Whether we go to church or not, we’re probably all familiar with the story of Jesus walking on water. It’s a good one.
After Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, He separated Himself from everyone and told the disciples to get into a boat and start heading toward Capernaum. The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by mountains that rise about 4,000 feet above sea level, but it is actually about 700 feet below the Mediterranean Sea. As cold air rushes down from the mountains, it collides with the warm moist air rising off the surface of the water, causing frequent, unpredictable, violent storms.
If we combine the details in John’s and Matthew’s accounts, we can see that it took them approximately nine hours to row roughly three miles in a violent storm before they saw Jesus approaching them during the fourth watch of the night, between 3:00AM-6:00AM. They must have been absolutely exhausted, which is not fun when you’re in the middle of a large lake, on a small boat, in a violent storm, during the middle of the night.
Mark tells us that when they saw Jesus approaching, they were afraid and mistook Him for a ghost. They had probably seen as many people walking on water as I have.
That fear must have soon subsided into hope as they recalled an earlier experience in which Jesus calmed a storm whose waves were overtaking their boat. In Matthew 8:27, we see that this previous experience had caused them to question, “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and waves obey him.”
As Jesus approached, Peter not only trusted Jesus to protect the boat, but also to protect him as he got out of the boat in an attempt to meet Him half way. Yeah, Peter. It must have taken a lot of faith to step out of that boat and do something he had never seen anyone do before. He didn’t make it very far before he took his eyes off of Jesus and started sinking in the replacement of his focus. Despite the lapse of trust, Jesus was there and helped him out, pulling Peter up by the hand still stretched toward the original intention. Maybe that’s the kind of faith that caused Peter to be the rock on which Jesus would build His Church.
After this experience, the disciples no longer questioned what kind of man this was. They worshiped Jesus, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). This was the first time the disciples had ever recognized Jesus this way, despite the many miracles they had already witnessed and the teachings they had heard. It was also the first time they worshiped Jesus. In Matthew 2:11 the Magi from the East worships Jesus, in Matthew 8:2 a leper worships Jesus, and in Matthew 9:18 a synagogue ruler does as well. If Matthew did order these events chronologically, it is important to note that the disciples’ first act of worshiping Jesus accompanies their first recognition of Him as the Son of God. There’s something about being miraculously saved out of the midst of an overwhelming, exhausting circumstance that leads us to no other response but worshiping the only God that could do such thing.
One night last summer, I was laying out on my deck because it was too hot to sleep inside. As I prayed and considered my situation, I felt like something like what I could imagine the disciples felt in the middle of that large lake, on that little boat, in the middle of that violent storm, in the middle of that night. I knew I was about to step out of the uncomfortable but at least familiar boat, only to do something I had never seen anyone do before. It required a lot of faith and a lot of focus on Jesus. If I’m going to have the audacity to compare myself to Peter, the least I can do is admit that my focus hasn’t always remained on Jesus throughout the process. I am continually grateful that Jesus always approaches me, that He inspires me to respond in faith, that He rescues me when my focus waivers, and that it is His grace that enables my hand to even remain outstretched in His direction. My only response can be continual worship and continual faith.
Peter could have stayed in the boat. I’m not sure why he was the only one who called, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). It would have been a lot easier to stay put, but some people trust God enough to test their faith. When we stay in the same place in our faith, we can’t grow. No matter how uncomfortable that boat may have been, I’m sure it was more comfortable than the unknown. 1 Peter 1:7 reminds us that testing our faith proves that it’s genuine. If we don’t trust God enough to test our faith by stepping outside of our comfort zone, can it ever be purified as fire purifies gold?
Even the disciples who stayed in the boat learned something from Peter’s actions, which earned him this response: “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).