a sample from The Son of Man, Volume Two
After a month-long hiatus, today I resumed work on my commentary that combines Matthew, Mark, and Luke into a single narrative. It is already a rewarding study. Here’s a sample, from a chapter entitled “Along came Jesus…”
The disciples’ voyage was to be brief, as both writers tell us they were going from Bethsaida to Gennesaret, meaning the ship would only need to cut across the upper portion of the Lake. Nevertheless, a storm did arise during the trip and it was a doozy. The winds and the waves were tremendous, pushing the ship off course until it was in the middle of the lake, barely holding together.
Then, during the fourth watch of the night (three in the morning), the panicked sailors looked out in between the beating raindrops and found Jesus walking on the water as easily as if it were dry land. There are a few interesting points to note about this moment. First, let’s appreciate the fact that the large sailing vessel was being knocked every which-way by the wind, but the Lord walked through it with nary a stumbling step.
In addition, Mark says that the Lord’s body language was so calm He looked as though He would stroll right by them in the ship. That’s not to say He didn’t see them; on the contrary, Mark makes it a point to say He did. He saw them, but I suspect He was using His body language to teach them a lesson. This marks now the second time a storm threatened the lives of Jesus’ disciples, the second time the disciples panicked, and the second time the Lord remained entirely calm throughout.
These students are slow learners.
Seeing Jesus, obscured through the haze of the storm, caused the disciples to think they were seeing a ghost. They cried out, not seeking help, but instead in fear at the sight of the supposed-spirit. Jesus responded quickly, saying basically “relax, it’s Me.” As a matter of fact, the words “be of good cheer” literally mean “have courage” or “stop being afraid.”
Mark jumps from that statement to the Lord getting into the boat and guiding it safely back to land. Matthew, however, adds to the account by telling us what Peter did. The always-game eager disciple saw the Lord’s feet stepping on the water and desired to do likewise. Perhaps a few other disciples had the same thought but none were as bold as Simon to ask. Without a hint at the magnitude of his request, Peter asks the Lord if he too can walk on the water.
Let’s take care to note what exactly Peter asks, because he doesn’t actually mention walking on water. Instead he just says “if it is you, Lord, invite me to come on the water.” Is this a question asked out curiosity? Was Peter seeking validation? I don’t think so. I think he knew it was Jesus, I think he wanted to walk on the water with Jesus, and I think he was too afraid to ask the question directly, so he asked it indirectly.
The Lord does not refuse Peter’s request. He invites him out into the stormy sea and Peter hops out toward the water without hesitation. Say what you want about Peter, the man wasn’t perfect, but he jumped out of a boat in the middle of a storm in full expectation of walking on water. That’s a tremendous level of faith. His feet hit the sea as if it were wet concrete and he began walking toward his Master.
Alas, the storm continued to rage, and the faith that propelled Peter out of the boat also distracted him from the Lord that had granted him the miracle he was doing. The winds and the waves sparked in Peter the opposite of faith: Fear and doubt. As a result, he began to sink and to cry to Jesus for help.
Wait a minute.
Have you ever thrown a stone in the water? It doesn’t “begin” to sink; it just sinks! Peter began to sink, Matthew writes, and as the water slowly inched up his body, he reached out for the only one he knew could help him. And Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him.
“O thou of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus says to him. Peter had more faith than the others; he had faith enough to get out of the boat. But faith isn’t a competition between other people; it’s a measuring stick for your relationship with God. Peter’s relationship was strong enough to get him out of the boat, but not strong enough to stop the storm from distracting him.
The Master and His disciple walk to the boat, climb in, and immediately the wind and the rain ceased. We learn from John’s account of this that, as soon as Jesus entered the boat, the ship instantly found itself at its destination (John 6:21). He was in total control all along; there never should have been a doubt. Nevertheless, as we learn from Peter, it’s very easy to trust that God is there and still worry about the storms that rage around us.
We’re all of little faith sometimes.