As you read the book of Matthew, you will see that he gives special attention to Peter. He tells his stories in a way that paints a picture of the man who was one of Jesus’ closest friends and a leader among the disciples. There are stories where Peter shows wonderful devotion to the Lord, but mixed in with his victories are stories where Peter utterly fails. It seems that when Matthew wrote his book, he wanted to show what is it like for the heart of a genuine disciple of Jesus as he learns to follow the Lord. It is a comfort to all of us who want to honor the Lord, but often stumble and fall. In this next story, we will watch Peter act with glorious, bold faith. And then, very shortly after this story, we will watch him utterly fail.
Imagine that you are Peter. It has been over two years now since you first met Jesus at the Jordan River. You journeyed there to follow after John the Baptist, but John pointed to Jesus and said He is the One. It has been about a year and a half since you walked away from your job. Then you started devoting all your time and energy to follow Jesus through the cities and villages of your homeland.
Imagine bringing this magnetic teacher into your own house and having it fill up with the crowds who constantly followed Him. Imagine the long days of listening to His profound, brilliant truths that filled everyone with awe. Picture what it was like to watch Him heal terrible deformities and crippling diseases right in front of you. Imagine watching the fierce confrontations of the powerful religious leaders and the utter confidence of your Master as He turned their accusations on their heads.
It was becoming very clear that being known as a friend of Jesus was not going to make you popular with the leaders of your land. But you stand with Him anyway. You hear rumors that they want to have Him killed. With every day you journey with the Lord, it is becoming more dangerous to be seen with Him, but you do it anyway. You have seen and heard enough. You believe in this Man, and you are ready to stake your life on the claims He is making. You don’t know exactly where this journey is going to lead, but you are certain of your love and devotion for the One who is taking you there. This Man told the truths of the Kingdom of God. If He wasn’t the One, there certainly wasn’t anyone else who could compare.
At this point in the story, if you were Peter, you would have just gone out on an amazing tour with your brother through the region of Galilee. Your Master gave you power to do all the incredible things that you had watched Him do for a year and half. It was your turn to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of Heaven. Now you are the one working marvelous miracles. As the Spirit of the Living God works these things through you, you begin to realize that Christ has chosen you to be far more than a servant. You were being raised to join your Master in the power and authority of a special obedience to the Most High God! Would you wonder why Jesus had chosen you? Out of all the crowds who followed Him, out of all the powerful religious leaders in the land, you were one of the twelve. Not only that, you were the leader.
On the very day of this story, Peter had watched Jesus take five loaves of bread and two fish and feed five thousand men. What an overwhelming delight it must have been to pass out all that food in never ending abundance and supply until everyone had enough! And at the end, just as the disciples must have been famished, they realized there were twelve whole baskets of bread left. One for each of them.
By the time it was over, it was about six in the evening. Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat towards Capernaum. Then He headed to the mountain for a time of solitude and prayer. It had been a long and exhausting day, but the Lord was longing for time with His Father.
As the disciples’ boat made it’s way from the shore, a terrible storm came up with a fitful wind. The waves battered against the boat, tossing and turning them around as if they were a twig in the water. The disciples pulled on their oars against the wind trying to get to the other side of Galilee. For hour after hour they fought against the storm. By three in the morning they had only rowed three or four miles.
Meanwhile, Jesus saw His disciples out on the sea, and began to walk to them. He stepped right onto the water and waves, fearless and full of faith, for He was their Master. When the disciples saw Him walking towards them, they cried out in absolute terror. They thought He was a ghost! But Jesus said, “‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’”
There is something wildly delightful about this masterful walk on the waves. Jesus wanted to get to His men…and He had a lesson for them in His getting there.
Peter had just experienced his first campaign where he had seen God work through him. He was learning that the works of the Son would be the works of the servant. So Peter called out to Jesus, “‘Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to you in the water.’”
“‘Come!’” Jesus declared. Wow!
So Peter threw his leg over the side of the boat and stepped out onto the water! Step by step, he began to walk towards Jesus. No hero in the Old Testament had done anything like this! Peter came closer to Christ with each step, looking into the face of God’s Son in the midst of the wild storm. What a glorious moment! What a breathtaking adventure!
But as the waters shifted beneath his feet and the waves rolled around him, Peter looked down. Suddenly, he felt the full force and power of the wind and waves, and he was overwhelmed with fear. It replaced the faith that strengthened him to step out of the boat. It cut short the courage that flooded him when he looked to Jesus. As he focused on the waves, he began to sink down into them! He cried out, “‘Lord, save me!’”
Jesus immediately reached His hand out and caught him before he could sink any further. “‘You of little faith,’ said His Savior, ‘Why did you doubt?’”
How do you imagine the tone of Jesus’ voice? Was it angry…full of contempt and impatience? Was it sad? Was it tender? Was it cheerful and bold as he pulled his faithful disciple up again? Was He simply telling His friend to stop being ridiculous? Whatever the tone, we know that Peter’s weakness had no effect on Christ’s love. The truth is that Peter was the only one who got out of the boat. He was also the only one who got to walk on water.
Jesus and Peter climbed into the boat. As soon as they did, the winds and the waves began to die down. The rest of the disciples were stunned. The miracle of the loaves and fishes had not prepared them for this. Everyone in the boat began to worship Jesus in awe. “‘Truly you are the Son of God,’” they declared.
The ghost had turned out to be their Master. Once they welcomed Him into the boat, it arrived on the shore of the sea at Gennesaret.
Immediately, people began to recognize that this was Jesus. Men sent word out through all the area. Jesus had come. The locals rushed to bring Him their sick family members and friends. People came running with their sick on pallets to see Him. Every place Jesus went, whether city or village, the people would put their sick along the side of the road so they might be able to touch even the edge of His cloak. And everyone the Lord touched was cured of whatever ailed them.