By Sam E. Stone
With the feeding of the 5,000 in the third year of Jesus’ ministry, his favor with the crowds grew dramatically. The people enthusiastically ate the food he provided for them, but they were looking for even more—tomorrow’s meals, the sick cured, and a champion to lead the nation in revolt against the Roman authorities. John wrote, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15). Our lesson text comes from Matthew’s account of what followed.
Dismissal for Solitude
Matthew 14:22, 23
Jesus told his disciples to go on to their boat and start across the lake while he sent the crowd away. R. C. Foster noted, “As long as (the disciples) remained, the multitude of people would conclude that their presence was the guarantee of Jesus’ speedy return, and they would refuse to leave. If the disciples left, the futility of their attempting to remain in defiance of Jesus’ command would be more evident.”
When the crowd disbursed, the Lord went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Such times of fervent, private prayer away from the people were not unusual for Jesus (Luke 6:12; 9:18; Mark 1:35).
Walking on Water
It was a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee. The wind was so strong, the lightning so bright, the waves so high. The boat was out in the middle of the lake, but the disciples were making little progress. This was a perilous situation even for these experienced fishermen. Worst of all, Jesus wasn’t with them! No doubt they remembered an earlier storm when all he had to say was, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). Immediately the wind had died down and it had become perfectly calm.
Shortly before dawn, they saw Jesus walking on the lake. This was between 3:00 to 6:00 a.m. Getting a glimpse of a figure walking toward them on the water was frightening. “This can’t be a human,” they surmised. “It’s a ghost.” First they feared the storm; now they feared the unknown. Jesus called to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” These words of our Lord should remind us of his promise to always be with his followers: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Test of Faith
R. V. G. Tasker explained, “Peter, hearing Jesus’ voice, but also noticing that he did not seem to be intending to enter the boat, asks for the power to come to him over the water and presumably walk with him to the shore.”
Peter’s enthusiasm and desire to be with Jesus are frequently noted by the writers of the Gospels. This time, Jesus simply said, “Come.” Then Peter did what seemed impossible—he got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind (evidently the effect of the wind!), he was afraid, crying out, “Lord, save me!” A. T. Robertson noted that Peter literally said, “Lord, save me, and do it quickly!”
Jesus was there for him. He reached out his hand and caught Peter. “You of little faith,” Jesus declared. J. W. McGarvey wrote, “Fear is a source of doubt and an enemy to faith. Those who would achieve the victories of faith must overcome their fears.” When Jesus and Peter stepped into the boat, the wind immediately died down. The effect of this miraculous experience moved the disciples to worship Christ immediately, as they declared, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Seth Wilson summed up the lessons Peter learned through all of his experiences like this: “Every time Peter got ahead of the Lord’s leading, he went in the wrong direction; every time he spoke or acted on his own judgment with reference to Christ and the kingdom, he did the wrong thing, because he minded ‘not the things of God, but the things of men.’ But it is to Peter’s everlasting credit that every time he made such a mistake he yielded to Jesus, humbled himself in faith, and continued to follow and to learn” (Learning From Jesus).
Healing the Sick
After the boat landed at Gennesaret, people from around the area brought all their sick to Jesus for healing. His reputation had preceded him. Like those first-century believers, we too must worship God’s Son!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.