Jesus responded to Peter’s challenge with a single word: “Come.” If Peter had attempted to walk on the water prior to that word, he would have sunk instantly, as he would have had no promise upon which to base his faith. He would have been stepping out by presumption rather than by faith. Similarly, even after Jesus spoke His word, had any of the other disciples tried to walk on the water, they also would have sunk immediately, as Jesus gave His promise only to Peter. None of them could have met the condition to the promise, as none of them were Peter. Likewise, before any of us attempt to trust one of God’s promises, we must make certain that the promise applies to us and that we are meeting the conditions of the promise.
Peter stepped out on the water. That was the point in time when he trusted, although there is no doubt that he who had been crying out for fear of a ghost just seconds before also had doubts in his head as he took his first step. But in order to receive the miracle, he had to act on his faith. Had he clung to the mast of the boat and dipped his big toe over the boat’s side to see if the water would support his weight, he would never have experienced the miracle. Likewise, before we receive any miracles, we must commit ourselves to trust God’s promise at some point in time and then act on what we believe. There is always a time when our faith is tested. Sometimes that time is short; sometimes it is long. But there is going to be some length of time when we have to disregard the testimony of our senses and act on God’s word.
Peter progressed well at first. But as he considered the impossibility of what he was doing, taking note of the wind and waves, he became afraid. Perhaps he stopped walking, fearful of taking another step. And he who had been experiencing a miracle found himself sinking. We need to continue in faith once we have begun, continuing to act of our faith. Keep pressing on.
Peter sank because he doubted. People don’t often like to blame themselves for their lack of faith. They would rather pass the blame to God. But how do you suppose Jesus would have reacted if He had heard Peter, when he was safely back in the boat, saying to the other disciples, “It was really only God’s will for me to walk part way to Jesus”?
Peter failed because he became afraid and lost his faith. Those are the plain facts. Jesus didn’t condemn him, but immediately stretched out His hand to give Peter something steady to hold. And He immediately questioned Peter why he doubted. Peter had no good reason to doubt, because the word of God’s Son is more certain than anything. None of us ever have any good reason to doubt God’s Word, be afraid or worry.
Scripture is full of victories that were the result of faith and failures that were the result of doubts. Joshua and Caleb possessed the Promised Land because of their faith while the majority of their peers died in the wilderness because of their doubts (see Num. 14:26-30). Jesus’ disciples had their needs supplied as they journeyed two-by-two to preach the gospel (see Luke 22:35), but they once failed to cast out a demon because of their unbelief (see Matt. 17:19-20). Many received healing miracles under the ministry of Christ while most of the sick people in His hometown of Nazareth remained ill because of their unbelief (see Mark 6:5-6).
Like all of them, I’ve personally experienced success and failure according to my faith or doubts. But I’m not going to grow bitter over my failures or blame God. I’m not going to justify myself by condemning Him. I’m not going to search for some complicated theological explanation that reinvents God’s clearly revealed will. I know it is impossible for God to lie. So when I’ve failed, I just repent of my unbelief and start walking on the water once again. I’ve noticed that Jesus always forgives me and rescues me from my drowning!
The verdict is settled: Believers get blessed; doubters don’t! The disciple-making minister follows Jesus’ example. He is full of faith himself, and he admonishes his disciples, “Have faith in God!” (Mark 11:22).