That sinking feeling
Jesus has fed more than 5000 people and ministered all day (Matthew 14:13-21). Fully human as well as fully God, he is tired and needs to pray alone. So, in verses 22-23, he sends his disciples into a ship, to go to the other side of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33).
Only, the disciples haven’t got very far. In verse 24, we see that they are struggling, for the wind is ‘against them’. In verse 26 they see something appear through the gloom, something like a figure of a man walking on the waves towards them. And they’re afraid. They think this is a ghost and cry out for fear.
Jesus is gracious. He doesn’t berate them, but calls out, ‘Have no fear, it is I’. Eleven of the disciples seemingly mop their brows and look at each other in relief. One puts his hands on his hips, juts out his chin and says, ‘Prove it’.
Peter is at once full of faith and yet full of doubt. Peter still does not fully recognise his Master’s voice — which makes life more difficult for himself. Aren’t we just like that sometimes, as Christians?
And yet Peter is also full of faith. He knows the Lord God who walks on the water can make him walk on the water too. None of the other disciples attempt such a venture, but Peter is adamant that his Jesus (if it is Jesus) will not let him drown. ‘Bid me come to you, if that’s you’, he says (v.28).
Jesus says simply, ‘Come’, and Peter gets down off the boat and starts walking on the water. But verse 30 tells us that he sees the waves and the waters ‘boisterous’ around him, and starts to panic.
Look at Jesus
When he panics, he falls and cries out to the Lord. Jesus, in his mercy, immediately grabs Simon Peter by the hand (v. 31) and takes him back to the boat, whereupon he gently rebukes him for showing little faith (not ‘no faith’).
There are many things to learn here. Firstly, Peter took his eyes off the Lord Jesus. Maybe he was aware of the other disciples, could hear their amazed comments and this distracted him.
Maybe he looked down instead at himself, conscious suddenly of the fact that he, Peter, was walking on the water. Perhaps he started looking in wonder at his feet touching the surface of tumultuous Galilee. In fear he panics, as the realisation that he is far from the ship and ‘safety’ takes hold of him. He plummets beneath the heaving waters and cries out for help.
Peter didn’t sink because he couldn’t swim! He’d been a fisherman most of his life, messing around in boats. But when he lost sight of the Lord, he saw the storm raging about him. Because his eyes were on the waves, he forgot about the Lord, and sank beneath the waves.
Thankfully, wonderfully, powerfully, Jesus catches him! You can be sure that Peter soon turned his eyes back on the Lord when he fell into the sea. He saw the outstretched hand proffered by the Saviour, grabbed it tightly and didn’t let go until he was safely back in the boat.
Life’s circumstances can at times overwhelm us. Simply knowing in our heads that God is in charge of all situations is sometimes not enough to keep us focused on this reality.
God is indeed in the midst of every situation. How could he not be? Even when the storms rage about us and the enemy roars from the thick of battle, God is with us, even then.
The Lord himself said in Isaiah 43:1-3: ‘Fear not, you are mine, I have called you by my name … when you walk through the waters, I will be with you. You will never sink beneath the waves’.
The waters of life’s stormy circumstances may be up to our necks, but they shall never flow over our heads. Whether it is of our own doing or someone else’s; whether it is nobody’s fault, but a series of perplexing events, illnesses, accidents or heartbreaks, we have an anchor that will not fail — the fact of Jesus’ wonderful act of salvation. All we have to do is look to Jesus.
No matter what the circumstances of life, no matter how many enemies are ranged against you, or friends distracting you, or even how weak and feeble your faith may be, Jesus is the one to whom you should look.
Keep your eyes on him and, if you stumble, grab the hand offered to you. Peter grabbed it immediately and the Lord lifted him above the waves once more. May we have the wisdom to take that hand.