It’s A Ghost!!
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 14:26 (Holman) When the disciples saw Him on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.
In the middle of a storm they feared would drown them, the Twelve saw something which terrified them even more, a sight that made their skin crawl, and their hair stand on end. They saw a figure walking toward them on the water.
Whether or not they had in the past bought into superstitions common to seafarers, the 12 suddenly became believers that supernatural forces, invisible beings, peopled the air. The 12 surmised the water-walker was a ghost, probably sent to welcome them to the region of the dead. They for sure knew it boded ill.
Let’s not too harshly judge the disciples. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in being humble, like the man who astutely said, “I didn’t believe in ghosts till I saw one.” It’s easy for us on dry land to make light of their superstition, but what would we say if we saw a figure coming toward us, walking on the water?
In the storm, the Twelve did not recognize Jesus. We often make the same mistake. Anger at our lot in life can build a wall which hides Him from our view.
How often have we angrily blamed an unpleasant experience on sinister evil forces when it was actually a test sent from Jesus? What we see as a stumblingblock is often sent by Christ’s loving hand to be our steppingstone.
Anger is not alone in blurring our view of Jesus in a storm. Conscience can make Him look scary. God was Adam’s best friend. But after Adam sinned, when God came calling, He might as well have been, in Adam’s estimation, a ghost.
Sin should make us sad, but not so sad that it causes us to see Jesus as ugly. Conscience run amok can make Jesus grotesque; repentance makes Him beautiful.
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” If we sin, we ought to fear, but should also sense a love wanting to relieve our fear.
Anger and conscience blur our vision of Christ. Disbelief does, too. The unbelieving would for sure be petrified if they saw Jesus coming toward them.
They do not want to see Christ as God. The most terrorizing thought an unbeliever can have is, maybe Jesus is alive, and truly is the only way to Heaven.
Matt. 14:27-29 Immediately Jesus spoke to them, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” He said. And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.
It was Jesus, not a ghost. Before anyone else could react, Peter, always the impulsive one, made a gumptious request. He may have already walked ten steps away from the boat before one of the eleven finally asked, “What did Peter say?”
Peter was always impetuous, leaping before he looked. He often fell flat on his face, but maybe it’s better to jump too fast too often and stumble than never to jump at all. Many of us could use a little more Simon Peter in our personalities.
There’s no virtue in always playing it safe. The servants who risked their five and two talents were praised by Jesus. The servant who got in trouble was the one who feared, refused to risk, and buried his talent in the ground (MT 25:26).
Let’s set goals to do great things for God in prayer, Bible reading, ministry, missions, evangelism. Try to do something bolder than we have ever done before.
Some accuse Peter of presumption here. I disagree. He did not presume to walk on water. He tried it only after he received permission from Jesus to do so.
He was granted God’s okay before he leaned on God’s power to perform. Occasionally a person will make a self-determined grandiose statement, and then claim their believing it will be accomplished is a sign of strong faith on their part.
Someone might say, “I’m claiming victory over my sickness.” Did the Lord say you would win? “By faith I’m claiming all my debts will be paid.” Has the Lord told you your finances are going to turn around? “I’m trusting God for a miracle.” Did Jesus promise you a miracle? “Name it and claim it” won’t do.
It is not our job to tell God what to do. Before making bold claims, we need to seek God’s mind first, to try to determine if this is of Him, or if it is our desire?
Even Elijah on Carmel did not act of his own free will. He did what he did only at God’s directing. “Today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these thing” (1 K 18:36b).
Matt. 14:30a But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid.
The name Peter meant rock. When he took his eyes off Jesus, he lived up to his name, and sank like a rock. Fear made Peter heavy. It always bogs us down.
Wind undermined Peter’s faith. For us, the source of spiritual sabotage can be difficult circumstances, irregular people, tough times, trials, and temptations.
Peter was, like us, an odd mix of faith and fear, of strength and weakness. On this night, he definitely believed and succeeded, definitely feared and failed.
Jesus used both as teaching opportunities. He let Peter walk on water so he could sense Jesus’ power. Christ let him sink so he could feel his own weakness.
He is strong. We are weak. Our only hope is to trust in God. The difficulty for us is, we have to not cross the thin line separating faith from presumption.
Faith gives us awesome power. It lets us walk in the heights. This is good, but unfortunately can be dizzying. It’s hard to carry a full cup without spilling it.
While Peter confidently, yet humbly, looked at Jesus, he did fine. When he looked away from Jesus, as if maybe he could do this on his own, he sank.
Faith followed by failure was a recurring scenario in Peter’s life. He was repeatedly our role model in what to do, and not to do. He went over the edge of the boat and walked on water. But when he looked away from Jesus, he sank.
He told Jesus he would die with Him; Jesus rebuked him, saying he would thrice deny. Peter used a sword to defend Jesus; our Master stopped him, and told him to put it away. Peter followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest. But he quit looking at Jesus, saw a little girl instead, and denied.
By the sea, Peter quit looking at Jesus, saw John the Beloved, and asked the wrong question, “What about him?” Jesus told him that was none of his business. Peter became the undisputed leader of Jewish Christians, but when he quit looking at Jesus, and looked at prestige from the religious elite, Paul had to rebuke him.
Learn from Peter’s strengths and weaknesses. Do what he did. Don’t do what he did. Live boldly, but not recklessly. Don’t run away from troubles; don’t rush toward them. The Psalmist did not say, “Though I run through, or flee from, the valley.” He said “walk,” implying a normal pace, steady forward progress.
Don’t be a knight in shining armor, seeking out dangerous adventures. Some have said, “Come see how a righteous man dies,” only to falter at the end. Many were valiantly martyred. Many also recanted at the last moment.
Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, not the adventure or challenge. Are we making extra money these days? Are we looking at Jesus, giving Him His 10% with sheer gratitude, or are we looking at His 10% with greedy eyes.
Is money scarce? Are we looking at Jesus, thanking Him for what we do have, or are we looking at the scarcity with upset eyes?
Are we not as close to God as we once were? Are we looking at Jesus, grieving how far away He looks, or do we look the other way at greener pastures?
Have we sinned? Are we hopefully looking to Jesus for forgiveness, or are we in despair, seeing only the shame and guilt?
Are we tempted? Are we through prayer and Bible time looking to Jesus for strength, or spending more time looking at the forbidden fruit?
Where we spend most of our time looking will make all the difference in the world. It will determine whether we will succeed like Peter, or fail like Peter.