Matthew 14:22-36 Part 1

Jesus has just concluded the feeding of a crowd numbering well over five thousand people.  And in that text, verses fifteen through twenty-one, there is one other thing that I wanted to mention before we go on.  And that is that Matthew’s concentration is on the bread.  As you see in verse nineteen, after Jesus held the loaves and fishes while He gave praise to His Father, there was no longer any mention of the fish!  Matthew says that He gave the loaves to His disciples – and they to the crowd.

Now, some would say that that’s an oversight by Matthew; or that the mention of the loaves includes, by inference, the fish as well.  But I don’t think anything of the sort!  Matthew has directed our attention specifically to the issue of importance in this whole event.  And that issue is not that five thousand hungry people were fed; or that Jesus performed such a mighty miracle; or that the apostle’s faith was tried; or any of a number of other things that might be mentioned here!

Even though those things are, indeed, substantive and weighty and are edifying to our knowledge of and faith in Christ Jesus, they are not even close to the primary issue of importance in this event!  Matthew has intentionally drawn attention to the bread!  And the bread is that upon which the apostle’s understanding and faith were to be fastened – and ours in turn!

Matthew’s Gospel leaves it to the reader to see and understand the significance; but John, in his Gospel, actually provides us with Jesus’ next-day-discourse on the Bread of Life!  And in that discourse Jesus proclaims the union that exists between Himself and those whom His Father has given Him.  In the coming crucifixion the Son of God gives His flesh as the Bread of Life, which, having eaten, believers become one in union with Him!  And, having participated in His body, they have eaten of that which gives eternal life.  For He is the Bread which, upon eating, one is filled forever!

Ultimately it was this discourse, according to John, which drove away many of those who were following him, for Jesus made the connection between His body and the bread which He served to the crowd and the manna which fed the nation of Israel in the Sinai desert.

But we’ll see more of that connection when we get to Matthew chapter twenty-six where Jesus eats the Last Supper with His disciples.

 Now let’s go back to the text and pick up where we left off – with verse twenty-two.  Matthew says, “And immediately He compelled the disciples to get aboard into the boat and to be going before Him to the other side, until He could send the crowds away.”

The apostle John informs us about the reason for the immediate compelling of the apostles to get into the boat and leave.  It seems that the great crowd was beginning to put together a scheme in order to kidnap Jesus – or take Him by force, according to the text – and make Him King!  And we have to make the assumption that there was intent on their part to actually take Him to Jerusalem during Passover (only a few days away) and forcibly install Him!  And we also have to make the assumption that the apostles, at this point in time, would have delighted in such a scheme!  All of this would certainly account for the quick and decisive action in getting the apostles out of there.

It also accounts for the information contained in verse twenty-three, which says that Jesus then dismissed the crowd and went up into the mountain to pray and to be alone.  John’s Gospel says that He actually fled up into the mountain!  The very least we can say about that is that He hurried to get away from the crowds in order to short-circuit what they were planning to do, and in order to be alone and pray.

And the text indicates that He was there for a long time.  If we assume that the crowds were dismissed early in the evening – around seven or eight o’clock – then Jesus was alone in His private place for at least six or seven hours, because the next event happens, according to verse twenty-five, during the fourth watch – which is between three AM and six AM the next morning.

Now, since the text makes no mention of the content of Jesus’ prayer – which is logical since He was there alone – we can only assume that His time with The Father was spent with regard to this turn of events and His obedience and submission to His Father’s Will – all the way to the Cross.  More than likely His praying contained something about this huge crowd wanting to make Him King – to rule in Jerusalem; for that was certainly a temptation to self-glory.  His praying would certainly have included the vile rejection of His person by the Jews.  Many of His Own followers would even turn away from Him the very next day.  He would have communed with His Father about staying the course and receiving the nations as His inheritance – as His crossing over into Gentile Syria had indicated.  His praying would have contained much about false Messianic conceptions and expectations; and much would have been said with regard to His Own personal preparations for the things He had yet to do.  He was to endure separation and rejection as no other has.

I think that’s about all we’re allowed to say about Jesus’ praying.  I think we’re allowed to contemplate it.  Knowing what prayer is – that it is a humble submission of self to the will of God for His glory – we can enter in, with the heart and mind, to the conduct of the relationship itself; and we can meditate on it.  And we can gain some insight into what our praying is to be.

And since our relationship to the Father is now not all that dissimilar to Jesus’ relationship, we, in Him, may enter into God’s presence in that same manner.  So, I think that, by the Spirit – by the work of the Spirit – we might contemplate this event of praying by Jesus and be expectant of God’s mercy in teaching us about it.  It is, indeed, a wondrous thing to enter into the heavenlies, in Jesus, and present ourselves before God the Father; and to know that this is what Jesus did.  And we can adore the Father as He did, and we can receive the strengthening to stay the course and pursue the Kingdom – as He did.  And that rejection and separation that we may suffer in Him can then become precious to us as we submit to the Father’s Will.

As Jesus went up into the mountain to be alone, and to pray, we need the “aloneness” as well – to contemplate, to meditate – to enter into that communion with God as Jesus did.  Put yourself there – ascend into the heavens where Jesus has made a place for us.  Enter in before God, in Christ, and speak to Him; and adore Him and glorify Him.  Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I Am you might be also.”  The place is there – the audience is there.  Pursue it.  Don’t neglect it.

Verse twenty-four.  When the apostles set out from shore at about dusk, seven or eight o’clock, it was probably a beautiful evening.  But the Sea of Galilee, Lake Gennasaret literally, was famous for its quick storms – lying between high ridges.  I’ve never been there, but I understand that the way these things happen, however frequently or infrequently, is terrifying and freakish!  But, as this verse says, a storm did come; and it began lashing the waters furiously from Northwest to Southeast.  Matthew says that the boat was being tormented!

The apostles kept the oars going directly into the wind – toward the Northwest, which was the direction they wanted to go, back to Capernaum.  Matthew says that they were in the “midst” of the Sea.  The apostle John says they were twenty-five or thirty “stadia” from the land, which is about three and a half miles.  And three and a half miles is, indeed, in the middle of the lake, because the lake is only about six or seven miles wide!

So, by the time Jesus came to them, during the fourth watch (as verse twenty-five says) they had been rowing for as few as seven hours and as many as ten hours!  And in that length of time they had only gone three and half miles!  All night, with muscles straining to the limit and with no sleep, they had battled to the point of exhaustion; and they were still in the middle of the lake with no choice except to continue!  To quit meant inundation!

And that’s when, as Matthew says in verse twenty-five, Jesus came to them walking on the Sea.  He came to them just as their strength and hope were almost gone.  Certainly they had no indication at all concerning what was about to happen; but surely they were wishing that Jesus was with them.  They had seen the elements of creation obey Him once before on this very lake!  So certainly their desire was for Him to be there!  For if He were, then He would do the same again.  But, of course, He wasn’t!  Or so they thought.

But during that very early morning hour He came toward them walking on the Sea!  Now, inquiries about whether Jesus walked the whole distance from the shore, or just appeared before them aren’t addressed in the text.  And those kinds of questions really deserve no answer.  What we can say is that Matthew was there in that boat, and he records what he saw!  And He saw with his own eyes the Lord Jesus Christ walking toward them; and He was walking on the Sea.

The wind was blowing furiously and the waves were rolling and foaming, and He was not tossed about or sprayed with water.  In fact He wasn’t affected at all by the storm!  He didn’t float above it or move in some ghostly fashion – but He walked, as on smooth ground!

Artists who have portrayed Jesus and this event have depicted Him in some eerie light – as if He had transformed Himself into some “other-worldly” spirit being.  They treat His walking on the Sea as weird and unearthly, and they paint scenes which suggest a fairy-tale, or magic, or sorcery!

But what the apostles saw, even in the dark, was Jesus – just as they had seen Him the afternoon before!  He walked toward them with absolute control over the elements….  He was Jesus their Master, in the flesh, walking with complete control over the raging Sea.

Right at the beginning, seeing something walking toward them in the dark, they, too, were confused and frightened, according to Matthew in verse twenty-six.  This was an incredible thing.  Here they were soaked and exhausted and hopelessly in the middle of the Sea – fearing death imminently – and the combination of all of that, plus seeing something walking toward them on the water, terrified them!  They thought it was the very end for them, for a ghost had appeared at the time of their being “sent under.”  And they shrieked with fear!

But as verse twenty-seven says, Jesus immediately spoke to them saying, “Be courageous, it is I; do not be afraid.”  And when they heard His voice, they recognized Him at once.

The first word from His mouth was one which they had heard Him speak before – “Tharseite”; be courageous.  And we need to take a close look at this word, for it is, indeed, significant!  I said that the apostles had heard Jesus speak it before, and we find it in two places earlier in this Gospel, both of them in chapter nine.  The first is in relation to the man who was completely paralyzed; and the second was spoken to the woman who had had menstrual bleeding for twelve years.  “Be courageous,” He said to them both.

Another occasion was when Paul was thrown in prison, and it was feared that he would be killed by the Jews.  And Jesus came to him in prison and said, “Be courageous, Paul….”  The last place is in John sixteen when Jesus is telling His apostles about the trouble they are going to have in the world order; and He says to them, “Be courageous, for I have overcome the cosmos.”

You’ll notice that in every case this word is spoken by Jesus.  And it is a word which always is in relation to Him and the fact that it is He Who overcomes!  His sons and daughters need have no fear or anxiety about what the world order might bring, for He has overcome it!

Now, this isn’t myth or superstition or spiritism or ignorance:  this is the One Who has overcome wind, waves and inundation; demons and death; fear and anxiety; men; situations and circumstances!  Courage in – fear out!  “Flee from fear!”  Fear God – not any of these other things!  “It is I,” says Jesus!  “I have overcome the cosmos!”

Now, let me say, in order to illustrate the importance of what’s being said here, that it is common in humans to draw what courage they can from within when they’re faced with threats to their existence or their welfare.  And that’s the approach of psychology, too, isn’t it?  One might need the help of a support group in order to accomplish it, but it’s the process of going inside in order to find the innate strength of humanity in order to shore up the self against any threat!

But it is the case that such courage found within the self is a courage which must have either a philosophical basis or a basis in deception!  In other words there must either be a stoic hardening against whatever it is that threatens, or one must deceive himself as to the nature of the threat or as to the source of the strength needed to meet it!

But for the one who lives in Christ, on the other hand, the courage derives from the victory of Christ Who overcomes the cosmos – the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and His ascension to the Right Hand of the Majesty – instead of myth, philosophy and self-deception!  Jesus’ apostles were constantly threatened in one way or another by the world order, so they were always subject to fear and anxiety.  But Jesus said to them, “I have overcome the Cosmos.  You have no need to fear what it will bring!  Tharseite!  Be courageous.”

Now as we come to verse twenty-eight, we see that Peter, upon hearing the voice of the Savior, is moved immediately from superstitious terror to daring faith!  And that’s Peter’s nature all the way through the Gospels.  He goes all the way over to the complete opposite!  And he was convinced immediately that, by Jesus’ command, he, too, could walk on the Sea!  (The Sea has far greater significance than just the literal meaning here in the text; and we’ve seen it once before.  But we’ll have more to say about it next Lord’s Day.)

But Peter uses the word “waters” here – rather than the Sea.  And Matthew is careful to distinguish its use from the more general term “the sea”.  He says, verse twenty-eight: 


“Lord, if You are You, bid me to come to You upon the waters.  And He said, ‘Come.’  And having come down from the boat Peter walked about upon the waters and came toward Jesus.”


Now, we’re not going to have time to finish looking into this word and its various uses today, since we have to draw the meaning from all over the Scriptures.  But let me introduce the concept of “the waters” – and the idea of “the sea” – in the following way.

There are many who would say that the correct interpretation of this passage centers around the faith of the apostles being tested and built.  And that the sole, or basic, reason for the feeding of the thousands and the walking on the waters of the Sea is for their benefit in building the foundation of the Church.  And that Jesus just “chooses” to use such majestic and significant events in order to prove to them who He is and the nature of His mighty power and how He draws near to help His people in distress!

But I would propose that if Jesus did, indeed, choose to perform these great events solely for their immediate purpose in teaching His apostles, then His walking upon the waters of the Sea is an event isolated in its own meaning!  And that it is disconnected from history and that the sense of it is totally abstract!

In other words if Jesus worked these mighty phenomena for peculiarly immediate reasons – in this case for the teaching of His apostles – then the event is unique and isolated and disconnected from the progressive Revelation of God!  And if it is that abstract, then its sensibility and knowability cannot be determined!

But that seems to be the way exegesis is being done right now in the recent history of the Church!  But what we want to do is a little different from that.  We want to make sure that something of such a magnitude as Jesus walking upon the waters of a raging Sea has its ground in the Revelation of God!  And that it’s not just a brute fact, not having any substance in history!

The apostle’s faith was being tested, wasn’t it?  But in what were they to faith?  In Jesus Who could work a miracle?  Or in the Son of God Who was the fullness of His Father’s Revelation?  Do they see a miracle in the abstract and have faith?  Or do they see the nations raging, and the world order, and the demons, and the dragon down under, and the Savior of the World whose voice is described as having the sound of many waters, and Israel the harlot who sits upon many waters? – and so on and so on!  These are the things which will be occupying our minds next Lord’s Day.  And I pray that God will bless us as we search out the richness of His Son; and that He will give us faith in this One Who occupies the seat at the Right Hand of the Majesty.  And this One Who is the Fullness of His Father’s Revelation, and the one Who is the Alpha and Omega of His Father’s purpose in history, and the One Who said, “I have overcome the Cosmos!”