10.01.15 Mt. 14:28-33 Sea of Galilee
PETER WALKS ON WATER
28 “Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”
29 “Come!” He said. And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”
“Lord, if it’s You.” What was Peter thinking when he said this? Who else did he think could have been out there walking on the water? Peter’s statement or question, however humorous it may seem, had a serious intent.
It must be remembered that the Jews were neighbors to many Gentiles. Each group knew what the other believed. And the Jews knew that the Greeks believed that before a sailor died on the sea, he would see his ghost walk across the water. So Peter wanted to make sure that figure out there was Jesus, and not his own ghost. After living more than two centuries with Greek neighbors and involved in daily commerce and personal activities, this myth had entered Jewish folklore as well. Hence, when the disciples were struggling to fight the storm and they saw a human figure on the water, they most certainly wondered if there was any truth to the Greek legend. Furthermore, the Jews believed there were three doors to the Abyss (Gehenna),
- The desert (Num. 16:33),
- Any sea (Jonah 2:2),
- Banias, where the Jordan flowed out of Mount Hermon (common folklore)
- Jerusalem (Isa. 31:9)
However, since there were numerous Jewish sects and factions, it cannot be said that all Jewish people believed these were entry ways to the Abyss. No doubt, this walk had a most chilling effect on the entire crew as they pondered whose ghost was out there, and which one of them was about to die. Today’s reader may wonder if Peter came to Jesus because he was brave or because he was scared to death. The other disciples were evidently also horrified. As Peter took his eyes off Jesus and he saw the stormy sea, he began to sink. While he is often criticized for his lack of faith, it must be remembered that he was the only one out of twelve who got out of the boat. When fear gripped and terrorized him, Jesus reached His hand out and rescued him.
It is easy to forget that the first century Jews did not live in a homogenous Jewish culture. They had Roman overlords and Greek neighbors. Since Galilee, Perea, and Judea lay on the land bridge that connects the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia, they interacted and traded with many foreigners – those who traveled along the international highways and those who lived among the Jewish peoples. They knew what non-Jews, especially the Greeks and Romans, believed. All this is foundational to understanding the words of Peter.
“The wind ceased.” The winds upon the Sea of Galilee generally come from the eastern Arabian Desert or from the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Immediately to the east is the mountain plateau of the Golan Heights that is some 2,600 feet above the lake and the mountains to the west are of lesser height. However, both have deep valleys that funnel the wind across the water. Either way, the winds accelerate down the valleys and across the water. These cloudless winds are known for coming unsuspectingly upon the fishermen, endangering both men and equipment. Hence, the cessation of these winds by Jesus had a profound event because disciples and boat were immediately safe with Jesus in their presence. But the irony is that in biblical history, a storm often preluded divine revelations; now they experienced a life-threatening storm and the revelation that Jesus is their God hit them.
Now after that exciting event, no wonder Peter declared, “truly You are the Son of God!” At this point, Peter recognized Jesus as the Son of God, but that recognition probably did not include the element of deity. The word Son is capitalized because the phrase was addressed to Jesus, not because Peter recognized Jesus as Lord and Savior. The term son of God was in common usage throughout all ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Even within the Hebrew Bible there are a number of descriptions of the term.
- The angels are called the sons of God (Gen. 6:2) and in the oldest book of the Bible the sons of God presented themselves before the Lord (Job 1:6). It appears to have been a common title for angels.
- The nation of Israel is referred to as a son of God (Hosea 11:1; Ex. 4:22).
- The king of the Jewish nation is a son of God (2 Sam. 7:14)
- Any good Jewish man is a son of God, as written in the Inter-Testamental Period (Ben Sirach 4:10)
Therefore, anyone who made this statement of Jesus said so because Jesus was a good man who performed incredible miracles. Jesus was not seen as God Incarnate as Christians do today, until after the resurrection.
. Most Jews believed there were only three gates to the Abyss, but they debated the three, which is why four are listed.
. Josephus, at times makes a passing comment on foreigners living in the land, such as their presence in Galilee. See Wars 3.3.2 (41).
. Ex. 19:16-20; 1 Kg. 19:11-12; Ps. 29; Ezek. 1:4.