Matthew 14:30–31 (ESV) … “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
This amazing episode is a study in courage and freedom. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The disciples are afraid of what they at first think is a ghost. Jesus speaks to calm their fears, of course. But He also teaches them through Peter what freedom there can be in faith-based courage. When Peter takes his eyes from the Lord to study the treacherous wind (and thus insure his own failure), Jesus scolds him for his loss of nerve. Had he continued to have faith, he would not have sunk in the water.
When Jesus and Peter climb into the boat and the wind dies down, the rest of the disciples worship their Lord. It is not their worship He seeks at this moment, however, but their courage. Look at Peter.
Peter has the courage to be different. Peter has long been the butt of jokes about walking on water, but the fact is, only Peter walked on water! The rest sat in safe conformity in the boat. He had the courage to be different. Conformity prevails among us because it requires such strength to be different. As some wag has said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” Whoever steps beyond his peers will be noticed—and probably laughed at. Peter’s fellow disciples undoubtedly thought him mad when they saw him step overboard. But as the soldier in Shaw’s play St. Joan replied when he was accused of being almost as mad as Joan of Arc, “Maybe that’s what we need nowadays—mad people. See where the sane ones have landed us.”
Charles Swindoll (in Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back) tells of a friend who has a bright red birthmark across the side of his face from his forehead across his nose and a large section of his mouth and neck. Yet, the man gives no evidence of feeling inferior. The reason for his self-assurance is something his father told him as a boy. The wise man explained to his son that the scar was the part of his face where an angel must have kissed him before he was born. The angel left a special mark so that his dad would always know the boy was his. Far from feeling inferior because he was different, the boy grew up feeling sorry for anyone who didn’t have a birthmark to make him as special! The father gave his son the courage to be different.
Peter has the courage to venture out beyond the safety of the boat and the comfort of his group. With his eyes on the Lord, he can defy even the force of gravity. Such courage is the essence of leadership. When Queen Elizabeth I of England addressed a committee of both houses of Parliament with these words, no one doubted her ability to lead: “I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything. I thank God I am endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the Realm in my petticoat, I were able to live in any place in Christendom.” She could venture out of the comfort of the palace and the security of her throne. She would not be afraid to leave; such is the courage needed to lead.
Peter has the courage to ignore the doubts of the timid. Were there time to hold a conference in the boat before Peter steps overboard, the majority decision would be for him to remain. Timidity controls most human behavior. Peter’s boldness in this instance expresses the combination of faith, impulsiveness, and courage that makes him the leader to whom the Lord can entrust the leadership of the newly forming church. A much later leader, Ulysses S. Grant, discovered in the midst of America’s Civil War that he did not need to be afraid of the enemy. After one battle that never took place because the Confederates under Colonel Thomas Harris had retreated from Grant (who was fearfully dreading the contest), Grant recalled in his Memoirs, “It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as much afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view I had never taken before: but was one I never forgot afterwards. From that event to the close of the war, I never experienced trepidation upon confronting an enemy, though I always felt more or less anxiety. I never forgot that he had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his. The lesson was valuable.” With Peter’s confidence in the Lord who had told him to venture out onto the water, he, too, has no reason to fear the doubts of the timid ones who would have persuaded him not to try it.
Peter has the courage to believe the promise of his Lord. Here is the heart of the matter. He believes in Jesus. He knows that Jesus has never played games with His disciples or teased them into trying what He knew they could not accomplish. He had already empowered them to exorcise demons and to heal the sick; it is no more difficult to walk on water, surely. Peter’s courage is not foolhardiness; it results from his implicit faith in the Lord.
So Peter has the courage to be free. His faith liberates him from fear, from the confines of the boat, from the limitations of prior human experience. He moves beyond the rest of his race. He lives as an example of the truth that freedom depends on keeping faith. When
President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a panicky, depression-paralyzed nation on Inauguration Day, March 4, 1933, the polio-crippled leader brought new hope to his eager constituents when he asserted his “firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” A nation afraid was a nation shackled. The new President’s first priority was to inject new courage into the American heart.
If only Peter had not taken his eyes from his Lord, the source of his strength, and focused them on the wind! Caution can often cripple. If you wait until all the risks and obstacles to your adventure are removed, you’ll never venture. Too much caution can paralyze you; it can foster a pessimism that will, in time, render you immobile. After the Lord has said come, you dare not wait until the winds are favorable. He who is greater than the winds will help you in spite of them. If you obey the winds, what can the Lord do for you?