One of my all-time favorite places to vacation with my wife and kids is the ocean. Being from the agricultural heart of the country, we’re not too far from several lakes. But those pale in comparison to the blue green salt water of the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. We’ve ventured to the beach in southern California a few times, but for my money nothing beats the warm, crystal clear water of the Caribbean. Ah, the sand and surf!
Being a land-lubber presents some challenges though - sunscreen not with-standing. When our kids were young, it took a little coaxing to get them acclimated to the sandy terrain and rhythm of the tide. At three or four years old they had trepidations at frolicking in the waves. But with time and experience, they transformed into northern beach bums – gleefully leaving the sand castles on the beach, to brave the incoming waves and body surf in more substantial depths.
I think of those family moments when I hear the biblical story of Jesus walking on the water. Not that the Thurstons are water-walkers - far from it! But, the juxtaposition of the disciples when they encounter their Master and Commander striding on the waves of the sea. As the Gospel of Matthew tells it, Jesus had some company on top of big blue that night. Peter - the fishermen turned fisher of men - “got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”1 Think of the implications of that scenario: why would a veteran fisherman trade the comfort of his vessel, to get out of his boat in the middle of a tempest? There’s a few reasons that come to mind, and each is profound in its ramifications.
First, there’s the need for safety. As a seasoned sailor, Peter is not unfamiliar with storms and squalls on the water. And, it’s highly likely he’s acquainted with the Sea of Galilee – it’s weather patterns, and dangerous coves. But, as he assessed the situation that dark evening, he finds his chances of survival are better on the water with Jesus than in the boat without him. He felt safer on (or in) the water with Jesus that he did in the boat without him. Wow!
That speaks to our comfort zones, doesn’t it? We all have areas where familiarity and wellbeing make us cozy. But if we’re not careful, our comfort zones will not only keep us safe, they’ll keep our lives small. And, that could be one of the lessons Peter teaches us but getting out of the boat. On the water is not comfortable, but it’s where our Lord is. And that’s enough.
Second, there’s the issue of security. Matthew pulls no punches reiterating this account for his readers. He tells us that when the twelve in the boat saw Jesus approaching on the water, they were, “Terrified…said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear.”2 The original meaning of that phrase indicates “to shout or cry out…with the implication of the unpleasant nature of the sound; to scream.” 3 That’s the theological equivalent of “they screamed like little girls.” As funny as that sounds, I must admit: I probably would’ve done the same thing.
From Peter’s perspective, he’s trying to judge who to trust in an intense situation. Do I trust my sailing companions – who are effectively losing it? Or, do I trust the Rabbi – who at that moment is approaching them on top of the sea? In Peter’s mind the decision is clear.
Finally, Peter has to consider strength. If he sinks, who can he rely on to catch him? Again, the scales favor Jesus. As a matter of fact that’s exactly what takes place.
Peter hoists a leg over the side of the vessel. He follows it with the other appendage. In short order, the number of people in all of history who’ve ever walked on water doubles. But his fear gets the better of him, and he begins to sink. In between his gasps for air, and thrashing in the waves he’s heard calling out, “Lord, save me.”4 Immediately, Jesus is on the spot, taking the floundering fisherman into the boat, and consequently the wind stops. The gaggle of guys in the boat respond as only one would after a horrific experience on a storm -tossed sea. They worshiped him, and acknowledged his God-hood.5
Here’s what we need to know: life can be scary at times. It can threaten our status quo. And, sometimes it brings even the strongest of us to our knees. Whatever challenges might be rocking your boat and crashing into your world, know that there is One that offers you a safe haven, a secure port and a shelter from the storm. Even the brightest day on the ocean of life can become terrifying quickly through no fault of our own. What a comfort to know there’s a Savior that subdues the waves, quiets our storms and calms his children.
1. Matthew 14:29, ESV
2. Matthew 14:26, ESV
3. Louw, Johannes P.; Nida, Eugene A.; Greek Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains
4. Matthew 14:30, ESV
5. Matthew 14:32, ESV