The day had been another mind-blower for the disciples. As they rowed toward Capernaum it was hard to stop talking about what they had seen. 5,000 men, plus women and children, and Jesus had fed them all! With one boy’s lunch! The power Jesus seemed to command both thrilled and unnerved them.
But it had all ended strangely. They had felt excited when the massive picnic turned into a “Jesus for king” rally. The people were beginning to understand! But Jesus had been visibly disturbed by this enthusiasm and moved quickly to douse it. That was confusing.
And why had he been in such a hurry for them to get to Capernaum that he had them sail by night—and without him? Theirs had been the last boat on the shore. If he intended to be there by morning, Capernaum was going to be one whale of a walk.
Then the wind picked up and the waves grew stronger, pushing back against every pull of the oars. This was going to add hours to the trip. Messianic excitement turned into tired irritability. Someone commented that at this rate, Jesus would probably beat them there on foot.
Just then another shouted, “What’s that?” They all looked back. It was a person! Or it had the shape of a person. Someone was walking—or floating—across the sea! An unearthly fear seized them. “It is a ghost!”
But a familiar voice called to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Jesus? It sure sounded like Jesus. But he was walking on top the water! Maybe a spirit could do that, but people can’t! Everyone was speechless.
Except Peter. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Every astonished face turned back to Peter. Jesus responded, “Come.” Peter swung his legs over the side and started walking toward Jesus.
Things were getting more surreal by the moment.
But after taking a few steps Peter froze. Then he began to sink, as if into mud. He reached toward Jesus and cried, “Lord, save me!” Jesus reached back, grabbed him, and pulled him up. And with affectionate firmness said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
* * *
Peter actually showed remarkable faith in following Jesus out on to the water. I wonder if the thought even occurred to the others? I wonder if it would have occurred to me?
Now, if we’re not thinking carefully, we might assume that what held Peter up was his faith. But that’s not accurate. It wasn’t Peter’s faith keeping him afloat. It was Jesus. Peter knew that. That’s why he didn’t just leap out of the boat on his own. He asked Jesus to command him to come. What Jesus did was honor Peter’s faith by commanding the water to bear his weight.
Lesson #1: faith is not faith in our faith in Jesus, it’s faith in Jesus’ word.
But once Peter was outside the safety and familiarity of the boat, out in (or on) uncharted waters, everything started feeling precarious. Why? Well, people don’t actually walk on water. We may be so used to the story that the ridiculousness of walking on water doesn’t hit us. But it sure hit Peter at that moment.
And he started to sink.
Have you ever noticed that Peter the Rock didn’t sink like a rock? The last time you jumped into a pool, how gradually did you sink? There’s something profound going on here.
Peter began to sink when his faith shifted from the firmness of Jesus’ word to the instability of his circumstance. And when he did, it was Jesus letting him sink—slowly. And for Peter that was a grace.
Why? Because Peter’s sinking produced his cry to Jesus. It quickly got Peter to stop looking to the world or himself as the source of truth and salvation and instead cry out to his Savior. When he did that Jesus pulled him back up.
Lesson #2: Jesus’ word is truer and stronger than what we see or feel, and when we doubt that, sometimes he graciously lets us sink to help us refocus.
Trusting in Jesus and his word over our perceptions is difficult to learn. That’s why the Lord takes us through so many different faith-trying, faith-building experiences.
And when he does, it is never for just our own benefit. He’s displaying his power so others’ faith will be strengthened too. And, like the disciples in the boat, we end up saying together, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).
-Jon Bloom, Peter: When The Rock Sunk Slowly