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 (Matthew 14:25-32, NIV).
I think we often forget the kind of people we are dealing with here. Jesus’ disciples were not thin-skinned, namby-pamby pious boys from Galilee’s most faithful families. They were fishermen! Have you ever walked into a pub full of fishermen? Have you ever watched Deadliest Catch? Do they look like people who scare easy to you? No! They are rough, tough, thick-skinned men. Not all Jesus’ disciples were fishermen of course. Matthew was a tax collector. They were hated and despised as thieves, thugs, and traitors. Simon was a zealot, the Zealots were a pro-Jewish militia who were more than happy to use violence to stand up against oppressors of the Jewish state. The one thing these guys all had in common was that they were not wusses. They didn’t scare easy.
Now with that in mind, you’re Peter. You’re in your boat, the boat you grew up on, the same boat on which your dad taught you the ways of the sea. It has been tough going. You’ve been rowing since evening and now it’s the middle of the night and you’re still in the middle of the lake. Aside from the lamp you have it is pitch black. You can’t see much because of the storm, but you’ve done this so many times you know where you are going.
You’ve seen storms like this before. This is not like that freakish one back in Matthew 8 that had you fearing for your life. You have seen worse, but the wind and waves demand your respect and full attention if you are going to safely get to your destination.
Then someone starts to freak out about something coming towards the boat from behind. You turn around and what you see freaks you out too: it looks like a man on the water. Not in the water, on the water. The wind is blowing and the waves swell dangerously around whatever it is. But you can see it is not the least bit alarmed. You watch as it climbs one swell and slides down to the next one. And it is headed right for you!
To a man, everyone is overcome with fear. Who would not be terrified? No one has ever seen anything like this before. Together you all come to the only rational conclusion a sailor would come to: it’s a ghost!
But then it calls out to you, “Don’t be afraid! It is I!” All the sudden that fear starts to turn to amazement. Could that be Jesus? It was His voice. And now that you take a closer look it looks like it could be Him. Could it be?
So you call out to Him, “Lord, if it’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”
He calls back, “Come,” and motions for you to come out of the boat. His voice engenders trust, and you do the one thing your dad told you never to do in a storm: you get out of the boat! If there was any doubt about the water-walker’s identity, it is gone now, and you are walking the waves towards Jesus.
But after the first few steps you lose your balance and start to stumble. The cold spray cuts through your clothes to your skin. A gust of wind knocks a wave into you and then Jesus disappears in the vastness of the waves and the wind; and now that is all you can see. Fear comes back with a vengeance and then you realize you are no longer treading on the water but struggling to simply tread water!
“Lord, save me!” You cry. And there He is, grabbing your hand, pulling you back to the surface.
“You of little faith,” He says to you, “why did you doubt?” And He walks with you back to the boat and climbs in with you. And as soon as you both were on board, the storm just stops.
Faith beckons Peter out of the boat to walk the waves towards Jesus. Fear takes his eyes off Jesus and on to the wind and the waves. That fear lead to a crisis of faith ends in failure, and all he could do was cry to Him for help. Jesus responds by showing him favor, grace, and lifts him up.
Faith, fear, failure, favor. What should we be learning from this cycle of events in this passage? That is the subject of parts 2 and 3 in this series. Hope to see you back tomorrow for part 2.