SINKING SLOWLY IN THE SEA OF GALILEE: Peter and Faith
By Rev Tan Eng Boo
The Sea of Galilee is not a sea. It is a lake. This lake is fed with fresh water from the snow-topped Mount Hermon and Mount Lebanon. It is the lowest freshwater lake on earth and the second-lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea. It is approximately 53 km in circumference, about 21 km long, and 13 km wide. The lake has a total area of 166 km², and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m.
Sailing on a boat on the Sea of Galilee brings to mind many biblical stories. This is one place I will not miss when I visit Israel. Let me share with you some of the most interesting events which took place around and on this sea (lake). I am referring to the occasions of the feeding of the 5,000 and the apostle Peter’s walking on the water. Those are amazing accounts recorded in the Bible, which many of us learnt about in Sunday school when we were little kids.
Feeding of the 5,000
Matthew 14:13-21 and John 6:1-15 record the account of Jesus and the feeding of the 5,000. This took place opposite Capernaum, a sea-side town by the Sea of Galilee. The disciples saw how the Lord fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes, from a boy’s lunch. After the feeding, John recorded that “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said,“This is
indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:14, 15). Jesus was
so visibly disturbed by the crowd’s enthusiasm that He went up to the mountain by Himself after He dismissed the crowd (Matthew 14:22, 23). Before that, He made His disciples enter a boat and row on to Capernaum (John 6:16, 17). Matthew says that Jesus went up the mountain by Himself to pray (Matthew 14:23). Why did He do that? Why didn’t Jesus bring His disciples with Him to pray? Surely, this was a time when the Master had to be alone with His Father in heaven. Albert Barnes made this application for the Lord spending time with His Father:
“The effect of the miracle on the multitude was so great (John 6:14) that they believed him to be that prophet which should come into the world; that is, the Messiah, the king that they had expected, and they were about to take him by force and make him a king, (John 6:15). To avoid this, Jesus got away from them as privately as possible. He went into a solitary mountain alone.
In view of the temptation - when human honours were offered to him and almost forced upon him - he retired for private prayer; an example for all who are tempted with human honours and applause. Nothing is better to keep the mind humble and unambitious than to seek some lonely place; to shut out the world with all its honours; to realize that the great God, before whom all creatures and all honours sink to nothing, is round about us; and to ask him to keep us from pride and vainglory.
The praise of men - this is a timely warning for us to guard ourselves against seeking the approval of human beings. John the apostle warns, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43). For all who are serving the Lord in any ministries, do not be carried away by the praises of men. Seek the Lord’s approval as described in His word: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), and after all that we have done for the Lord, “… say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”’ (Luke 17:10).
Peter walks on water
Matthews records, “… when evening came, he (Jesus) was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them (Matthew 14:23, 24). John says they had “rowed about three or four miles (about 6.4 km)” (John 6:19) from land. The Sea of Galilee is 13 km wide, and they would have been about the middle of the sea (lake). Then “the sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing” (John 6:18). It was dark by this time. And then, the disciples saw a figure sternward approaching the boat. It must have been a frightful sight for them. How can a person be “walking on water” towards the stern of the boat? Matthew says, “the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26). Yes, they believed in ghosts (spirits). But see what Jesus told the disciples, “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27). What a comforting word! The word of the Lord is a comfort to us. Listen to Him. Hear Him.
Just after the disciples heard the words of Jesus, we read the next moment of Peter asking, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). And Jesus said: “Come” (Matthew 14:29), and he did. He started to walk on water, but nearly got himself into serious trouble. “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?” (Matthew 13:30, 31).
What’s the lesson for us? Peter showed remarkable faith in asking to follow Jesus out on the water. No one else did. He asked Jesus to command him to come. He didn’t just go overboard on his own. Jesus honoured that faith by commanding the water to bear his weight. The lesson we want to learn is to have faith in Jesus’ word. In his book, “Not by Sight”, Jon Bloom says:
“Peter began to sink when his faith shifted from the firmness of Jesus’ word to the instability of his circumstance.”
When we doubt His word, we begin to sink slowly like Peter. God sometimes graciously allows us to sink slowly to help us refocus on His word. Have you ever had this experience when you felt as if you were “sinking” in the midst of a “storm”? What troubles and trials are you in? Go to His word for comfort and strength.
To have faith in God is to have faith in His word. Paul says,
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Jon Bloom goes on to say, “Trusting in Jesus and His word is not easy. That is why the Lord takes us through so many faith-testing, faith-building experiences. When He does that, it is never for our own benefit. He is displaying His power so others’ faith will be strengthened too.”
Once Peter and Jesus were in the boat, Matthew says, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).
Indeed, we need to always remember that God’s Word plays a very important part in strengthening our faith in Him. As C. H. Spurgeon once said:
“Visit many good books, but live in the Bible”