22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:22-36 ESV
The apostle John provides us with an important detail to this story that Matthew chose to leave out. It seems that Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the crowd had left quite an impression on them.
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:14-15 ESV
Having had their physical needs met in such a spectacular way, the people were ready to crown Jesus as their king. Perhaps they envisioned a welfare state where their newly crowned monarch would use His miraculous powers to eliminate all hunger and disease. One can only imagine what went through their minds as they considered the endless possibilities of the social services they would have access to if Jesus was their king.
These people had a completely different kind of king and kingdom in mind than that of which Jesus had been speaking. Their focus was fixed on an earthly kingdom where their physical needs would be met, and all their problems would be taken care of by “the Prophet” turned king.
The prophet to whom they referred was the one Moses had predicted would come.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18 ESV
Moses had been the prophet who had led the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, using miraculous powers to defeat Pharaoh and his armies. He had fed the people with manna from heaven and an endless supply of quail. He had provided water from a rock. Under his leadership, the clothes and sandals of the Israelites had never worn out. And when the crowd had watched as Jesus had fed more than 10,000 of them with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fishes, they couldn’t help but make the connection.
But Matthew records that Jesus “immediately” sent His disciples away and dismissed the crowds. He wasn’t interested in becoming their king – at least not the kind they had in mind. He had far greater aspirations that were based on the will of His heavenly Father. So, having dispersed the crowd and sending the disciples away by boat, Jesus spent time alone in prayer with His Father.
We are not told the content of Jesus’ prayer, but the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17 provides us with some idea of how Jesus communicated with His Father. It was personal and intimate, yet it also communicated His concern for His disciples. Jesus focused on finishing the task assigned to Him by the Father. But He also prayed for those who would carry on the ministry after His work was done.
While Jesus had been talking with His Father, the disciples found themselves caught in the middle of yet another storm on the Sea of Galilee. This had happened before, and Matthew recorded back in chapter 8. This storm appears to have been just as severe as the previous one. The disciples, many of whom were seasoned fishermen, were unable to keep the winds from driving them far out to sea. Sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., in the darkness and as the wind and waves raged, Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water.
We know from Matthew’s account of the previous storm, Jesus had merely spoken, and the waves and wind subsided. But in this case, Jesus chose to do something even more spectacular. Rather than proving His power over the elements by controlling them, He simply showed their lack of influence over Him. The waves, the wind, and the water had no effect on Him. In the midst of a raging storm, Jesus simply walked, calmly and casually, totally free from fear and displaying a kind of faith that His disciples did not yet possess.
In fact, upon seeing Jesus walking on the water, their immediate response was fear, not faith. In their terrified state, they could only shout, “It is a ghost!” But Jesus called out to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” In essence, Jesus told them to stop fearing. He commanded them to replace their fear with faith – in Him.
These very same men had been eye-witnesses to Jesus’ previous miracle, where He had calmed the sea and silenced the storm. But that event had become a distant memory. The disciples found themselves surrounded by new circumstances featuring a new and ominous twist. The fact that Jesus was not in the boat with them this time did not escape them. So, when they saw what looked like a ghost walking to them on the water, they were petrified beyond belief. It was all supernatural but not necessarily spiritual.
But Peter, hearing the voice of Jesus, cried out, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28 ESV). Evidently, Peter wasn’t completely convinced that it was Jesus. But that doesn’t explain why Peter made this strange request. Why did he ask Jesus to command that he come to Him on the water? What was going through his mind? Keep in mind, the wind was still blowing, and the waves were still rocking the boat, but Peter was asking Jesus to command that he step out of the boat and walk on the water. And Jesus obligingly said, “Come.”
Amazingly, Peter obeyed and made it all the way to where Jesus was waiting. But then, something happened. Matthew records, “he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30 ESV). He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to focus on the circumstances around him. Remember, Jesus had not calmed the storm. He had walked to them in the midst of it. And when Peter attempted to do the same thing, he found that his faith diminished when he focused on the problem rather than the solution.
But Jesus was there, and He reached out His hand and rescued Peter from his own faltering faith, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 ESV). Peter had displayed enough faith to step out of the boat and walk all the way to Jesus. But he had taken his eyes off the prize. It would seem that Peter had been more interested in walking on water than walking to Jesus. Perhaps he was enamored with the idea of replicating Jesus’ miraculous feat and, seeing that he was actually pulling it off, he had probably taken a look around him, amazed at what he was doing. He became cocky and over-confident. Matthew reports that Peter, upon seeing the wind, became fearful. His faith turned to fear. And it’s interesting to note that wind is invisible. You can’t see it. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that faith is invisible too.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV
You can’t see faith, but you can see its fruit. The wind, while invisible to the human eye, is powerful enough to turn calm water into powerful waves and turn a boat full of seasoned fishermen into helpless, hopeless victims of a storm. The invisible faith that drove Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water was more than enough to get him to Jesus. But his mistake was allowing his conviction that Jesus was enough to be replaced by the fear that the wind was too much. And he sank like a rock.
But Jesus rescued him. He was right there and, when Peter cried out, Jesus responded. And as soon as Jesus and Peter stepped into the boat, the wind and the waves ceased. The storm was calmed. The fear of the disciples subsided and was replaced with worship. What they had just witnessed convinced them that Jesus was the Son of God.
In the midst of the growing storm of opposition that swirled around Jesus and His ministry, He walked on in faith. He weathered the wind and waves of apathy and anger that battered Him on a daily basis. He kept His eyes on the will of His Father and the task He had been assigned to accomplish. The storms of controversy were going to rage. The tsunami of public opinion would blow this way and that, but Jesus would remain committed to His mission – walking in faith in the face of the storm.
And when the boat arrived at the other side of the lake, He went about His Father’s business.
And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:35-36 ESV
Why did Peter doubt? For the same reason we all do. He focused on the wind, the invisible source of the storm when he should have kept his eyes on Jesus, the visible source of His faith.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.