Matthew 14:22-23 Jesus made the disc iples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side . . . . [Then] he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
When the moon is full, you can see across the Sea of Galilee at night. If Jesus watched his disciples rowing to the other side, he saw they were having a difficult time. The wind was against them, and their boat was being pounded by the waves (Matthew 14:24).
If we are in the center of God’s will, we might think our life will be smooth sailing. And if things are not going well, we might think that we have done something wrong. But the disciples were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. And yet, the wind was against them. That’s just how it is sometimes.
Botanists speak of something in nature called the adversity principle. A tree that is given plenty of water may never put down roots. But a tree in the desert may have roots over a hundred feet deep. Both can appear strong, but when the wind blows hard, one remains standing, and the other falls down. The sturdiest Christians are often those who have weathered the most adversity. Sometimes the wind will be against us.
Matthew 14:25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
There are about thirty-five miracles of Christ recorded in the gospels. They can be divided into twenty-three healing miracles, three resurrections, and nine miracles of nature. The miracles of nature include turning water into wine (John 2), feeding multitudes (Matthew 15, John 6), calming a storm (Matthew 8:26), and more. By walking on water, Jesus showed that he was Lord over nature. He also fulfilled something Job said about God: He alone . . . treads on the waves of the sea (Job 9:8).
Matthew 14:26 It’s a ghost, they said, and cried out in fear.
The Bible does not contain a lot of humor, but this is truly funny: a dozen men in a fishing boat, screaming like little girls, because they think they have seen a ghost. A mark of the Bible’s authenticity is that it never portrays the disciples as better than they were. They were real people, with real fears and failures, who needed a real Savior. And that is what they found in Jesus Christ.
This also gives us permission to be ourselves. We want to be our best, of course, but we do not want to seem better than we are. We are not mannequin Christians, but flesh and blood believers in Jesus Christ. Mannequin Christians are so concerned about their image that they appear to be plastic. Jesus saves ordinary people, who remain rather ordinary, even after they are saved.
Matthew 14:27 Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.
The words, It is I can also be translated, I am. As God said to Moses, I am who I am (Exodus 3:14). This may have calmed the disciples’ fears as when God said, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God (Isaiah 41:10).
During the Gulf War of 1991, Iraq launched a number of missiles against Israel, and many people died. But after the war, they discovered that most had not died from missiles, but from heart attacks brought on by fear. Apart from God, we can be so afraid of tomorrow, that we do not enjoy today.
Matthew 14:28-29 Lord, if it is 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.
The other disciples likely rolled their eyes. It was not enough for Jesus to walk on the water; Peter had to try it too. Why not just stay in the boat? Why not play it safe? Why do people do such crazy things sometimes?
When I was a freshman in college, a few of the guys were going skydiving, and asked if I wanted to join them. I weighed the risks and the benefits, and decided to give it a try. After all, what could go wrong?
We were thousands of feet in the air when the instructor opened the door. One at a time we climbed out of the plane onto a little step. There we held onto the wing-support and waited for the signal to jump. I was outside the plane, waiting for the signal, when a thought came into my head. Why would anyone get out of a perfectly good airplane and hope that a bed sheet would get them safely to the ground?
When the signal came, I let go of the wing-support and plummeted several feet until my parachute opened. Then I floated gently down. I never did it again, but I think I stepped out of the airplane for the same reason Peter stepped out of the boat: everyone needs adventure. Some need more than others, but everyone needs a little.
If your faith has become boring, do something risky for God. There is no guarantee you won’t die; much less that you will succeed. But if you are never scared, you will never know what you and God can do together. And your faith will become something it was never meant to be—boring.
Matthew 14:30-31 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?
Peter deserved a trophy, it seems, but what he got was correction: You of little faith . . . why did you doubt? This seems a little harsh to us. Wasn’t it enough that he tried?
It is easy to think of Jesus walking on water because Jesus is divine. There are things that he can do that we simply cannot. Rising from the dead (Matthew 28:7) and ascending into heaven (Acts 1:9) are two good examples. But we should never forget that Jesus is also human. Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing (John 5:19), he said.
So when Jesus took those first few steps on the water, he was looking to his Father. And as he walked, mile after mile, he was looking to his Father. And when the waves were crashing at his feet, he never stopped looking to his Father. So when Peter got out of the boat and was quickly distracted, Jesus got impatient. Why did you doubt?
The reason Peter doubted, of course, is that he took his eyes off Jesus. It turns out that the Christian life is not terribly complicated. As long as we focus on Jesus, we are fine. Whenever we focus on anything else, we sink. The devil wants us to focus on our fears and failures, but the Bible tells us to focus on Christ: fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2), says Hebrews.
Matthew 14:32-33 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.
The emperor had no idea what just happened. Neither did the governor, or the surrounding towns. But those in the boat knew—and they worshipped Jesus Christ. Truly you are the Son of God, they said.
Likewise, every church is a little boat with Jesus in our midst. We encounter him, worship him, and bow our hearts before him. The world takes little notice, but we know that we have touched reality. And like the disciples, we take our faith into the world, and spread the good news that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
There is a final detail in John’s gospel that is not included in Matthew’s account: immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading (John 6:21). One minute they were worshipping Jesus; then they were at their destination. We too could arrive at any moment.
Reflection and Review
Should Christians be concerned about their image?
How can we keep our faith from becoming boring?
When are we tempted to take our eyes off Christ?