The apostle Peter is a fascinating figure. In Matthew 14, Peter walks on water. He and the disciples are in a fishing boat out in the Sea of Galilee. The wind is strong, and the waves active and confused. This isn’t a particular problem for experienced fishermen. Matthew adds this detail to show the sea was not smooth. Walking on water would be even more difficult. (As if walking on smooth water is a simple matter!). Jesus comes to them walking on the water, but the disciples do not immediately recognize who this is coming toward them. They think they are seeing a ghost. What would you think if you saw a glowing figure walking on water toward you?
But it is Jesus’ response to them that changes the scene. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” With these simple words, Jesus captures both the infinite and the immediate. When Jesus is present, there is no need to fear. Even when the circumstances are dire, we find courage in knowing that in Jesus we have experienced God with us. We find courage when we know Jesus. We are not given a spirit of fear. When we spend time in the Gospels, we see a Jesus who is brave and bold. He faces down his opponents, and shows compassion toward the hurting. Jesus knows who he is, and never allows his mission to derail. When he tells the disciples to take courage, he speaks as the One who knows his destiny, and the One who also knows theirs.
“It is I” is not just Jesus saying “Hey, it’s me!” He is making a proclamation of his divinity. “I am” recalls the revelations of God about himself that we find in the Old Testament. God often refers to himself as “I am”. It is a term that captures the infinite totality of who God is, and in the midst of this demonstration, Jesus is claiming the identity of God for himself. In this gospel, this is the first time we see Jesus clearly displaying and demonstrating himself as God.
Peter’s response to all this is to step out of the boat. Seeing the power of God on display in the midst of a difficult situation, Peter was moved to boldness. He stepped out of the boat, and for a time, he walked on water.
Have you ever stepped out of the boat? Have you ever been so moved by the presence and power of God in your life that you took a risk? Are you afraid? That’s OK. Peter was afraid too. Are you afraid of failure? Peter failed too. He stepped out of the boat, but when he took his eyes from Jesus, he sunk. But in another sense, Peter really succeeded. He stepped out of the boat, and for at least a little while, he walked on water.
The Christian experience is like this. If you step out in faith to take any risk for the sake of the gospel, it is likely you will get knocked down. Every time you step out, there will be battle scars. Satan wants you passive and afraid, but fear of failure is not an excuse to stay in the boat, because we are called to a mission, and the source of our strength is not ourselves. Our strength is in Jesus the I Am. We should measure success by how we keep our eyes on him, and continually move toward him. Don’t allow a fear of failure to keep you in the boat. Step out in faith, and keep your eyes on Jesus, but know that in stepping out, you will probably fall down.