We Can Choose
Matthew 14:22-33 “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.
“It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s 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.”” (Mt. 14:22-33
Groundwork for Peter’s Leadership:
Many a sermon has been written, where content is heavily placed on critiquing Peter’s lack of faith in this situation. Personally, I feel like we’re a little too hard on Peter. We put all the emphasis on that component of the event, but if we compare him to the other disciples, Peter looks pretty brave.
What if Peter’s decision to climb out of the boat wasn’t just a simple choice he made? What if Christ, as important groundwork for Peter’s future and leadership, established this event specifically for him?
Take Courage & Do Not Fear:
In verse 24, we read that the disciples were struggling to cross the lake. Scripture indicates that they were being buffeted by the wind and waves. Other translations use words like battered or tossed by the wind and waves.
We’re not exactly sure if they were in an actual storm, but it’s clear from Scripture that they were in some very rough water.
During the 4th Watch:
Moving on to verse 25, we read that it was the fourth watch of the night. The question that comes to mind is, “Well, what time is that exactly?”
Historic evidence of that time period shows us that if a group of sailors needed to stay up through the night, they broke it up into 4 watches. The first watch started at roughly 6:00 PM, then the second watch at 9:00 PM, the third watch at 12:00 midnight, and the 4th watch at 3:00 AM.
Therefore, this event begins at some point after 3:00 AM.
These disciples have been taking shifts, fighting through the wind and waves all night long. Considering this is the last watch of the night, at least a few of the disciples could have been sleeping at this time.
Furthermore, only a few of the disciples were skilled enough seamen to be in charge during rough seas. Adding all this information brings some indication that Peter was likely in charge during the 4th watch of the night. Perhaps, Christ specifically chose to appear during Peter’s watch?
Ghost On the Water:
So the boat is being tossed by the wind and waves, the disciples have been taking shifts trying to keep the boat on a straight heading; then Jesus shows up walking on the water.
Immediately, the disciples are terrified and assume it must be a ghost. They’re tired, they’re scared, and their minds start filling in the details.
Jesus Identifies Himself:
At the height of their exhaustion and terror, Jesus identifies Himself; calling out to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
At this, Peter’s fear begins to fade. He alone promptly responds with, “If it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water.” Jesus responds simply in verse 29 with, “Come.”
Peter’s Willing to Be Called:
This is where I feel we need to applaud Peter. When I read this event, I’m impressed with him. As the other disciples wait to see what happens next, Peter is willing to be called out. For me, Peter’s willingness to be called is as much literal to this account as it is a foreshadowing of his life and leadership.
As we will read later in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter will be the disciple chosen as the Rock, the foundation on which Christ will build His church. But at this moment in verse 30, Peter faces a true test of courage and faith.
What was going through his mind in that moment?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I don’t know if this Old Testament Proverb was going through Peter’s mind at the time, but in that moment, he sure was showing it. Peter was trusting in the Lord’s call.
Leaning on his own logic and his own understanding would have told him clearly that if he steps out of this boat, he will sink and potential drown. Instead, Peter submits to Christ’s call and as we read, a path is made straight; even a path over water.
Have Faith & Do Not Fear:
“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink,” (Matt. 14:29b-30a)
Peter See the Wind:
Peter’s courage and faith disappear as he puts trust back into his own logic and understanding. His fear of the wind and waves causes him to doubt and he begins to sink.
This is where a common assumption takes place.
Many of us have heard Sunday school lessons on this passage; that Peter began to sink because his gaze didn’t remain on Christ. But Scripture doesn’t indicate that he was holding his gaze on Christ to begin with. It states that he was walking toward Christ.
When I think through this and if I had an opportunity to walk on water, I’d likely take a look at what my feet were doing. I might even look back at the fellas in the boat. “Hey, check this out!” Scripture doesn’t indicate where Peter was looking.
This was a miracle of faith as much action, but Peter received a physical ability out of a spiritual commitment. This was about courage and faith, not about whether or not Peter could continue looking in the same direction.
Peter still believed Jesus could save him.
The rest of verse 30 tells us that Peter “cried out, ‘Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” (14:30b-31a) Then Jesus says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (14:31b)
Peter was performing a miraculous physical ability through Christ’s power, accessed by his own faith. For whatever reason he neglected to believe he could walk on his own. However, it’s important to note that Peter still believed Jesus could save him.
He cried out for Jesus’ help, in full belief that he would be saved.
Once again, we can see a greater picture.
There is a foreshadowing being drawn from this event. At this moment, Peter needs Christ’s physical assistance to remain on top of the water. Yet, in the book of Acts, we read that Peter would one day perform great miracles using the power of Christ but without his physical presence.
How much of this did Jesus know and reflect on before and after this event? Again, how much of this was training for what Peter would soon endure?
Back In the Boat:
Verses 32 and 33 tell us that as they got into the boat, the wind died down. The disciples began to worship Jesus, coming to the realizing that He truly was and is the Son of God. The disciples are truly in awesome wonder.
So what’s the take away for us?
What’s the big idea of this story? It could be a tidy message, in that if we remain fixed on Christ, we perform miraculous things. To some extent, I believe this to be true. But I think there’s a lot more that Christ offered Peter and in turn, offers us within this event.
The reality is that far too often fear and doubt coexist. It’s hard to find one without the other. This held true for the disciples, for Peter in particular and fear and doubt often coexist for us, and in us.
A lot of it comes down to who or what we lean on.
When we’re afraid, we lean on our own understanding, often putting our trust in our own abilities. But it’s fleeting because we can only be so confident.
Soon, we doubt, which produces more fear. We feel lost and alone, almost like we’re about to drown. Then we cry for help.
And crying for help is a great thing.
Just like fear and doubt often coexist, so too their opposites. Courage and faith often coexist. They compliment each other inside of Peter and inside of us. When we’re lost and alone, with nowhere to turn, Jesus says, “Take courage! Do not be afraid!”
This is when we must abandon logic and our earthly mindset, lean not on our own understanding; instead placing the entirety of our trust in Christ. With His courage and His faith, we will perform amazing things!
Courage & Faith; Characteristic of Believers:
In the days following his walk on water, Peter would continue to learn some very difficult lessons. Yet, he did in fact become the Rock on which the church would begin. He and his fellow disciples became apostles, travelling the land with a courage and faith that was in itself miraculous. Courage and faith became characteristic of these men.
As the early church flourished, the first Christians faced terrible acts of hatred and torment, because of their belief in Jesus Christ. Again, miraculously, they remained courageous and faithful, enduring every form of persecution. Courage and faith became characteristic of these men and women.
Throughout history, Christians have faced terrible difficulties. Yet, courage and faith have continued to be characteristic of people who call themselves Christians.
Courage & Faith; Characteristic of Us:
Is courage and faith characteristic of us? Is courage and faith characteristic of the church?
When the wind and waves of life are tossing us to and fro, do we place our trust in Christ or do we lean on our own understanding?
When do you feel the most afraid and doubtful? How do you lean on the Lord for courage and faith?