“But seeing the wind, Peter became afraid and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Save me, Lord!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him….” (Matthew 14:30-31).
It’s like a video of the Boston Red Sox guy letting that World Series game-winning single run through his legs. Had he caught it and stepped on first base, the game would have ended and the Red Sox would have ended that so-called curse a full fifteen or twenty years earlier than they did. Ask that player and his family. It has run a zillion times on youtube and in the minds of the fans. They have enshrined his failure. They think of him and they forget all the thousands of put-outs he made at first base, the hits he got, the runs he produced. That is how Peter must feel.
Think of Simon Peter walking on the water to Jesus that night when the winds howled and the sea raged and far from being impressed–as one would think we should be!–we see only that “he took his eyes off Jesus and put them on the wave,” and began to sink. As though we would not have!
I’m so glad Peter did that. Yes, I’m happy he walked those few steps on the Galilee, of course, and really really impressed. But everything inside me gives thanks that he then had a problem with what he was doing and messed it up.
Imagine if he had spent 30 minutes outside the boat, walking and then dancing and then pirouetting on the sea!
Get that picture in your mind’s eye. At first, he walks hesitantly toward Jesus. Then, more confidently. And then he gets the hang of it and strides more confidently. And finally, he’s jumping and running and bouncing.
“Peter, that’s enough. You can come in now.” The Lord had to call him inside, to get back in the boat with the rest of the disciples and to settle down.
–He would have been insufferable. “Oh man, John, you should have done it!” “Andrew, why didn’t you come, too? Mom and Dad are going to be asking.” “Bartholomew, let me tell you how it felt!”
They couldn’t have shut him up.
And then, his teaching and preaching would have taken on a different character. He would not have understood failure. “You can be perfect. You can do this. We will allow no slip-ups! No failures accepted.”
–He would have become a celebrity. Like Buzz Aldrin and Neal Armstrong after their walk on the moon, everyone just wants to see them and touch them. They’re super human now. They’re not allowed a silly moment, a down time, to get tired or impatient. “You’ve been to the moon. Nothing else is too hard for you.”
–And he would have made a terrible teacher.
While there are no doubt exceptions, it’s generally accepted that the best teachers and instructors are not those who never made less than an A on anything, who are the Phi Beta Kappas and Mensa members, but those who struggled to pass math, who had to repeat calculus, and who burned the midnight oil to get the hang of physics. This one understands. He knows. She has been there and struggled, so my struggle to grasp that formula is not going to be a problem for her.
Jesus has been there, done that.
From a half century ago, I recall reading where the Italian movie celebrity Marcello Mastroanni was telling why he had trouble following Jesus. “He was perfect,” he said. “And we are not. It was easy enough for Him to live that life–turn the other cheek, forgive those who were executing Him–but I can’t do that.”
His little analysis is based on a misconception. Well, several in fact. One, that doing these things came easily for Jesus, as though He was an automaton on automatic pilot, just going through the motions. And two, that the Christian life is all about doing good works like Jesus. It didn’t come easily and it’s not about good works (“lest any should boast”–Ephesians 2:9).
The writer of Hebrews gave us something about the Lord Jesus that “helps us in our weakness.” “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15).
He has been where you and I are, and has the scars to prove it. He did not emerge unscathed. Obeying the Father meant going to the cross.
Peter continued to struggle
Later, Peter would deny even knowing Jesus three times. The kicker is that when he was doing that, the Lord stood not far from him, on trial for His life. And then, we read, “And immediately, while he was still speaking, a cock crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, ‘Before a cock crows today, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-61).
But the Lord didn’t give up on him. In fact, same chapter, earlier the Lord had said, “Simon, Simon. Behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
Jesus knew His man. In fact…
Peter was Jesus’ star pupil.
Don’t miss that. Ask any teacher.
You’re harder on the star pupils than anyone else in the room. Because this one has the great potential. But you see the struggles he has to overcome his lower nature. So, you get tough with him and talk straight.
That’s why the Lord’s words to Peter on the Galilee that stormy night were far from a rebuke. “O ye of little faith! Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
Jesus was proud of Peter. I can almost see the gleam in His eyes as He chastens this one whom He loves so much, in whom He sees such potential, but in whose heart there wages such a war.
It’s tough being the student with the most potential in the class. The goals are higher, the expectations stronger, the lessons tougher, and the teacher more insistent.
Bill Belichick has never yelled at any player on any team he ever coached more than Tom Brady. Brady, his hall-of-fame quarterback who has led the New England Patriots to win five Super Bowls and made sure that Belichick’s legacy is secure. The single player most responsible for Belichick’s own fame. And yet, the expectations on Brady are the highest, the standards the toughest.
Don’t be surprised when the Lord is hard on you. He sees what you can do, believes in you more than you do yourself.
Trust Him. And when you fail or take your eyes off Him and begin to sink, do what your friend the Apostle Peter did and reach out your hand to Jesus and let Him take hold of you. And then see if you can get it right next time.