The disciples had been rowing through the night but were only halfway across Lake Galilee. The boat was being “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” (Matthew 14:24). If you’ve ever been in a boat in those circumstances, you know rowing against a strong wind can be draining—especially at the end of a long day.
Just before dawn, Jesus goes out to meet them—walking on the water. When they initially see Him, the fatigued disciples are “terrified” and think he is a ghost (v. 26). Jesus “immediately” identifies Himself, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Maybe if this incident had happened during the day they wouldn’t have been, but it’s still dark and though the form looks like Jesus and the voice sounds like Him, the disciples still have some doubt. Peter says, “Lord, if it’s You . . . tell me to come to You on the water” (v. 28). What gets Peter out of the boat isn’t the novelty of walking on water, He is seeking reassurance for himself and the rest of the disciples that it really is Jesus.
This might cause us to see Peter in a different light. Rather than thinking only of himself, he is thinking and speaking on behalf of everyone in the boat. No one is sure it is Jesus, so Peter is taking the initiative to find out. That is being a leader. And as he gets out of the boat—he’s doing it for those who are staying in the boat. That’s exactly the kind of thing a leader does.
But this episode also encourages us to think about something else. Peter is unwilling to let a little water stand between him and Jesus. What are the things that can sometimes come between us and Jesus?
The most obvious item would be fear. It’s there in the text and it’s certainly in our lives. Fear for ourselves and for our loved ones. Fear of the unexpected or the unexplainable. Fear of the future. Fear, fear, fear. The truth is it’s always here. If you search for it, you can always find it lurking somewhere. And when you find it you will always have a reason not to act (“I was afraid”). Our faith doesn’t call us to ignore our fears. In fact, it asks for something quite different. Our faith allows us to face our fears. We can look them right in the eye and know that while they may make our knees knock and our spirits faint, they are no match for the One who walks on water, calms the sea and rose from the dead.
Another thing alluded to in the story that can come between us and the Lord is opposing forces. In our story, it is the wind. The wind works against the disciples as they attempt to cross the lake. It intimidates Peter as he is walking out to Jesus. It is only when Jesus gets in the boat that the wind finally dies down—He makes no attempt to stop it before then. What He does do is offer His presence in the presence of it. That’s the way it is for us and things that oppose us—whether it is financial issues, health concerns, work problems or anything else. Sometimes God removes them, but most of the time He chooses to take us through them. Things that oppose us can come between us and Jesus when we expect them to be removed.
The last thing that the story speaks of as coming between us and Jesus is our faith. On the face of things, that sounds strange, but it’s true nonetheless. While it is Peter’s faith that initially gets him out of the boat, it is the littleness of his faith that causes him to sink. “Little faith” is something Jesus talks about on five different occasions in Matthew so it’s more than just a passing point in a single story. (Matthew also tells us five occasions of “great faith” so it’s obvious he wants us to see the difference).
What does it meant to have “little faith?” In v. 31 Jesus says, “You of little faith . . . why did you doubt?” In this particular instance, it is clearly doubt that He is zeroing in on. Faith and doubt are at odds with each other. While very few people have absolutely no doubt, faith is the situation where your faith is overruling your doubt. In Peter’s case, his faith was being overruled by his doubt. Thus, the “little faith.” It’s sad when you think of people who no longer follow Jesus because they have allowed doubt to outgrow their faith.
Despite Peter’s struggles, Jesus is there for them just as He is for us. That’s the story Matthew wants disciples to hear and take to heart. As the church, we’re in the boat trying to get from here to there—and take as many people with us as we can. As with the disciples in the story, we struggle with fear, opposition and doubt. What we need to know is that in the midst of our darkness, Jesus is there to see us through.
Remember that Jesus is always available—even in the dark of night.