Question: "What can we learn from the account of Peter walking on water?"
Answer: One of Jesus Christ’s most instructive miracles takes place when the apostle Peter jumps out of a boat and walks on turbulent water to meet the Lord on the sea. The account, which follows on the heels of another illuminating miracle, the feeding of the 5,000, is recorded in Matthew 14:22–36. Not only does Jesus walk on the Sea of Galilee here, but Peter walks on the water as well.
Several valuable lessons—some obvious and some not so apparent—are introduced in the account of when Peter walks on water. Jesus has just finished feeding a crowd of thousands with two fish and a few loaves of bread. The disciples are beginning to see who Jesus is, but their faith in Him still has room for growth. Directly following this miracle, Jesus launches into His next lesson. By now it’s evening, and Jesus has not yet had time to get alone with His Father—the very reason He had come to this isolated place near the sea. So Jesus sends His disciples on ahead in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus makes room for time alone with God. This is the first important lesson we can take from the account to help us weather the storms of life. Jesus sends the disciples away so He can be alone on the mountain to pray. Even with the needs of so many people pressing in on Him, the Lord makes solitary time with God His priority.
As the disciples are crossing the sea, a fierce and frightening storm kicks up. Very early in the morning, Jesus comes walking toward them on the water. Thinking He is a ghost, the disciples are terrified. Even though they have been with Christ for a long time, they don’t recognize Jesus as He approaches in the storm. Sometimes we fail to recognize the Lord when He comes alongside us during our own personal storms. But Jesus understands the immaturity of our faith. To His disciples, the Lord speaks these words of comfort: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
Peter, ever enthusiastic and impulsive, replies, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). The Lord invites Peter to come, and the disciple steps out of the boat. Peter walks on water toward Jesus. His baby steps of faith last only a moment, though, and then he takes his eyes off of the Lord. With his physical sight, Peter sees the wind and waves surrounding him, and “he was afraid” (verse 30) and begins to sink.
Peter cries out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30), and Jesus instantly reaches out His hand to catch Peter. “You of little faith,” Jesus says, “Why did you doubt?” (verse 31). For believers, the lesson here is unmistakable. If we take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our circumstances, we will fall under the weight of our problems. If we call to Jesus in faith, he will catch us and lift us above our seemingly impossible situation. Peter let doubt displace his faith. In all the time he had been with Jesus, even Peter, one of Christ’s closest friends, was still learning to trust the Lord completely.
As Jesus and Peter climb into the boat, the storm ceases. The disciples respond to everything they’ve witnessed with awe, adoration, and worship of the Lord. To Jesus they say, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Beginning to grasp that Jesus is all-powerful, even over the forces of nature, the disciples take another step closer to possessing mature faith. Jesus uses this stormy experience to bring His followers into a fuller understanding of who He is as their God and King. He is the Almighty Lord of the winds and the waves, and when He is present with us in our lifeboat, we can trust Him to either calm the storm or calm us.
A crucial lesson remains to be explored. When Peter jumps out of the boat, his heart is full of good intentions. Sometimes we take a leap of faith with similarly good intentions, but, like Peter’s, our faith soon falters. Peter’s exercise of faith does not end in failure. Although he is sinking in fear, he calls out to the Lord, “Save me!” God loves to hear our cry for help. It means we know we can’t save ourselves. Peter helplessly cries out to the only one who can help him. The disciple’s experience reminds us that a lapse of faith is merely a stumble. The Lord is near to raise us back safely to our feet when we call to Him for help.