The Walk upon the Waters
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
And immediately Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray; and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves, for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, "It is a ghost!" — and they cried out for fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke unto them, saying, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid."
And Peter answered Him and said, "Lord, if it is You, bid me come unto You on the water."
And He said, "Come."
And when Peter had come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, "Lord, save me!"
And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
And when they went into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshiped Him, saying, "Truly You are the Son of God."
This was just after Jesus had fed the multitude with the five loaves and the two fish. Before they went away, and probably while they were still sitting on the grass, He made His disciples get into a ship (most likely a fishing-boat) and cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then He sent the people away, and He Himself went up into a mountain to pray; and there He was alone when night came on.
Doubtless He was many hours in prayer. Meanwhile how did it fare with the disciples in the boat? They had no easy work. The wind blew strong against them, the waves were rough, and, though they rowed hard, they made but little way. Did their Master forget them? No! Mark tells us that "He saw them toiling in rowing" (Mark 6:48). His eye was upon them, even when He was far away. And though engaged in prayer, His thoughts were with them still — perhaps He was praying in part for them. Even from where He was on the mountaintop, He saw them on the rough sea. Their difficulty and trouble were not unknown to Him — not unknown, and not uncared for.
Sometimes when we are in trouble, we are ready to think that we are forgotten by God. We do not see Him; there is nothing to show us that He is near; our feeling is that we are helpless and alone. But it is not really so! The believer is never helpless and alone. In himself, he is helpless indeed; but his Savior is a sure helper and an ever-present friend. While he is "toiling" with difficulties, and buffeted by the rough waves of trouble, and while all things seem contrary to him — Jesus sees him and cares for him. From that high and glorious place where He is, the Master's eye is upon him — perhaps He is even then pleading for him there.
We like to read that Jesus saw the disciples "toiling in rowing," and that when they thought they had gone quite away from Him, His eye was upon them still — let us believe the same about ourselves when we are in trouble.
Jesus had sent them away — yet still He kept them in view. Sometimes He sends us away too — away from friends, away from home, away from comforts, away from spiritual privileges — and thus seems, as it were, to send us away from Himself. But He does not do so really; for He Himself tells us to abide in Him. He would have us seek that His presence may be always in our hearts by the Spirit.
Even if He does send us among rough waves and contrary winds, into sickness and trouble and difficulty — yet He does not send us away from Himself. He is always near. He always cares for us.
This went on for hours — Jesus on the mountain and the disciples toiling on the sea. In the same way, our troubles often do go on for long — but that is no proof that we are forgotten. At length, "in the fourth watch of the night," that is, when night was almost over, Jesus went to them.
But how? "Walking on the sea." He could do even that, for He could do everything. His feet did not sink when He stepped upon the water — for the water, like all other things, was subject to Him, and it was His will that it should bear Him up. So He "went unto them, walking on the sea."
Were they not glad? Not at first. Seeing Him in the dim light coming toward them on the water, they thought He was a ghost, and cried out for fear. They ought to have thought of the five thousand people which He fed with five loaves, and to have believed that He who could do that, could do anything. But they did not. Fear seems to have been their only feeling.
Knowing, as we do, who it was, and that He went to them for the very purpose of helping and comforting them — we are surprised at their being afraid of Him. But have we never been afraid of Him when He came in a different way from what we expected? The very troubles we have had, the very things that have made us think ourselves forsaken — were perhaps in reality God's messengers, sent to us in mercy to do us good, and sent in answer to our prayers. Thus these very things were, in fact, Jesus coming to us — but, because it was in a strange way, we did not know Him; we only feared. Ought not all that He has done for us, and all that He has been to us — make us know Him even when He comes to us, as it were, in darkness?
But their fear did not last long. The voice of Jesus reassured them. As soon as Jesus said, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid," Peter knew Him and wished to go to Him. "Lord, if it is You, bid me come unto You on the water."
"If it be You" — was there a lingering doubt then still? Perhaps there was. But, at all events, his belief prevailed and even led him to ask that he might walk on the water too, to meet the Lord. It was a bold request — yet it was granted. Jesus bade him come, and Peter stepped on the water. But then his faith could hold out no longer. The rough wind made him afraid; and the moment he feared, he began to sink, for it was only by faith that he had been upheld. But in the very act of sinking, feeling the water giving way beneath him, he cried to Jesus again, "Lord, save me!" — a cry of weak faith, but still a cry of faith.
It was heard. Jesus rebuked him for doubting, but not until He had made him safe. First He "stretched forth His hand, and caught him," and then said, "O you of little faith — why did you doubt?"
How much we may learn about faith from this! Here was one enabled even to walk on the water while he had faith — but sinking the moment faith failed — and then again saved when faith put up a feeble prayer. Here we see strong faith encouraged; and weak faith rebuked — and yet helped. Yet there is nothing here to encourage a fanciful or visionary faith. Faith without a Scriptural warrant is not faith, but presumption. But Peter's faith had a warrant. Jesus said, "Come!" That was the warrant. Upon that word he might have gone boldly on. If Jesus had not said, "Come!" his stepping on the water would have been a presumptuous tempting of God. That one word made it an act of faith.
In the same way, it is with us. If we have a Scripture to go upon — then we may trust and not be afraid. We are told in the book of God that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28); let us believe that, however dark things may look.
We read in the same blessed book, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1); that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7); "therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Here is a warrant for our faith. Let us trust our souls to Christ; let us believe that in Him we are cleansed and justified. Let not faith fail. That one word of Jesus — "Come!" would have held Peter up, if he had trusted still.
Oh! How many words of Jesus have we to trust in! Yes, and more than words — His precious blood that was shed for us, and His mediation and intercession are for us even now.
As soon as Jesus was in the boat with them, the wind ceased. No more "toiling in rowing," no more rough waves and boisterous wind then — the presence of Jesus brought peace. It always does. Trouble may be all around — but in that heart where Jesus dwells, there is peace. Nothing else can give it.
All our circumstances may be smooth and prosperous — yet, without Him, there is no true peace. We must seek our peace in Him. He Himself said, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27). How does He give peace? By giving us Himself. When we have Christ — then we have peace. Never until then.
When the disciples saw that the wind ceased at the presence of Jesus — then they worshiped Him. "Truly," they said, "You are the Son of God." Every deliverance from trouble, every fresh help, and all the peace that we find — comes from Jesus, the Son of God!
[N.B. We are unable to publish the remainder of the above sermon, as the scan was incomplete.]