Introduction. Read Matthew14:22-32

I draw lessons from the account of Jesus walking on water and stilling the storm in my exposition on John 6 16-24.

The interaction between Jesus and Peter that Matthew records, needs to be considered in the light of what had gone before. After Jesus had fed the five thousand a faction of the crowd wanted to make Jesus king by force. It seems likely that the disciples were all in favour of this - so Jesus packed them off to Bethsaida while he dismissed the crowd. See Mark 6: 45. Now what is overlooked is that Bethsaida is where Jesus and his disciples landed to get away from the crowd and have some peace and quiet. See Luke 9: 10. So it is highly likely Jesus sent the disciples back to Bethsaida where the boats were moored to wait for him while he prayed on the hillside. It seems that the disciples got tired of waiting for Jesus and set off for Capernaum without him. This indicates, that after a very testing day, the disciples were not best pleased with Jesus. Peter may have taken the lead in expressing dissatisfaction at how the day had gone. See for more detail: The exposition on John6v1to15. Perhaps his attempt to walk on water was an attempt to reaffirm his faith in Jesus!

The reaction of Peter to Jesus walking through the storm tossed waves teaches us many things about faith. It illustrates aspects of great faith and also little faith.

(A) Great Faith.

(1) Great faith can only be exhibited in great need.

Quite a few preachers commend Peter for his faith in leaving the boat. They argue that he showed more faith than the other disciples who stopped in the boat. These preachers fail to acknowledge that there was no need to leave the boat. Peter would not accomplish anything useful by walking on water.

Nearly all the examples of great faith in the Old Testament arose in response to a great need. Just a few examples:

  • Noah needed great faith to build an ark - he built it of necessity!

  • Moses led the Israelites into the wilderness by faith because this was the only way to leave Egypt and reach the Promised Land.

  • Rahab hung a scarlet ribbon from her window to escape death when the town of Jericho fell.

  • Joshua, David, Nehemiah and Esther all exercised faith in times of necessity.

But what about Elijah? Did he show faith in arranging a contest between God and Baal? I think not! God rescued Elijah from ignominy but his victory did not achieve much. The next day Elijah was running for his life. God needed to show Elijah that he was wrong to complain, "I, I only am left - zealous for the LORD God Almighty." God had 7000 who had not bowed down to Baal. 1Kings19v18.

We need to remember how Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple so that God's angels would rescue him and show that he was, indeed, the Son of God. Some might say that Jesus would show great faith by leaping into space from the temple walls. But there was no need for him to do so. He told Satan, "Do not put the LORD your God to the test." To a certain extent that is what Peter did when he said, "Lord IF it is you, tell me to come to you on the water." He was putting Jesus to the test.

Whenever we want to do something exceptional, but not really needed, to demonstrate our faith we fall into the trap that Satan set Jesus. I can remember a time when our pastor and a few of his admirers wanted to build an extension to our chapel. I opposed this initiative because it wasn't needed. Our chapel was not full to overflowing. This led to the accusation that I lacked faith! However, I supervised the funding raising for the new premises. I also did all the administration necessary for erecting a new building. Sure enough, when our pastor moved on to pastures new, the whole scheme collapsed - this in spite of the fact we had enough money to go ahead and had satisfied all the local authority requirements. What a fiasco!

(2) Great faith is rarely the product of euphoria.

Initially, when the disciples in the storm tossed boat saw Jesus, they were terrified. However, when Jesus identified himself and dispelled the fear he was a ghost, they must have been glad. The mood in the boat changed from terror to euphoria. It was in the euphoria of the moment that Peter made his request, "Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water."

This is not the only time Peter responded in this way. He reacted in similar vein at the transfiguration of Jesus and the arrival of Moses and Elijah. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord it is good for us to be here. If you wish, we will put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." Luke comments: "He did not know what he was saying." Lk9v33.

After the feeding of the five thousand, an enthusiastic, euphoric group, possibly egged on by the disciples, wanted to take Jesus and make him king by force. This was not in the will of God!

Dangers can arise when everything is going well in a church. Perhaps, the church has a new, charismatic pastor; the congregation grows; young people are converted; a spirit prevails that all things are possible; all that is needed is to reach out in faith. In this atmosphere a keen young thing, aglow with enthusiasm, suggests reaching out in faith to drug addicts. She, and her supporters, push hard for this ministry to be undertaken regardless of the fact that no one in the church has the skills for such demanding work.

(3) Great faith should not be confused with presumption.

Some would say that it was presumptuous of Peter to ask Jesus for permission to walk on water. Others point out that Jesus said, "Come." Mt14v29. I am inclined to believe that Jesus said what he did in order to teach Peter a lesson.

We shouldn't presume that everything we want to accomplish by faith is in the will of God. I suppose Peter thought he was doing the right thing when he defended Jesus with his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest's servant. Jesus quickly disabused him of that idea. Yet, throughout the history of the church there have been those who have presumed to defend Christ's honour with the sword.

We need to be careful not to confuse what we want to do for Christ with what he wants us to do for him. I wonder if the great Apostle Paul did not fall into this trap when he took Gentile money to Jerusalem to help the impoverished Christians there. It might have been better to send the gift by Timothy or Silas. Such was the suspicion in which Paul was held by the Jerusalem church that his visit was bound to end in disaster. But Paul had a "thing" about the Jerusalem church. He yearned for acceptance there.

I knew a pastor who wanted his church to establish a cafe on a main road as a means of outreach. The pastor was hugely committed to the project. He was totally convinced that it was God's will. However, the pastor's church members disagreed and his ministry petered out. Possibly he presumed too much.

(4) Great faith is easier in the boat than on the waves.

Peter's faith was strong in the boat - sitting there he believed he could walk the waves at Christ's invitation. But, when Peter left the boat and trod the waves doubt crept in and he began to sink. Great faith survives times of trial and testing.

I have known cricketers who, sitting in the pavilion, have absolutely no trouble playing fast bowling. Nothing frightens them. They know how to hook. However, when their turn comes to bat and the ball is whistling around their ears, confidence is shot to pieces and they are soon back in the pavilion.

When Moses returned to Egypt and met with the Israelite elders he told them how concerned the LORD was for them. This met with a favourable response. The elders bowed down and worshipped. Ex4v31 Later, after Pharaoh forced the Israelite slaves collect straw for the bricks they made, Moses was blamed and accused of stirring up trouble for his people.

Sadly there are some who enter the ministry in faith only for a dwindling congregation, lack of support and an absence of conversions to find them wanting. With confidence shot to pieces they abandon their calling.

The same can be said of those who feel called to be missionaries. It is easier to have faith in a well-attended, supportive home church than a steamy shanty town in Brazil.

I have even known young Christians who turn up, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to work at Pioneer Camp. (A Christian camp for boys and girls.) After a few mornings of getting up at 6.30am, visits to the ultra-primitive toilet, washing in cold water, early morning prayer meetings and gluey porridge for breakfast, disillusion sets in. Camp over - they are seen no more!

(5) A great faith keeps Christ in view.

Peter was all right so long as he looked to Jesus. When he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves, he began to sink.

This reminds me of the old cricketing adage: Keep your eyes on the ball - right up to the bat. If you get panicked, unsettled or lose concentration and take your eyes off the ball you are soon out.

The epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jews who were considering abandoning Christianity and returning to Judaism. They sought safety in the boat named, 'Law'. Over and over again the author of the letter urges his readers to look to Jesus. For example he writes: Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Heb12v2and3.

(6) Great faith does not doubt.

When Peter began to sink into the disturbed waters of Galilee Jesus upbraided him: "You of little faith; why did you doubt." I think he doubted himself and doubted Jesus.

When I was a boy the gang I played with included Robert. Robert lacked faith in himself. When we played jumping the ditch, Robert would run up to it and skid to a halt. He had no faith in himself to jump the ditch. We kept egging him on desperately hoping that he would apply the brakes too late and end up in the bottom of the ditch.

Lots of Christians fail to fulfil their potential for lack of faith in themselves. It is one of the reasons so few ladies, for example, pray audibly at a public prayer meeting - to the detriment of us all.

I can recall our last pastor illustrating faith with reference to his three-year-old son. Simon would stand at the bottom of the stairs; his son would be 6 stairs up and, on being invited, would launch himself into his father's arms. Our pastor would say that his son would not do this for just anyone. Adam did it because he had faith in his father.

I can remember putting this to the test on one occasion. Adam was standing on a chair in the high pulpit of our chapel. I stood below and said, "Jump." He jumped! He had as much faith in me as his father! He didn't doubt that I would catch him.

Doubt inhibits action - whether it is leaping a ditch, jumping from a pulpit or taking on God's work. Moses sent 12 spies to explore the land of Canaan that God intended to give his people. Ten of those spies lacked faith and were full of doubt. They said: "We can't attack these people; they are stronger than we are." Joshua and Caleb, however, said: "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it us." Nu13and14. The response of the people was to talk about stoning them! They, too, doubted both themselves and their God. It meant they spent another 40 years wandering in the wilderness.

Doubt and inhibition guarantee failure.

(B) Little faith.

(1) Little faith makes us look ridiculous.

Peter's lack of faith made him look very silly. He started so well. He made a few steps in faith and confidently strode through the waves. But the strong wind and spray undermined his confidence and he began to sink making him look foolish in much the same way as Robert, the reluctant ditch jumper, looked ridiculous when he failed to stop in time and ended up in the ditch.

I think it is significant that although all four gospels deal with Jesus walking on water, only Matthew deals with Peter's sorry exhibition of doubt. This may be a consequence of Peter's status in the early church when the gospels were written. Perhaps Mark, Luke and John, conscious of Peter's authority, did not want to undermine it with a story to his discredit.

(2) Little faith is better than no faith.

There are two reasons for this:

(a) Little faith may have a great object. Peter's faith failed but he had enough left to cry out, "Lord save me." It was sufficient for Jesus to stretch out his hand and rescue him. It is better to have a little faith in one of immeasurable resourcefulness than great faith in one of limited capability.

Sometimes we put our faith in our schemes and strategies rather than trusting in God. When a famine struck the Negev where Abraham was based he decided to move into Egypt. Such was the beauty of Sarah, Abraham feared he would be killed so that some rich and influential Egyptian could take her to wife. So he told Sarah to pretend to be his sister. Abraham put his faith in his own cunning with disastrous results. Pharaoh took Sarah as his wife. Fortunately for Abraham God retrieved the situation. Abraham would have done better to trust God from the start! See Gen12v10to20.

(b) Some faith is essential for salvation. Peter had sufficient faith to call out, "Lord save me." The tragedy today is that many in Britain do not have even enough faith to do that.

The night an earthquake struck Philippi where Paul and Silas were imprisoned; their jailer called out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Paul did not give the jailer all sorts of complicated instructions. His answer was very straightforward: "Believe in the Lord Jesus; and you will be saved." Acts16v31.

We know what this means! When my doctor prescribed me a pill for gout I needed to believe in the doctor to take it. I relied on her for a cure for my painful condition. It didn't require a lot of faith! The Philippian Jailer needed to rely on Jesus to save him from his sinful life. So do we all. We may not in the first instance have much faith - but some faith is all it takes to be forgiven and accepted into God's family.

(3) Faith is restorative.

A little faith may be enough to restore a person to safety and fellowship. After Peter called out, "Lord, save me." Jesus took him by the hand and walked him back to the boat. Then there was a great calm.

Jesus showed some faith in Peter in rescuing him from his predicament and restoring him to his fellow disciples in the boat.

I am afraid Paul showed no faith in John Mark after he had deserted him and Barnabas in Pamphylia. As far as Paul was concerned he was not up to further missionary work. He was not prepared to take Mark on his next mission. Barnabas, on the other hand, had faith in the young man and wanted to give him another chance. So, Paul and Barnabas parted company.

There is no doubt that Barnabas was correct to show faith in Mark and to give him another opportunity to serve abroad.

Many make spiritual shipwreck because they make a mistake and it is held against them. No one shows any faith in them. They are not given another chance. They may be written off. So they become disillusioned and frustrated.

I am afraid very little use has been made of my ability to communicate with the young by the churches of the association to which I belong. They have no faith in me!