Sunday: John 6:16-21
vs16-21: John used only five verses to describe the events that took place that night. He said the disciples were rowing toward Capernaum into a strong wind and by three oâclock in the morning had covered only three or four miles. Then suddenly Jesus approached them walking on the water. John quoted only one brief statement from Jesus, âIt is I; do not be afraid,â and then added a statement which seems to imply that another miracle took place after Jesus entered the boat. He said, âand immediately the boat was at the land.â Apparently the boat was instantly transported the last mile or so. But Matthew (14:22-33) and Mark (6:45-52) describe the events of that night in much greater detail. What follows is a composite drawn from all three gospels.
After the miracle of the loaves and fish Jesus sent the disciples away in the boat and went up on a nearby hill to pray. He remained there throughout most of the night. From where He sat the lake was spread out before Him, and since it was near the time of Passover there would have been nearly a full moon casting its light over the lake. That meant He was able to watch His disciples struggle as they rowed against a strong west wind. Capernaum lay about five miles northwest of where this gathering likely took place. And by three oâclock in the morning the boat had covered only three to four miles, and the men were growing exhausted. Suddenly someone looked behind them and spotted a human shape walking toward them through the darkness. At first they thought it was a demonic spirit (phantasm, Mt 14:26) pursuing them, and they became terrified. I would suppose their first response was to row harder to try to outrun it, but that soon failed as the strange being caught up to them and began to pass by on one side.
They werenât able to see well enough to recognize who or what it was and became so frightened they trembled and began to scream. All of them had heard stories about night spirits who would creep up on people to bring disaster (Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan, 1980, p106). So in that moment of confusion they thought they were doomed. Mercifully, as He was passing by Jesus spoke to them saying, âBe encouraged, itâs Me (I am), donât be afraidâ (paraphrase). Then Peter did something only Peter would do. He yelled into the roaring wind, âLord, if it is You, command me to come to You upon the waters.â Apparently as soon as the fear left him, this life-long fisherman became so fascinated by the fact that a human being could walk on water, he wanted to try.
That Peter would dare to ask such a thing is very significant. It means he did not assume that Jesus was doing something that no normal human being could ever do. This gives us a glimpse into how Peter understood Jesus: He did not place Him into a special category. Of course he knew Jesus was Godâs Son and the promised Messiah (Mt 14:33), yet that did not diminish for Peter the reality that Jesus was also fully human. In other words, he did not think this miracle took place because Jesus was a divine being who only appeared to be human. In Peterâs mind Jesus was a man walking on the water not a divine spirit floating over the top of the lake. Though John does not record this incident in his gospel, one of his primary goals in writing it was to reveal the true nature of Jesus. He opened this gospel (Jn 1:1-18) by telling us that Jesusâ spirit â that is, the essential Person Himself (intellect, will, emotions) â is Godâs divine Son through whom all creation was formed. But John also shows us the genuine humanity Jesus took on in the incarnation (Jn 19:34-35). And itâs that genuine humanity that we can see reflected in Peterâs reaction. The Person Peter saw standing in the waves was as human as he was, and he realized that Jesus was showing them what is possible for a God-led, Spirit-empowered human to do. So Peter dared to ask if he could walk on water too.
And that Jesus fully agreed with Peterâs assessment of the situation is proven by His one-word answer, âCome!â Peter immediately lowered himself down from the boat, began to walk on the water and headed toward Jesus. At first it must have been a shock to sense the water become firm under his feet, but then he focused his eyes on Jesus and started moving toward Him. Somewhere between the boat and Jesus, Peter stopped to look around. High winds were still rushing over the lake. Great waves were rolling by making the water uneven, and the spray blowing in his face must have made it hard to see. So he turned and looked back at the boat and then again at Jesus. And it was at that moment that he started to sink. He didnât plunge down under the water all at once. He went down gradually. Now Peter was a fisherman and could swim (Jn 21:7) which gives us some idea of how violent that storm must have been. If a trained fisherman was terrified, these must have been gale-force winds with high crashing waves. As he sank he cried out, âLord, save me!â Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him. As He lifted him back up He said, âLittle faith, why did you waver (distazo: to stand on two places; wavering between two paths wondering which to take). In other words He asked him, âWhy did you stop and think about whether to keep coming toward Me or to turn back to the boat?â
Friday: John 6:21
As they both climbed into the boat the wind suddenly died down. At this point in his gospel, Mark says the disciples were overwhelmed (âbeside themselvesâ) (Mk 6:51) and then explained why. He said it was because they still did not understand the spiritual lesson that they should have learned from the miracle of the loaves (and fish) because their hearts had been âhardenedâ (Mk 6:52). Matthew tells us that when Jesus got into the boat the disciples actually worshipped Him declaring, âTruly, You are the Son of God!â (Mt 14:33). Unfortunately their worship did not produce a lasting faith. They soon returned to doubting that God would provide for them (Mt 16:7-12; Mk 8:14-21). v21: One more miracle may have taken place before that journey ended. The boat had been about a mile and a half from Capernaum when Jesus joined His disciples, but then John said, âat once (straightway, immediately) the boat was upon the land to which they were going.â His choice of words seems to imply that they were miraculously transported to shore in an instant.
Saturday: John 6:22-25
vs22-24: That same morning, back on the east side of the lake, the crowd gazed intently out over the water to see if Jesus had escaped by boat during the night but then saw only one small boat that wasnât His. They knew He had sent His disciples away the night before without getting into the boat Himself, and they had already searched everywhere and couldnât find Him. So they decided to go to Capernaum to look for Him. Either the night before or early that morning a number of people from the city of Tiberius, on the west side of the lake, had arrived in small boats also searching for Jesus. When they discovered He was gone they got back in their boats and, taking some of the crowd with them, headed toward Capernaum to look for Him. Actually Jesus didnât return to Capernaum. Their boat came to shore about two miles down the beach at a small agricultural valley called Gennesaret. But Jesus couldnât find rest there either. As soon as the local people recognized Him they ran to get those who were sick to bring them to Jesus. And Matthew (Mt 14:34-36) and Mark (Mk 6:53-56) report that everyone who touched Him was made well. Meanwhile the crowd who ate the loaves and fish the day before were sailing or walking around the north end of the lake, and soon they too caught up with Him. v25: Still curious as to how He had escaped them, they asked, âRabbi, when did you get here?â That started a remarkable discussion which, thankfully, John recorded (Jn 6:26-59).