Out of the fishermen Christ chose as His disciples, Peter is seen as one of the most experienced out of the lot, “casting himself into the sea to swim to the shore, so that he could meet their master before anyone else in John 21:7. It is seen that Peter had no fear of the sea. It is then hard to believe that such a person could drown. But in Matthew’s Gospel we find an instance where Peter seeks Yeshua‘s help inside the atmosphere he is most comfortable in – the Sea. Which leads to my question – “Can a hardened fisherman drown? I believe Matthew is writing something which truly happened, but is much deeper (excuse my pun) than what we see on the surface.
Let’s take a second look at this event and see whether Matthew is showing us a story “inside” the story.
Mat 14:22-33 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
Walking on water or walking on the sea?
It is commonly said that Christ walked on water, but we see that this is not what Matthew tells us. But isn’t it the same? The sea is, at the end-of-the-day made out of water. In the Bible, water is equaled to “life”(Joh 4:14), “teaching”(Deut 32:2), the Word/Law of God”(Psa 1:2,3). The Sea in contrast, is equaled to something much more ominous – Death. We see hints of this in the Red Sea Crossing, when God parts the sea and let’s His people pass unharmed while the Egyptians receive the full power of the sea – Death. In fact, if you read the Exodus 14 account, you will always see the Egyptians going to the “midst of the sea” while the Israelites walk on “dry land”. The Flood account in Gen 7&8 also has the same connotation of great waters bringing death upon the earth. We see another hint of this in the book of Revelation.
Rev 20:13,14 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Rev 21:1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
The Sea gives up the dead in it and after death is removed, we see there is no more sea. So it is safe to equate the sea to death in this regard, as a metaphor.
Walking on the Sea and Walking on Death
If the sea is equaled to death, then the symbolism in Matthew’s account start to show. Yeshua is walking on Death, while the disciples are adrift with no way out. Peter, with the master’s consent tries to walk on the Sea/Death by his own strength and his faith, but starts to drown. If it was the sea that he was familiar with, Peter would have been able to swim back to the Boat.
Lord Save me – Hoshiana!
The cry for the Messiah seen in Psalms 118:25,26 – “Hosanna” is heard here, as Peter cries to Yeshua as he drowns in the Sea/Death. Hosanna or Hoshiana are actually 2 words in Hebrew “Hoshia” meaning “Save” and “Na” meaning please. The same cry which would be heard later when Yeshua enters Jerusalem. The significance of the cry is that Peter points at Yeshua as being the one who can stop him from drowning in death. And we see that with the Messiah’s help Peter is saved from drowning in the sea of death.
The story of Christ walking on the Sea has a story hidden inside the story, being a parable in itself. The disciples are lost in the sea of death, while Yeshua walks on death as the sea has no power over Him. Peter believes he can also walk on death as a disciple of His master, but he soon finds out that none of us can conquer death – and that only the hands of Yeshua can lift us up from drowning in death. However much we think we can swim to shore and save ourselves with our ability and strength, this story shows us that death overcomes the most hardened fisherman. Thus we say “Hosanna” to our saviour, the Son of God by whom we can also walk on the sea of death and reach to safety!