Author: Betsy Nelson
I love the story of Peter walking on water. Sure, we remember Jesus walked on water, but so did Peter. This means that the miraculous is available to all of us, if we have our focus right.
Let’s look at it. It is Matthew 14:22-33. The story starts after Jesus has fed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish.
22 Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; 30 but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (RSV)
Let’s look at it closer.
24 But the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them.
The disciples were by themselves. Times were getting tough. There was a big storm that had pushed them far from safety. Our lives are like that. When we are alone the storms of life beat up against us and push us even further away from security.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out for fear.
One translation says that this is around three a.m. Three in the morning is a weird time. The light isn’t great. It isn’t quite night, but it isn’t quite day. Everything looks strange. Also, at three a.m., I’m pretty sure the disciples are shot. They’ve been up all night because this storm has kept them up. They haven’t had a good night’s rest because of all turbulent sea and the wild sounds of the storm. Then they think they are seeing something.
Why would they expect to see Jesus walking on water towards them? This is a whole new experience.
But this is Jesus. He takes the shortcut. He walked straight towards the disciples rather than waiting for them to get safely to shore. This is Jesus. He walks through danger, straight towards us, right when we need Him.
Of course they were afraid. They were worn out from the storm. They were afraid they were going to die. Then this ghost comes towards them? Things have gone from bad to worse.
But what does Jesus do?
27 But immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.”
That again. “Have no fear.” It is sometimes translated as “Don’t be afraid.” The same words that have been echoed throughout the Old and New Testament. Have no fear. Don’t be afraid. Don’t freak out. It’s OK.
Good words to remember. God is in charge. Everything that happens is part of God’s plan. If we believe in a loving God, then we have to trust that God has got it under control, so there is nothing to worry about.
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.”
I find this fascinating. Why did Peter ask to come out there, rather than asking Jesus to come closer, towards the boat? This seems like the last thing I’d do. Terrified, worn out from a terrible night on a boat, seeing things – yeah, I’m going to stay in the boat, thank you very much. Getting out of the boat seems insane. The boat is the only sure thing in this picture.
But Peter doesn’t see it that way. Peter asks Jesus to bid him to come out to Him. Another word for “bid” is to “command”
I’m intrigued by the word “command”. The Jews have a big concept about commandments, in that God sanctifies us by His commandments. By God giving us commandments to follow, we are made holy. Peter didn’t say “ask me to come to you”, he said “bid”, or command. The result would have been the same, but in this case he’s giving over control. Peter would be doing the walking on the water whether he was asked or commanded, but by being commanded, there is a measure of authority and force. The fact that Peter gave Jesus the authority, by asking him to command him, means a lot.
29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus;
The command is simple. Just one word. Just “Come!” Jesus doesn’t waste words, or even really command or ask. Just one word is all Peter needs, and he’s right over the side of the boat, and he’s walking towards Jesus.
On water. In a storm. At three a.m. Sounds crazy. But it happened. And it still happens today. Not necessarily people walking on water, but doing things that they never thought they could, because they are walking towards Jesus.
30 but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
Peter was doing fine until he got distracted. He saw the strength of the wind. He got afraid. How often does this happen to us? We start off fine, and then we start to think about it. He didn’t look at the waves, or think about how deep the ocean was. That didn’t scare him. Surely he saw all that before he got out of the boat.
The wind distracted him. He lost his focus. He stopped looking at Jesus and he started getting afraid. This is the secret, here. The more we look away, the more likely we are to get afraid.
31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”
I like to think that Jesus was surprised. Peter has been with him a long time and seen a lot of amazing things. Surely he should be able to get this, right? Nope. Fear is an old habit, and hard to break.
I think God came to us in human form, not only to know what it was like to experience human life from the inside, but also to watch us. God learned a lot about our limitations by not only being one of us, but by living among us.
We are fragile, frail, and fallible.
We fear a lot.
We fall a lot.
And every time, Jesus is there to rescue us. Jesus took Peter’s hand and pulls him up, out of the water, out of danger. This is Jesus, every time. He’s there to save us from ourselves, from our fears and doubts.
32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
This isn’t just a story of something that happened back then. This happens every day. Jesus is real, and present, and with us, now.
Get out of the boat, and keep walking towards Jesus.
Know that when you fall, you’re still safe. He’s got you.