Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
After sending his disciples into the boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and after dismissing the crowds, Jesus goes up onto the mountain alone to pray (vv. 22-23). The disciples were attempting to sail across the sea but were having trouble because they were facing a head wind and waves (v. 24). In the “fourth” watch, which corresponds to our 3-6am, Jesus came walking to the disciples on the water (v. 25). This is Roman reckoning of time as they divided the night (6pm-6am) into four watches while the Jews divided it into only three. As the scene is set, it is the middle of the night and the disciples are in the middle of the sea, and Jesus comes walking on water in the middle of the storm.
The terror of the disciples is immediately noted as they thought Jesus was a “ghost,” meaning an “apparition” (v. 26) The Master speaks calmly to them and reassures them that it is indeed he who they are seeing (v. 27). Peter, wanting to know if it truly was the Lord, requests that he be allowed to join Jesus upon the water (v. 28). Jesus’ simple response indicates the simplicity of the request: “Come” (v. 29). However, once outside the boat, Peter’s perception of the wind and the waves caused him to falter in his confidence and desperately cried out for the Lord to help him (v. 30). Jesus reached out his hand and picked Peter up, entered the boat, and calmed the storm (vv. 31-32).
What is surprising is that Jesus reached out his hand to help his sinking disciple rather than giving him verbal exhortation or encouragement. Jesus’ address to Peter comes in the form: “O you of little faith” (v. 31). What we see in this record is Peter allowing the surrounding circumstances to affect him and his focus upon the Lord. Peter exited the boat and began to walk toward Jesus. But when he looked around and saw the wind and the waves, his progress was impeded, for he began to sink.
I think that this illustration is quite comparable to what we encounter in our lives. We have our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and are serving him in the kingdom, but at times we look around and become more focused on what is happening around us and allow that to affect our perception of ourselves so that we begin to sink. We lack that confidence and assurance that we once had as we were walking toward the Lord. But the good news is that the Lord has not left us helpless and is not far from us. He will reach down and help us if we will but call out to him. Jesus isn’t looking for perfect disciples, but faithful followers. And faithfulness means a continued reliance and trust in the one who we call our Master.