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Jesus Walks on Water
22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. 23After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, 24but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29“Come,” He said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?”
32And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
34When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to Him 36and begged Him to let the sick just touch the edge of His cloak, and all who touched Him were healed.”
Earlier in the day, Jesus had heard of the death John the Baptist. He had tried to “withdraw to a solitary place” (Matt. 14:13), presumably to mourn the death of His friend and to pray, but the crowds prevented Him from doing so. Jesus “had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14). He also performed a magnificent miracle, and fed the crowd of thousands.
Having tended to the needs of the people, Jesus still desired to be alone, and so: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the others side, while He dismissed the crowd” (vs. 22). Dismissing the crowd after such a grand miracle must have been a difficult task. And it seems that the disciples themselves did not want to leave Jesus, for He had to compel them to go.
Jesus was able to find solitude, but the disciples ran into trouble: “After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it” (vss. 23-24). Note that the disciples were not exempt from trouble just because the Lord sent them on their journey.
“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake” (vs. 25). “To our poor, weak minds, the whole event is utterly incomprehensible” [Ryle, 167]. We simply cannot imagine such power over the elements. This miracle demonstrated that there is nothing in all creation that is not under Jesus’ control. “Christ is Lord of Sea and Land, and can make way unto His people’s relief, through the most stormy sea, no impediment can under Him, nor hold Him from His disciple’s society” [Dickson, on vs. 26].
The sight of Jesus walking on the water understandably astounded the disciples. So much so that they did not recognize that it was Jesus: “When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear” (vs. 26). In fact, it seems that the sight of Jesus walking on the water terrified the disciples more than the fierce winds and waves.
Jesus sought without delay to calm their fears: “But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’” (vs. 27). One of the most oft spoken commands of our Lord to His disciples is “Don’t be afraid.” “Wheresoever Christ shows Himself present, there is no reason to be afraid of any trouble or danger, for He is able to deliver His own in whatsoever strait” [Dickson, on vs. 27].
Peter showed boldness, and desired to join His Lord on the water: “‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (vss. 28-29). “What a wonderful proof was this of our Lord’s divinity! To walk on the sea Himself was a mighty miracle; but to enable a poor weak disciple to do the same, was a mightier miracle still” [Ryle, 168]. “We usually remember that Peter’s faith failed and that Jesus drew attention to this. But we should bear in mind that it took courage for the apostle to venture on the water at all” [Morris, on vs. 29].
But was Peter ready to do such a thing? “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (vs. 30). “It is safest to ponder all that faith is to meet with, if we can overtake it, before we enter in the conflict with difficulties; for Peter should have prepared against the wind, as well as against the sea, and waters” [Dickson, on vs. 30]. We can learn a lesson from Peter’s experience. We should take care before plunging into any activity. We should prayerfully seek the Lord’s timing, rather than dictate to the Lord our timing. We should also make sure that the activity is suitable to our gifts and abilities. “When men mistake the measure of their own strength and gifts, they are ready to seek a calling ere it be given them, and to enterprise things too hard for them” [Dickson, on vs. 28].
Ah, but we often mistake the soundness of our abilities. “Sometimes peril presseth a man more when he is in the dangers, than before; and a man may seem stout before the experience of the danger, who shall prove feeble in it: men know not readily their own weakness, till they be put to a proof; Peter doubted nothing to walk on the sea, till now” [Dickson, on vs. 30]. Peter’s faith was strong enough to get him out of the boat, but not strong enough to persevere through the storm. “How many there are who have faith enough to take the first step in following Christ, but not faith enough to go on as they began. They take fright at the trials and dangers which seem to be in their way. They look at the enemies that surround them, and the difficulties that seem likely to beset their path: they look at them more than at Jesus, and at once their feet begin to sink; their hearts faint within them; their hope vanishes away: their comforts disappear. And why is all this? Christ is not altered: their enemies are not greater than they were. It is just because, like Peter, they have ceased to look to Jesus, and have given way to unbelief. They are taken up with thinking about their enemies, instead of thinking about Christ. May we lay this to heart, and learn wisdom!” [Ryle, 169]. “When men look more to the dangers than to God (who called them to it), no wonder that their faith be shaken: for Peter seeth the wind too much, and Christ’s presence too little” [Dickson, on vs. 30].
At least Peter knew well what to do when his faith wavered: he “cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” “Whatsoever be our danger, let Christ’s power be exalted, as sufficient to help us” [Dickson, vs. 30]. Jesus was quick to respond to Peter’s cry for help: “Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him” (vs. 31). Then Jesus gave Peter a mild rebuke: “‘You of little faith,’ He said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (vs. 31). “To doubt where we have warrant to believe, is worthy of reproof” [Dickson, on vs. 31]. Jesus’ question, “Why did you doubt?”, “helps both Peter and the reader recognize that doubts and fears quickly disappear before a strict inquiry into their cause” [Carson, on vs. 31]. “He had been armed with Christ’s command and already knew His power, but he fell away from that twofold firmness into a vain and perverse fear” [Calvin, on vs. 31].
“And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down” (vs. 32). “It is well to be safe in a storm, but more pleasant to find the calm return and the hurricane end” [Spurgeon, on vs. 32]. Those in the boat were amazed by all the happenings: “Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (vs. 33). “Storm and struggle make us enjoy more the calm that follows, and appreciate more highly the Lord who delivers us” [Broadus, 331]. From their response, we see that the experience in the boat made more of an impression on the disciples than did the feeding of the five thousand. “Delivery out of imminent death, speaketh more of God’s power to the humble soul, than the greatest works doth speak unto the secure, as the delivery of the disciples from the raging sea, maketh them more sensible of Christ’s Godhead, than the miraculous feeding of five thousand with so few loaves in the wilderness; for now it is, and not till now, that they say, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” [Dickson, vs. 33].
When they reached the other side of the lake, Jesus’ busy life, full of works of service, continued: “When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to Him and begged Him to let the sick just touch the edge of His cloak, and all who touched Him were healed” (vss. 34-36). The Gospel writers, for the most part, recount certain specific episodes of Jesus’ works of service. What we learn from passages such as verse 34 through 36 is that there were innumerably more episodes that have not been told to us: innumberably more magnificent and astoundingly miraculous works; innumberably more lives that were changed through the touch of Jesus’ healing hand.