Matthew 14, Part 2
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Notice what Jesus does immediately after feeding the 5,000 men and others - he put the disciples into boats and he dispersed the crowd. John 6:14-15 gives us insight into why he did this:
14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Christ knew the popular view of Messiahship. The Messiah was to lead Israel in revolt against the Roman conqueror, freeing the people and establishing a theocratic government, that is, the rule and reign of God over all the earth. Maybe the reason Jesus put the disciples into the boat was to get them out of this hype and keep them from getting overly excited also.
This threat of trying to force Jesus to become king, coupled with his original desire to go to a solitary place, accounts for his actions in v. 23 as well. He needed to be alone for prayer. “By himself” links this text with v. 13 (where it is translated “privately”). As we discussed this morning, one ought not pray just during times of crisis, but prayer is particularly crucial on such occasions. We find in scripture where Jesus made prayer an integral part of His life.
Luke 22:39 (ESV)
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.
So, if prayer was important enough for Jesus to deliberately seek time to be alone with His Father, and if it was regular enough to be described “as was His custom”, should we not also deliberately set aside time to be alone with our Heavenly Father and pray? When Jesus was mentally and physically exhausted, He retreated to the Father and took a time of prayer to recharge. He found himself spiritually drained also. He also got away so he could spend time with His Father, deliberately seeking a time of rest and regeneration.
Great example for us all today, when we find ourselves mentally and physically exhausted and spiritually drained - take time alone to be with God - and deliberately seek a time of rest and regeneration.
After the prayer came turmoil. Not for Jesus, but for those closest to Him. I think it’s important to note that not ALL turmoil will come to us personally, but it can also come to those close to us.
Now, here we have a sudden storm that arises as the boat was a “considerable distance” from land. A storm reminiscent of 8:23–27 (the great storm where the disciples wake Him from sleep) comes up suddenly, so that the disciples make very little progress on their journey. “Buffeted” is more literally tormented, beaten, a word that elsewhere can refer to demonic hostility against people. The storm, again, is fierce enough that it is concerning to the disciples, causing them to fight literally for their lives.
Normally they would have completed the lake crossing easily by now, even if they had waited a little while for Jesus at Bethsaida. The “considerable distance” is literally, many stadia. One stadium equaled approximately six hundred feet. John says they have rowed twenty-five to thirty stadia (three to four miles), and the lake was approximately four to five miles wide. They storm had kept them fighting to cross. Remember, we are not talking about people new to a boat either, we have experienced fishermen who were familiar with the sea and the normal storms that pop up. But they had been rowing from the time Jesus had dismissed them until somewhere between 3-6 A.M. (fourth watch of the night).
Jesus apparently spent considerable time in prayer. Between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. (the “fourth watch”—dividing 6:00 p.m. through 6:00 a.m. into four three-hour segments), the disciples see him walking across the lake over the waves. The only thing they can deduce is that they are seeing a disembodied spirit of some kind. “Ghost” (phantasma) in v. 26 refers to a specter or apparition from the realm of the dead (as in the episode of Saul, Samuel, and the witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28). They were scared enough from the storm that when they saw Jesus walking on the water it scared them even more to the point they thought they saw a ghost! “Fear” must here mean terror. With the night and the storm, the entire scene certainly created a horrifying spectacle with preternatural overtones. In v. 27 Jesus calls to his disciples to “take courage” (the same verb translated “take heart” in 9:2, 22). Dr. Charles Cranfield notes: “If it is a result of obedience to Christ’s command that the church or the individual Christian is in a situation of danger or distress, then there is no need to fear.”
“It is I” reads, more literally, I am. This is not bad grammar but a conscious echo of the divine name of Yahweh, as in Exod 3:14. Though still somewhat veiled, this is perhaps Jesus’ clearest self-revelation of his divinity to date.
In this uniquely Matthean section, Peter asks for the power to imitate Jesus’ miracle. “If it is you” (v. 28) is a potentially misleading translation for a first-class condition. The logic more closely resembles that of 10:1, 8, when Jesus passes his miracle-working authority on to his disciples. Since it is you, please enable me to do the same thing you are doing better captures the intent of Peter’s request. Matthew surely saw “Lord” in the strongest sense here, as equivalent to Yahweh, whether or not Peter intended it that way. The motive for Peter’s request is unstated and apparently irrelevant. Jesus agrees and enables Peter to start walking toward him (v. 29). Before he gets as far as Jesus, however, he begins to “doubt” his ability to continue (v. 31), remarkably due more to the strong winds than to the water below (v. 30).59 The word “doubt” (from Greek distazō) suggests the idea of trying to go in two different directions at once or of serving two different masters simultaneously. Having lost his initial faith, Peter is unable to go on, begins to sink, and must be rescued. His cry echoes the plea of all the disciples in 8:25. In v. 31 Jesus rebukes Peter for wavering, as he did all the disciples in 8:26. Here is the first of five key texts in chaps. 14–18 in which Matthew inserts references to Peter not found in any other Gospel (cf. 15:15; 16:17–19; 17:24–27; 18:21). On the significance of all five, see comments under 16:18–19, but it is worth noting here that the climactic focus in this passage rests more with Peter’s failure than with his accomplishment.
Cf. G. T. Montague (Companion God: A Cross-Cultural Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [New York: Paulist, 1989], 169–70): Peter sees the wind because he “no longer sees Jesus.” His “little faith” is “trust that falters out of fear.”
Aren’t we just like Peter most days? We want to jump up and shout, let me do it Lord! Only to find ourselves sinking when we take our eyes of Him. What would have made this account different for Peter? If he had kept his eyes and his faith on and in Jesus.
The storm stills and the disciples’ reverence and understanding of Jesus reach a new high. Jesus is the very Son of God, exercising prerogatives reserved in the Old Testament for Yahweh himself (cf. Job 9:8 and Ps 77:19). Still, something remains inadequate in this confession, since 16:13–20 will bring the disciples even greater understanding (and failure). This inadequacy is probably related to their ignorance of Jesus’ mission of suffering that lies ahead. Thus far their Christology is based solely on Jesus’ mighty acts, scarcely the ideal basis for faith (cf. John 20:29). Mark 6:52, while jarringly different from Matthew’s conclusion and reflecting Mark’s emphasis on the disciples’ lack of understanding, is thus not contradictory.60 Followers of Jesus in fact regularly experience a combination of faith and doubt. For now, however, Matthew wants to focus on the positive side of the disciples’ response and on the proper answer to the question of who Jesus is.
34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
As in 8:1–17 and 9:18–34, Matthew appends an abbreviated, summary account of Jesus’ miracle-working activity to the two preceding, fuller miracle stories. Gennesaret (v. 34) lay on the western shore of Galilee, south of Capernaum, for which the disciples had originally headed (John 6:17). Mark says they had started out for Bethsaida as well, probably as a preliminary stopping point (see comments under vv. 22–24). The storm no doubt blew the boat off course. The crowds bring the “sick,” as frequently before (v. 35). The specific behavior of the people in v. 36 parallels that of the hemorrhaging woman in 9:20–21, on which see comments there. The different word for “healed” used here (from Greek diasōzō) may carry extra emphasis and mean completely healed (Dr. Richard Weymouth describes this as, “restored to perfect health”). By including this paragraph, Matthew highlights the positive response to Jesus by large numbers of Israelites, however superficial or inadequately motivated it may be. The healings en masse demonstrate Jesus’ concern to minister to the entire people of God, regardless of their state of ritual purity. The theme of 15:1–20 follows naturally.
Blomberg, Craig. 1992. Matthew. Vol. 22. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.