The wind was blowing wildly and the violent waves were lapping over the side of the vessel. The little ship was creaking as it was being tossed to and fro on the sea. Maybe the apostles, trying their best to keep from sinking or capsizing, were thinking back, remembering when Jesus was with them in the ship on the sea of Galilee and had calmed the storm with a command. But He was not here now and they would have to try their best to stay afloat themselves.
Earlier, Jesus had sent the apostles down to the sea to get in a boat and go before Him to Bethsaida (Mark 6:46). They probably went reluctantly for Matthew says Jesus “constrained” or “compelled” them to go (Matt. 14:22). It would have been hard for the apostles to leave Jesus at that time. There was already a movement among at least some of the people to forcibly make Jesus king (John 6:15). Maybe the apostles were caught up in this to some degree, they, themselves, expecting an earthly kingdom (Acts 1:6), or, perhaps, they feared to leave Jesus alone with the aggressive crowd. Either way, Jesus had to compel them to leave while He dismissed the crowd, which, in itself might have proved no small task given their intentions.
After the crowd was sent away, Jesus went up to the mountain alone to pray (Matt. 14:23). Jesus not only taught the importance of prayer He gave us His example on its importance, for He was always praying. This was especially true when He was going to face some great challenge. Having been among the people, He also wanted to spend time with the Father. It is also possible that having been preaching to the multitude, Jesus prayed for the lessons to be effective. Regardless of the reason, we should learn the value of prayer as Jesus gave the example.
Mark seems to indicate that while Jesus was alone on land in prayer in the mountain, He saw the apostles toiling and rowing in the midst of the sea (Mark 6:47,48). It is possible that Jesus could have seen the ship on the sea from the mountain, but during a storm at night it would be difficult to see through the clouds and possibly rain and impossible to see them toiling in the ship (Mark 6:47). This, I think, rather demonstrates Jesus’ miraculous knowledge. It also teaches us that even though we seem lost and treading water sometimes, the Lord knows our needs (Matt. 6:25-33).
Furthermore, Jesus had sent the disciples out earlier that evening (John 6:16,17). They were now in the “midst of the sea” and had been rowing for some time when Jesus was alone in the mountain (Matt. 14:24,25; Mark 6:47). Now if they had been rowing for several hours and were now about 25 or 30 furlongs along their way, or about 3 1/2 miles (John 6:19), they could have been roughly in the center of the widest part of the sea of Galilee where the storm would have been the roughest. It was in the fourth watch of the night (3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.) that Jesus went to them from the mountain (Matt. 14:25). If they had been rowing for several hours and gotten along only 3 miles or so because of the headwind, for Jesus to leave and get there when He did must have involved a miracle of time and space to get Him there that quickly. We thus learn that God is not far from anyone of us when we need Him.
Now Jesus comes to them walking on the water! I will write that again: walking on the water! Seeing the disciples toiling in the ship from the mountain was remarkable. Getting to them as quickly as He did was amazing. But walking on the stormy sea is beyond breath-taking. It is no wonder that the disciples were “afraid” (John 6:19). It is no wonder that these grown men were crying, and screaming or shrieking (anakradzo) in fear (Mark 6:50). It is no wonder that what they thought they saw was a spirit or phantasm (Matt, 14:26; Mark 6:49). It seemed so surreal and yet is was quite real for they all saw Him (Mark 6:50). Jesus had once again demonstrated His power over nature.
As Jesus was walking on this storm-tossed sea, He would have passed by the apostles in the boat (Mark 6:48). Whether He intended to pass them by or whether it just appeared to the apostles that He was passing them by is not clear. But when they cried out in fear Jesus immediately talked with them to allay those fears (Mark 6:50). “Be of good cheer; It is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27; John 6:20). We all face storms in our lives, occasions when we are in need of help. Jesus let the apostles know that though they would face many storms, He would be there for them (Matt. 28:20).
Now when Peter heard the Lord’s voice, he asked “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water” (Matt. 14:28). Peter is to be commended for his effort, for he stepped out of the boat into the waves and began walking on water, too! None of the other apostles tried this. Who among us would have tried it? But Peter, looking at Jesus, first set one foot and then another out of the boat and onto the stormy waves and he walked on water!
It must have been a triumphant moment for him, but it was fleeting. For soon he let his eyes drift from the Lord and onto the boisterous waves and wind began to sink because he was afraid (Matt. 14:30). Just then, as Peter began to drop into the water, Jesus reached forth His hand and caught Peter and saved him (Matt. 14:31). Nevertheless, Jesus had this rebuke: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt.” Why do we doubt when our Lord is the Master of the storms?
Though Mark’s account of this incident was probably given to him by Peter, Mark does not mention the incident of Peter walking on the water. Perhaps Peter was being modest or perhaps he was ashamed of the incident, but only Matthew records it. But when Jesus and Peter went back into the ship, the wind ceased (Matt. 14:32). One final, amazing incident during this miraculous occasion, is that when Jesus boarded the boat, “immediately the ship was at the land whither it went” (John 6:21). What the disciples could not do by working all night Jesus made possible by His presence. Without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).
Eric L. Padgett