The Bible story of Simon Peter momentarily walking on the Sea of Galilee is a favorite of mine. It’s thrilling to consider what we can do, when invited by Jesus.
Many Christians, however, view this story as yet one more failing on the part of this impetuous disciple. But it’s important to remember that Peter was the only disciple willing to step out onto the storm’s heaving waves. That says a lot about his potential — and ours.
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A Vision Cast
We know that Simon eventually became rock-solid in his faith and commitment to Jesus. But during the three years he spent learning from Jesus, Simon had a lot of maturing to do. Still, Jesus saw his potential from the start, when He changed Simon’s name to Cephas (Peter), which means “Rock.”
Jesus cast a vision for Simon of who he could become. From impetuous and unsteady, to immovable and strong. Jesus wants to do the same for us.
Luke 5 tells us the story of Jesus being so pressed by the needy crowds, that He gets into Simon’s fishing boat. Jesus requests that Simon row them out a bit from the shore. Dead-tired after fishing all night and catching zip, Simon could have begged off. But he doesn’t. He does as Jesus asks.
After teaching the crowd a while, Jesus then tells Simon to row out into the deep water and drop his nets. We recognize that Simon isn’t so keen on this second request, because he replies, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing.” Doesn’t Jesus know that fishing during the day isn’t particularly fruitful??? In the awkward silence that follows, Simon wisely adds, “But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
For his obedience, Simon and his fishing partners are rewarded with so many fish that their nets begin to tear and their boats nearly sink. Their supernatural haul causes Simon Peter to drop to his knees. “Leave me, Lord,” he cries, “for I’m a sinner!” “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus replies. “From now on, you will be fishing for people.”
A Commitment Forged
Fishing, which required a lot of brawn in biblical times, is the world Peter knows. Yet when Jesus challenges him to leave his area of expertise, Peter instantly drops his nets to follow Jesus. Later, in the storm that terrifies all the disciples, Peter is just as quick to ask Jesus to command him to step out of his boat to walk to Jesus on the churning waves (Matthew 14).
Peter sees in Jesus something that makes him want to be like Jesus, though he repeatedly comes up short.
Notes Adam Hamilton in his book, Simon Peter, “In the case of Simon Peter, the Gospel writers portray bumbling, fumbling, and stumbling again and again.” Yet each of Peter’s missteps serve to reveal a dimension of Jesus’ character or His teachings that can now grow our own commitment to follow Him.
John Ortberg has written a book I highly recommend: If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. What does Ortberg call the other eleven disciples still quaking in the boat? “Boat potatoes.” Ouch!
When later preaching about the Risen Christ, Peter doesn’t try to hide his failings — some of which the Bible tells us are mega-doozies! (Can anyone say, “Rooster crows three times”?) But just as Jesus lovingly restored Peter, He restores us. Every time we miss the mark.
It’s interesting to note that Simon Peter is mentioned by name in the Bible more than 120 times. In comparison, John, the “beloved disciple” of Jesus, is mentioned only about 20 times by name in the Gospels. Clearly, Peter’s impact on the early Church was huge.
May you and I also be used by God. Though flawed, may we be faithful boulders, not cowering boat potatoes.
Hamilton leaves us with this encouragement:
“When you think about it, we face situations in our lives every day that call us to say yes or no. When fear becomes the driving force in our life, our brain reflexively pushes the ‘no’ button. It becomes routine. And so we say no to things to which we should say yes. We say no to a promising new opportunity — or to an invitation from Jesus to venture out in a new way that may be unfamiliar to us. We think of a thousand excuses, all of them perfectly reasonable. But when we are motivated primarily by faith rather than fear, we recognize, as Peter did, that the adventure is outside the boat.”