Last Week, we covered the account of the feeding of the 5,000 from the Gospel of John. The text ended with the people trying to seize him and make Him king. They saw Jesus as a political figure rather than a Messiah who had come to save them from their sins. They were guilty of trying to make Jesus something He was not, rather than to serve Him for Who He is. Before we point too many fingers at them, we would be well reminded that we often try to do the same thing – to dictate to God rather than listen to Him. The word seize here is interesting. It has the sound of “arrest”, to detain someone against his will. They would seize Jesus all right, but to crucify Him, when God’s time was right. And in a strange way, by putting the crown of thorns on His head and crucifying Him, they were truly crowning Him king, they way God intended it. We can’t see Jesus for Who He is until He is lifted up.
Jesus reacted to this by sending the disciples off in their boat without Him. If He had joined them, then the thousands of people would have simply run around the lake. This sending off of the disciples isn’t in this Gospel text, but in Matthew. Note that one Gospel says what Jesus did, and the other why He did it. God’s word is one.
Jesus did not want His disciples caught up in the crowd’s excitement. He already had enough problems trying to keep them from playing “King of the Mountain”, as they were fond of wanting to be the greatest of the disciples. They would be easy to persuade from the crowd. It would be hard enough for Him to prepare them for the road to the cross. They needed to be separated from this influence. Soon He would go with them to Caesarea Philippi where He would reveal to them His full mission which was to die for the sins of all humankind.
After this, Jesus departed by Himself to pray. Perhaps the crowd gave Him leave, or perhaps Jesus had to close their eyes to Him so that they might not see Him. At any rate, the Scriptures say that He departed alone to pray.
Exposition of the Text
Jesus’ disciples went off into the night in the boat to make the ten-mile journey across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. A sudden and strong windstorm came upon them. Sails are useless when going directly into the wind. It would have blown them back to their starting point. Also there was a danger of the wind in the sails being so strong as to throw the boat over. That is, if the boat even had them. At any rate, the disciples had to row directly into the wind. The waves would swamp the boat unless they headed directly into them. It was hard and dangerous labor. It was dark and they had no navigation systems in those days.
One of the best ways to get someone’s attention off of something you don’t want them to be thinking about is to give them work to do. And Jesus gave them dangerous work to do. Everyone had to concentrate at the dangerous task at hand. Their survival depended on it, at least they thought. So they didn’t have the leisure to think about the things they had seen that day.
There is an Irish legend, called the Banshee. On a cold misty night, the rustling of the wind causes a haunting wail. Then, the misty fog plays tricks on the eye. The legend says if anyone sees this spirit called the Banshee, that someone in the house is going to die that very night. We have a similar fear of seeing the grim reaper. For the Jews it was seeing the angel of death. The Jews also had a great fear for darkness, storms, and water which represents chaos and disorder. It is rather unusual to see someone walking on the water, especially without water-skis. The disciples were rowing into the wind and were making little progress. The waves were boisterous. So when they see a figure walking on the water in the middle of the night on a stormy sea, what was one to think? “It’s a Haint, it’s the Haint of Death.” (Haint is colloquial for Haunt.) No that isn’t exactly what they said, but the Bible says they were terrified. Surely they thought their number was up. They cried out in terror.
Then they heard the Lord’s voice, “Don’t be afraid boys, it’s just me.” I could just see John calling out to his brother; “It ain’t a haint, Jake. It’s Jesus!” What a relief it must have been to them. The Gospel of John does not tell us what is recorded in Matthew about Peter asking the Lord to walk out on the water to join Him. It seems that John deliberately keeps the focus on Jesus throughout the Gospel. This is a Gospel about what Jesus did, and what He did for our salvation. Mentioning it may have taken the readers eyes off of Jesus and unto Peter. And in a strange way, the failings of Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink serves as a warning to us. When we take our eyes off Jesus and look towards man we get into trouble, too.
Jesus entered into the boat, and immediately they were at their destination on shore where they were going. John doesn’t mention it like Matthew, but He also calmed the sea. What is important is that they were safe. God would not let them be tested beyond their ability to understand.
Application of the Text
We are reminded of the promise of Scripture in which Paul writes that all things work together to good to them who love God and are called according to His purpose. When the storms of life hit us full in the face, we need to remember that Jesus knows where we are. Jesus will not let us be tempted above which we are able, but He will provide a way of escape that we might be able to stand up to it. Jesus came to the disciples at just the right moment. In the same way, just when we think we are about to sink, the hand of the Lord is there to pull us up.
The Lord knows where we are going and what we truly need. We must allow Him to direct our paths. Sometimes we think we know better than the Lord and try to tell the Lord what He needs to do. Certainly the crowd on the other shore would think so. We don’t have to walk on water, all we need to do is obey the Lord’s voice.