Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 3
THAT NIGHT ON GALILEE
We last saw Simon Bar Jonah on the shore of Galilee, committing himself to the Carpenter from Nazareth. We pick him up today at the same spot but several months later. They have been amazing months for Simon. Who would have believed so much could have happened in so short a time? He has watched his strange leader do wonderful things. He has seen him turn water into wine, heal the sick, cleanse lepers, feed a multitude of thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and even cast out devils. He has heard some wonderful preaching which he has only partly understood. It will be some time yet before he does fully understand. He has been captivated not so much by a sermon, a philosophy, or an idea, as by a man. This is usually true. We are more readily reached by great lives than by great sermons. Simon doesn’t know for sure yet who Jesus is nor does he understand all he says. But he knows him to be the greatest man he has ever met. Simon has been living in a wonder world. Daily great things have happened. Crowds have gathered around Jesus. No sickness seems to have any power in his presence. There doesn’t seem to be anything that his great Master cannot do.
Simon has learned to obey utterly. He has just been commanded to cross the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has gone off to a mountain to pray. Simon and the others obey the commandment given them. They launch out.
The Sea of Galilee is six hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean. The hills that surround it are cut by deep valleys and sharp canyons. This is the cause of many freak winds so the sea is often turbulent. The disciples have not gone far till a fierce wind rises. The wind is blowing in their faces. They can turn and run before it, but Jesus had told them to cross. Obediently they kept toiling at the oars. But they can make little headway. Simon is very tired. They have been toiling at rowing for about nine hours. His arms ache and his back hurts. How long is a man expected to struggle against a contrary wind? God had sent such a wind on Jonah when the prophet disobeyed but Simon was trying to obey.
There is a lesson here. Some people think that contrary winds should blow only on the disobedient. But God sends them to all of us and always with reason. Simon couldn’t understand it then but God was preparing him for another big moment.
The night was black. The wind was howling. The boat was pitching. The tired, wet, miserable men were now thoroughly frightened. They were out in the middle of a stormy sea at night and home seemed far away. They were almost despairing of ever escaping from this angry sea alive. Then, out on the pitching water they see a light. It is not a lantern but a strange unearthly light. Then a bright figure becomes discernible in the light. It is a manlike figure and it is coming toward them. A different and more terrible fear grips them. They have fought with the angry sea before but this is different and worse. This is a haunted sea. It is not just a vision. Something actually out there, walking on the rolling waves undisturbed, and coming toward them. They can face a known danger but confronted by an unknown terror their hearts fail them.
They hear a voice carried on the wind. It is a familiar voice. How good and reassuring it sounds! “Don’t be afraid.” What a relief! It is Jesus.
Walking on the Water
And now for the first time a startling thought occurs to Simon. He has watched this amazing Jesus and gloried in the amazing things he did. But until now he hasn’t thought much about doing anything himself. He has been content to follow, watch, listen, and admire. Now the stupendous idea hits him; why not Simon too? What if Jesus meant for his disciples to do the same wonderful things that he did? What better time will there ever be to find out?
Simon rises in the boat and asks his question. He suggests that the Lord might make it possible for Simon to walk on the water too. And Jesus answers immediately with permission for Simon to do it. It was a wonderful discovery. Jesus really did mean for Simon to do the things that he did. Simon forgot the howling wind. He forgot the mountainous waves. For the moment he forgot everything but Jesus. He stepped out of the boat. The next instant he is actually walking on the water! Jesus approaches. Simon gets almost within reaching distance of Christ.
This is a wonderful moment for any man; when at last he sees that Jesus wants him to take an active role. Jesus wants him to do the things Jesus did and to carry on his part of the program that Jesus brought into the world. But we can never imitate Jesus unless we keep our eyes on him. There have been a few times in my life when I have been used by God in ways that amazed me. I have had experiences that before they happened I would have considered so unlikely as to be well nigh impossible. I have seen temptations lose power, bad men turn into good men, and dying men receive new strength and rally. But always when these things happened they seemed the most natural thing in the world. They seemed wonderful but not surprising. And the reason for this was that I had my attention centered on Jesus instead of the problem to be overcome. Jesus is always sending men to impossible tasks that suddenly appear easy when the attention is focused on him. But this great truth Simon still had to learn. We shall study how he learned it in the next chapter.