Theme: Peter’s Walk
This week we see how to turn failing faith to robust faith.
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And lin the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 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. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 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.
In the last study I said that Matthew 14-16 is characterized by three important themes: 1) Jesus’ private teaching of the twelve disciples, 2) repeated failures on the disciples’ part to understand or respond to Jesus’ teaching, and 3) some small glimmerings of true faith and growth. We saw Jesus teaching the disciples in the account of the feeding of the five thousand. When he told the disciples to feed the people he was obviously intending to impress upon them that they could do nothing, and when he then fed the masses from five small loaves of bread and two fish he was imparting a lesson about his own utter sufficiency. When Jesus used the disciples to distribute the food to the people he was teaching them their role as messengers. They had nothing to offer, but hey would become bearers of the bread of life to those who were starving spiritually.
We see the next step in Jesus’ teaching when he walks upon the Sea of Galilee and allows Peter to walk on the water too. This is a story about the disciples’ slow growth in faith. Peter began in faith, but his faith wavered and he began to sink. The story teaches that we will only grow strong in faith when we keep our eyes on Jesus, the source of our faith, and do not turn aside to fret over threatening circumstances.
The story of Peter’s walking toward Jesus on the water is unique to Matthew. Mark and John tell about Jesus walking on the water, but the story about Peter walking on the water is missing from their accounts.
The story does not begin with Jesus walking on the water, however. It begins with Jesus sending the disciples away in a boat across the lake while he dismissed the crowds and went up into a mountain by himself to pray. Taken together, the gospels give three reasons why Jesus stayed behind and dismissed his disciples: 1) he wanted to be alone to pray (Matt. 1423, Mark 6:46), 2) he wanted to escape the crowds and get some rest (Mark 6:31, 32), and 3) he wanted to diffuse the popular movement that would have made him a king by force (John 6:15).
These fit together nicely and are obviously all part of one picture. If the people were beginning to talk about making Jesus a king, which is what John specifically reports, it was likely that the disciples would have been swayed by the grassroots movement. Jesus sent them off in order to isolate them from these popular sentiments and at the same time dismissed the crowds to keep this demand from growing.
It was a critical moment in his ministry, and Jesus must also have felt a need for serious prayer about it. The people were offering a smaller version of what the devil had offered in the wilderness, “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matt, 48). All Jesus had to do was bow to popular opinion, as earlier he had been asked to worship Satan. In the first case Jesus had spent forty days in prayer before the devil came to him. Here he needed to spend at least a few hours. Howard Vos wrote, “His need for prayer was evident in view of the temptation to swerve from a course of action that would make him the Sin-Bearer of the world and the anticipation of defection of many of his followers.”
The sending away of the disciples and the dismissal of the crowds took place before it got dark, perhaps by 7:00 or 8:00 at night, and Jesus prayed from that hour until he came to the disciples during the fourth watch of the night (v. 25). Early in their history the Jews had divided the night into three watches, but at this point they were going by the Roman system, which had four watches and which assigned to the fourth the hours between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. This suggests that Jesus had been praying for six or seven hours and that the disciples had been rowing for the same length of time. Crossing the lake would not normally have taken as long as that, but a storm had come up suddenly and they were being buffeted by waves and a contrary wind.
What about Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on water is different from other gospel accounts?
Explain what this story teaches about faith.
How long was Jesus at prayer?
How much time do you take to pray, particularly before important decisions?