You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
When we encounter some of Peter’s exchanges in the Gospels he, more often than not, looks foolish. No shortage of preachers and pastors have made him the butt of their jokes. I stopped laughing at them long ago. I’m too much like Peter to laugh at him, those jokes serve as a sort of salt to my wounds.
While Peter often makes a fool of himself, Jesus patiently suffers the fool, recognizing he is a young leader in need of pruning. One interaction in particular is a haunting mirror of myself and every time I read it I’m reminded of my need for Jesus. In thirty-one years of life I’ve found I’m old enough to have some life experience, but still young enough to overestimate myself. I’m often zealous to jump at the chance to follow Jesus, but not wise enough to avoid getting in over my head. Maybe you know where I’m going with this…
Matthew 14 records the disciples during a storm and Jesus walking on the water towards them. Not surprisingly they think it’s a ghost (what would you think? Don’t act like you’ve witnessed something this incredible…let’s not let our familiarity with this story allow us to pass over this miraculous event…Jesus, walked on water!).
But Peter, yes Peter, does the almost predictable and tells Jesus to command him to walk on water as well. I’d love to know what Jesus was thinking, he tells Peter to get out of the boat, and he does. And the water supports him as he walks toward Jesus.
Not soon after though, Peter saw some wind, became afraid, and began to sink. He called out to Jesus to save him, and Jesus did.
Jesus saved him from drowning.
My friend Dave once remarked to me that he wishes he was like Peter. But he’s never considered himself to be the sort of person that’d get out of the boat, he’s too afraid to. He’s admired the sort of bravery that Peter exhibited. He’s noticed that trait in others and wished it was him.
Many preachers when preaching this passage repeat the now cliched lesson for us, “keep your eyes on Jesus, when you take them off of him you’ll sink.” It’s true. But let’s not forget that we’re all in the same boat (pun intended), we’re already sinking.
It’s because we’ve willingly and by nature loved other things more than Jesus (Rom. 1:25). But he still willingly pulls us out of the water when we call out to him, “save us!”
And that brings me to point out some of the less commonly preached truths about this passage:
Peter is an exception to the rule.
There were 11 (maybe more) other disciples who never got out of the boat. That’s fine. In fact, I don’t think Peter’s reason for getting out of the boat was necessarily a good one. Few people get the chance to walk on water. The one person who did, sank rather quickly…
We need Christ-confidence, not self-confidence.
Peter is always quick to jump at the opportunity to make himself central. We need people in the game who are willing to assert themselves. But in the Church they should do so only to redirect our gaze at Jesus, not our own self-aggrandizing attempts to walk on water. He’s commendable for recognizing Jesus’ power over water and realizing Jesus could allow him to walk on it. Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder if he just wanted to do something amazing and/or show off a little parlor trick. I relate to this more than I care to admit. I often overestimate my own abilities and gifts. On one hand, I know that God gave them to me and they draw me to worship him. On the other hand, I constantly have to battle the temptation to trust in my own ability and opportunities instead of Jesus. Which brings me to my final observation.
We need Jesus. I need Jesus.
For those of you back on the boat, learn from the mistakes of Peter and others like him. You may be tempted to be jealous of those that are doing great things in the company of Jesus. It might seem like they are walking on water. But make no mistake, only Jesus makes it possible. In truth it’s taking all they can muster to hold their heads above water. Jesus, take my hand and save me from myself and my own tendency to walk out on water.
I’m grateful for people like my friend Dave who are self-aware enough to share their own fear. I envy his faith, for he has a sort of minute by minute, hour by hour awareness of his need for Jesus. Truth be told, I don’t. Too often, I feel like I’m walking on water, unaware that I only do so by the grace of Jesus. Too often, I bite off more than I can chew, sign-up for things way beyond my ability or skillset. Too often, I am over-confident in myself. Too often I find myself on the precipice of some great opportunity on the verge of throwing up and thinking, “how did I get myself into this? Oh yeah, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity, not realizing I’m only human.” I frequently need to be reminded that apart from Jesus I can do nothing (John 15:5). Jesus, I can’t do this with out you. Take me hand!
From the boat it may have appeared that Peter was the star of the show, but look past him to see the Jesus that sustained him. And learn from Peter (while laughing at him too) when he climbs back into the boat soaking wet. His mistakes are for both him and you to learn from.
From the sea, inhaling a little water as he attempts to breathe, that boat looks mighty enviable. I know, I’m a lot like the foolish Peter. But some day I hope to mature and grow into the wiser and humbler Peter that we encounter in the short epistles that bear his name.
Wondrous Sov’reign of the sea, Jesus, Savior, pilot me.