This morning I was listening to a message by Jon Courson as I was getting ready for church. In his message he said something that really struck me and led me down a rabbit trail of more thoughts. He said that a lot of well-meaning preachers and teachers use the story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter joining him (Matthew 14:22-33) to encourage everyone to “get out of the boat” and choose to “walk on the water” in various areas of our lives. They say things like, “Get out of the boat” or “Why haven’t you stepped out of the boat” or “What is keeping you from walking on the water with Jesus?”. Jon says that, while this is all well-meaning and has a lot of really good practical application, that he believes we are missing the point of the story.
In the story Peter says, “if it is really you, then command me to come out on the water with you.” Jesus says, “come” or, more accurately, “YOU come.” He didn’t say, “Sure! What don’t y’all come on out here!” He says, “YOU, come, Peter.” We aren’t all called to “step out of the boat” and “walk on the water” in this way. We aren’t all called to the same life and acts of faith as each other.
See, my theory here is, and this really is just my supposition, that Peter needed this. This was something that Jesus wanted to do with Peter specifically. Jesus saw the big picture of Peter’s life and this particular event was important for him.
If you spent much time reading through the gospels you can figure out quickly that Peter was a pretty, well, outspoken kind of guy. His emotions were always bubbling at the surface. He seemed, to me, to be a bit arrogant at times and wasn’t always willing to truly submit to the will of God. A few examples that come to mind in this are when Jesus foretells of his death on the cross, Peter freaks out and says, “No way, Jose!” (I’m paraphrasing, of course) “I will never let that happen!” Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan!..You aren’t worried about what God wants but about what you want!” (Matthew 16:21-23)
Another instance is when Peter asks Jesus about how many times he is supposed to forgive his brother who has wronged him. He offers up, “seven times?” Jesus responds, “7 times 77 times.” Peter thought he was being pretty liberal with 7 times. In that day you were to forgive 3 times for an offense and after that you could write the person off (I believe it was 3 but I can’t remember where I learned that). Peter was trying to be all awesome and cool. Jesus settled him back and said, “No, man. You are missing the point” and he goes on to tell the parable of the unforgiving servant. Peter didn’t realize how much he had been forgiven and, therefore, how unqualified he was to judge and hold sins against other people. (Matthew 18:21-35)
Peter opens his big mouth again when Jesus says, on the mount of olives after the Passover supper, that they will all be scattered like sheep once he is killed. Peter says, “Surely not I! I would NEVER fall away from you! I’d rather die! I’d rather die with you than ever leave you!” Jesus says, “You will deny me 3 times before the rooster crows.” Peter insists (as do the rest) that he will not do it. (Mark 14:26-31)
Yet again, Peter shows his passion when the soldiers have come to the garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. Peter draws out a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus says, “put the sword down, Peter. I’m going to do this because this is what God wants me to do.” (again, I’m paraphrasing). (John 18:10-11)
Jesus knew Peter well. He knew how Peter was. Jesus knew in advance that Peter would start to sink and need to rely on him in order to stay above the waves. Jesus knew this. Peter needed this. When Jesus says to Peter, “Oh you of little faith, Why did you doubt?” I bet Peter was struck. I bet he felt a bit humiliated, really. I doubt that he would ever have described himself as someone of “little faith.” Peter needed to be humbled, but to be shown all at the same time what he was capable of when he depended on Jesus. He needed to be shown that he wasn’t always right. He had passion, and that is great! It would come in handy! But he needed to be reigned in like a strong, powerful horse who, when trained properly, can is capable of being incredibly useful and productive. Peter needed to be trained because after all of these events, after Jesus died and rose again, Peter changes.
Peter doesn’t sprint, like John, to see the empty tomb. Would you? Would you sprint to see the guy whom you had just denied a few days before? Or would you be a little unsure and embarrassed? When Jesus addresses him on the beach while eating breakfast he asks, “Peter, do you love me?” (love=agape) Peter says, “You know I love you.” (love=phileo) Peter was humbled. He knew he couldn’t truly say that he had perfect, undying love for Jesus. He had come face-to-face with his imperfection and could no longer deny it.
You see, in order for us to be useful to God we need to come face-to-face with our imperfections. We need to see them clearly and admit that we are far from perfect and recognize how much we have been forgiven. If we don’t then we cannot possibly understand the depth and width and height of the love, kindness, and grace of God. It isn’t until we see ourselves for who we really are that we are inspired to accept that forgiveness and seek to become the new creation that God has created us to be.
This is where the rabbit trail began. My husband and I were talking about this and he said, “I wonder if they really used the words ‘phileo’ and ‘agape.” I said, “Well, I imagine that they did…I mean, that’s what the words are in the Bible and the Romans loved the Greeks so I bet there was some kind of law or something about speaking in Greek.” Josh said, “Maybe they spoke in Aramaic.” I said, “maybe, but it is specified when Jesus says, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ that he says it in Aramaic. I mean, it would be weird if they took the time to specify that that particular phrase was in Aramaic if they always spoke in Aramaic.”
That lead me to think about how they would not have been speaking Greek had it not been for the Romans conquering Israel. It also got me to thinking about all of the things that had to happen in order to fulfill prophecy and how the Romans had played such a key role. The Romans conquered Jerusalem 63 years before Jesus came on the scene as a little bitty baby. Only 63 years. The Israelites would have been pretty upset about this, of course, so they were waiting for the Messiah to come and free them from Roman power. Had the Romans not come on the scene then Mary and Joseph never would have had to go to Bethlehem for the census. According to the prophecies, the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. Had the Romans not conquered Israel then Jesus’ family would not have had to flee to Egypt, as the prophecies foretold. Had the Romans not conquered, Jesus would not have been hung on a cross, as the prophecies predicted. There are many others, but you get it, right? The point is, the Romans had to conquer Israel in order for God’s plan to come to fruition.
This is where I landed. The Israelites wanted to get rid of the Romans. Of course they did. The Romans were taking their money, killing their people, stepping on their toes… Israel wanted to be in charge of itself. They wanted to be free. But they were missing the big picture. They didn’t see everything from the perfect perspective of God.
They were a lot like I am. Often, things invade my life and I want to get rid of them. Whether it is a person, an illness, a job, or some other circumstance, it is something I don’t like and I want it out of my life…STAT! I pray and I beg and I plead with God to send in the cavalry to get rid of this thing in my life and get pretty upset when He doesn’t. “WHY AREN’T YOU HEALING ME!? WHY AREN’T YOU GIVING ME WHAT I WANT…THIS GOOD THING THAT I WANT! DON’T YOU WANT ME TO BE HAPPY! I THOUGHT YOU CAME TO SET ME FREE! I THOUGHT I WAS YOUR DAUGHTER AND THAT YOU LOVED ME! WHY ARE YOU ALLOWING THIS TO HAPPEN?!” I forget that there’s a bigger picture here and other lives are at stake. I forget that God’s plan is much bigger than me and that, if I want His plan to ultimately be fulfilled, then I may have to be conquered from time to time by a foreign invader to continue on with what He wants. I need to be reminded that God can work in and through me and grow me in a way I could never have imagined when I’m invaded. My life can become a light to others when I am enslaved and willingly work with God to see His plans come to fulfillment.
So what is my Roman invasion? What has come into my life that I don’t like, don’t understand, don’t want, and want out yesterday? Will I choose to ask God, “What are you doing? What are You trying to teach me? How would You have me respond in this situation? How can I be used in this circumstance to bring You glory and fulfill Your plans? I can think of a few things in my life. Now, I just have to choose. Will I avoid the big picture? Will I look away from what God is trying to teach me? OR Will I submit it to God and submit to His will and recognize that He has placed me in this time in this place to do some kind of work?