Rescue on the Lake, Matthew 14:22-27

It will gradually become apparent that everyone is trying to push Jesus in one direction or another. But his focus remains on showing compassion and building his disciples.

Fishermen or not, the disciples have about the worst luck I have ever seen for encountering night storms. I wonder if there is a reason for that. Actually, I know the reason.

Matthew 14:22-27

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. Its a ghost, they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: Take courage! It is I. Dont be afraid.

Commentary

Remind me to check the manifest the next time I start to go out on a body of water. If Peter or the other disciples are aboard, then Im staying ashore! (smile)

Keep in mind the context and situation. After spending the day healing the sick, Jesus has just finished feeding a crowd of well over 5,000 people, though he had only a few loaves and fish to do it (verses 14-20). Night is falling because that is the whole reason the disciples wanted to send the people away to find food for themselves (verse 15).

Immediately, Jesus compels the disciples to enter the boat without him and cross the lake, presumably back to Capernaum (verse 22). This forcing action is unusually strong: Greek anagkazo, meaning compel or force. Matthew does not explain, and I am reluctant to introduce information from elsewhere, but perhaps it is appropriate on this occasion. Johns account says that the crowd meant to take Jesus by force and make him king (John 6:15)! Knowing this, Jesus dismissed the crowd — another strong word — and slipped away to a nearby mountain to pray (Matthew 14:23). That this was a strategic moment is seen by the fact that this occasion is the only one when either Matthew or Mark refer to Jesus at prayer other than the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before the cross.[1] Jesus prayed on that mountain most of the night.

Meanwhile, our mariners in the boat have encountered another storm on the lake with the result that they have been rowing for many hours in darkness — more than enough to cross the lake — but are stuck far from shore. Worse, the wind is high and the waves are punishing the boat with severe force, communicated by the Greek verb (basanizo) used for torment (verse 24). NIV’s refined translation buffeted can only be used by scholars sitting around a table with the AC running!

To get a sense of wind speeds on the Sea of Galilee, use the methods mentioned in the footnote.[2] Also keep in mind that the names Lake Tiberias and Lake Kinneret are alternative names for this body of water. You will find that the wind on the Sea of Galilee is typically much stronger in the mid-afternoon than at night. Storms and high winds are far more likely to form during the day due to solar heating.

Once again, I join those scholars who see demonic forces trying to attack Jesus and his disciples. The offer of the kingship is a replay of the temptations described in Matthew 4:8-10, where Satan made a similar offer. Blomberg notes that the sudden storm resembles the one in Matthew 8:23-27, and that the verb for torment is sometimes used elsewhere for demonic hostility against people (Matthew 8:6 and Revelation 9:5), and concludes that demonic activity may be present here.[3] I did not come to either of these lake crossings (Matthew 8 and 14) with demonic activity in mind, but the improbability of the events happening by normal means left me no other choice. Jesus has to rescue his disciples in both cases.

A light in a dark place

The timing of events in verse 25 is subject to interpretation. The Greek text simply says, In the fourth watch of the night, referring to a Roman division of time starting at 3 am and ending at 6 am. So, while NIV places events shortly before dawn, HCSB offers, around three in the morning. The latter is more likely. Osborne points out that the disciples have been rowing for their lives for several hours and are about at the end of their strength and resolve.[1] They need help!

When Jesus, predictably, comes to rescue his disciples, they experience terror in seeing a human shape striding toward them on the lake surface (verses 25-26). In daylight, under calmer conditions, they might have remembered verses in the Old Testament about God walking on or through the waters (Job 9:8 and 38:16; Psalm 77:19). But deep waters had long represented chaos and evil to the Jews. It is hard to criticize the disciples fear that they were seeing a ghost; a similar experience in the twenty-first century could easily receive the same reaction.

Note that Jesus immediately acts to reassure them, urging them to embrace courage, not fear (verse 27). His identification, Greek ego eimi, means It is I, but its older meaning I AM is never far away.

Those causing this trouble had best get lost!

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 574.

[1] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 234.

[2] Use Google search phrase wind speed on Lake Tiberias to get graphic results. The search phrase wind forecast for Lake Kinneret will help you find a site used by windsurfers.

[3] Blomberg, Matthew, 234.

A different banquet, Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew seems to contrast two feasts that occur in remote places. Herod Antipas invited his powerful friends to a drunken banquet marked by seduction and the death of a prophet in the wilderness fortress of Machaerus. Jesus and his disciples withdrew to a desolate place where they fed a hungry crowd after healing their many sick. The worldly rule of Herod and the merciful rule of God could hardly be more different.

Matthew 14:13-21

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, This is a remote place, and its already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.

16 Jesus replied, They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.

17 We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish, they answered.

18 Bring them here to me, he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Commentary

What may not be apparent to you is that Johns death represented a threat to Jesus, especially when Herod believed Jesus to be John resurrected from the dead (Matthew 13:2). We have to go back to Matthew 4:12 to see that, upon hearing that John had been imprisoned, Jesus withdrew from Perea to Galilee. The very same action, described by the very same Greek verb, occurs when Jesus gets the sad news about Johns death. Herod Antipas will indeed eventually get his hands on Jesus, but Jesus will remain silent, and Herod will eventually return him to the custody of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea (Luke 23:6-12), for final disposition.

France suggests that Jesus may have retreated by boat just a few miles to the east of Capernaum, just past the inflowing Jordan River, to the empty shore in the tetrarchy of Phillip.[1] In any event, Jesus plan for isolation was thwarted when a crowd met him at the scene (verses 13-14). Moved by compassion, he healed their sick, a frequent theme in Matthew.

When evening neared, the disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away to deal with their hunger, but Jesus told his disciples to feed the people (verses 15-16)! No doubt that came as a shock, since the available food was totally inadequate (verse 17). In spite of the limited food, Jesus had it brought to him while he had the people sit down. Then he blessed the food and had the disciples distribute it (verse 19). And distribute it, and distribute it.

Verse 20 makes the shocking statement that all ate their fill, and considerable food was left over. The miracle is never described, but the completeness of it is obvious.[2] Matthew states that about 5,000 men ate, as well the women and children with them, a Jewish way of framing the number (verse 21). Matthew never calls this event a miracle, continuing the routine of simply telling what happened.

An Old Testament pattern fulfilled

Along with Osborne, I see in this miracle a distinct echo of the feeding miracle performed by Elisha the prophet in 2 Kings 4:42-44.[3] However, I think Osborne does not go far enough in light of Matthews proven tendency to use midrash in his writing. Recall that midrash was a Jewish technique that compared one Scripture with another. The situation in the Old Testament was one in which one prophet (Elisha) took over for another (Elijah), when Elijah was taken into heaven. Events demonstrated that Elisha worked even greater miracles than Elijah had done.

Matthew has presented both John the Baptist and Jesus as prophets, though in Jesus case that was only one of his roles. Jesus has named John as the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14). John has, like Elijah, been taken from the scene, but Jesus, like Elisha, remains to do even greater things than John.

In 2 Kings 4, Elisha feeds a hundred men with twenty loaves of bread, and he had had some left over just as God had promised (2 Kings 4:44). Matthew presents an occasion when Jesus did a far greater work than Elisha the prophet, including the food left over. Not only does this demonstrate the complete supremacy of Jesus, but it also shows that Gods work in the world moves forward no matter what setbacks, such as the death of John, may occur. Matthews midrash helps reveal the hidden depth of Scripture.

How does an account such as this encourage you to entrust your needs to the compassion of Jesus?

 

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 560.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 567.

[3] Osborne, Matthew, 566.