Courage on the Sea

Peter walks on the water.

Encouraged and Encouraging (5)

So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. Matthew 14.29

It is instructive to consider the response of Jesus’ disciples to His urging them not to be afraid (v. 27). Why were they afraid, anyway?

Some were afraid because they weren’t fisherman, and weren’t used to being in a boat, “tossed by the waves” of the sea (v. 24). I can imagine that, for Matthew and others, this could have been quite harrowing. Peter, Andrew, James, and John would have been concerned. But I doubt they would have been fearful. Probably they had been often on the sea when the wind came up, and they would have known what to do – at least in this situation.

But the disciples were all “troubled” (v. 26) when they saw Jesus, walking toward them on the sea. None of them had any experience of this. At first, they didn’t recognize that it was Jesus, walking on the sea, and they cried out in fear, “It is a ghost!”

Now fear was equally distributed among them all. “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid’” (v. 27). That cheerful greeting must have allayed their fear somewhat. But the waves were still tossing, and apparently the disciples weren’t completely convinced that the specter approaching them was in fact the Lord.

At least, not Peter.

Peter (who else?) spoke up: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (v. 28). What shall we make of this? Was Peter just showing off? Or was he thinking of something completely unheard-of that might calm the fears of his colleagues? Was he really willing to risk his life, whether to bolster his status among or bring reassurance to the other eleven?

Clearly, something was stirring in Peter’s soul. For whatever reason he proposed this extraordinary measure, he was “stepping out” beyond his comfort zone, and beyond all his experience, into an uncertain and perhaps unsafe course. He would need courage to do this, courage to banish, or at sublimate, his fear, and enable him to carry out his proposed course of action.

The Word of Jesus
Jesus took him seriously. He could have just said, “No, no, stay where you are. I’ll be there with you soon.” But this was an opportunity to encourage Peter, to impart a word of advice and counsel to meet the stirring in his soul, so that courage would flash within him like a bolt of lightning.

So Jesus said, “Come.” That’s all. Not “OK, but be real careful.” Or even, “Be sure to keep your eyes on Me.” He met the stirring in Peter’s soul, and his outrageous suggestion, with a single Word. “And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus” (v. 29).

How did he do that? This definitely qualifies as a “don’t try this at home” experience. But Peter did it, upheld by the gaze and Word of Jesus. As long as Peter looked to Jesus, and kept his eyes fixed on the Savior, he walked on water. Imagine how the other eleven disciples must have responded. Surely the fear they were experiencing increased as they saw Peter step over the side of that boat. What would happen to them if he drowned?

But when they heard the Word of Jesus, and observed Peter walking toward Him on the sea, their hearts must have leapt within them. The courage by which Peter stepped onto the waves surely must have sparked some sense of hope or relief or gladness or courage in the eleven. Perhaps they even cheered him on: “You go, boy!”

The courage that led Peter onto the waves did not originate in him. His soul was ripe for a courageous act, but he would need something from without to bring that courage to light. That something came from the Word of Jesus; and the courage it produced was sustained by looking to Jesus, clinging to that Word, and obeying the Lord’s instruction against all odds.

But suddenly Peter’s courage faltered, “when he saw that the wind was boisterous” (I love that “boisterous” – it’s like the wind saying, “Oh yeah, well try this on for size, human!”) Peter looked away from Jesus, Who was calmly standing there, perhaps, as in Tissot’s dramatic illustration, lifting His hands to receive Peter. His focus turned from the One Who walked on the sea to the sea itself. The sea seemed insurmountable, even though right before him was the One Who had surmounted it.

Peter began to sink. His fear returned, and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him” (v. 31). Peter had doubted. Doubt banished courage and invited disaster, which opened the door to fear. Fear led to panic. Panic brought forth Peter’s desperate plea.

Courage can lead us to take on challenges such as we have never considered. It can empower us to overcome obstacles that would defeat most people. But courage, while it may stir within our souls, needs spiritual energy from without if it is to spring to life. The courage we need for daily advancing in Christ and His Kingdom comes only from Jesus, in the Person of His Spirit, by the power of His Word, as these are at work within us, willing and doing of God’s pleasure and plan (Phil. 2.13).

But while the Lord Himself is the source of courage, it pleases Him both to encourage us to efforts of faith exceedingly abundantly beyond anything we’ve ever dared to ask or think (Eph. 3.20), and to use us to encourage others to courageous works of love and witness. And this makes understanding and practicing encouragement one of the most important discipleship lessons any of us can learn.

For reflection
1. What causes us to be fearful? How does fear affect us?

2. Jesus frequently told us not to be afraid. Why did He think we needn’t be afraid?

3. How do you know when someone needs to be encouraged? 

Next steps – Preparation: Pray for courage to serve the Lord faithfully today, and for an opportunity to encourage another believer.

T. M. Moore

Resources for the Journey
If you missed our ReVision series, “We Would See Jesus,” you can download all four installments by clicking here. Our newest book, What in Heaven Is Jesus Doing on Earth?, can help you to “see Jesus” as He continues His work at the right hand of God. Order your copy by clicking here. For a sweeping study of the unseen realm and the world to come, order our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, by clicking here. And you can learn how our Celtic Christian forebears saw Jesus through the 28 days of meditations in Be Thou My Vision (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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