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Matthew had a different perception of this episode. Within the larger story, he included a personal story about one of the disciples who wanted to walk on water just like Jesus.
In the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear.
But Jesus spoke to them, saying, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid." Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water."
So Jesus said, "Come." When Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"
Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God."
Matthew 14:25-33 NKJV, condensed
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
Forget the jokes about water walking. Most of the disciples were fishermen by trade; the Sea of Galilee was their second home. And they knew there were no stepping stones. When Jesus came to them walking on the water that night, they were as surprised and frightened as anyone else would have been.
This was the night Jesus had sent the disciples on ahead of him so he could remain on the mountainside to pray. While he was praying all night, the Twelve were rowing strenuously against a headwind which created very boisterous navigational conditions. Near daybreak, Jesus approached them on the water, calmed their nerves and assured them it was really him. That's when Peter contributed an unexpected dimension to the story.
Peter was the kind of disciple who naturally stood out from the crowd and often stole the spotlight. He fit the image of the big, strong, loud fisherman; whenever Peter was around, everybody knew it. In the Gospel accounts he was always first in line, always had something to say, and usually spoke before he thought much about what he was saying.
On this stormy night when those present had not slept in the past 24 hours and everyone was operating off adrenalin, impulsive Peter blurted out, "Lord, if it's you, bid me come." Nobody planned the upcoming scene, it just happened. With a force similar to spontaneous combustion--one of the Twelve shot out over the side of the boat.
Peter wanted to be like Jesus. That desire was planted deep in his heart. Like a child who wants to go everywhere with his parent, Peter wanted to get out there on the water with Jesus. He could see himself doing it as he hastily asked permission to do so. Of course, as a parent who treasures their child and loves when that child wants to be with them, Jesus said, "Come!"
The hard part for Peter was not what we think it would be, namely, getting out of the boat. No, Peter was way ahead of us. He was the child rushing out the door with 10 yards to go to reach his father's arms. Immediately, he was over the side and down onto the water. And that's where the trouble began. Faith propelled Peter; fear sank him. When he thought about what he was doing and realized where he was, he quivered with fright.
Peter lacked a coach to impress upon him the importance of keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus. He lost his focus; took his eyes off his goal. The wind and boisterous waves distracted him and started to swallow him up. If only he had started out on gentler waters he might have made it. But true to life, conditions were not ideal. The sea he had to deal with was not a nice, neat, tidy little package of a peace and calm.
Bold, muscular, compelling Peter had to cry out for help. Jesus was there to catch him. There's disappointment in Jesus' voice when he chided Peter about his doubts. Peter, you could have made it if you would have just kept your eyes on Me!
I wonder--did anyone think Peter did good that night? Peter obviously knew he had failed and probably hung his head in sorrow and shame for awhile. How would the other eleven react? Did they envy and admire Peter for trying,or think him ridiculous? But the important question is what Jesus thought.
The wind ceased when Jesus got into their boat. Then comes the awe-inspiring moment when the disciples spontaneously conclude that Jesus is more than a great Teacher and a compassionate Healer, more even than the hoped for Messiah of the earthly kingdom. Jesus is the Son of God! It was the first time they used those actual words. And they bowed their knees and claimed he was, above all else, worthy. From the top of their heads to the soles of their feet and in the depth of their gut, it was all becoming clear to them that Jesus, though human, was part God and deserved their worship.
Jesus was the one who had been on the mountain with God that night, but here on the calmed sea in a storm proven boat by the dawn's early light, the disciples were having their own mountaintop experience. The rough night was over. All the questions, like why am I doing this, were silenced. Everything in the past was behind them. Morning was breaking out all over and it was good.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What has been your greatest act of faith?
Had you been present with Jesus and his disciples in those early morning hours, what would you have been thinking and feeling?We all react to the stories in the Bible based on our own journey of faith. How does your background help you to believe, or not believe, it was possible for Jesus to walk on water?
When Peter wanted to walk on the water, was it faith or foolishness? Was it an expression of devotion or impulsiveness? How do we know the difference in our own life experience?
Within a brief period of time, Peter knew both fear and faith. Is that common or uncommon? Chart the ups and downs of Peter's fear and faith in this story.
When Jesus said to Peter, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?", do you hear a harsh tone or a tender tone in his voice? Explore the different messages you get based on the way it is said. Which voice do you think Jesus used for Peter? Explain why? What tone does God use for you?
If Peter kept a diary, what would he have entered that night?
When have you known the feeling of starting something and then losing steam and failing to finish it? Have you ever started to read through the Bible, or resolved to set time aside for daily devotions and then not completed those goals? What lesson do we learn from Peter's experience which could help us be faithful to our religious disciplines?
Peter was the only one of the Twelve who got into the water that night and tried to walk toward Jesus. Which probably means most of us would have no desire to leave the safety of the boat. What is one faith action you would like to take, but have been afraid or reluctant to try? What would it take to get you out of the boat?
Describe the circumstances leading up to one of your hallelujah moments, or a time when you knew you truly worshiped God.