“But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 14:27-33)(NIV)
“I Want to Hold Your Hand”
I might get a number of you to agree that the Old Testament is a more challenging literary work than the New. For me, it was sometimes a struggle to find principles for daily application among long genealogies and Levitical regulations. Not so with the New Testament. It took me some time to narrow down just one particular scripture among the many that leapt off the page in this passage. The excitement in these pages is palpable – the Messiah, the one promised for so long, is finally here! And He has so much to say to those willing to listen. But in this passage, it was Jesus’ interaction with Peter I kept coming back to, and not what Jesus said, but what He did.
Just a few short months ago, I was, myself sailing on the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Gennesaret), a place so beautiful that the first century historian Flavius Josephus called it “the ambition of nature.” Even as I write this, I remember the wind and trying to keep the baby out of the whipping spray. The lake, deep and azure and rimmed by the hills of the Jordan Valley on all sides, came up at us in bold waves, and our captains laughed under a snapping Israeli flag as we tried to keep hats and bags together on the tossing deck. But the sun was burning hot and bright, and the sky was unmarked by clouds. And we were headed to shore.
But Peter – ah, Peter. His encounter with the Lake was different. It must be said that at eight miles wide, 13 miles long and about 140 feet deep, Galilee isn’t your typical lake. And this particular boat ride wasn’t a jaunty tourist cruise. It was dark and windy, and from the gloom appeared a man on the water looking very much like an apparition, and headed straight for Peter. What prompted Jesus to come to the disciples during the “fourth watch of the night” (translation – the very wee hours), we do not know. Perhaps it was because He knew, before even His disciples did, that they were going to need Him. Maybe He sensed their rising anxiety as the wind increased. For whatever reason Jesus began His walk across the water, one thing is certain: He came ready to stretch out His hand.
As I read the Bible, I’m continually struck by the familiarity of the personalities of its characters. I love Peter – full of eagerness to take the first, faith-filled step, but losing heart when he realizes just how difficult the thing is that the Lord has asked of him. I’m also one to plunge in (albeit a little more deliberately). But on many an occasion, I’ve chickened out when I realize the odds are stacked against me. I, like Peter, would also have started to sink – I can guarantee it – because I often forget that if God is for me, who can be against me (Romans 8:31)? I often forget that the Lord wants to help me, that He delights in giving me the help I ask for in His name (John 15:16). Indeed, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1), and He wants to take our hand when we need Him most. In this passage, I can see the relief on Peter’s face as he clasps the outstretched hand of Jesus; I can see the smile on Jesus’ face telling Peter, “It’s okay. I’ve got you.” What precious comfort it is to know that His outstretched hand is available to all of us.
Lord, it is so easy to lost sight of you when things go dark. Remind me always that your desire is for my welfare and not my destruction (Jeremiah 29:11), and that it pleases You greatly to help me when I need it most. Even when the wind howls so I cannot hear You, and the waves crash so I cannot see You, remind me that Your hand is outstretched to guide me. Thank You for loving and saving this sinking girl. Amen.