If you have read some of my postings on this blog, you may have noticed that I tend to pick up on little details. This can be a positive or a negative trait, depending on your perspective. Being “detail oriented” was definitely an asset when I was a quality assurance officer for a research firm many moons ago. But, it can sometimes be detrimental, as in seeing the small mess on the counter rather than taking in the largely clean, lovely home surrounding it. My husband has often said that I can see a speck at 50 paces! Guilty as charged! The challenge for people like me is to learn to notice the minutiae when it’s appropriate and let it go when it isn’t.
This same tendency is at work in me when I read and study Scripture. It can often take me a very long time to read a passage, because I have to stop at individual words to research their meanings. Such is true with the passage we will look at now.
“Immediately he [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”
Matthew 14:22-33 ESV
From the title of this article, you can tell which phrase I stopped to consider in this passage–“beginning to sink.” Why would this catch my eye?
It has long struck me as odd that the passage says “beginning to sink” rather than just “sinking.” When you dive or jump into a swimming pool or lake, do you slowly sink into the water? If you have ever accidentally fallen into a pool, did you have time to call out for someone to grab you as your body hit the water? You probably barely had time to hold your breath before going under, as it happened literally in the blink of an eye. What difference does it even make and why am I asking these questions?
God never wastes words in the Scriptures. Everything is worth a second look and there is often much to be gleaned when we do. So let’s get started.
The incident of Jesus walking on the water is recorded in Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-56, and John 6:16-21, but only Matthew tells us that Peter walked on water, too. So while Mark and John focus more on Jesus’ power over nature, Matthew shows us how faith in Jesus can manifest in the life of believers. This passage shows the power of faith and the limits humans can put on it. How we exercise our faith and where we focus our attention determines the outcome.
Setting the scene
The scene described in the passage above took place immediately following the feeding of the 5,000 men (plus women and children) which was a very profound miracle of Jesus that the disciples took part in. It would be natural for us to think that their faith was at an all time high after watching five loaves of bread and two fish literally multiply before their eyes as they broke it apart to give to many thousands of hungry people, and then as they took up twelve baskets full of the leftovers!
Walking on Water
A few hours later they found themselves in the middle of the Sea of Galilee rowing hard against heavy winds about 3 miles from shore. Sometime in the hours before dawn, when they were exhausted from the exertion, they see Jesus walking toward them on the water! They thought it was an apparition and they screamed in terror, so Jesus identified Himself to calm their fear.
Peter needs proof
Here is where Peter comes into the picture. He says (in a rather shocking display of doubt at what Jesus has just stated), “Prove it is really You by commanding me to walk on the water to You!” (paraphrase mine) Jesus responds, “Come!” So the ever impetuous Peter jumps from the boat and walks on the water toward Jesus. Remember, the sea was not calm and smooth as glass. There was a windstorm whipping up the waves. Yet, Peter was walking on the water!
Faith can fail in the midst of miracles
Before he was all the way to Jesus, Peter suddenly became aware of what was going on around him in the natural world while he was doing what was distinctly unnatural, or more precisely—supernatural. One split second of taking his eyes off the One who had told him to come to Him, and his faith wavered. But, interestingly, Matthew says that Peter began to sink. And in that instant of beginning to sink, he has time to refocus on Jesus and cry out to Him, “Lord! Save me!” Also in that same instant, Jesus reaches out His hand and grabs Peter.
Perhaps I am reading too much into the text, but in my view, there is no indication that Jesus had to fish him out from under the water. It appears that He grabbed Peter before he went completely under the waves. As He pulls him up Jesus says, “You little faith! Why did you doubt?”
The picture that my mind conjures of this scene is more like sinking into quicksand than water. Water the consistency of Jello, perhaps? Whatever the case, I imagine a slow-motion slipping into the waves. Time slows down as Peter realizes his sudden peril caused by losing focus.
Fix your focus
When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, and realized that what was happening around him was impossible, he began to believe the reality of his eyes, rather than the reality of Jesus. There is so much for us to learn from this encounter. We are human. We have natural limitations, governed by the natural world we live in. Jesus, even in His humanness, had power over the natural realm. As long as Peter’s eyes (and faith) were on Jesus, he, too, defied the laws of nature. As far as we know, Jesus and Peter are the only two men to ever walk on water.
The significance of the fact that Peter did not instantly plunge into the depths may be to show us that when we waver in our faith at times, it does not doom us to drowning. It doesn’t make us a failure that is beyond rescue. When we see that our focus has been drawn away from our Savior and onto the tumultuous circumstances around us and our faith fails momentarily, we have time to refocus and cry out to Him to rescue us from any predicament.
Reach out for rescue
It is worth noting that Jesus is close enough to rescue before we go under!
Jesus knows that we are all “little faiths” at one time or another. We can go from extreme faith to no faith in a split second. But, Jesus is still near in either case. And He responds to our cries for help.
The next time you find yourself in a situation where your faith is wavering, and you feel yourself “beginning to sink,” cry out to Jesus, and reach out your hand. His is already there.
Jesus, thank You for never leaving or forsaking us. You are there even when we take our eyes off of You and we begin to sink into our problems instead of walking on them. Teach us to keep our focus on You so that we don’t see the storms around us, but only Your wonderful face! Amen
I will leave you with the words to this beautiful hymn:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace!
Helen H. Lemmel, 1922, Public Domain
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