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Last time, we read about Jesus and His disciples travelling by boat from Judea to Galilee.  There, Jesus would perform His greatest creative miracle, that of multiplying the loaves and the fishes.

Today’s post details what happened afterward.  This account is not included in the three-year Lectionary, which makes it appropriate for my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses.

This passage comes from the King James Version with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 6:16-23

16And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea,

 17And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.

 18And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.

 19So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.

 20But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid.

 21Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.

 22The day following, when the people which stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was none other boat there, save that one whereinto his disciples were entered, and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone;

 23(Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks: )


After the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, the people wanted to make Jesus their king.  No doubt they were connecting Jesus and His miracle with the prophecy of Moses, notably Deuteronomy 18:15:

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

Therefore, in one sense, they recognised him as their Messiah.  However, they considered him to be only an earthly Messiah, one who would offer them a temporal and political liberation from Roman rule.  The error they made was in not recognising Him as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Both our commentators describe the potential power — physical and emotional — that a crowd can have on a small group of individuals, in this case Jesus and His disciples.  Had Jesus allowed the crowd to persist, they could have dragged His disciples off to co-opt them.  Jesus did not want that.  Nor did He want them to besiege Him with their earthly demands and complaints. So, He ended the feast (verse 15) and sought time alone:

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.

In reading this story, we might shake our heads at the ignorance and selfishness of those assembled.  Yet, are we any different?  Today, we are affected by what is known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a fancy name for people who consider Jesus and God to be divine butlers of sorts.  We pray for favours but then forget to give thanks or we think it is our due, because, after all, we’re worth it. As the aforementioned post states, many notional Christians believe:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

So, we’re not too different from the crowd who benefited from the miracle.  They were satisfied and thought that Jesus could satisfy them in other material ways.  However, such was not to be.

John MacArthur warns us against temporal thinking with regard to Jesus (emphases mine):

May I hasten to add that Jesus is nobody’s genie … Many people see Jesus as some kind of super miracle worker and if they’re not involved in some kind of a so-called miraculous thing, they don’t think He’s even around. And all they want is to use Him to create miracles. People constantly seeking sensationalism. Other people who are content just to accept Him as whatever He is and use Him for whatever purpose …

Well don’t you ever be misled. Don’t you ever be misled by the seeming honoring of Christ that eulogizes His precepts and despises His cross. That’s backwards. And Jesus read the minds of this mob like it was spattered on a screen and He knew their plans

Nobody uses God…not now, not then and not in the life of Christ. Christ is not for your whims and your fancies and your wishes. You don’t use God. Christ doesn’t commit Himself to any man …until there is a cry for mercy and repentance. That’s when God and Christ commit themselves to somebody. And there wasn’t any such thing here. They didn’t need to repent because they didn’t know they were sinners, they weren’t willing to admit that.

Note particularly the word ‘repentance’.  And that is our part of the bargain.  Are we really sorrowful about our sins, some of which might have led to the predicament about which we are crying to the Lord?  If so, we would do well to pray for His grace to give us the strength to resist temptation — and then follow through by not committing that sin again.

After Jesus dismissed the crowd (implied in verse 15), He went back to the mountain alone, and the disciples went down to the sea (verse 16).  John MacArthur has several paragraphs which discuss their obedience in not questioning His instruction — well worth reading.

So, verse 17 tells us that they got into a boat — a ‘ship’ (a vessel large enough to accomodate them but not of the size we would consider a ship to be today).  They began sailing towards Capernaum.

Why Capernaum?  Recall the nobleman who asked Jesus to heal his son, who was on the verge of dying in John 4:43-54.  Because of the instant healing which He performed remotely, the nobleman came to believe in Him, as did his whole household.  That meant family and servants.  This man would have been comparable to a lord of the manor and would have had great influence on his neigbours living in the same area.  Matthew Henry surmised that this miracle and mass conversion might have had some bearing on Jesus’s making Capernaum the centre of His ministry in Galilee.  He would have also wanted a friendly place where He and the disciples could work and rest in tranquillity.  Jesus had enemies even in Galilee, although fewer than in Judea.

The second part of verse 17 states that, by now, it was dark.  It does not appear as if the disciples are concerned for the time being that Jesus is not with them.

However, it isn’t long before a storm arises (verse 18).  Readers who live near a large body of water understand how quickly a beautiful, sunny day can turn into a stormy one.  At that point, those who are on the sea return to shore for safety.

At the time of the storm, they were around 3 1/2 miles away from the shore (verse 19). MacArthur takes up the story (emphases mine):

Matthew and Mark tell us it was really some storm. West of the Sea of Galilee are some valleys and gorges. The Sea of Galilee is approximately 682 feet below the Mediterranean and firing down those gorges was a tremendous wind that hit the surface of that little sea and it began flipping the sea up and down, the waves became large, the wind was blasting against their little boat as it struggled. They had to pull the sail down undoubtedly and row and pull against the strength of the sea and the wind toward Capernaum. The storm, Matthew and Mark tell us, increased in intensity, the night deepened, they were pushed off course and Matthew says they wound up in the midst of the sea fighting the storm. Matthew tells us that it was the fourth watch, that is from three to six in the morning, that means they have been toiling for at least twelve hours to go five miles, thrown all over that sea. Dark. And I’ll tell you, if I know anything about those guys, if I know anything about those disciples, there was one person they were longing for more than anyone else and that was Jesus Christ. And I know it because later on when He arrived they pulled Him into the boat and fell at His feet and worshiped Him. And it wasn’t so much they wanted His miracle as they would His presence for in the midst of any storm the presence of Christ is comfort enough, is it not? The true disciple doesn’t say, “I want Your miracle.” The true disciple just says, “I want You.” That’s enough.

Observe how Jesus reaches them in the storm: He walks on water.  However, they don’t know that at first — this is the same story that Matthew and Mark recount.  They think He might be a ghost.  It is at this point that we also react in the same way, imagining that we are in the same boat: the fear, the apprehension, the terror.  We wonder where Jesus is.  Is He all right?  If only He were here with us. Then, we imagine ourselves seeing what the disciples did — a figure looming on the horizon, walking on water.  Talk about increased adrenalin and soaring blood pressure!  This is high anxiety, physical and mental.

Jesus knows this, which is why in verse 20, He tells them not to worry, for it is He. The relief the disciples feel is palpable. Yet, we can read these verses from two angles.  We’ve seen what the disciples went through, but let’s look at it from Jesus’s perspective.  Jesus can control all situations, and He does so here.  He doesn’t want His disciples to be harmed.  He has the power to keep them safe and, if necessary, to master the storm.

Matthew Henry extends this episode to the human condition and our search for Christ’s presence in times of need:

See here … (2.) The concern Christ has for his disciples in distress: He drew nigh to the ship; for therefore he walked upon the water, as he rides upon the heavens, for the help of his people, Deu. 33:26. He will not leave them comfortless when they seem to be tossed with tempests and not comforted. When they are banished (as John) into remote places, or shut up (as Paul and Silas) in close places, he will find access to them, and will be nigh them. (3.) The relief Christ gives to his disciples in their fears. They were afraid, more afraid of an apparition (for so they supposed him to be) than of the winds and waves. It is more terrible to wrestle with the rulers of the darkness of this world than with a tempestuous sea. When they thought a demon haunted them, and perhaps was instrumental to raise the storm, they were more terrified than they had been while they saw nothing in it but what was natural. Note, [1.] Our real distresses are often much increased by our imaginary ones, the creatures of our own fancy. [2.] Even the approaches of comfort and deliverance are often so misconstrued as to become the occasions of fear and perplexity. We are often not only worse frightened than hurt, but then most frightened when we are ready to be helped. But, when they were in this fright, how affectionately did Christ silence their fears with that compassionate word (v. 20), It is I, be not afraid! Nothing is more powerful to convince sinners than that word, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; nothing more powerful to comfort saints than this, “I am Jesus whom thou lovest; it is I that love thee, and seek thy good; be not afraid of me, nor of the storm.” When trouble is nigh Christ is nigh.

Imagine the relief they felt in welcoming him onto the boat (verse 21).  Although John shortcuts the story a bit, Matthew 14 has more, and that is where Peter wants to be with Jesus on the water.  In that account, Jesus invited Peter to approach Him, also walking on water.  So, Peter did, taking a few steps then noting the strong wind. Then, he realises what he was doing, at which point he starts sinking into the sea. The thing to remember here is the longing of the believer for the presence of Christ.  Yes, rationally speaking, it was safer to remain in the boat, but Peter loved Jesus so much that he wanted to be with Him on the sea.  Foolish, no.  Sensible to seek the presence of the Master whom he so loved?  Yes.  Henry adds:

Note, Christ’s absenting himself for a time is but so much the more to endear himself, at his return, to his disciples, who value his presence above any thing.

Now let’s note the second part of verse 21: ‘immediately the ship was at land’.  So, after the nighttime struggle to get the boat to Capernaum, suddenly, they were there — a journey of two miles in an instant.  Jesus showed His infinite mercy on the disciples and performed another miracle. How incredible that must have been!  In Matthew 14, we read that the disciples worshipped Him saying, ‘Of a truth, thou art the Son of God’.

And for those of us today — wherever we find ourselves on the Christian spectrum — enduring persecution or simply feeling discouraged in our search for a good church, Henry has this advice:

Note, [1.] The ship of the church, in which the disciples of Christ have embarked themselves and their all, may be much shattered and distressed, yet it shall come safe to the harbour at last; tossed at sea, but not lost; cast down, but not destroyed; the bush burning, but not consumed. [2.] The power and presence of the church’s King shall expedite and facilitate her deliverance, and conquer the difficulties which have baffled the skill and industry of all her other friends. The disciples had rowed hard, but could not make their point till they had got Christ in the ship, and then the work was done suddenly. If we have received Christ Jesus the Lord, have received him willingly, though the night be dark and the wind high, yet we may comfort ourselves with this, that we shall be at shore shortly, and are nearer to it than we think we are. Many a doubting soul is fetched to heaven by a pleasing surprise, or ever it is aware.

Verse 22 tells us that, despite Jesus’s instruction after the feast the day before, not everyone left the area near the mountain.  So, they arose the next morning to find that the boat with the disciples had gone.  Yet, they knew that Jesus had not gone with them.  These people had disobeyed Jesus’s instruction to leave and now wanted to know where He was.  Later in the chapter, He rebukes them for their carnal appetites in this regard (verses 26 and 27):

26Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.

 27Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

Verse 23 relates that boats came in from the city of Tiberias to the place where the feast had occurred the previous day.  The people who stayed behind to search for Jesus then were taken to Capernaum.  How did they know to go there?  Quite possibly because they already knew that was where Jesus and the disciples were based.  As John MacArthur explained in my earlier post about John 6:1-3, Jesus’s ministry was already well underway.

Next week: Various verses from John 6

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