Many years ago, as I was spending time with God, I read Matthew 13:2:
And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach.
I found myself thinking about Jesus and boats and the relationship that different people had with Him.
Here he was, preaching to multitudes. He was in the boat while they were on land.
They were at what we might call the first level of relationship. They came to listen to Him preach, but they didn’t have a personal relationship with Him. This is always the start of any relationship with God. Hearing His words.
But then there were those whose relationship became more. He said, “Follow Me,” and they responded. He was inviting them to come out of the crowds and develop a personal relationship with Him.
Did these who followed Him stay on shore when Jesus got into the boat? No! They got in the boat with Him. They pushed off from land where the ground was firm and safe when the storms came, and they road with Him in the boat, out into a place where storms could kill you. But as time went by, they learned that they didn’t need land under them to stay safe; they just needed to be with Him.
Matthew 8:23 – Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. 24 Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. 27 The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?”
This level of relationship, when we’re in the boat with Jesus, is where we start to realize that He is more than just a great teacher of multitudes. He is more than just someone who can do miracles. But it takes time to really get to know Him. They’d already seen Him do many other miracles by this point, and yet watching Him calm the waves showed them that He was still more than they currently understood.
But then a new day came when Jesus wanted to take them to an even closer level of relationship. This is where He is not only showing us more of who He is, He’s showing us who we are. What He’s created us to be. The Bible tells us the story of one way that Peter began to step out of the place of just being with Jesus and getting to know Him, but of walking in His footsteps. We come to the day that Jesus used five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men plus women and children.
Matthew 14:22 Jesus insisted that His disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while He sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, He went up into the hills by Himself to pray. Night fell while He was there alone. 24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” 27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” He said. “Take courage. I am here!” 28 Then Peter called to Him, “Lord, if it’s really You, tell me to come to You, walking on the water.”
It really is remarkable what is happening here.
Jesus sent them out in the boat without Him. They had learned that they were safe in the boat with Him, but He knew it was time for them to learn that He could be with them in more ways than just His physical presence. He wanted to show them a little more about how He is above and beyond natural law. (They did not yet know that all natural law is upheld by the power of Jesus, but they would learn that through the revelation of the Holy Spirit later on! See Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:3.)
So they’re out in the boat, and they think they’re by themselves. They’re tired after a long day of passing out food to over 5,000 people, but they’re not sleeping. It’s that infamous hour of 3 o’clock in the morning, and it’s storming again. And fear is getting the better of them. Ever been there?
So Jesus walks out to them on the water. I personally believe that this was His intention all along. They usually traveled with Him, which is probably why He had to insist that they cross over without Him.
When He gets close enough that they see him, Jesus speaks to them and first affirms who He is, which is really important! Everything has to start with who He is.
Then He addresses that fear next. And then right there, in the darkness of 3 o’clock in the morning, with the storm raging around, Peter reaches out and asks Jesus to call him out on the water.
You notice that Peter did not just step out by himself. He reached out for Jesus, but he waited to hear Jesus give him directions. He knew that he couldn’t just decide for himself what miracle he was going to do. It had to come at the direction of Jesus.
This is a lesson that God has been teaching me over the years. So often I’ve struggled with why a miracle happened here but not there, and I’ve realized that many times, it’s simply because I didn’t wait to hear His directions first. I tried to decide for myself what I should do and how I should pray… as if I could ever make a miracle happen! Haha! I can’t! It has to be Him!
So Peter called to Jesus, and he waited until Jesus spoke.
29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.
Look what happened when Jesus spoke and Peter obeyed. Peter walked on water. Did the other disciples hop out of the boat, thinking, “Well, if Jesus told Peter to do it, surely we should do it too!” No, they didn’t, and the Bible doesn’t really say much about them at this point. One one hand, we might judge them for not also asking Jesus if He could call them out. And yet, I think it is a praiseworthy thing that they chose to watch and learn from their impetuous friend and brother. I think they realized that Jesus had not called them out on the water, so they’d better stay put.
But Peter walked on the water toward Jesus. This is the third level of relationship with Jesus, where the danger is greater but where the supernatural happens. Where He gives personal directions to you specifically, and you obey.
This is where it’s just you and Jesus, and nobody else.
This is where you become aware of the fact that your relationship with God is intensely personal. It’s not dependent upon your spouse or your pastor or what anyone else is doing or saying. Remember that Peter had a wife, a brother, and close friends. But when he stepped out of the boat, none of them were there. They couldn’t be. It was just him and Jesus.
This is where you realize that your relationship with God is also not dependent upon your circumstances. This is where you realize that the storms surrounding you don’t have the power to stop you from stepping out of the boat with Jesus. All you need is to hear Him call you, and then there is no turning back. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does. It doesn’t matter who is watching and who isn’t. It doesn’t matter what they think and if they’re supporting you or if they’re back there thinking you’re crazy. All that matters is that He is calling you.
It’s a whole new world out on the water though. Peter demonstrated for us what can easily happen.
30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
He took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the storm. When he shifted his focus from the One who had mastery over the storm and looked at circumstances instead, his shift in focus opened the door for fear to take hold of him. And once fear took the place of faith and trust, he started to sink.
31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt Me?”
I’d like the point out what Jesus did not say here.
He didn’t say, “Why did you doubt that you could walk on water?”
He didn’t say, “Why did you doubt what you could do?”
He also didn’t say, “Why did you doubt what I would do?”
He asked, “Why did you doubt Me?” He brought Peter’s attention back to Himself. His challenge to Peter wasn’t about Peter’s actions or activities or even His own actions. Jesus’s challenge was about Peter’s faith in His character and power.
One way that the devil tries to get us to take our eyes off of Jesus and onto circumstances is he tricks us into thinking that faith means believing that we know what’s going to happen. But if the focus of our faith is on what’s going to happen, then our eyes are still focused in the wrong direction! (See my post in January.)
Our focus shows where our faith is, and both need to be centered firmly on Jesus, who He is, and His character (which is the character of God.)
And this is actually exactly what Jesus was teaching them through this entire dark-of-the-night-lesson!
32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped Him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.
I can’t help smiling. Jesus saved Peter, and He climbed back into the boat… and the wind stopped. Don’t you love it that He calmed the storm in a different way than the first time? The first time, He spoke to the storm. This second time, He just climbed into the boat, signaling that the lesson was over. So the wind stopped. Automatically.
The Lord just now showed me the remarkable change that happened in all of the disciples who were watching, for they also learned from what Peter had been through.
The first time Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples responded by asking who He was.
This time, they responded by worshiping Him and by declaring who He is.
Seven years ago, when God showed me what the boats represented, I still struggled to recognize His voice, yet I knew that He was calling me to push off from the shoreline with Him.
I also knew that there would come a day when He would call me out of the boat.
He is calling many of us to get out of the boat.
He is calling still more people to push off from the shoreline.
And then there are multitudes who are just now gathering to hear Him for the first time.
Where are you? What is He calling you to do?
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
– From “Oceans” by United Hillsong.
Here’s a recording of the song being sung on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.