Scripture: Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: Matthew tells us that having fed the masses with his miraculous multiplication of fish and loaves, Jesus commands his disciples to get in their boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and wait for him while he dismisses the crowd and retreats to pray. Theologian Michael Wilkins surmises that Christ sought extended solitude with the Father to prepare him for his soon journey through Israel’s Gentile region toward Jerusalem and his looming crucifixion (NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, p.516). Meanwhile, the disciples are about two to three miles from shore (based on the Greek “many stadion,” translated as “a long way from the land” above), and it is the fourth watch of the night (indicating that Jesus approached their boat between 3:00 and 6:00 AM).
While afraid of dying with Jesus in the boat during the previous storm (8:25), in this story, they are terrified of seeing what they perceive as a “ghost” of Jesus (phantasma in the Greek text). Its Hebrew equivalent in the Old Testament stood for an “evil spirit” (see Isaiah 28:7 and Job 20:8). However, Wilkins suggests that the disciples likely assumed that an evil spirit disguised as their Master intended to deceive them. Thus, hearing their cries, Jesus reassures his disciples not to be afraid, for it is him in the bodily form.
As is often the case, Peter is the first to speak and asks for a sign: command me to come to you. Without delay, Jesus responds, “Come.” Peter immediately gets out of the boat and walks toward Jesus on the water. Still, the sounds and sensations of the howling winds and crashing waves distract Peter, and, taking his eyes off Jesus, he becomes consumed with fear and begins to sink. At this point, Peter wisely cries out to his Master to save him, and Jesus extends his hand to rescue him. And following a similar script to the story of the calming the storm, Jesus rebukes Peter for doubting and demonstrating little faith. And like the previous storm on the Sea of Galilee, the storm ceases under Jesus’ authority. But this time, they do more than express their marvel over Jesus’ dominion over nature; they worship him and profess that he is the Son of God.
Takeaway: Wilkins contends that “Jesus’ walk on the water to the disciples in the storm is intended to elicit faith in his true identity and mission as the Son of God. The time has come for the disciples to step forward to claim their responsibility as leaders in the Jesus movement, which Peter will falteringly attempt to exemplify” (p.516). While Peter demonstrates tremendous courage walking through the torrent of waves, even those first steps of faith fail him when he loses focus. Still, Peter wisely shows enough faith to cry out to his Lord (kyrios in the Greek text) for help. Without delay, Jesus extends his hand to rescue Peter and admonishes Peter once he is safely in his grip.
The implication? Jesus wants Peter (and the other disciples) to understand more clearly who he is and act accordingly with a greater trust in the Son of God. As Wilkins adds, “Faith is not like a commodity of which Peter needs more. Rather, faith is consistent trust in Jesus to accomplish what Peter is called to do” (p.517). Moreover, faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) given in full measure to all who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that the Father raised the Son from the dead (Romans 10:9). And, like Peter, our part is to more consistently trust in the Father and Son’s inseparable love for us revealed in the Cross of Christ (Romans 8:35-39) and do the good works that God has prepared beforehand for us (Ephesians 2:10).
So when we periodically wobble in our faith, like Peter, we will do well to demonstrate enough faith to cry out to Jesus, grasp hold of him, and worshipfully carry on with what he has called us to do. Indeed, our consistent trust in the Son will help us faithfully grow his kingdom and glorify his name amid life’s storms.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who consistently trusted you and completed his mission (John 19:30), as climactically demonstrated when he cried out to you from his cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46 ESV). So would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit by exhibiting consistent trust in your Son to weather life’s storms, worshipfully grow his kingdom, and glorify his name? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
Leave a Reply