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.”
As the disciples struggled to row across the lake through the storm, Jesus must have seen what was happening from the mountain. He did not need some supernatural insight to know this. But Jesus did exercise his divine power when he went to them walking over the waves. The disciples were terrified when they saw him. They thought they were seeing a ghost, but their fear would not only have been because of that. Most likely they took the apparition for an omen warning them that they were all doomed men. They must have supposed that they were going to drown.
When Jesus came walking on the water he was filling a role which in the Old Testament is reserved for God alone. An example is Job 9:8, which says, ” God alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” It may be too much to suggest that a verse like this was in Matthew’s mind as he recorded this story, even less that he expected his readers to make this connection. But there may be something to be said for it. For one thing, in Mark’s parallel account it is said of Jesus that he seemed to be about “to pass by them,” using a verb that occurs just three verses further on in Job 9. Again, when Jesus calms the disciples’ fear, using the words “lt is I” (v. 27), what he utters is actually the personal name of God, Jehovah, which means “I am.” “I am” is the literal rendering of Matthew’s quotation.l The thought that Jesus was demonstrating his deity by walking on the water may have been a part of the oral tradition that both Matthew and Mark knew and were using.
As soon as the disciples understood that the figure they saw walking on the water was Jesus, Peter asked to be allowed to come to him, walking on the water himself. “Lord, if it is you,” he cried, “tell me to come to you on the water” (v. 28).
Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, is amusing at this point because he believed that Peter was out of line to make this request. “What did Peter want with walking on the waters?” Spurgeon queried. Spurgeon suggested that his name, Peter, which means a “rock,” might have warned him that “like a stone he would go to the bottom. . .Surely, he wist not what he said.” Spurgeon reasoned that when Jesus told Peter to walk toward him, knowing he would sink, it was to teach him a practical lesson. He was not to do anything as foolish as this in the future.
This is probably too hard on Peter, since Jesus’ rebuke in verse 31 is not for his impetuous faith but for his vacillating faith once he had started out. Most people take Peter’s request as a brave and faithful thing} and they are probably right to understand the story that way. Whatever the case, we are sometimes too presumptuous. We do ask to do what we are not called to do and often flounder in our attempts.
What is most important in this story is what it teaches about the nature of true faith, which is certainly why Matthew included it in these chapters. These chapters record the disciples’ first feeble attempts to understand and trust Jesus.
What is faith? Faith is not merely knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and believing that he can save us from sin, but actually committing ourselves to him. I have often highlighted the three essential elements of faith by using the Latin words for them; notitia,assensus and fiducia. Notitia refers to faith’s content. lt concerns understanding the doctrines of the gospel, particularly who Jesus claimed to be and what he is said to have accomplished on the cross. Assensus means agreement. It is assenting t0 the doctrines that are taught. It is saying, “I understand what the Bible teaches about Jesus, and I believe it. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that his death was a true atoning death for human sin.” Notitia and assensus are two necessary parts of faith, but they are not yet saving faith in the full biblical sense. True faith also involves fiducia, which is an actual trust in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior. It means that a person actually commits himself or herself to Jesus. To use the image of the story, it means stepping out toward him in faith.
Peter’s action demonstrates this well. He believed that the figure he saw on the water was Jesus and that Jesus had power to call him and hold him up as he walked toward him. It is as if Peter had said, using the words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). And he could As long as Jesus had told him to come and as long as he kept his eyes on the Savior! It was only when he turned his eyes away from Jesus that he began to sink down.
Why were the disciples terrified to see Jesus?
How does Jesus’ walk on water fit with the Jewish tradition?
Why did Peter nearly sink?
What can we conclude from this?
Define the three elements of faith.
Reflect on your requests to God. Do they demonstrate faith? Are they presumptuous? How can you evaluate the nature of your requests?
Faith is not merely knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and believing that he can save us from sin, but actually committing ourselves to him.