Is Jesus in the Boat?
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 6:14-21; Matthew 14:22-26; Mark 6:45-52
Transition from feeding the 5,000 to teaching the disciples
Last week we saw that Jesus and the Disciples had desired a “break:” a retreat. But that desire had been thwarted by the crowd that followed them to the place they had gone.
There, Jesus fed the 5,000 men along with their wives and children. He also taught His disciples a lesson regarding feeding the flock: that, in every case, we are to receive the food from Jesus, and distribute it to others. We saw that this could apply to teaching or to blessing, or sharing, or whatever gifting that we have, as individuals. And we also saw that there was a special blessing for those who gave from their heart so that the Lord could multiply that gift. The young fellow who donated his lunch put himself in a great position to be blessed by God.
But we did not see the immediate result, beyond the fact that everyone got a full meal. The next thing that happened was not so good:
14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. 15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
The men (who now had full stomachs) realized that a true miracle had occurred, and declared among themselves that Jesus was surely “the Prophet” that was to come into the world. Probably they were thinking of Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, where God said he would raise up a prophet to lead Israel. Probably that is what the Jews had asked John the Baptist about, as well. And, in regard to Jesus, they were correct, so…that is not a bad thing…BUT! Their response was not good.
Jesus knew their hearts, and saw that they were about to grab him by force and pronounce Him king, by their own will (essentially staging an uprising against Rome.) That was not part of His plan, so, Jesus got out of there, and went up on the mountain, alone, to get out of their hands.
Change of Context
16 And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, 17 And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.
If I only read the John account, I would think that the disciples ran out of things to do, and didn’t know where Jesus was, so they just decided on their own to get into the boat and go back across the lake. Somehow that does not sound like a logical decision:
- They came here with Jesus
- They served at Jesus’s command
- They were taught by Jesus, but
- They don’t know where Jesus is, So…now
- They are going to leave without Jesus?
There is no rebuke made, here, but, if I am reading only in John, here, it just seems that they were “running off the rails” a bit, here: If He was their “master,” or “Teacher,” and they considered themselves His disciples, then why would they take off without Him?
Under what circumstances would you simply shrug your shoulders and say, “I don’t know what happened to our teacher, the central figure in our new lives…so let’s just leave without Him!”? It would be different if He had told them, “If I’m not back by sundown, head back to Capernaum, or Bethsaida, or somewhere, without me: I will catch up later.”
And, you see, if we read the parallel passages, over in Matthew 14, and Mark 6, it turns out that He had said something of this kind: He had “constrained them” to get into the boat and leave. (They didn’t even want to go. They did so because He told them to leave.) That explains why there was no rebuke for their having “abandoned” Him. Either way, they chose to leave without Jesus, and, as illogical and uncomfortable as it sounds, as it turned out, it was what they were told to do. So that is simply what they had to deal with. And it turned out to be a rough trip.
Rowing against the Wind, and Rough seas, in the Dark
18 And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew
When I first read this, only in John, I couldn’t tell which way the wind was blowing (Twenty-five or thirty furlongs is between three and four miles, using the modern conversion of one furlong = 1/8 mile. So, is that a “good” distance or a “bad” distance?) But that is what happens when we only read one passage: we have lots of questions and few answers. But, in Matthew 14, it says “the wind was contrary:” it was against them. They were rowing against the wind!
Also, remember, in verse 17, it says that it was now dark. So, how were they navigating? By the stars? We are not told. But if there was any cloud cover, the stars were no longer available, and there were no lighthouses or magnetic compasses back then.
And, regardless of all these other issues, we see in verse 18 that the waves were getting quite large, because the wind was very strong. So: “No Jesus, big waves, strong wind, and full darkness.” Frankly, that sounds like a recipe for a bad night! The only thing they really had going for them was the fact that they truly were doing what Jesus commanded them to do. As rough as things were, they could always remind themselves that they got there by following Jesus, and by obeying His command.
Jesus Entered the Picture
19 So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship:
In the midst of what was rapidly becoming a bad situation, they looked and saw Jesus coming near the boat, gaining on them, walking on the water. (Remember this is not a stroll on a placid pond: There was a strong wind and big waves. If one actually had the ability to walk on water, I could imagine “strolling along” on flat calm water, but walking on rough seas sounds even more impossible.
People are not able to walk on relatively flat ground if it is in irregular motion because of an earthquake. They fall down because they can’t walk. But Jesus was walking on rapidly moving waves. Did He have to do a lot of “hopping from wave to wave?” Or was His authority such that the waves simply flattened out, where He was walking, to offer Him a smooth surface? Somehow that seems to fit better!
In Mark 6:48, it says that He not only was catching up, but would have simply passed them by, leaving them to finish the trip without Him. But, when they saw him and were frightened by Him, He responded to their fear, and reassured them.
The Disciples in the Boat.
“…and they were afraid. 20 But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. 21 Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. “
The disciples were aware that their situation was less than optimal: They were commercial fishermen, and had been in storms before. They all knew the potential hazards. So, very likely, they were already “feeling a little nervous,” as things were starting to “pile up:” (No Jesus, Big
waves, Dark night, Strong Wind…) And now, they saw, gaining on them, a strange figure, walking on the water, and getting close! (Remember that when one rows a boat (as opposed to paddling a canoe or kayak) one faces toward the stern. So, they were already looking in that direction, and suddenly realized that they were being followed: they saw a man, walking on that rough, rapidly heaving water, and making better time than they were!
“…and they were afraid.” (Yeah, I’ll bet they were!) This was turning out to be a rough night all the way around! Didn’t they have enough problems without “seeing a ghost,” on top of everything else? In Matthew 14:26, it says they thought they were seeing a ghost…(a “spirit” in King James English.) Now, we are not going to address the rest of the Matthew account, here: It gives the account of Peter walking on the water. We will talk about that at another time.
What I want to look at, here, is how the disciples responded to the fact that Jesus was not in the boat…and how things changed when He joined them, in the boat.
They were working at getting across the big lake, the Sea of Galilee. And it was pretty rough going. They were being obedient, but not making much progress. In fact, everything seemed to conspire against their having any success at all.
When Jesus joined them in the boat, things changed:
- Initially, they were afraid, but,
- When He spoke to them, they willingly received Him into the boat.
- When He joined them in the boat, the rest of the circumstances ceased to matter.
- When Jesus joined them in the boat, they arrived at their destination!
In the lives of Believers, Is Jesus “in the Boat?”
If I look at the lives of believers, I could apply this to a wide range of ideas: I want to be careful not to apply it wrongly.
- We often are afraid, initially, when facing the assignment Jesus has given us. There seem to be all sorts of barriers, obstacles, and threats that could hold us back from the goals He has set for us…provided we even know what the goals are.
- He speaks to us, as He did to them, but we do not always listen. When Jesus spoke to the disciples in that boat, they all were completely focused on Him, because they were afraid, and they were not sure it was Him. But, when He spoke, they willingly received Him into the Boat. They were at peace! They were glad to be there with Him! And where did they find that Peace and Joy? By hearing His voice: accepting His Word, believing His Word. We have those same options:
Hear His Word,
Recognize His voice,
Accept His Word as first and final authority.
Believe His Word.
- Trust His Word. As we recognize that Jesus is here among us, in the boat with us, the other circumstances cease to matter. The wreckage of politics and international relations cease to terrify us, and the gross immorality of the Human Race ceases to surprise us. We lift up our heads, looking to Jesus, and knowing that our redemption is drawing near!
- And, at least in some sense, the moment we each first believed Him, and trusted His Word, trusted His promise…we arrived at our destination. God says you are already seated with Him in the heavenlies! You are already blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, in Christ. You are already accepted in the Beloved! You already have eternal Life, and He wants you to begin experiencing it on a daily basis.
On a daily basis, we can choose to place ourselves under the authority of Jesus. We can put on the armor of God, and give thanks that we are already home with Him, rather than continually wanting to Go Home. We can give thanks that He has given us an assignment…that He wants us to plunge in as if we had to go it alone, but do so in faith, trusting that, in reality, He is there with us. We can rejoice that He is “in the boat with us,” and move with confidence to do what He has sent us to do.
Lord Jesus, Speak to us in the darkness and wind of our lives! Awaken us to the spiritual reality of our position in You, that we are eternally seated with You and blessed by You. Help us to trust that You truly are with us in our fears and hardships, and that our lives are truly bound up in Your Love, forever. Guide us to live in such a way as to join You in Your work.
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