Summary: When Peter stepped out of the boat in faith
Get out of the boat: Finding Faith in Fearful Times
This story is one of those few times in the Gospels, where the disciples are not with Jesus. Matthew says that Jesus told the disciples to get in a boat and go to the other side of the sea of Galilee while he went to pray and rest.
That sounds simple, but it’s not. The sea is 8 miles wide and 13 miles long. Eight miles is a long way with oars.
Then the story changes and a storm comes out of nowhere. This wasn't just any storm, it was enough to scare men who were seasoned veterans of the sea. They endured hundreds of rainstorms, the idea of clouds, wind, rain, or even waves did not deter them! But this one… is different.
Matthew often reveals the flaws and struggles of the disciples. He's not afraid to put them in difficult positions and watch them struggle for their faith. Nor is Matthew hesitant to show their shortcomings when they choose fear instead of faith.
When I look at this passage, I see a spiritual struggle. But it's not between the wind and the boat, nor between the disciples and the devil. The battle is a theme we often see in Matthew's Gospel; fear vs. faith. Jesus even says at one point in today’s Gospel reading that some people are “little faith.”
This passage hits home! It invites us to confront our fears during our "dark" moments. That's precisely what Jesus does; he takes a dangerous event and uses it—redeems it even—so it teaches a lesson about faith.
There are three lessons about faith that I see in this passage:
First, Faith requires Persistence.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus did not instantly rescue the disciples? That’s a legitimate question because we know he could see a massive storm over the sea. Yet he chooses to leave them in danger. He allows them to persist in their struggle. The NRSV says it lasted until "early in the morning." The actual Greek is "the third watch of the night," 3:00 A.M.
From sundown until 3:00 A.M…. It makes you wonder… Did any of them get mad at God? Did they blame God? Did they pray God? Did they talk to God like we do, “I've done everything I can to be a good person, but I’m still struggling, and none of my prayers are answered."
What we’re saying is… “God, it’s 3:00 A.M., I’ve been in a storm all night long, and I’m exhausted. I’ve prayed for hope, healing, and restoration of relationships, but my arms are tired. It doesn’t seem like some of the others in this boat are carrying their weight. I’ve been living in a constant state of anxiety since the storm moved it… but I’m afraid to tell anyone around me about it because I don’t want the other disciples to think less of me.”
We understand those questions all too well! We endured a Cat 5 hurricane! But what did we do? We kept working. I kept running a chain saw, you kept hammering nails, we kept working… like the disciples, we didn’t give up, we continued to row our boats… we persisted.
Faith requires persistence, but it also requires trust.
Second, Faith requires Trust.
Terrifying word! It is surrender in the hope that our vulnerabilities and fears will not be exploited by others.
If we look back in the boat, we see trust. The disciples notice a silhouette, but they can’t make out what it was through the rain. It might be a man, but how could a man be out here? Or is it a ghost? There is an old tradition among 1st-century sailors that right before you die in a storm, you see ghosts of other sailors to guide you into the afterlife. If that's the case, no wonder the disciples are terrified.
Peter is a disciple who is willing to take action—even if it’s often the wrong action. I appreciate him because he is ready to put his faith on the poker table and push his chips to the center. He’s all in! We watched him when he left home to follow Jesus, and we see it again right here. Peter says, "Jesus, if that's you, I'm putting my fears behind me, and I'm stepping out of this boat trusting you to save me."
I've played some cards before… it's terrifying to go all-in on a bluff. If Peter sinks into the waves at night, they will never see him again! Peter goes all in… he climbs out into the space between his safety and Christ.
It makes me wonder… what are our boats? What are the things that we assume keep of safe that, in fact, hold us back? Where is your space between your boat and Jesus? Can you step into the place of unknowing and anxiety?