24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
Of the myriad of miracles that Jesus performed, some of them are a bit baffling; most of His recorded miracles, we can see a point and a purpose to. He healed many sick, and raised the dead. The purpose of such miracles are intrinsically evident.
Yet there are a few recorded miracles of Christ whose purpose is not so evident. Making water into wine, cursing the fig tree on the road to Jerusalem… walking on water… what are these about? Do any of these things really show the same compassion as healing miracles?
Generally we hold a rather cessationist philosophy whenever we study the miracles of Christ; that is: we look for the meaning behind the miracle to see what it teaches us about God, we don’t expect that the same miracles apply to us by application. I.e. we don’t really expect to walk in the miracles of Christ, we are just trying to learn of the character of God through them.
Honestly, I believe that is the more prudent and grounded way of approach – learning God’s character should be the utmost priority of the Christian. But – if God’s character reveals a thing, we need to walk in it… and that includes the miraculous.
Jesus walked on water. Cool, right? Of course He was the Son of God… so I guess He can do whatever miracle He wants, right? But it wasn’t just Jesus who walked on the sea; Peter did too.
And here is a point to consider about it: when Jesus had to save Peter, He upbraided him for it: ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?‘
Peter and the other disciples were amazed that he had done it at all; Jesus expected more.
But… was that really fair of Jesus? And wait… what does God expect of me?
Now hang on a minute – I could go off on some sort of supernaturalist ultra-Pentecostal tangent, and make this primarily about the miracle, and how all Christians should be miracles workers (we should, by the way), but the issue in this is much more fundamental than that.
Let’s not start at the miracle level (the full grown fruit), let’s start at the raw materials level – the level of soil and seeds.
Jesus had sent the disciples across the sea, as they went, a storm came upon them. A storm came, and Jesus wasn’t with them. Then in the middle of the night, a figure that looked like a man appeared to be floating above the surface of the water. Their response? Naturally: “It’s a ghost!” I mean, what else hovers above the water, right?
The disciples start off this story from the perspective of FEAR. The storm is scary, there’s a figure that looks like a ghost coming at them, and that’s scary. Everything is scary.
Have you ever been afraid?
But Jesus isn’t scared. (Remember that, in any situation you find yourself in: Jesus ain’t scared.)
You might be about to capsize and drown – it might be all you can do to keep yourself from succumbing to the fear of death when you suddenly see a poltergeist screaming over the surface of the water toward you… but what did Jesus say? ‘Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.‘
Well that certainly brings some comfort; it definitely sounds like Jesus’ voice, you’ve seen Him do miracles… it could be Him. Still, you’ve never heard of anyone walking on water before… none of the Old Testament prophets did it… seems like something only a spirit could do.
Then your blabbermouth friend Simon calls out to the figure: ‘Lord if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.’
A moment of silence… then a single word response: ‘Come.’
Your tall buddy jumps out of the boat. Is he nuts?! Even if that is Jesus – you can’t swim in these waters! With waves like these, as soon as he steps out of the boat you know: you’re never going to see him again!
Amazingly… he doesn’t sink. Simon Peter jumps out of the boat and just stands there like he’s on land. Maybe he’s trying to keep steady from falling down because the water under his feet is swelling and rolling below him, but it looks like he’s standing on the ground!
Simon starts walking toward Jesus ON THE WATER. Your little pea brain is just trying to process what’s happening (probably better if it didn’t!). What’s going on?! You’re not sure whether to be scared or not, anymore, nothing makes sense… could I walk on the water? What about everyone I’ve ever known who’s drown?
You continue to watch Peter who suddenly stops walking, and looks around… you follow his gaze and see enormous waves coming right at him! You turn again to see where he was and he’s gone! What happened? Terror returns to your heart as you see the place where Peter was and up out of the water a hand comes up trying to swim – then disappears again! Oh God! Peter’s gone! Why did he get out of the boat?
But that ghost on the water speeds His course, nearly jogs to reach the place where Peter went under… He’s still on the surface! It looks like Jesus! Jesus takes a knee on the water over Peter, He thrusts his arm down deep into the water; then His body tenses – He’s got hold of something! He grounds Himself, with His feet below Him and begins to lift with all His body – its the same posture you’ve seen Peter take a hundred times as he planted his feet on deck and hoisted a net full of fish – now Jesus is not only bearing His own weight, but the muscles in His body are tight and strained as He pulls a man head and shoulders taller than Himself up out of the water.
Peter stares amazed into Christ’s eyes, and the Master scolds him: ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’
Now this is interesting to me: why did Peter sink? Because he was AFRAID (v. 30).
What did Jesus correct Peter for? DOUBT.
Here, Jesus directly equates fear to doubt.
Some would extract from this story that Jesus is rebuking Peter for failing in the miraculous – surely Christ has great expectations of the Apostles (to whom much is given will much be required) – but that really isn’t the case… not directly. Jesus knew Peter was scared; and from the way He addressed Peter we can see this: Jesus was less concerned with Peter’s emotional state (fear), and more concerned with what that emotional state caused in Peter (doubt).
Now, in reading the context, we see that Jesus had already addressed the fear: ‘Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.’ But He addressed the fear in the beginning. At the end, although it was fear that caused Peter to sink, it was doubt – that Jesus specifically addressed.
In this context fear is doubt (the fear of the Lord is, obviously, not doubt, so not all fear is doubt, but:) fear of uncertainty, fear of circumstance is doubt.
Peter looked at the waves boisterous, and felt that those waves – those natural adverse circumstances which were against him – were all powerful. When he really stopped to think about it, to look at the opposition, he became afraid of it; that fear elevated the problem in his own view to being all-powerful.
When Peter let fear fill him, this is what actually happened (without his realizing it consciously): He exchanged His faith in Christ for faith in the natural, adverse situation.
In any situation that we find ourselves in we have the option of trusting Christ, or putting our trust in the circumstance. This is the basis for the miracle; when Peter rejected fear, and put his brain out of the way (that mind which assesses all the logical reasons why we should be afraid – I don’t mean to imply we ought to turn off our brain), he walked on the water. It was easy; he didn’t have to pray some ultra spiritual prayer, or offer a sacrifice, or muster anything up at all. All he had to do was trust Jesus who called him out on the water.
The basis for living a supernatural lifestyle as a Christian is nothing more than trusting Christ in every circumstance. What does His word say? Just do it. Do you sense a prompting from the Holy Spirit to do something? If you know it lines up with the Word, just do it. Don’t second guess, don’t look at all the reasons you should be afraid, or feel self-conscious. If you know it was God, just do it.
Peter’s failure wasn’t some big and grandiose failure in ultra-spiritual ‘working miracles class’ his was the same basic, fundamental failure that is so easy for us in everyday things when encounter a situation and respond with fear, rather than trusting God.
The basis of their lifestyle up until Jesus taught them was to succumb to their situation. Why did they always seem to assume they were going to die every time there was a storm? Because that’s the natural human condition. We can tease the disciples for it, but the reality is, we are exactly the same way. We naturally assume the worst, therefore we fear.
Faith is to start off the unknown situation believing that God is with us (like Peter got out of the boat), and then continue believing that God is with us.
I guess to summarize I’ll end with this: if you are a Christian – be of good cheer; Christ is with you; be not afraid.