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April 2020

Why Did Peter Sink in the Water?

Let’s put it into context:

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 had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn 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.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”   Matthew 14: 22-31

So why did Peter sink in the water?

You might say, “James, Jesus just gave you the answer!” If I am going to take it at face value, then that is one of the scariest passages of all of scripture. What do I mean? If Peter, especially in that moment, is found to be of little faith, what hope is there for me?

Think about it. You and I are sitting in a boat next to Peter. The waves are slapping over the bow. Our feet are wet, lightning is flashing across the skies and peals of thunder rattle our bones. Suddenly, you spy some movement beyond the waves. We can only see the silhouette as the lighting flickers, but it appears to be the form of a man

“It’s a ghost!” a voice filled with trepidation calls over our shoulders. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a just a little bit scared. Stuck in a boat in the middle of the storm with nowhere to run.

Then comes the voice, barely audible over the wind and the waves. Did it say, “It is I?” Who is I? I don’t know anyone who can walk on water. How about you?

“Lord, if it’s you . . .” Peter’s voice shocks you as much as the ghost’s. Are you sure that’s the Lord, Peter? Can we ask for some ID?

“Tell me . . .” Good idea Peter, you think, ask for clarification. “Tell me to come to you.”

Whoa, Peter! This is all happening fast, but never in a million years would I have thought to make that request. What about you?

Then a single word cuts through the darkness, “Come.”

Peter stands and makes his way to the side of the boat. A wave sloshes over him as if trying to push him back to his seat. But he is determined. He lifts his leg. You realize he’s serious.

He steps out onto the water and stands firm.

Does Peter have faith? He has just demonstrated more faith in a single instance than I have ever shown in my whole life. I may say that I trust the Lord, but I have never walked in such faith, literally or figuratively.

I would argue Peter had great faith, but Jesus calls him, “You of little faith.”

What gives?

The thing is, we tend to think of ourselves as having X amount of faith as a constant. My neighbor has X – 10 faith and my grandmother has X + 20 faith. I think faith fluctuates.

Paul tells us;

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.   Galatians 5: 16-18

Just as the Spirit and flesh are constantly at war within us, so too are faith and fear. It is basically a struggle for control.

Let me give you an example of how this plays out in our lives.

After I graduated from college, I was interviewing for jobs. After an interview in May, I felt a nudge from the Lord that was the job I was going to get, even though they weren’t hiring at the time. In faith, I stopped interviewing. In July I was offered a temp job working at the local dump. There were times, as I stood atop a mountain of garbage wondering, “Was that nudge correct?” I turned down a few job offers in August hanging onto that nudge. I called the company several times. “Are you hiring?” No. Late September, I was married and unemployed. My wife had to give up her job. The waves were starting to really beat the sides of my boat. I decided that October 1st, I would apply for jobs again, even if I had to push grocery carts.

September 27th, I received a call from the company. “Can you start today?”

Like Peter, I started focusing more on my circumstances than the message I had heard.

Focusing on our circumstances, rather than on the Lord, tips the scales in fear’s favor.

Jesus gave Peter the keys to success before he ever set foot on the water. Take courage. Don’t be afraid.

He’s not asking you to trust in your ability, He’s asking you to trust in His.


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