Ever wonder if you’d recognize Jesus on the street today? Without a detailed description of His appearance in Scripture, you would have to rely on something other than physical attributes. But if we look at the story of Him walking on water, hidden in that moment is a clue for how His disciples, then and now, can identify the Savior when life’s storms obscure His face.
Matt. 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-56; and John 6:16-24 to get the most from this study. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in the passages. Permit yourself to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Remember, God is the best teacher.
Key Passage: Matthew 14:22-36
After the death of John the Baptist, Jesus took a boat across the Sea of Galilee, seeking solitude. He also urged the disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). But a large crowd, aware of Jesus’ reputation as a miracle worker, showed up. The Lord had compassion on them—He healed their sick, taught them, and then used two fish and five loaves to provide a meal for the multitude.
After feeding the 5,000, Jesus again withdrew to pray by Himself, sending the disciples on ahead of Him in a boat. When He emerged from His private intercession, Jesus set out to meet the Twelve in a most unorthodox way.
Note that Jesus dismissed the disciples to the boat at some point in the late afternoon (Matt. 14:22-23), and by the time He encountered them in the wee hours of the morning (Matt. 14:25), they had managed to make it only to the middle of the lake (Mark 6:47). Considering their prolonged exertion, how do you think the disciples felt physically? Emotionally?
In Mark’s account, it says that when evening fell Jesus observed the disciples’ struggle, likely from His position on the mountainside (Mark 6:46-48), yet He did nothing until several hours later. Why do you think He waited?
Stranger still, Mark notes that Jesus had every intention of passing the boat (Mark 6:48)—it’s only when the disciples let out spooked cries of terror that He turned. That may seem callous, but look at Mark 6:50 and Matthew 14:27. How does Jesus respond to their fear? In what way does the immediacy of His response impact your view of Jesus?
Continuing the Story
It’s one thing for the Son of God to defy the laws of physics; it’s quite another for mere mortals to dare to do the same.
How does knowing the Savior is in tune with the fears of His disciples bolster your trust in Him?
All three Gospel accounts tell us that the disciples were afraid. The two Greek words used (tarasso in Matthew 14:26 and Mark 6:49-50, and phobeo in John 6:19) both carry a sense of “struck with fear, dread, or alarm.” What did they assume about the figure on the water? In what way does Jesus attempt to assuage their fears (see Matt. 14:27, Mark 6:50, John 6:20)? How does knowing the Savior is in tune with the fears of His disciples bolster your trust in Him?
Pay special attention to Peter’s response: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Matt. 14:28, emphasis added). At this point, would you say Peter was convinced that it was indeed Jesus, not a ghost? Check out Matt. 10:8 and Matt. 14:16, and then reread Matt. 14:28. Given Jesus’ track record of delegating the impossible to His disciples, why do you think Peter challenged the Lord to invite him to walk on water?
What does Peter’s expectation to be challenged tell you about the nature of a disciple? Do you see that willingness to risk in your own life as a follower of Jesus?
In verse Matt. 14:29, Jesus extended an invitation to Peter: “Come!” Per Strong’s Concordance, the Greek is erchomai, which can mean “to come into being, find influence, be established, become known.” In English, we communicate this idea as “to come into one’s own.” With that in mind, when has God invited you to risk in the middle of a storm? How did that moment lead to a deeper establishment of your faith and calling?
With a sudden shift in focus, Peter finds himself flailing.
In verse Matt. 14:31, Matthew tells us that the moment Peter began to sink, Jesus was able to save him. Notice how Jesus addresses Peter. What emotional response do you have to the words “you of little faith”? Read Matt. 6:30; Matt. 8:26; and Matt. 16:8, paying attention to who the audience is each time. How does knowing Jesus reserves this nickname for His disciples change how you perceive His tone?
For this rescue to have occurred, how close must the Lord have been to Peter? Consider the implications for your life—how does realizing Jesus’ proximity in times of danger impact your own willingness to risk?
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
As Peter discovered that day on the water, following Jesus isn’t one grand gesture of faith followed by carefree cruising.
If the disciples were to be assigned superlatives, Peter would undoubtedly bear the title Most Brash. From proclaiming Jesus’ messiahship and denying Him multiple times to cutting off an aggressor’s ear and walking on water, the apostle had a history of bold statements and rash actions—some of which led to miracles, others to messes. But as Peter discovered that day on the water, following Jesus isn’t one grand gesture of faith followed by carefree cruising. Sure, that first step takes a monumental amount of courage—but it’s only the beginning.
Oftentimes, we comfort ourselves with the belief that as soon as we obey God, the obstacles and trials we are facing will quickly vanish. But consider that the raging waters and wind didn’t cease when Peter stepped out of the boat; in fact, his act of faith served only to expose him further to the elements. When you take a major risk for Jesus, what do you expect to happen? Is your hope in immediately changed circumstances or in God’s presence?
Keep in mind that this wasn’t the first time Peter had witnessed Jesus miraculously wielding authority over wind and waves. In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calmed a storm that had previously lulled Him to sleep inside the stern of the disciples’ boat. Have you, like Peter, ever experienced a similar lapse of memory in a threatening situation? In what ways could regularly meditating on God’s power and presence strengthen your faith for future trials? How can you become more mindful about recalling ways that God has worked on your behalf?
Few steps of faith equal smooth sailing, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth taking. Put your hope in the fact that the God who calls you will catch you.
Illustration by Adam Cruft