Jesus performed many miracles during his public ministry. He turned water into wine, gave a blind man sight, and multiplied food for a crowd of hungry people. While many thousands benefitted from his miracles, only a few got to participate directly in his supernatural acts. Yet, one of the disciples didn’t simply see Jesus walk on water but got to experience the miracle himself.
Peter walked on water with Jesus even as a windy storm stirred the sea’s waves. He saw Jesus walking on water toward him and the other disciples in a boat far from the shore. When Peter asked to walk on water, too, Jesus obliged. After Peter took a few miraculous steps, disaster struck.
What miracle happened early in the day, hours before Peter walked on water? Do the disciples recognize Jesus when he is walking to them? How is Peter’s initial request of him courageous? What happens that makes Peter start sinking in the water? What do the disciples say about Jesus after everyone is back in the boat? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also, see Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree? to learn more.
Jesus Walks On Water
During Jesus’ public ministry, after he called the 12 disciples, and before he was arrested and crucified, he walked on water, stunning his followers who witnessed the miracle. One of his disciples, Peter, not only saw the miracle but wanted to participate in it, which he did, if but for a moment.
Earlier in the day, Jesus supernaturally multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish to feed 5,000 people (Matt. 14:13-21). Then, in the aftermath of the miracle that saw massive crowds, Jesus and the disciples separated for a brief period before reconnecting. And the way Jesus rejoined the group was miraculous.
The disciples think Jesus is a ghost
As the crowd dispersed, Jesus put his disciples in a boat to travel to the other side of the sea as he sought time alone to pray.
Later that evening, when Jesus sought to rejoin the disciples, the boat they were in had drifted far from the shore. So then, Matthew reports, “in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea” (Matt. 14:25, ESV).
The disciples’ initial reaction was fear. Even though they had just witnessed perform a miracle, they didn’t anticipate this one. “When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid'” (Matt. 14:26-27).
The miracle of walking on water
Matthew scholar Charles Quarles writes, “Although Christ clearly sustains the orders of the universe with regularity that makes science possible, the Creator is not enslaved to this regularity. The sovereign Creator can reverse gravity, change the properties of water to increase its buoyancy or solidity (cf. Kgs 6:6), or use the wind to create a vacuum that supports a human body over the waters if desired.” 
The disciples participated earlier in the day in Jesus’ miracle of feeding 5,000 people. Yet, they didn’t multiply the loaves and fishes; only Jesus did that. Instead, the disciples passed out the food Jesus supernaturally increased (Matt. 14:19).
But as the disciples are in the boat, watching Jesus walk on water, one of them asks to participate in the miracle. Peter doesn’t want to merely observe the supernatural but experience it for himself.
Also, see What Is Discipleship in the Bible? to learn more.
Peter Walks on Water
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” Peter said (Matt. 14:28). His request to walk on water like Jesus is courageous, given that the swirling wind created waves that were strong enough to drive the boat from the shore. Peter didn’t walk on the surface of a calm sea but a raging one.
Jesus answered, “Come.” Then Matthew reports that “Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matt. 14:29). The water that supernaturally supported Jesus now held up Peter. What mattered most at that moment was God’s power and Peter’s faith, not the nature of the water or the storm.
From faith to fear
At first, Peter’s desire to be like Jesus and close to him was stronger than any fear he had of stepping out of the boat, and onto the water, amid a storm. His faith had overcome his fear. But then, in a moment, everything changed.
As Peter walked on water, his focus changed. His request was to walk to Jesus, so at least initially, his thoughts and objectives centered on his master.
Yet the atmospheric conditions of the lake turned faith into fear, and the water he walked on started to engulf him. Matthew writes, “When he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me'” (Matt. 14:30, ESV).
Jesus rebukes Peter’s doubt
Jesus answered Peter’s plea for rescue, “immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'” (Matt. 14:31).
One Matthew commentator writes, “‘Little faith’ is not the same as ‘no faith’ of the hard-hearted townspeople of Nazareth (13:58). A person with no faith would not recognize Jesus and call out to him. Peter had faith; it is just not functioning properly.” Peter’s faith is “effective enough to motivate him but not effective enough to sustain him.” 
Matthew 14:32 says, “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Peter’s faith was turbulent like the wind and sea waves that night. Yet, the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus were steady when the storm raged and when it didn’t.
Also, see Who Is God in the Bible? to learn more.
The Disciples Call Jesus the Son of God
The disciples’ day started with Jesus multiplying bread and fish for 5,000 people. It ended with him walking on water amid a raging storm and enabling Peter to do so, too.
While the disciples may have been in a boat, floating in the darkness of night, they couldn’t hold in their praise. Matthew writes, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God'” (Matt. 14:33).
The Greek word translated as “worshipped” is proskuneo (προσκυνέω). The word literally means to prostrate oneself before a superior, though that probably wasn’t the physical posture the disciples took in the boat. The broader meaning of proskuneo is praising God as believers did after Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 28:17).
This is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that the disciples call Jesus “the Son of God.” However, in a later scene, when Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replies, “Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
The night Peter walked on water may have informed his answer to Jesus’ question.
Also, see What Is the Sign of Jonah? to learn more.
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