Reading Time: 8 Minutes
If you have been in church for any length of time, you may remember this memorable episode from the life of Jesus. Once again, let’s place ourselves within the story, and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate any meaning he has for us. Then, let’s look at the story from the point of view of the crowd, the disciples and Jesus.
Matthew recorded the event like this: Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.
When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.
But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14.22-27).
John’s Gospel made particular note of the crowd’s desperation. They saw Jesus as a potential leader of a rebellion against Rome and they wanted to force him into that role (John 6.15).
The sentiments of the crowd are understandable. They suffered every day from the system of government that kept generations in abject poverty with no hope of change. They witnessed how Jesus healed everyone who came to him and how he had fed an enormous crowd. They were not able to conceive of a greater design in God’s plan than their idea of Jesus leading a rebellion.
Jesus had to send the crowd away, because their desire for a rebellion clashed with God’s plans to save generations from the misery of their own selfishness. The self-will of the crowd, even if it was rooted in confidence in Jesus, was still rebellion against God’s ultimate purposes and plans.
According to John, Jesus had to withdraw from the crowd because of their attempt to force him into being a rebel leader. However, Jesus also went to a solitary place to meet with his Father in prayer.
Do you ever wonder what Jesus prayed about in those times with the Father? Did he pray about the temptation to use his mighty power against an oppressive system? Did he have to wrestle with the thought of self-giving love as powerless and self-sacrifice as fool-hearty, the way many think today?
Did he talk to the Father about his sorrow over the murder of John the Baptist? There are many ways to deal with grief, but talking over our grief with God seems to be the best way to work with it. Possibly, this was what Jesus discussed with the Father.
No matter what Jesus talked about with the Father, he gave us another picture of what is necessary for living the Jesus-kind-of-life. We can’t live the way Jesus lived without practicing the most important aspect of his life, prayer.
Let’s not forget what kind of day these followers of Jesus had experienced. Their day began by sailing a boat from Capernaum to an area under Philip’s rule. This was followed by a walk to a deserted place in the wilderness. They were met by a crowd and spent a good portion of the day helping Jesus minister to the people.
Late in the day, they became the waiters for an all-you-can-eat banquet for 5000 people. (For fun, I divided 12 into 5000 and realized that each disciple was responsible for 416 people.)
As we read this passage, we realize that the day was not over for the disciples. At Jesus’ command, they got back in the boat and began traveling back across the lake. This time, the wind was not favorable and the trip was long and difficult.
This “day in the life of a disciple” is a very good picture of what following Jesus is all about. Following Jesus involves self-denial (Mark 8.34). Yes, those who follow Jesus get to see miracles, but they also have long, tiring days of service.
I remember hearing Henry Blackaby say, “A personal word from God to us is not a warm fuzzy thing that merely makes us feel good. It is often a command that must be received with courage, faith and self-denial.”
On the Sea
Jesus came walking to the disciples on the sea. Once again, let’s enter the story and see it from the vantage point of Jesus, the disciples and Peter.
I once read a very complicated book on miracles from an Oxford scholar. I didn’t understand much of his thinking until until I came to the last sentence of his book. I will paraphrase what I remember were his words, “The question of miracles comes down to whether you believe in God. If there is a God, he can do anything that he wants, including what we call miracles.”
Jesus was able to multiply a small lunch into a banquet for 5000. He was able to heal the sick and deliver people from demons. It makes sense that he could walk on water and catch up with his disciples who were in a boat battling a headwind.
It is easy to talk about God from a distance. We can romanticize stories from the Bible. We can give all sorts of opinions about who God is and what he thinks. However, when we get close to God it is scary.
From the disciple’s standpoint what was more frightening, to see a ghost or to know that the man you’ve been traveling through Galilee with is able to walk on water?
One Good Friday, I was having an extended time of private devotion. The thought came into my mind that Jesus might actually speak to me in an audible voice. I instantly became afraid of that taking place. Jesus didn’t speak to me like that, but I still remember the experience and use it to relate to what the disciple must have felt.
Getting close to Jesus is awesome, joyful, and sometimes frightening.
Peter had an experience with Jesus that was typical for him. After Jesus announced that it was he and not a ghost, Peter answered, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14.28-33).
As a follower of Jesus, Peter was in the process of learning to do the things his leader did. He had gone on a mission that included healing, deliverance and proclamation of the gospel (See Matthew 10). “Why not follow Jesus into the sea, too,” he may have thought?
As long as Peter looked to Jesus in faith, he was even able to imitate this dramatic activity of the Lord. As soon as he turned his attention to the wind and waves, his faith wavered and he began to sink.
Let’s think about Peter’s actions and consider our response to Jesus. If we keep our eyes on Jesus and faithfully follow his directions, there is literally nothing that is impossible. However, we are in dangerous territory if we attempt to follow Jesus, but fail to keep our eyes on him all the time.
The disciples have had quite a day. They have witnessed the healing of many, the feeding of thousands, and their Lord and friend walking on water. When they added it all up, all they could do was worship Jesus and declare that was the Son of God.
Take a few minutes today and mentally add up all that you have seen Jesus do in your lifetime. I think you will join the disciples in worship and praise of our Lord and Savior.
Dear Jesus, once again we declare that you are amazing. Your devotion to the Father’s plan to redeem a rebellious and self-willed humanity causes us to exclaim your praise in grateful devotion. Please help us keep our eyes on you today and every day.