What does God’s grace look like? Consider Matthew 14:28-31.
And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 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?’
What a beautiful picture. What a comforting picture. It is a picture of the reason I continue to turn back to Jesus even when I sink.
First, Jesus gave Peter a command. It was an order. Peter didn’t ask for permission, he asked for a command. He received one. Peter would obey the commands of Jesus. When he stepped on the water, that is what he was doing. He was obeying the command, the rule, the rule, the law of Jesus. Peter did not wish to disobey Jesus. He wasn’t looking for a way to ignore Jesus. He longed to obey and do the Lord’s will. Further, this was even Peter’s choice. Peter had not been marked out from before time against his will to walk on the water. He was freely choosing to submit to Jesus.
Second, and here is the critical point, though Peter longed to obey Jesus’s command, he did not have the ability to keep it. Do any of us think Peter was walking on the water because of his own ability, strength, power? Of course not. Such an idea is laughable. Rather, Jesus’s grace gave Peter the ability to obey His command. And that is the heart of God’s grace. God’s grace is not His prerogative to ignore when we don’t obey Him; it is His power by which we are strengthened to obey Him.
Peter Trusted Himself
Third, Peter lost sight of Jesus. As amazing as this might sound, Peter reached a point in which he was actually trusting in himself to walk on the water. He saw the wind, that is the effects of the wind. In that moment, he realized he was doing something that he really couldn’t do. Peter couldn’t walk on water, let alone walk on water in the middle of a windstorm. He lost sight of Jesus. He lost sight of Jesus’s grace. All he could see was his own ability and the storm that was against him. This realization separated Peter from the working of God in his life. He was relying simply on his own ability to obey Jesus’ command. He ceased pursing Jesus’s command “by faith, but as if it were based on works” (Romans 9:32). And he began to sink. Though he longed to obey Jesus’s command, he could not on his own. The fact that he had obeyed Jesus’s command to get out of the boat wasn’t helping him. He was sinking.
Jesus Saved Peter
Fourth, rather than continue to rely on himself and his own ability, Peter turned back to the grace of Jesus. “Lord, save me.” And that is exactly what Jesus did. Peter did not have to swim close enough to Jesus. He didn’t have to walk far enough on his own to get close enough to Jesus so that Jesus would decide to reach him. Jesus did not say, “I gave you a command, now obey it or I’ll let you drown.” Rather, Jesus reached out His hand to Peter and immediately took hold of him. God’s grace is not what He does if we get close enough to Him by our own working. It is His reaching out to get close to us who have turned to Him for the strength to submit to His command.
Faith Gave Peter Access to Jesus’s Grace
Fifth, Jesus did not say, “O you of little obedience, why didn’t you obey.” For that matter, He didn’t say, “O you of great obedience, that is why I saved you.” Rather, He said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” As Romans 5:2 says, faith is our access to God’s grace in which we stand. It was Peter’s faith that caused him to step out on the water. His doubt caused him to try to keep Jesus’s command from his own strength and ability. His doubt that Jesus would actually follow through on His word to let Peter walk on the water. But it was his faith that caused him to cry out to the right one for salvation.
For a moment, because of doubt, Peter did not stand firm in Jesus’s grace but fell from it. He sank. And if he had not turned back to Jesus based on his faith in Him, he would not have been restored by Jesus’s grace. That is the picture we must see of God’s grace.
Now It’s My Turn
This is why I decide to live by faith and not by my own works. I want to walk on the water. I want to obey Jesus’s command. I’m not looking for permission to avoid His command. But I have found that I cannot. When I try to prove to Jesus that I can keep His command. I sink. So I cry out to Him, “Lord, save me.” And He is.
Praise the Lord!
Steve Wolfgang says
Ya gotta get outta the boat for any of the rest to happen!
And thus my heading entitled “Peter Obeyed.” And yet, what was Peter’s obedience. Was his obedience to the command to come based on faith in his ability to keep the command or faith in Jesus Christ? That, I think, is the key point we need to recognize. I think that is the difference between the Jews submitting to God’s law as if it were by works and the Gentiles doing so by faith (cf. Romans 9:30-33). I also think that is at the heart of the difference between James’s statement that we are justified by works completing our faith and Paul claiming that we are justified by faith and not by works.
That is why this account is such a powerful picture of God’s grace to me.
Excellent, Edwin. This is such a powerful story. It is not by might nor by power but by God’s working for, in, and through us! Thanks, Brother.
If we can take anything from Matthew describing Jesus’ action as “immediately,” the amazing thing about Peter’s doubt was that it happened when he was within arm’s reach of his goal. That’s true of us as well. Perhaps to your point, it’s when we are closest to success that we start to rely on self or we start to realize that we shouldn’t be able to do this or that we worry it’s all going to come crashing down right at the cusp of victory (similar to the “my computer’s going to crash as soon as I type the last period but before I can save anything” syndrome).
Thanks for chiming in Carl. I’m not sure Peter was in arm’s reach. If he was, why didn’t he reach out and grab hold of Jesus?
I think the “immediately” demonstrates Jesus’ power, not Peter’s proximity. It’s similar to when Jesus got into the boat and “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (John 6:21, ESV). That doesn’t mean all that struggle happened at the shore. It means Jesus is powerful enough to make huge geographical leaps to save Peter and get the boat to shore.
Though I completely agree that when we are having success we start to rely on ourselves. I think that is the warning of I Corinthians 10:12. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
I was doing some more study on this passage. Going to preach a sermon based on this post.
I noticed something. The text does say that Peter “came to Jesus.” So, there is a good point you make. At the same time, I still want to see the point as more about Jesus’ power than Peter’s proximity. The key for me is Jesus didn’t hold out, He immediately saved Peter when Peter turned back to Him.
Again, thanks for chiming in.