Matthew, Mark, and John were all eyewitnesses to the spectacular miracle of Jesus and Peter walking on water. Jesus had just performed the miracle of the Feeding of the 5000 and was seeking a time of solitude and prayer with His Father. He sent the disciples ahead in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. The ensuing storm brought opportunities for Jesus to teach the disciples new lessons in faith. The storms in our life bring these same truths to light.
Each Gospel has their own important details to add to this story, but mostly, we will concentrate on Matthew’s version.
“Immediately, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. vv 22-23.
We receive our first lesson right away in verse 23.
Lesson #1– Prayer was a priority in Jesus’ life. Even with long days of teaching, throngs of people wanting His attention, and the disciples to shepherd, He took the time to spend time in prayer with His Father.
No matter how busy or exhausted we are, or who demands our attention, we need to make prayer a priority in our lives!
Storms on the Sea of Galilee
When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” v24.
Storms and strong winds were common at night on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples had fished this lake many times and were aware of how dangerous these storms could be. What should have taken a couple of hours had turned into hours and hours of rowing. They must have been exhausted and frightened.
Mark 6:48 gives us this additional detail- “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”
This considerable distance was about “3 to 3 ½ miles” (approximately the middle of the lake) per John 6:19. Yet Jesus saw them struggling from land.
Lesson #2– Jesus sees us in our difficulties, trials, and storms.
He loves, cares, and sees us no matter how exhausted, fearful, or far away we are from Him. He sees us and makes Himself known when we need Him the most. We are never out of His sight.
Jesus Walks on Water
“During the fourth watch (3-6am) of the night, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” vv25-27.
The disciples were already in a state of great fear because of the storm. Their fear increased even more when they saw what they believed to be a ghost. Their level of exhaustion was great. At that precise moment, when their strength was almost gone, He came to them.
Even though the disciples had just witnessed a great miracle in the feeding of the 5000, they didn’t have the faith to believe Jesus would perform another miracle- walk on water to meet them in the storm. They didn’t even recognize Him! His calming words and presence eased their fear.
Lesson #3– Jesus has promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20) and that includes every storm we experience. That doesn’t mean we won’t be fearful, but we can let Jesus’ solutions and comfort ease our fears. Listen to His voice in your storms, reminding you of His words of verse 27- to take courage and not to fear, for He is the Great I Am!
Peter Walks on Water
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” ‘Come,’ He said.” vv28-29.
Why did Peter ask to walk on water? We don’t know for sure what caused Peter to ask this of Jesus. Was it just his impulsive personality? If so, might he not have just jumped out to go meet Him instead of asking for an invitation?
Peter knew the power of Jesus’ words. He had seen enough miracles to have faith in His words and commands. Jesus calls Peter out of the boat with a single word of invitation: “Come.”
Peter Stepping Out of the Boat
“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” V29.
Peter gets out of the boat, in faith, risking his life to walk into a wild storm. He left the safety of the boat and his friends to be with Jesus.
He had enough faith to try, and he walked on water through the power of Jesus! Peter could do the impossible when he relied on Jesus to make it happen. The rest of disciples let fear and lack of faith keep them in the boat.
Lesson #4– Jesus called out to Peter to come to Him; to leave fear behind, have faith, and get out of the boat. When we get out of the boat by faith, we will experience the power of God in miraculous ways! Has Jesus called out to you or spoken to you through His word in an uncertain or scary storm or circumstance? Are you willing to trust Him?
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Peter Sinks in the Water
“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” v30.
Peter shows us a wonderful picture of faith when he walks on the water, but it required him to keep his eyes on Jesus. He only sank when he looked at the storm instead. His faith in Jesus was not strong enough to keep him afloat.
Lesson #5- How often do we live in faith as long as things are going well, but falter when the reality of storms hit? Yes, we all experience lapses in faith, but don’t lose heart. Jesus is always there when we call out to Him!
Peter forgot the power and promises of Jesus, focused on his fear instead of his faith, and sank. The storms of life test our faith. Faith requires us to focus on Him, not our circumstances. Choose faith over fear.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2a.
Jesus Saving Peter
“Immediately, Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” v31.
Even though Peter’s faith was faltering, he knew to turn to Jesus, the only one who could save him. Jesus loves to hear us call out to Him in faith! It is our acknowledgment that we know we are helpless on our own and need Him in our life. He will never let us sink!
Jesus challenges Peter’s doubt in Him, calling his faith “little.” But it was more than the other disciples had! At least his “little faith” led him to obey Jesus and walk out on the water.
Lesson #6– We’ve all chosen fear over faith in our lives. But if we do trust in Him, why does our faith falter in the storms? It is good for us to consider Jesus’s question- why do we doubt? Speak your fears to Him; He’s listening.
It might be helpful to reread the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus tells us that even faith as small as a mustard seed makes the impossible possible.
Calming the Storm
“And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” v32.
When Jesus climbed into the boat, the storm stopped. The disciples might not have completely and truly understood Jesus and His mission, but it did not stop them from worshiping Him at the moment! They knew only God could command the weather.
Mark’s version adds to the story. “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” 6:51-52.
The Greek word for “hardened” here meant their hearts were “dull”, or did not have the power of understanding.¹
The disciples had just seen Jesus feed the 5000 but did not have complete faith or understanding in Him yet as the Son of God. If they had, they all would have jumped out of the boat!
Jesus knew the disciples would face many circumstances that would test their faith. What a spectacular visual this was to show them (and us!) His power, faithfulness, protection, constant presence, and care in every trial they would face.
More Lessons from when Peter Walked on Water
#7- Jesus has the power to turn our storms into opportunities to see His power in action and to experience His presence in new and amazing ways. The storm may not be pleasant, but we can learn much from them.
#8- What strong winds and waves are buffeting you today? Only in Him will we find the peace and strength to make it through the storm. Remember, He is more than willing to climb into the boat with you and calm the storm.
#9- Call to Him for help as Peter did when we feel our faith weakening. Storms of life are a part of the human experience; but He will never let you go through them alone or let the waves pull you under.
#10- Is Jesus calling you out of the boat to walk in faith? To take a risk for Him?
Keep your eyes on Jesus, not on the storm!
“In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
All Scripture is from the NIV unless specified otherwise.