Are you facing seemingly insurmountable odds in any area of your life? Do you have a major decision to make in the area of finances, health, relationships, business, or any other important area of your life? Are you wondering if God even hears your prayers in times of crisis?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time for you to consider getting out of the boat and walking on water.
What do I mean by that?
I’m referring to the passage in Scripture where the disciples are on the Sea of Galilee sometime between three and six a.m. immediately after Jesus fed the five thousand. Jesus had commanded His disciples to cross the large inland sea and meet Him on the other side after He’d performed the miracle of the multiplication of five loaves of bread and three small fish on the Mount of Beatitudes. As the night deepened, the weather changed for the worse. Both the wind and waves were enough to rattle the disciples. (Matt. 14:22-32)
As if the severe weather wasn’t enough, as they peer into the darkness they see something coming toward them. At first, they think it might be some kind of spirit. Gasping in fear, they suddenly discern that it is their Master, Jesus, walking across the water as if He was out for a leisurely stroll. Jesus hails his twelve friends and says, “Be of good cheer, it is I, fear not.”
Peter, likely the oldest of the bunch, cries out, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come unto you on the water.”
Jesus replies, “Come!”
Peter gets up and steps out of the boat.
What an incredible sight that must have been to the other eleven disciples! Peter looks to the left and then back to the right, sees the wind and the waves, and something extraordinary happens. He starts to sink. Jesus quickly reaches out and grasps Peter’s hand, lifts him up, and offers a mild rebuke, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Needless to say, there are two unusual and spectacular events that occur in this passage. Jesus is the first man to walk on water, and Peter is the first man to attempt to walk on water who then starts to sink before he is rescued. I grew up living less than twenty minutes from the ocean, engaged in a variety of water sports, both on top of and underneath the water, from the time I could walk all the way through college. I have to say that in all those years I never saw anyone walk on water, nor did I ever see anyone get out of a boat in the middle of a large expanse of water during a storm, or any other time, and start to sink.
So what is really happening in this passage?
I believe one answer lies in understanding the context of the amazing event.
Jesus was the rabbi for His twelve disciples. In terms of Jewish rabbinic customs of the day, that meant that the twelve endeavored to emulate everything that Jesus taught and did. A rabbi’s bond with his closest disciples was often a more intimate relationship than that of Father and son, and it was no less the case with Jesus and His chosen twelve. In practical terms, this meant that when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, there was no reason for him to doubt that if his rabbi commanded him to do so he too could walk on water. This is a foreign concept to anyone not well versed in the rabbinic Hebraic traditions of the First Century. In context, however, Peter’s behavior, on one level, was not extraordinary at all. He was simply endeavoring to mimic or emulate his rabbi’s behavior.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened if all twelve disciples had linked arms and stepped out of the boat together at their rabbi’s command. What would have happened if Peter had seen his closest friends at his side, instead of the wind and waves?
That brings me to my next observation.
I submit to you that the wind and waves represent Peter’s doctrine. His doctrine told him he could not walk on water. When he put more faith in his doctrine than in his rabbi’s command, he started to sink. How far down did he go before Jesus reached out and rescued him? Was the water up to his ankles? His knees? Thighs? Or, perhaps, did it make it all the way to just below his nose?
The text is silent on that point.
We do know, however, that Jesus reached out, grabbed his hand, and prevented Peter from drowning. That’s all that matters.
Or is it?
Jesus rebukes His friend for unbelief at that same time He saves him from certain death. Every sermon I’ve ever heard focuses on Peter’s unbelief in Jesus. I believe that perspective results from a failure to understanding the context of all that’s happening in this powerful passage. If Peter had a lack of faith in Jesus, his rabbi, he would never have gotten out of the boat. He would have continued the conversation from inside the boat and would not have been so foolish as to step out into a raging sea. No, Jesus was not rebuking Peter for his lack of faith in Him. Christ was admonishing Peter for his lack of faith in himself. Peter had plenty of faith in Jesus. However, at a pivotal moment, his doctrine told him that he was foolish to believe such nonsense. That is what Jesus was addressing.
So let’s look at what this passage means in practical terms for those of us in the midst of crisis, or facing challenging decisions, or seeking answers to difficult questions.
First and foremost, we need to find Jesus in the midst of our fear or concern. He is always present, ready to meet us in our time of need. How do we know it’s Him? He always announces Himself to us with the strong admonition, “Do Not Fear! After all, He is the Prince of Peace, and His perfect love casts out all fear. Our job is to verify that we are hearing from Him and Him alone. “Lord, if it is really you, command me to come.” This is about timing. Once we know we’re in communion with our Savior, we check with Him on His timing. When He tells us to come to Him, it’s time to get out of the boat and walk on water.
Once we are out of the boat, we need to be very careful not to look to the left or the right. In other words, we must not allow our religious doctrines to tell us that what Jesus has commanded us to do is impossible. However, if we make that flawed mistake, we have an absolute, iron-clad assurance from our Rabbi, our Master, our Lord that the worst that can happen to us is that we will start to sink.
I don’t know about you, but for me that incredible and unwavering promise has helped me through some of the darkest times in my life. I have figuratively “walked on water” repeatedly, knowing that even if I look to the left or the right, because of my flawed human perspective, Jesus will reach out and pluck me from certain failure. The worst that will happen to me is that I will start to sink.
Is it time for you to walk on water?