Have you ever experienced the hand of the Lord in your life and been obedient to His Word only to find yourself all alone? Have you been walking with Him and suddenly realized that He was gone? Has God ever asked you to do something for Him and the moment you begin He’s nowhere to be found? I have to answer yes to all of the above and it has puzzled me for many years. I spent countless hours seeking the answer but it never came; not until reading a familiar scripture once again.
Go back with me to a late, sunny afternoon by the Sea of Galilee. The disciples had just witnessed one of Jesus’ greatest miracles. One little boy’s lunch so marvelously multiplied that it fed 5,000 men plus all their families. Standing here in 2004 I simply can’t imagine how awestruck I would have been to witness such a miracle. The disciples had to be in complete awe of the power of their Master. I think if I had been one of the disciples my chest would have been just a little puffed up at being viewed as a part of His inner circle. So they all bathed in the moment —right?
No, even before the multitudes departed, Jesus sent His disciples on a journey. Well, He didn’t just send them.
Matt 14:22-23 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
Matthew tells us that He “constrained” them. That is actually a pretty strong word (anagkazo), which means to “compel” or to “drive with force.” It indicates to me that the disciples didn’t want to go. Perhaps their chests were a little puffed up as well.
As they got into the boat on that calm afternoon I am certain that they were confused and maybe even a bit upset at being asked to leave while Jesus stood on the shore with all those people. What was He going to do? Why did they have to leave? What boat was He going to take to meet them on the other side? These questions no doubt rolled around in their minds as they set the oars in motion.
What they didn’t understand was that God has an agenda that doesn’t always include our presence and/or input. Jesus knew that if He didn’t send this crowd away they were going to try and force Him to lead them in a revolution against Rome.
John 6:14-15 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.
They were more interested in the man who fed them bread and fish, but Jesus had another kind of bread in mind. So with the crowd dispersing and the disciples straining against their oars, Jesus went “up” into the mountain to pray. Do you suppose He didn’t know a storm was about to rise up in the middle of the sea? Is it possible that it caught Him by surprise? I don’t think so. Mark tells us that while Jesus was on that mountain in prayer He had His eye on His disciples.
Mark 6:47-48 And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. 48 And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them:
Note that Jesus saw them toiling (basnzio), which actually means that they were in pain and torment; being tossed or vexed. There they were the midst of that storm, all alone, in the dark and without Jesus. Now this didn’t happen quickly, it took quite awhile to develop. Remember, Jesus had just fed the multitude around suppertime and so there was most likely a little daylight left when the disciples set out. Let’s just suppose they set out around 6 o’clock in the evening. Jesus watched them toil for at least 9 hours because they didn’t see Him again until sometime during the 4th watch (between 3 and 6 o’clock in the morning). So Jesus sent them out full well knowing the circumstances that would soon surround them.
Lesson number 1 … Be prepared!
Jesus never sends us out without fully knowing what we are going to encounter and with a certain understanding of what He wants to accomplish through those circumstances. And it always seems that at some point in our trial the darkness sets in; we can count on it. That darkness always seems to make our situation or circumstances that much more difficult to see or understand. But just the moment when we think the darkness is about to overwhelm us is the very instant that Jesus will choose to make His presence known.
Ps 139:11-12 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. 12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
In fact, it seems as though Jesus is the most real in the midst of my storms.
Isa 43:1-2 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. 2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
He has always been the God of the 4th watch.
Ex 14:24-25 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, 25 And took off their chariot wheels, that they drove them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
Lesson number 2 … Jesus always comes in the storm!
We can be certain that Jesus is “up” there watching our journey. He is fully aware of the circumstances that we are “toiling” with out there in the darkness. But He will wait until our 4th watch before He comes. He will wait until all of our human strength and resources are exhausted and we have “come to the end of ourselves.” Why? Just so He can be God and prove that we aren’t?
No, God always has a reason for His plans, whether we can grasp it at the time or not. Matthew, John and Mark all tell us that the disciples were in fear. They all quote Jesus telling them not to be afraid; “fear not.” Now if He knew they were going to be in fear, why did He send them in the first place?
Have you ever noticed that God builds us up in life over a long period of time? The Word tells us that we are to grow a little at a time; maturity comes slowly.
Isa 28:9-10 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
I used to think that Jesus really made the disciples suffer just so they could witness the miracle of Him walking on water. Well, as usual I missed the point completely. It wasn’t about Jesus walking on the water at all!
Lesson number 3: Jesus always has a purpose!
Think about the series of events that preceded this illuminating moment in the lives of the disciples. What happened the last time He told them to get into a boat? Didn’t they get a “big” lesson in dealing with fear? Let John refresh your memory:
Matt 8:18-27 Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. … 23 And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him 24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. 25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. 26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27 But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
Out there in the middle of the sea on that night, in the midst of their fear, they completely forgot how Jesus had previously led them into the very same circumstances and delivered them safely. In fact, the circumstances were almost identical. The only difference was that Jesus Himself led them the first time and the second time He sent them alone. But a great deal had transpired between the first and second time; the disciples had witnessed a great deal.
He expected them to grow in faith between the trials. For example:
- They saw Jesus cast out demons.
- They saw Jesus heal the multitudes.
- They saw Jesus give sight to the blind.
- Jesus gave the disciples power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, which they used.
- They saw Jesus cure the leper.
- And most recently they observed the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes.
It would be very easy to sit here in the Monday morning quarterback’s chair and ask the poignant question, why didn’t they get it? Well, as I look at those six preceding bullets it is pretty easy to substitute lessons that Jesus has taught me. And notably, each lesson has built upon the previous one. The same applied to the disciples out there in that little boat.
The first time Jesus said, “follow me into the boat and we will go across,” and the second time He said, “Get in the boat before me.” So, could it be that Jesus stayed up on that mountain watching and praying for them just to give them some extra time to come to the conclusion that if He told them to go, He knew what they were getting into. After all, didn’t He tell them to go?
Matt 14:22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
I have found that Jesus uses storms in my life for at least two purposes. They are either for correction or perfection. I think the reason He uses them is because putting me in the midst of one is often the only time He has my full attention. At that moment in life I am all ears!
Heb 12:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
Prov 3:11-12 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
Old Testament – New Testament … His Word never changes!
So there they were in that little boat, being tossed about and in great fear for their lives. Just at the moment that all appeared to be lost they see Jesus walking on the water. But instead of rejoicing, their fear increased. Isn’t that just like us! How many times do we start out in the spirit and wind up in the flesh, standing there in the midst of our storm in all our fleshly power just about to be overwhelmed. There they were these 12 intrepid disciples, the core of Jesus’ inner circle. They were the very ones that just a few hours earlier had witnessed one of His greatest miracles. They were so shaken with fleshly fear that their minds were dull to the Spirit.
Eph 1:18-19 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power …
2Cor 5:7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight🙂
And being fully in the flesh, the first thing they thought was that it was a ghost. Sound familiar? I refuse to reveal the number of times in the midst of a storm that I have allowed my imagination to “run away with me.” My imagination gets me in more trouble – it always makes things much worse than they really are. And it seems as though it gets the strongest just about the time that Jesus wants to deliver me from my circumstances. It’s at the moment that I am almost paralyzed by the fear.
Lesson number 4 … It’s our shot to call!
There is something here that almost slips by us as we read the description of this incredible miracle. In fact, only Mark points it out to us:
Mark 6:48-49 … and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. 49 But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:
Now I don’t think Jesus would have walked to Capernaum and left them to drown in the midst of that storm, but look what He did. He waited until they cried out and then He immediately responded.
Mark 6:50 … And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.
Ps 9:10 And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.
Some translations indicate that it is I is better translated I Am. No doubt the Great I Am announcing Himself upon the scene had a major impact on the circumstances. Even in their fear I can imagine the collective sigh of relief rose up out of that boat. Hoping beyond hope that it really was Jesus out there — Would He really have walked on by, leaving us here to drown? Well, at least one of them was not about to sit in that water logged little boat. Thanks to faithful Matthew, we have what I think is the most critical part of this miracle.
Lesson number 5 … It’s our action to take!
Good old Peter, no matter how brash or reckless you have to admire him. But notice that in rising to the challenge he teaches us two very important lessons.
Matt 14:28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
Jesus said, “fear not” and our Peter responded immediately. Lord if this is really you just say the Word and I’m on my way. I have finally determined, through much pain, that this is the only way to respond to Jesus. It is always correct to respond to His voice; Lord let me come to you no matter what. But notice that Peter didn’t say this as he was jumping out of the boat. He said, “If thou bid me.” That’s a big difference. He stayed in the boat until Jesus told him to come.
So many times we hastily jump without waiting on the Lord’s timing. Just because we hear Him doesn’t mean that we are to forsake all and jump in with both feet. Peter was fully ready to step out on that boiling sea but not until His Lord told him to.
Matt 14:29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
Once the Word was given, Peter immediately took the step of faith.
Lesson number 6 … It’s the Lord’s timing!
If we want to experience the power of God’s salvation we have to step out in faith. But that doesn’t mean we are to disengage our brain.
Haven’t we all taken that step too quickly a time or two, only to find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time? As the egg drips off our nose we lift our eyes to The Lord and get that look from Him that says it all; “I didn’t say now!” Just like Peter, we need to be ready to go but only after we hear the Master’s command to come. Only then can we act in total faith and, like Peter, walk on the surface of our circumstances.
Every Christian has been born again from above and therefore we have been “enabled” with the power to walk on this earth with impunity; we are kept from being overwhelmed by it or sinking into it.
Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Eph 2:5-6 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
But, just like Peter found out, being enabled doesn’t necessarily mean immune.
Matt 14:30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink …
Lesson number 7 … Following isn’t enough!
Peter answered The Master’s call and stepped out in faith. Matthew records that he was walking on the water. But, as we all know, he took his eyes off of Jesus and put them on his circumstances. He was fine as long as his eyes didn’t leave the Savior’s. David recognized this fact in his life on many occasions.
Ps 63:7-8 Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. 8 My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.
The key is found in the first part of verse 7; because thou hast been. Peter, like David, was responding to Jesus’ challenge based upon past history. Jesus had never gone back on His Word before and Peter didn’t expect Him to do so on this occasion. Had he just kept that initial faith level he would never have let the circumstances take control.
That is the interesting part that so strongly ministers to me. Just walking after Jesus isn’t enough. Look at all the followers that were only that — followers. When the going got tough they quit and walked away. Why? Because they just walked after Him, looking to the miracles and what Jesus could do for them. They never got to know Him on such a personal level that they could trust Him to see them through the dark valleys. Many just wanted more bread and fish. Sadly, that hasn’t changed in the least today.
David knew he could call upon and trust his God because Jehovah had proven Himself faithful on previous occasions. Likewise, Peter knew that if Jesus told him to come he was going to be able to walk on water. It was only when he closed his spiritual eyes and once again looked at the circumstances with his natural eyes that he was overcome. Note that it was his choice, to walk or sink. It all came down to his faith in the Word of Jesus. Digress for a moment and listen to Peter a few years later:
1Peter 1:5-8 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Do you think Peter may have been reflecting on this particular night when he wrote the above? But at the moment in question he completely forgot the events of his previous boat trip with The Master:
Matt 8:26-27 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27 But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
However, at moment he was being overwhelmed with fear and his thoughts were clearly focused on the sea that was about to swallow him up. At that moment his action was the only correct one … Lord save me!
When we find ourselves in Peter’s sandals we need to keep his example in mind. He did the only right thing, he cried out to Jesus for salvation. When our faith is weak we need to cry out in prayer to the One who has been watching and waiting for us. Unless we have been in Peter’s situation and find ourselves sinking into the darkness, we will never truly cry out in deep faith. Once again, listen to the words of the man that was after God’s heart:
Ps 18:4-7 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. 5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. 6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. 7 Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.
Lesson number 6 … Jesus is just waiting for us to cry out!
Matt 14:31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him,
One of the most important lesson’s Jesus taught me through this event is that He knows and understands our weaknesses. He understands our lack of faith and is constantly working in our lives to build it up. I think that is why He scolded Peter right after He saved him from sinking. If we look back at all the miracles and examples of Jesus’ faithfulness, it is no wonder He asked the question:
Matt 14:31 … and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
But just as importantly note what He didn’t say. He didn’t say, Peter, why don’t you have faith in me? He challenged Peter’s “little” faith. Peter started out in faith (in the spirit) but ended up in the flesh. It wasn’t that he didn’t have faith; it was just that he had so little. It is almost as if Jesus had said, “Peter, after all you have seen, why did you let your faith depart from you? Remember the last time you faced this situation, what happened? Didn’t the sea become calm and the wind cease? Just because I wasn’t with you in the boat did you think that I would have asked you to do something I knew you wouldn’t be able to?”
Was Jesus displeased with Peter and the rest of the disciples? The answer is clearly yes! Well, I have to admit that I have had my moments walking on the boiling seas of this world and, just like Peter; I took my eyes off of Jesus and promptly sank in my unbelief. It is in those times that I am reminded of a verse from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews:
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
In the end that’s what it’s all about. We come to Jesus for salvation by faith and from that moment forward we depend on Him for our very breath with the same faith. Are we going to fall and fail Him at critical moments? Yes, with great certainty, because we struggle every day with that part of us that has not been renewed (our flesh). That is the encouragement Peter gives us during this brief moment in history. What Jesus did for Peter He will do for each one of us.
Our part is not to be just a follower but a disciple. One who keeps his eyes firmly fixed on The Savior at all times, ready to act at the sound of His voice. When He says, “come,” we need to step out in faith, knowing that what He has done before He will do again. He is ever faithful and will never ask us to do anything that we cannot accomplish in Him. Just as certainly, what He asks us to do we cannot accomplish in and of ourselves. If there is one thing I have learned and learned well over the years, it’s that I need help every minute of the day to follow after Jesus.
After all of the miracles I have witnessed in my lifetime I should be as strong as Abraham. But, alas, I am often like the father of the demon-possessed child:
Mark 9:23-24 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
In a moment of crisis I still sometimes find myself crying out as I begin to sink into the circumstances — Lord I believe, help my unbelief. Like the broken hearted father, we just need to hear what Jesus is saying. I can furnish the power if you can bring forth the power to receive it. Jesus is more than able and completely willing to meet our need if we will just believe that He can.
What an invitation … If thou canst believe. Just dare to believe and put yourself into His hands. Just ask Him for the grace to help with that part of your flesh that wants to doubt His faithfulness. Jesus told the father of the young boy that it all depended upon him as all things are possible to him that believes. What a challenge and what a wonderful promise. He knows the infirmities in our fleshly nature that cause us to doubt and is even willing to supply the grace to help us believe.
What a wonderful thing His Grace is and without it we would be hopelessly lost. He has made every provision for those who seek after Him and are not just following after Him. He is constantly building up our weak faith with one miracle after another in our lives. Let’s take this lesson from the disciples and remember in the midst of our next storm that He delivered us from the last one — it only took our faith to believe.
So why does Jesus send us out into the storms of life? Why does he wait until the 4th watch to show up on the scene? Why does it appear that He is walking by us just when we need Him the most? Maybe Jesus wants to show us that our storms are just the bridges He builds to bring us closer to Him!