Proof of His Divine Love
And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (14:28–31)
The fourth proof of Jesus’ deity was His demonstration of divine love. Although Mark and John report Jesus’ walking on the water, only Matthew tells of this incident concerning Peter.
Peter’s if did not reflect doubt that it was actually his Lord, because going out onto the water to join an unidentified ghost was the last thing Peter would have done. He was naturally impetuous and brash, and more than once his overconfidence got him into trouble—including trouble with the Lord. But it would have taken more than brashness for this life-long fisherman to have ventured out on the water without benefit of a boat, because no one on board better knew the dangers of Galilee storms than Peter. He had probably been thrown into the water at times by high winds or waves and had seen others experience the same trauma. He was no fool, and it is highly unlikely that impetuosity would have so easily overridden his reason and instinctive caution.
It seems much more probable that Peter was overjoyed to see Jesus and that his supreme concern was to be safely with Him. Mere impetuosity might have caused him to jump out of the boat, expecting Jesus somehow to come to his rescue. But he knew better, and he therefore asked the Lord, Command me to come to You on the water. He knew Jesus had the power to enable him to walk on the water, but he did not presume to attempt the feat without His express instruction. Peter’s request was an act of affection built on confident faith. He did not ask to walk on water for the sake of doing something spectacular, but because it was the way to get to Jesus.
Peter did many things for which he can be faulted. But he is sometimes faulted for things that reflect love, courage, and faith as much as brashness or cowardice. For instance, although he denied the Lord while in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial, he was nevertheless there, as close to Him as he could get. The rest of the disciples were nowhere to be found. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter’s suggestion was unwise but it was prompted by sincere devotion: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17:4). He genuinely loved Jesus and sincerely wanted to serve and please Him. Peter did not resist Jesus’ washing his feet because of pride, but because, in his deep humility, he could not conceive of His Lord washing the feet of anyone so unworthy. And when Jesus explained the significance of what He was doing, Peter said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (John 13:9).
Peter was continually in the Lord’s shadow and footsteps. By reading between the lines of the gospel accounts it is not difficult to imagine that Peter sometimes followed so closely behind Jesus that he bumped into Him when He stopped. Peter sensed in Jesus’ presence a wonderful safety and comfort, and that is where Peter now wanted to be. It was safer to be with Jesus on the water than to be without Him in the boat.
Peter’s love for Jesus was imperfect and weak, but it was real. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, and each time Peter responded affirmatively. Jesus did not contradict Peter’s answer but reminded him of his obligation to care for his Master’s sheep and warned him of the great cost his love would demand (John 21:15–18). Tradition has it that when Peter was about to be crucified, he requested being put on the cross upside down, not feeling worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.
Jesus’ telling Peter to come confirms the disciple’s right motive. Jesus never invites, much less commands, a person to do anything sinful. Nor is He ever a party to pride or presumption. With the greatest of compassion, Jesus told Peter to come, highly pleased that he wanted to be with his Lord.
As much as anything else, it was Peter’s great love for Christ that made him the leader of the disciples. He appears to have been the closest to Christ, and is always named first in lists of the twelve. Just as the Lord never rejects weak faith, but accepts it and builds on it, He also never rejects weak and imperfect love. With great patience and care He takes the love of His children and, through trials and hardships as well as successes and victories, builds that love into greater conformity to His own love.
Jesus’ telling Peter, “Come!” was an act of love. John declared, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.” In fact, he goes on to say, “God is love” (1 John 4:16; cf. v. 8). It is God’s nature to be loving, just as it is water’s nature to be wet and the sun’s to be bright and hot. He loves his own with an infinite, uninfluenced, unqualified, unchanging, unending, and perfect love.
Christians most perfectly reflect their heavenly Father when they are loving, especially to each other. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar,” John continues to explain; “for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Although Peter was sincere, he did not comprehend the reality or the extremity of what he was asking to do. From the relative safety of the boat the feat did not seem so terrifying; but once Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus, the situation appeared radically different. Peter temporarily took His eyes off the Lord and, seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” His faith was enough to get him out of the boat, but it was not enough to carry him across the water.
Faith is strengthened by its being taken to extremities it has never faced before. Such strengthening is basic to Christian growth and maturity. “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial,” James says; “for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). The Lord takes us as far as our faith will go, and when it ends we begin to sink. It is then that we call out to Him and He again demonstrates His faithfulness and His power, and our faith learns to extend that much further. As we trust God in the faith we have, we discover its limitations; but we also discover what it can yet become.
When Peter was beginning to sink, he was probably fully clothed and would have had great difficulty swimming through the high waves. And in his fright he could think of nothing but drowning. But as soon as he cried out … “Lord, save me,” he was safe, because immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him.
When Jesus rebuked him, saying, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Peter must have wondered at the question. The reason for his doubt seemed obvious. He was bone weary from rowing most of the night, scared to death by the storm and then by what he thought was a ghost, and now it seemed he was about to drown before he could reach the Lord. He had never been in such a situation before, and it may be that his actually walking a few feet on the water added to his shock.
But Peter’s weak faith was better than no faith; and, as in the courtyard when he denied the Lord, at least he was there and not holding back like the rest. He at least started toward Jesus, and when he faltered, the Lord took him the rest of the way.
Jesus had been interceding for Peter and the others while He was on the mountain, and now He came directly to their aid in the midst of the storm. The Lord goes before us and He goes with us. When we get frustrated, anxious, bewildered, and frightened, Satan tempts us to wonder why God allows such things to happen to his children. And if we keep our attention on those things we will begin to sink just as surely as Peter did. But if we cry out to the Lord for help, He will come to our rescue just as surely as He did to Peter’s.
Peter would one day write, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6–7).
29–31 How far Peter got is unclear (see Notes, v. 29), but at Jesus’ command he walked on the water (the plural “waters” in Greek may be in imitation of Hebrew, which uses “water” only in the plural; cf. Mk 9:22; Jn 3:23). But his outlook changed: when he saw the wind (synecdoche for the storm), he began to sink (v. 30). It was not that he lost faith in himself (so Schniewind), but that his faith in Jesus, strong enough to get him out of the boat and walking on the water, was not strong enough to stand up to the storm. Therefore, Jesus calls him a man “of little faith” (v. 31; see comments at 6:30; 8:26; esp. at 17:20); and his rhetorical question—“Why [see Notes] did you doubt?”—helps both Peter and the reader recognize that doubts and fears quickly disappear before a strict inquiry into their cause. Thus Peter in this pericope is both a good example and a bad example (cf. Brown et al., Peter in the New Testament, 83). His cry for help is natural, not a liturgical creation—Did not liturgy have to choose some formulas on which to build?—and Jesus’ rescuing him is akin to God’s salvation in the OT (Pss 18:16; 69:1–3; 144:7).
14:30–31. But only a moment later, what Peter could see with his physical eyes (the violent, stormy sea) became larger in his mind than what can be seen only through the “eyes” of a faith-filled heart. There is a healthy, respectful fear we need to have before the Lord (Prov. 1:7), but the fear we feel toward anything that seems bigger than the Lord is a sign of small faith. Peter’s underdeveloped faith feared the storm more than the Lord, so the Lord allowed him to sink into a dark, angry sea. Jesus was always teaching his disciples. Every moment, every conversation, and every demonstration were intended to develop his church’s foundational leaders.
In that moment of terror, Peter called out with the most basic expression of faith possible: Lord, save me! (cf. 8:25). The Lord loves that kind of cry, because it is a sign that the person has come to the end of self-reliance and realizes there is nowhere else to turn but to the Lord. Whether from the unbeliever who knows he is helpless on his own or from the believer who has been self-striving for years and has only met with frustration and failure the simple cry, “Save me!” is music to the Father’s ears (cf. Pss. 18:16; 69:1–3; 144:7).
The Messiah answered Peter’s cry immediately by reaching out and grabbing him. Then Jesus said calmly, You of little faith … why did you doubt? The issue here was not the amount of Peter’s faith, but Peter’s culpability. The smallest faith in the right object is effective. Jesus was chiding Peter, not his faith. The problem was that his faith was supplanted by doubt. In all this time, even Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, had not learned to trust the king fully.
Jesus had also used the phrase you of little faith to address the disciples when he calmed the storm in 8:23–27 (also in 6:30; 16:8; Luke 12:28). Two important tests of faith for Jesus’ disciples have now happened on a stormy sea. Given the awe with which most cultures view the power of nature, Jesus knew that if they could see him as greater than nature, they would be closer to mature faith.