Matthew 14:28 - 32 - "'Lord, if it is you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’
he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Jesus walked on the water to the disciples in a storm. The story of what happened next between Jesus and Peter reveals twelve principles about how to handle impossible situations. Peter did the impossible—he walked on the water—and so can we when we recognize these principles. These principles can help us avoid the pitfall of too much caution on one side and the ditch of presumption on the other.
I. Recognize The Lordship Of Jesus “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
Peter called Jesus “Lord,” but, more importantly, Peter really recognized Jesus as Lord. This is shown more by what we do, don’t do, or don’t do until we have permission than by merely calling Jesus “Lord.” Peter passes the test on all points, however. Here he calls Jesus “Lord” and then, by waiting until Jesus tells him to come on the water, demonstrates by his behavior that Jesus really was his Lord—his authority. We may call Jesus “Lord,” but if we are not doing what he says or avoiding doing what he says not to do, he is not our Lord.
II. Be Willing To Take Initiative - “Peter replied,”
Jesus identified himself to the whole boatful of disciples. They all had equal information: Jesus had come walking on the water to all of them in their boat. There were other disciples than just Peter in that boat.
Peter, however, unlike the other disciples, had an idea and took the initiative to ask if he could walk out to Jesus. That Jesus told him to come indicates that Jesus approved of Peter’s proposal.
God has made us creative. It is good to actively participate in ministry partnership with God. It is presumptuous to act on our own initiative without approval from the Lord, but it is not presumptuous to brainstorm, consider data, think, strategize, and propose ministry ideas and submit them to the Lord for his approval. Peter took the initiative and submitted his idea to his Lord.
III. Avoid Presumption - “Come,” he said.
Peter waited for Jesus’ instruction. Peter did not act on his proposal until Jesus indicated his approval. This demonstrates Peter’s submission to the Lordship of Jesus, even in the midst of the excitement of initiating a new, creative, bold, and daring idea—that he, Peter, would walk to Jesus on the water, by being willing to wait for the right time.
Later, on the other side of the sea, while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, according to John 6, Jesus declined the opportunity to provide a miraculous sign for the crowd of Jews who asked for one. Jesus does not do needless miracles or signs just to do signs. He performs useful miracles—usually. Yet on this occasion, Jesus comes surprisingly close to performing a miracle which has a less apparent need.
God has personality, opinions, thoughts, plans, and feelings. Let’s not be presumptuous. We are dealing with the almighty God. God likes our creativity best when it is submitted to Him.
IV. Be Willing To Leave The Safety Of The Boat. “Peter got down out of the boat.”
The boat illustrates the safety of normalcy. Boats are the usual way to travel on the water. Peter was willing to leave the safety of the normal, usual routine. He was willing to go alone on a new venture.
You can enjoy not only physical safety by staying with the normal flow of life in boats, but also psychological safety by remaining with the people there. You don’t stand out in the crowd when you are doing what the crowd is doing. Peter had the courage to leave both the physical safety of the boat itself and the psychological safety of the group in the boat. God may call on you to do that some day. Or, God may honor your initiative if you volunteer to try something new and daring for him. Are you willing to ask him? Are you willing to leave these two kinds of safety—usual behaviors and the crowd that does them?
V. Follow Through With Intentions. “Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water. . .”
The word “intention” is an interesting word. It suggests that an action has been decided, but not yet executed. For some people, an intention is as good as action because they have well established the habit of doing what they think—executing intentions. In order to follow through with intentions, one has to put his “decider” in neutral and his “actor” on automatic pilot. We must learn to separate decision time from implementation time. I have learned to do that in running marathons. During the race is not the time to decide anything. You must persevere based on a previous decision. Peter had initiated a proposal, received permission, and next he followed through. There is nobility in initiating a bold plan, but there is greater nobility in executing it. Bless you, Peter, for showing how to do it.
VI. Move Toward Jesus. “. . . and came toward Jesus.”
This story is written by Matthew who would have been in the boat with the other disciples. According to grammar rules, he should have said Peter “went” toward Jesus, but Matthew says Peter “came” toward Jesus. If grammar is a hint of Theological truth in this story, Matthew has his Christology correct. The action moves towards Jesus regardless of the geographical location from which the writer writes. Even though Matthew saw it physically from the boat and technically made a grammatical mistake by saying “came,” yet he wrote it with the correct centrality of Jesus—that the action was Peter coming toward Jesus.
Whatever we volunteer to do, we should move toward Jesus. As soon as Jesus is no longer the central character in our story, as soon as our ministry, project, service, or enterprise is focused on human accomplishment, pleasure, or gain, our story has lost the center around which all plots, drama, and colorful story-lines should revolve. We are mere servants and tools. The ministry is God’s, not ours. Keep Jesus at the center.
VII. Be Willing to Have Your Faith Tested. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid.”
This is a curious sentence. We do not see the wind; we see the effects of the wind. We see the leaves moving in the trees and we say we see the wind blowing in the trees, but actually we are only seeing the leaves in the tree move. The Bible even acknowledges this in John 3:8. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” Wouldn’t you expect Mathew to say it right in the Bible? Peter saw the waves caused by the wind, or the rain blowing in the wind, or the spray from the waves blowing in the wind, or the robe of Jesus blowing in the wind; he didn’t see the wind. Yet Matthew says that when Peter “saw the wind, he was afraid.” There are three lessons here.
One, the problem of the storm was the invisible wind which caused the visible waves. The waves were only the obvious or visible problem, but the wind was the real cause behind the visible cause. Our storms have visible, apparent aspects and invisible, real causes. If Matthew intentionally said Peter saw the wind, could it be a hint that in our storm we need to think beyond the material causes to the deeper, invisible, spiritual causes behind them? The invisible spirit world affects the material world. When we learn this, then we are ready to learn use spiritual tools to solve spiritual the difficulties that appear as material problems. If there is a spiritual reality working invisibly behind visible problems and spiritual solutions being implemented which make the physical problems seem to “disappear,” then it follows that there are no problems that are not spiritual. Every problem, small or great, can—and should—be a matter of prayer and victory, and, when satisfactorily resolved, can produce a testimony of God’s grace manifested among us.
Secondly, seeing the wind and waves, is portrayed as being the reason for Peter’s doubt. I question this. There had to be something other than the wind that caused Peter to doubt. If the wind was the real reason for Peter’s doubt, that implies that without the wind, Peter could have walked on calm water anytime. The wind made this water walk difficult! The wind was blowing so Peter doubted and began to sink! Clearly, that is not the case. Peter could not walk on any water—calm or with waves. His problem was not that there was wind and waves; his problem was that he took his eyes and faith off of Jesus. When you and I walk on water we had better keep our eyes on Jesus.
Thirdly, the swift movement of uncontrollable events swirling around us makes doing the impossible seem more difficult. In the normal human expressions observed throughout the writings of the Bible, it is proper to try to see all the spiritual truth God has for us hidden in any text. Matthew wrote that it was because Peter saw the wind—meaning in the normal use of language probably that when Peter saw the waves—that he was afraid. So we must take the movement of the waves into consideration and assume the waves made it harder to exercise faith. Apparently water in motion under the influence of wind requires greater faith to walk on than calmer water. When there is motion or commotion in the waters of our miracles, that motion, action, commotion, or rapid movement or development of events around us that are beyond our control can make us afraid. It made Peter afraid. We wouldn’t even be on that water in the first place if it weren’t for a miracle. Yet the swirling of the waves—in addition to the fact that we are on water doing the impossible—makes us afraid. If you are walking on the water—if what you are doing is miraculous—remember it is a miracle and trust that the same power that is enabling you to walk on the water will also help you with the waves. In these cases, the rapid developments around us—the waves—only provide us with more reason to keep our eyes focused firmly on Jesus who is making the impossible possible.
VIII. Call On The Lord. “. . . beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’”
Peter succeeded far more than he failed in this story. He called Jesus Lord, initiated an idea, submitted it to Jesus’ timing, followed through with his intention, and walked on the water! Yet, he experienced failure when he became afraid and took his eyes off Jesus. Even then, however—even in his one failure among all his successes—he had the right to acknowledge his failure and call quickly on Jesus and Peter did that.
Peter was a fisherman and a swimmer. In another place in the gospels it tells us that when John told him the Lord was near, Peter jumped out of the boat and preceded the boat arriving first by Jesus’ side. Swimming, in that instance, was a success since Peter arrived at Jesus’ side before the other disciples in the boat. Peter could have swum this time, too. But Peter was on a spiritual mission and was not thinking about how to swim up to someone who was walking on the water in which he himself was swimming. He had been walking and was thinking in terms of walking; not swimming. Swimming—using normal human means of traveling in the water when you are out of the boat—was not in his paradigm then. Given that water-walking was his goal, purpose, and focus at the time, he did the right thing: He called on the Lord. Peter did not want to resort to the normal way to pass through the water by swimming, he wanted a miracle. He did not want an Ishmael. We may add another success to Peter’s account. When you have failed, to call on the Lord is better than to resort to the arm of flesh. Calling on Him is the right thing to do.
IX. Experience The Faithfulness Of Jesus. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.”
As we have just mentioned, among all his successes, Peter had one failure. Jesus, at the appropriate time—quite soon—would teach him something about that failure, but the lesson had to wait for a more urgent matter: first save the sinking man. Jesus quickly helped Peter. There is a lesson in this for us.
When we work with God’s little lambs, there are many lessons they need to learn and we must eventually get to those, but often we need to precede the lessons with some mercy—and help. Jesus’ treatment of Peter illustrates the times when helping is more appropriate than instruction. Until we have helped the person so they are ready to receive the instruction, as Jesus did, first let us save the sinking man. After that, then let’s do the teaching, correcting errors, and showing our disciples how they could have done it better.
X. Expect To Learn Something From Jesus. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
Do you ever feel like God is more firm in His dealings with you than He is in dealing with others around you? He seems to allow them to get away with things the Holy Spirit would never let you do. Join the company of Peter, the leading disciple. Peter had more faith, courage, boldness, and creativity than the other disciples. He excelled. He tried something new. He dared to attempt the impossible. Yet Jesus rebuked Peter—the most bold disciple with apparently the most faith. Why did Jesus criticize Peter and not the others?
We do not read that Jesus criticized the other eleven disciples for remaining in the boat. No mention is made of any remark he may have made regarding their inactivity. They evidently sat in relative comfort and safety in the boat without hearing one word of correction from Jesus. Jesus did not ask them: “Why didn’t you try? Why are you sitting there safely in the boat?” Why did Jesus single out Peter for correction?
Jesus was essentially happy with Peter’s progress. He did not discourage Peter from starting. He saved Peter when Peter needed to be saved. Throughout the dialogue, Jesus has a positive attitude toward Peter and wanted to develop him even further. Peter came so close to reaching Jesus that Jesus pointed out what he should have done to be completely successful. And if Jesus is developing you, he is happy with you, as is often indicated by his dealing with you to further develop you.
Jesus accepts the little steps of faith we can make. He encourages us to try, and then when we fail, he tells us the truth—whatever we should have done to succeed even more. In rebuking Peter, can you hear Jesus also implying, “You almost made it? You could have done it? You walked on the water, Peter?” Jesus prunes fruitful disciples so they can be more fruitful. Fruitful Peter got pruned. Pruning is ultimately a compliment. When you know how God further develops successful persons, you realize the rebuke was an indication of Jesus’ faith in Peter.
XI. You and Others Will Gain An Opportunity To See God in New Ways. “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
When Jesus and Peter arrived safely at the boat, the disciples responded to the miracle with the proper reaction. They worshipped Jesus, recognizing the significance of the multiple miracles of Jesus walking on the water, enabling Peter also to walk on the water, and calming the sea. Mark 6 tells us the sea grew calm as Jesus climbed into the boat. The miracles of God show us that He is awesome. Miracles contribute to Jesus’ authority, honor, majesty, and glory.
Miracles do help us in practical ways, but in the larger scheme of things—in the eternal realm—they help us see who God is. In this case, the disciples acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God. Later, after seeing Jesus’ scars as evidence of the miracle of the resurrection, Thomas would further acknowledge that Jesus was God and declare “My Lord and my God.” But for now the disciples were making progress in acknowledging Jesus as God’s son. Those who do the impossible gain opportunities for themselves and others around them to know God in new and special ways.
XII. Recognize that God has His own Good Reasons for Doing the Impossible.
All of the miracles Jesus performed had practical benefits. Except this one. The opening of ears and eyes, the loosing of tongues and limbs, the strengthening of legs, the feeding of the 5,000, and the raising a widow’s son all brought immediate and great benefit to people.
But Peter did not really need to go walking on the water to Jesus. Jesus was on his way to the boat and would arrive at the boat soon enough. Why did Jesus tell Peter to come?
Could the reasons for this miracle have been the lessons to be learned in the miracle even though the miracle itself had no practical benefit to anyone? Could it be that in God’s desire for us to learn how to experience the miraculous, this time He performed one for Peter more for the sake of the lesson about miracle-working power than to meet a need? It seems promotion of faith and the belief in miracles may be one reason God performs miracles.
Here are three possibilities. (1) This miracle strengthened Peter’s faith, (2) This miracle strengthened the faith of 20 centuries of Christians who have read this story. And, (3) This miracle helps each of us identify more closely with the miraculous because it happened to a man like we are.
For Jesus to enable Peter, the human, to walk on water is not intrinsically a greater miracle than for Jesus to walk on water. Yet when Peter, the human like I am human, walks on the water, the miracle is closer to me. I can identify more readily with Peter than with Jesus in this case. I, too, am encouraged to walk on the water. If Peter can, perhaps I could too. And so can you.