by David Clayton
One of the most unusual events which occurred in the experience of the disciples of Jesus, took place one dark night on the sea of Galilee. As they sat exposed and helpless in the boat they beheld through the gloom a mysterious figure approaching them apparently walking on the surface of the water. Their terrified cries brought the reassurance that the eerie figure was none other than Jesus and their fear was replaced by a sense of awe.
What happened next is not easy for me to understand. It is difficult to follow the workings of Simon Peter's mind. I cannot quite put myself in his shoes and see myself making the same kind of request which he made. But the record is plain. Upon hearing that it was Christ, he instantly called out, “….Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” (Matt 14:28).
Peter did not make this request in order that his faith might be strengthened. The wording of his request makes it seem that he was saying, “I am not sure that it is you, but if it is you, then tell me to come and I will come.” If Peter had been uncertain of the identity of the figure on the water would he have dared to venture out of the boat? I don't think so. He knew that it was Jesus and it was on that basis that he made his request. What is more difficult to understand is, what was his motive in asking? Was it simply that he wished to experience the thrill of walking on water? Was he thinking of what a great story he would have to tell his grandchildren? Was it that he was so anxious to meet Jesus that he could not wait until He got into the boat? None of these suggestions make much sense, but what is certain is that Jesus immediately spoke one word. Without hesitating He said, “come.”
Jesus' response is as puzzling as Peter's request, but it was not untypical of the way He operated. There rarely ever was a time when He denied the request of any person no matter how unreasonable or unrealistic it seemed. For example, when He was asked to turn water into wine in Cana of Galilee, He complied, even when it seemed that it was contrary to His plans. There was no apparent need to grant Peter's request. On the surface of it, it seems that Peter just wanted to get a thrill, or to show off to the other disciples. Whatever the reason, Jesus told him to come, and immediately Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the water.
It was as easy as breathing. Peter had never studied the theory and practice of walking on water. He had never trained himself to walk lightly, he had never discussed the mental and spiritual attitude or the physical qualifications necessary to successful water-walking. His eyes were fixed on Jesus and on the strength of that single word, spoken by lips that could neither lie nor fail, he stepped out of the boat in perfect peace and confidence. No human being will ever be able to explain the mechanics of what happened. It is useless even to think about it. Perhaps the sea suddenly became as solid as stone, or maybe Peter became as light as a helium-filled balloon. Probably none of these options is correct, but the plain fact of the matter was that he was involved in doing something which was impossible, and he was doing it with no effort.
What was the secret of Peter's successful walk that night (for as long as it lasted). What were the vital elements necessary in order that walking on water could be successfully carried out and – let us not forget – maintained.
First, there was the word of Jesus. That single word, “come,” was backed up by the integrity of a life in which there was no shadow of guile, no variableness nor shadow of turning. It was spoken by lips which had never lied, nor ever been involved in idle jesting. There was no question that the word carried the stamp of infallible truth and authority.
Secondly, there was the presence and power of Christ. In Him was power which had never failed to perform even the most seemingly impossible tasks, even to the raising of the dead. In Him there was the assurance of infallibility and omnipotence.
Thirdly, there was the faith of Peter. It was not bravado which caused Peter to step out of the boat in the perfect confidence that he would walk on water. It was not mere suspicion, or hope, or the thought that it might be possible. With his eyes on Jesus there was not a question in his mind as to what would happen when his feet touched the surface of the water. When he found himself walking on the water, he was not the least bit surprised. He had known exactly what would happen and that was the reason why he had stepped out without a life jacket, without a lifeline, and without asking any of the other disciples to standby in case of an emergency.
We may not know exactly what thoughts went through the minds of Peter and Jesus that night, but we can be confident that this remarkable miracle has been recorded and preserved in order that we might learn some vital lessons from it. Who knows, perhaps it is the very reason why Jesus consented to Peter's request. Jesus performed many miracles while He was here and while not all of them were recorded, in each of those of which the Bible speaks we can find vital truths and principles which have powerful lessons to teach with respect to the Christian life and how it is lived.
In Romans 1:16 the apostle Paul tells us,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)
In these miracles of Jesus we most often see the power of God applied unto physical restoration. Paul says that the gospel is the same power, but applied to salvation. In both cases it is the power of God. There is no difference in the way that healing is applied in both cases, only that in one case, the body is affected and in the other the soul, the mind, the spirit is affected. Why should we believe that it is a more difficult thing for God to heal the spirit than it is for Him to heal the body? The truth is that the miracles of Jesus are full of lessons which, properly understood will enable us to grasp the most critical principles necessary to the healing of the soul.
So let us see what lessons we may glean from Peter's extraordinary achievement.
The most obvious lesson is that the victorious Christian life is not difficult. It is no more difficult than walking on water. Both tasks are of course, humanly impossible. No amount of will-power, concentration, dedication, or studiousness will enable a person to perform either task for even one single second. Humanly speaking, they are impossible, yet, both await only one thing, that is the faith of one who simply believes the word of God. Faith in that word makes the impossible not only possible, but easy and effortless.
Another lesson which we learn is that the accomplishment of the task is entirely the work of Christ. What did Peter do to help Christ? What did he do to prepare the way for the miracle? What did he do to prepare himself to do the impossible? The answer is, he did absolutely nothing. All he did was believe the word of Christ. That was all. When he believed that word, he stepped out of the boat and into the world of the impossible. The task was Christ's, the preparation was Christ's, He took care of the physical difficulties. All Peter did was believe in Him and in His word. Is the method of overcoming sin and living the victorious life any different? Do we help Christ? Can we do anything at all to make the work easier? No, all we need to do, all we can do, is believe God that He has accomplished our salvation, our sanctification, our righteousness in Jesus Christ.
Yet another lesson which is most vital, is the lesson of the need to maintain our focus. Walking on water was not an event which transpired and passed in a single moment. It required maintenance, not just for a moment but for many steps over a period of time. Peter started out well, but he did not maintain his focus. If his journey had been 10,000 miles long and had taken him a year, would it have required anything different along the journey than it had at the beginning. How different was the walk than the start? There was not a bit of difference. The same method by which he started was the method by which he continued. Did the journey become more difficult? Was there a time when he had to concentrate on the steps which he was taking? When he had to think about the techniques of the task? Absolutely not!! All he had to do was simply keep his eyes on Jesus and ignore all distractions. In that relationship Peter did the impossible. In that relationship he maintained the impossible. He only failed when he took his eyes off Christ.
Is it the same for the Christian walk? It is interesting that the Christian journey is often compared to a walk in the Bible. We are admonished to “walk in the spirit,” to continue to walk in the Lord Jesus as we have received Him etc. The emphasis is on the maintaining of the original experience, the original focus. When we have faith in Christ we have found the only method that is needed and that will ever be needed to receive each and every blessing of God.
The fourth important lesson is the lesson of the need to avoid distractions. This cannot be over emphasized. When Peter walked on water, he was in effect a supernatural being. He did what mere humans cannot do. With eyes on Christ, he entered the supernatural world and exercised the powers of the world to come. But there were several distractions which rivaled Christ for Peter's attention that night.
(a) There was the majesty of the wind and the waves to be admired.
(b) There was the terror of the storm.
(c) There were the admiring, awe-struck disciples in the boat.
(d) There was the contemplation of the stories he would have to tell his grandchildren.
His task, his only task was to keep his eyes focused. He had no need to learn the theory and practice of water-walking. All he had to do was keep focused on Jesus and ignore the distractions, but in the face of all that was going on, this was a challenge and it was one which he failed to meet properly. He allowed his attention to be drawn from Christ and immediately sank into the water. This is the same situation which faces us today. Nothing can defeat us, we will not sin, we will not be overcome by the enemy. We can do this as simply and easily as Peter walked on water. The only condition is that we focus on Christ and His word in faith, and that we keep our eyes focused on Him.
The question is often raised as to how a Christian may be absolutely victorious over sin. The real question is, how can it be otherwise if we truly have faith in Christ and His word? There is no failure in Christ, only in man. When we trust in Him, He will do the job and He will do it perfectly. We have only one thing to fear and that is, that we may take our eyes off Him. There lies our great danger.
So, let us take heed. No matter how mountainous the waves are, no matter how awesome the distractions, no matter how men may admire and commend us, no matter how Satan attempts to intrude vain thoughts into our minds, let us never permit ourselves to be distracted. He is our hope, He is our life, He is our everything. Believing this and living by it is our only safety. May God help us that we may learn the art of walking on water. If we do not know how to do this, it is unlikely that we will ever learn how to overcome sin.