Matthew 14:23-32 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
There are two ways in which we may view the interesting portion of Scripture given above. We may read it from a dispensational standpoint as bearing upon the subject of God's dealings with Israel. Also, we may read it as a portion directly bearing on the subject of our own practical walk with God from day to day.
Our Lord, having fed the multitude and dismissed them, "went up into a mountain apart to pray, and when the evening was come, He was there alone." This answers precisely to His present position with reference to the nation of Israel. He has left them and gone on high to enter upon the blessed work of intercession. Meanwhile, the disciples -- a type of the pious remnant -- were tossed on the stormy sea during the dark watches of the night, deeply tried and exercised in the absence of their Lord. But He never for a moment lost sight of them, never withdrew His eyes from them. And when they were brought, as it were, to their wits' end, He appears for their relief, hushes the wind, calms the sea and brings them to their desired haven.
Thus much as to the dispensational bearing of this passage of Scripture, inasmuch as our object is to present to the heart of the reader the precious truth unfolded in the narrative of Peter on the water â€” truth bearing directly upon our own individual path, whatever the nature of that path may be.
It demands no stretch of imagination to see in the case of Peter, a striking figure of the Church of God collectively or of the individual Christian. Peter left the ship at the call of Christ. He abandoned all that the heart would so fondly cling to, and came forth to walk on the stormy water-- a path of faith, a path in which nothing but simple faith could live for a single hour. To all who are called to tread that path, it must be either Christ or nothing. Our only source of power is in keeping the eye of faith firmly fixed on Jesus, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12). The moment we take the eye off Him, we begin to sink.
It is not a question of salvation-- of reaching the shore in safety. By no means! We are speaking now of the walk of the Christian in this world, of the practical career of one who is called to abandon this world, to give up all that mere nature would lean upon and trust in, to relinquish earthly things and human resources to walk with Jesus above the power and influence of things seen and temporal.
Such is the high calling of the Christian and of the whole Church of God. We are called to live by faith, to walk in calm confidence above the circumstances of this world altogether, to move in holy companionship with Jesus. It was after this that Peter's soul was seeking when he uttered those words, "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water." Here was the point: "If it be Thou." If it were not He, the wildest mistake that Peter could possibly make would be to leave the ship. But if indeed it was Jesus -- that blessed One, that most glorious, most gracious One who Peter saw moving peacefully over the surface of the troubled deep -- then, assuredly, the very highest, the very happiest, the very best thing he could do was to abandon every earthly and natural resource to come forth to Him and taste the wonderful blessedness of companionship with Him.
There is immense force, depth and significance in these clauses -- "If it be Thou" -- "Bid me come unto Thee" -- "On the water." Mark, it is "unto Thee on the water." It was not Jesus coming to Peter in the ship, blessed and precious as that is, but Peter coming to Jesus on the water. It is one thing to have Jesus coming into the midst of our circumstances, hushing our fears, allaying our anxieties, tranquilizing our hearts, but it is quite another thing for us to push out from the shore of circumstances or from the ship of nature's devices, to walk in calm victory over the circumstances simply to be with Jesus where He is. The former reminds us somewhat of the Sareptan in 1 Kings 17. The latter, of the Shunammite in 2 Kings 4.
Is it that we do not appreciate the excellent grace that breathes in those words, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid"? Far be the thought! These words are most precious. Moreover, Peter might have tasted, yes reveled in their sweetness, even though he had never left the ship at all. It is well to distinguish between these two things. They are very often confounded. We are all prone to rest in the thought of having the Lord with us and His mercies around us in our daily path. We linger amid the relationships of nature, the joys of earth, such as they are, and the blessings which our gracious God pours so liberally upon us. We cling to circumstances instead of breathing after more intimate companionship with a rejected Christ. In this way we suffer immense loss.
Yes, we say it advisedly, "immense loss." It is not that we should prize God's blessings and mercies less, but we should prize Him more. We believe that Peter would have been a loser had he remained in the ship. Some may deem it restlessness and forwardness; we believe it was the fruit of earnest longing after his much loved Lord -- an intense desire to be near Him, cost what it might. He beheld his Lord walking on the water and he longed to walk with Him, and his longing was right. It was pleasing to the heart of Jesus.
Besides, he had the authority of his Lord for leaving the ship. That word "Come" -- a word of mighty moral force -- fell on his heart and drew him forth from the ship to go to Jesus. Christ's word was the authority for entering on that strange mysterious path, and Christ's realized presence was the power to pursue it. Without that word he dare not start; without that presence he could not proceed. It was strange, it was unearthly, it was above and beyond nature to walk on the sea, but Jesus was walking there and faith could walk with Him. So Peter thought, and therefore "he came down out of the ship, and walked on the water to go to Jesus."
Now this is a striking figure of the true path of a Christian, the path of faith. The warrant for that path is Christ's Word. The power to pursue it is to keep the eye fixed on Him. It is not a question of right or wrong. There was nothing wrong in remaining in the ship. But the question is, "At what do we aim?" Is it the fixed purpose of the soul to get as near as we can to Jesus? Do we desire to taste a deeper, closer, fuller communion with Him? Is He enough for us? Can we give up all that mere nature clings to, and lean on Jesus only? He beckons us forth to Himself in His infinite love. He says, "Come." Shall we refuse? Shall we hesitate and hang back? Shall we cling to the ship while the voice of Jesus bids us "Come"?
It may be said that Peter broke down and therefore it is better, safer and wiser to remain in the ship than to sink in the water. It is better not to take a prominent place, than having taken it, to fail therein. Well, it is quite true that Peter failed, but why? Was it because he left the ship? No, but because he ceased to look to Jesus. "When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me." Thus it was with poor Peter. His mistake was not in leaving the ship, but in looking at the waves and the winds -- looking at his surroundings in place of looking off unto Jesus. He had entered upon a path which could ONLY be trodden by faith -- a path in which, if he had not Jesus, he had nothing at all-- no ship, not a spar or a plank to cling to. In a word, it was either Christ or nothing. It was either walking with Jesus on the water or sinking beneath it without Him. Nothing but faith could sustain the heart in such a course. But faith could sustain, for faith can live amid the roughest waves and the stormiest skies. Faith can walk on the roughest waters; unbelief cannot walk on the smoothest.
But Peter failed. Yes; and what then? Does that prove he was wrong in obeying the call of his Lord? Did Jesus reprove him for leaving the ship? Ah! no; that would not have been like Him. He could not tell His poor servant to come, and then rebuke him for coming. He knew and could feel for Peter's weakness. Hence we read that "Immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" He does not say, "O you restless forward one, why did you leave the ship?" No; but "Wherefore didst thou doubt?" Such was the tender reproof. And where was Peter when he heard it? In the arms of his Lord! What a place! What an experience! Was it not well worth leaving the ship to taste such blessedness? Assuredly it was! Peter was right in leaving the ship, and although he broke down in that lofty path on which he had entered, it only led him into a deeper sense of his own weakness and nothingness, and of the grace and love of his Lord.
Christian reader, what is the moral of all this to us? Simply this: Jesus calls us forth from the things of time and sense to walk with Him. He summons us to abandon all our earthly hopes and creature confidences -- the props and resources on which our poor hearts lean. His voice may be heard far above the din of waves and storms, and that voice says "Come!" Oh! let us obey. Let us heartily yield ourselves to His call. "Let us go forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." He wants to have us near Himself, walking with and leaning on Him, not looking at circumstances, but looking only and always unto Him.