, for example. Being "saved" means we have no fear. We know Jesus holds our life in his hands. We have no fear because we are in his boat.)
Note that "fears" and "winds" are similar ideas. Both threaten to sink us. These fears can also be written on the fear boats.
3. Now Float the Fear Boats, ...and make them sink.
One by one have each student add their "fear" boat, and make waves to swamp it. Be careful not to swamp your Jesus boats in the process! (If your pool is small, remove the Jesus Boats before swamping the fear boats, or have a student hold and keep them from tipping in the waves.)
Comment on each fear and say things, like, "In Jesus name, Bye-Bye Fear of Doubts and Lack of Faith. Jesus loves me this I know!" "Bye-bye fear of not pleasing Christ, and fear of making mistakes. Jesus has a hold of my life and will not let me go even when I am sinking."
(Think of the placing and sinking of the Fear Boats as a structured "ritual of sinking" activity.)
Conclude by having everyone slowly calm down the waters with you, talking as the waves subside and the boats settle. Mention the things which remind us that Jesus has us by the hand...
Worship reminds us of that. We feel Jesus' presence embracing us.
We are reminded of it in Bible stories likes today's story.
We feel it when other people hold on to us.
And we feel it when we reach out to others when THEY are sinking.
For Younger Students: If you're short on time and don't have enough help to help children fold the boats, have a number of "ready made" folded boats. Let them decorate them with crayons, adding things like disciples.
Storytelling: Younger children may find it hard to lie still with their eyes closed. A suggestion would be to gather the children around the lake and use the toy figures you've attached to dowel rods as stick puppets as you tell the story. The children could create the waves when prompted, turn on the fan (wind), etc.. If you have extra time at end of lesson, have the children take turns retelling you the story using the stick puppets. You may want to use a toy boat attached to a dowel rod, as well.
There is a three piece toy play set called "Jesus Walks on Water" from the Tales of Glory series, figures are 3" (pictured).
Notes About Boats
Use freezer paper instead of regular paper. The plastic coating will keep the boats floating. When folding, start with the 'plastic' shiny side facing you. This will ensure that the plastic side is facing outwards towards the water when the boat is complete. If you are using a different folding method than shown in this lesson, test which side to start with.
If you don't have any "boat folding experts" and don't have a Wi-Fi connection, you can download the recommended YouTube "how to" video to your tablet(s) or laptop and use with the kids. Download instructions here.
Notes about Making the Lake
Don't be afraid to "go big" as this will impress the lesson on their memory, and give your kids and demonstrations plenty of room.
If setting this up outside, place a blue tarp underneath the pool that is large enough to extend two feet around each side of the pool to protect knees and clothing.
Give each student a bath/beach towel to kneel on and wipe up with.
You only need two or three inches of water.
If the boards accidentally lift up, the water and tarp will try to bulge underneath the board. To avoid this, tack a second sheet of plastic to the bottom of the frame before you lay your plastic drop cloth inside the pool frame.
Written by the Rotation.org Writing Team
Copyright 2016, Rotation.org Inc.