While it would be almost impossible to pick my favorite story from the Bible, I do have some favorites. Ones that I go back to and ponder through them from time to time. Many of those involve the apostle Peter. I think one of the reasons I love stories about Peter and Jesus is that Peter is such a study of contrast. He is a coward in front of a slave girl; then a lionhearted warrior refusing to stop preaching in front of the very men that killed Jesus (High priest and temple authorities in Jerusalem). He clearly struggled with many of the same feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and impetuousness that plague many of us. Peter wore his heart on his sleeve, that level of honesty is refreshing in today’s world.
In Matthew chapter 14, we find the stories of the feeding of 5,000 immediately followed by Jesus walking on the water. So to set the scene, the disciple John had just been beheaded by Herod and his disciples came to Jesus to tell him what had happened. When Jesus found out (vs 13) He went away by boat to a solitary place. The people of the surrounding area found out where he was going and raced to get there. Verse 14 Jesus landed the boat, saw the large crowd and had compassion on them. He then healed their sick until evening was approaching. When his disciples mentioned to him that it was getting late and probably a good time to send the people away to get their supper, Jesus said something astonishing. He told the disciples that the people did not need to go away, that they themselves should feed them. Then Jesus took the 5 little loaves of bread, and two small fish and gave thanks and fed everyone.
After this miraculous display of His divinity, Jesus sent the disciples away to go ahead of Him, while He dismissed the crowds. Then Jesus finally went away alone to pray to His Father.
Now we flash forward to late at night, the boat is a considerable distance from shore and waves and wind are against it.
Matthew 14:22-29 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from the land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s 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.
I stop there in the story because, as I have been pondering this story recently, I started viewing it differently than I ever had before. Usually the end of the story is the focus, but I want to focus on three things: 1. Fear, 2. Command, 3. Courage.
First let us look at the Fear. Verse 26 tells us that the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and were afraid. Why shouldn’t they have been afraid? This was unprecedented. Nobody had walked on water before. The Israelites had walked through a sea on dry land, and crossed the Jordan on dry ground during flood season, but never before in recorded history had anyone walked on the surface of the water. Also if you recall, this was not a calm peaceful night on the lake, the storm was raging! Have you ever been in a small boat, at night, on a lake, in a storm? I have been in a canoe on a lake one stormy afternoon, and I will tell you fear was nearby just with that experience. I do not find any surprise that the disciples cried out in fear. Sometimes, the things God is doing can look fearful to us, the unknown is there. The storm might be raging in our lives, maybe we are facing something unprecedented in our lives and we are ready to cry out in fear.
Notice what happens next though. Jesus immediately said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Wow! Take courage. Talk about a command. The New Oxford dictionary defines courage as “n. the ability to do something that frightens one: strength in the face of pain or grief.” So Jesus was commanding the disciples to do something that frightens them. It was not a suggestion, Jesus commanded “Take Courage!” As you read the story, only one disciple stepped up to the plate. Peter, impetuous Peter rushes in and asks Jesus “Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Now remember, until this very night nobody had walked on water.
Third, let’s look at Courage.
Peter was a fisherman before being called by Jesus, so he had spent a lifetime around boats and the water. He knew to get out of the boat at night in a storm, you will most likely drown. There was no Coast Guard to come to the rescue, just Peter and Jesus. Peter heard a command to take Courage and he seized it with a fervor that bought him a place in history! He is the only person documented in all of history to have walked on water other than Jesus himself! I wonder what was going on in Peter’s mind, as he climbed over the side of the boat, remember the wind and waves are fierce and against the boat. So this boat is pitching and rocking on the surface of the lake, and Peter is climbing out of it! What were the other disciples thinking? Notice none of them made a move to follow Peter as he rushed toward his Lord. Sometimes I think it is like that, when you are rushing toward Jesus, be prepared to rush alone. Be prepared to climb out of the boat alone.
As the story goes on we see that fear reared its ugly head and Peter focused on the wind and began to sink. However, when he cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”, Jesus caught his hand and held him up. While it is important to remember to keep our eyes on Jesus which is a frequently used lesson from this story, I truly believe a better use is the admonition from Jesus to “Take Courage!”
What is the boat in your life that you need to climb out of, and rush towards Jesus? Do you need to put your trust in Him for your salvation, or do you need to stop living in fear and take the next step in serving Him? Is your boat a comfortable life where everything is predictable? Do you pray for the storm to go away, or do you pray to meet Jesus in the storm, and then walk on the water to meet Him? If you are longing for more from your life, more from your walk with Jesus take a look at the example of Peter. Peter made history by climbing out of the boat and doing the impossible, he walked on the water with Jesus. The Master is still calling us to “Take Courage!” Are you ready to listen to the call of Jesus, and step out of the boat?