Congratulations on two weeks of reading! You are appreciated and are being prayed for. In Matthew chapter 14 we read about John the Baptist’s death, Jesus feeding the 5000, and Jesus walking on water.
Matthew continued to record various responses to Jesus. The Pharisees have accused him of being under Satan’s power (12:22-37). Other religious leaders have revealed their rejection by requesting a “sign” (12:38-45). Jesus’ own family thought he had gone crazy (12:46-50; see also Mark 3:31-35). Jesus had to speak in parables because of many people’s unbelief (13:1-52). Finally, the people of Jesus’ hometown had rejected him (13:53-58). This chapter gives the story of a government leader’s misunderstanding. Herod thought that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist.
John the Baptist had been arrested just prior to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Because John had ministered in Perea (“on the other side of the Jordan,” John 1:28), he was under Herod’s jurisdiction. The arrest marked the end of John’s public ministry. He was imprisoned for some time prior to his death (see 11:2-6).
14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus.NKJV “At that time” is only a connecting phrase. The events of this chapter do not follow chronologically from the end of chapter 13. Herod ruled over the territories of Galilee and Perea. In 4 b.c., Herod had been named tetrarch—one of four rulers over the four districts of Palestine. He was the son of Herod the Great, who had ordered the killing of the babies in Bethlehem (2:16). Also known as Herod Antipas, he would hear Jesus’ case before the crucifixion (Luke 23:6-12).
The history of the Herod family is filled with lies, murder, treachery, and adultery. Herod Antipas was known for his insensitivity and debauchery. Though he was popular with his Roman superiors, his unbridled political ambitions eventually led to his exile in a.d. 39 by the Roman emperor Caligula, who removed him on the basis of charges by his nephew (Herod Agrippa I), who ruled Galilee after Herod Antipas.
|LIFE APPLICATION – HEROD’S TRAGEDY|
|Most people dislike having their sins pointed out, especially in public. The shame of being exposed is often stronger than the guilt brought on by the wrongdoing. Herod Antipas was a man experiencing both guilt and shame. Herod’s ruthless ambition was public knowledge, as was his illegal (by Jewish law) marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. One man made Herod’s sin a public issue. That man was John the Baptist. Herodias was particularly anxious to have John silenced. But Herod liked John, who was probably one of the few people he met who spoke only the truth to him. But the truth about his sin was a bitter pill to swallow, and Herod wavered at the point of conflict. Eventually Herodias forced his hand, and John was executed.|
|For each person, God chooses the best possible ways to reveal himself. He uses his Word, various circumstances, our minds, or other people to get our attention. God is persuasive and persistent but never forces himself on us. To miss or resist God’s message, as did Herod, is a tragedy. How aware are you of God’s attempts to enter your life? Have you welcomed him?|
14:2 And he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”NIV Herod’s guilt over John’s death led him to think that his worst nightmares had come true: John the Baptist had risen from the dead. Oddly enough, John had done no miracles (John 10:41); he had simply preached and prepared the way for Jesus. Verses 3 and 4 show that this incident occurred after John’s death and are Matthew’s flashback to the prior events.
While Herod had succeeded in silencing John, he had not succeeded in silencing his own guilty conscience (see 14:9). When news of Jesus reached the palace, Herod thought that John had come back to trouble him some more. Thus began Herod’s great interest in Jesus and his long-standing desire to see him perform a miracle (Luke 23:8).
14:3-4 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”NRSV Herod’s personal guilt was well placed, for he had ordered John to be arrested. In ancient days, kings had absolute sway; if the king wanted someone arrested, the arrest was carried out by his guards—no questions asked. Herod, empowered by Rome over the region of Galilee, simply had given the orders and John had been arrested, bound, and put in prison. The Jewish historian Josephus pinpointed this prison as Machaerus, a fortress (combination palace and prison) near the barren northeastern shore of the Dead Sea in the region of Moab.
Ironically, this “powerful” king did this in response to pressure from Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Why did she make a difference? Mark added that Herod had married her (Mark 6:17). Herod’s first wife was the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabateans, whose land was south of Perea. This marriage was arranged by Augustus to keep peace between Arabs and Jews. Philip was Herod’s half brother and not Philip the tetrarch. According to Josephus, Salome was the one who later married Philip the tetrarch, who was her granduncle. When Herod Antipas met Herodias, his brother’s wife, he divorced his first wife and married Herodias.
Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus, another half brother. Thus, Herodias was a half niece to both Philip and Herod (and they, in turn, were her half uncles). Herodias married her half uncle Philip and then divorced him to marry another half uncle, Herod. Thus, in marrying, Herodias and Herod had committed adultery, as well as a type of incest. John the Baptist condemned Herod and Herodias for living immorally. It was not lawful for Herod to be married to his brother’s (that is, half brother’s) wife (not to mention that she was also his half niece). Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 describe the laws that Herod was breaking. Herod was Jewish, and whether or not he cared about the Jewish law, he did care about a revolt against him by the Jews.
|LIFE APPLICATION – JOHN THE BOLD|
|John was called the Baptist, but he could have equally been called the Bold. An evangelist who preached about the kingdom, he got in trouble over a too-direct assault on the morals of the ruling family.|
|Christians are smart to choose their battles. Not every sin can or should be the topic of loud public preaching. But some sins need the boldness of John: his forthright truth telling, his disregard of personal consequences, his call to moral living. Anti-slavery preachers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were these types (check out the story of Elijah P. Lovejoy as one good example), as well as civil rights preachers of the twentieth century. Choose your battles, but once engaged, don’t quiver for fear of a tyrant’s power. Jesus is Lord, everywhere and at all times.|
14:5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.NIV Rebuking a tyrannical Roman official who could imprison and execute him was extremely dangerous, yet that is what John had done. In addition, there was political tension over Herod’s divorce of his first wife—the daughter of the king of a neighboring country. This king eventually would defeat Herod in battle. This was explosive enough without John bringing up the illegal marriage. John’s public denunciation of the incest and adultery of
|Herod and Herodias was too much for them to bear, especially Herodias, whose anger turned to hatred. Mark’s Gospel focuses on Herodias, who was both wicked and ruthless in her attempts to kill John the Baptist. While Matthew’s account seems to focus on Herod (Herod wanted to kill John), we can combine the accounts to see a wicked yet weak ruler who was not in a hurry to kill John because he was afraid of the people. The||Never before has the need been more urgent for Christians to bring their faith to the front lines. It takes courage to think and act Christianly in times like these. We must demonstrate Christian love and compassion to even those who oppose us most vehemently.
people considered John to be a prophet, and for Herod to put to death one of the Jews’ prophets could have caused a huge revolt in his territory and certainly would have created great discontent.
Mark writes that Herodias “nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to” (Mark :19 niv). Apparently her influence was very strong over her husband. Herodias likely made her desires known, so Herod solved his dilemma by keeping John locked away in prison. Perhaps Herod hoped that stopping John’s public speaking would end the problem and quiet Herodias.
14:6-7 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask.NRSV That Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist was not enough for the angry Herodias. She continued to nurse her grudge against John for speaking publicly about her sins, biding her time until she would get her way and have John killed. Then on Herod’s birthday, the opportunity arrived. Mark wrote that Herod gave a banquet for many notable men from governmental, military, and civil positions in Galilee (Mark 6:21). Celebrating birthdays was a Hellenistic custom, not a Jewish one.
Herodias’s daughter (by her marriage with Herod Philip) provided the bait Herodias would use to get her way with her husband. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the daughter was Salome, a young woman in her middle teens.
|Herodias sent Salome into the banquet hall to dance before the company of Herod and his roomful of male (and probably drunken) dinner guests. The dance she performed may have been provocative and sensual.||Not that it is wrong in itself to give a good party, but such is the propensity of the human mind to wantonness that when the reins are loosed, men easily go astray.
Few women of respectable position would perform in such a way, but Herodias knew that Salome’s dance would gain raucous approval from the all-male audience. When Salome ended her dance, the king brought her to his side. He offered her whatever she might ask. Not only that, but he promised on oath—perhaps his word wasn’t good enough without that. Herod probably expected his daughter to request jewels or some other favor. He certainly did not expect the request he received.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SENSUAL AND WEAK|
|What a study in contrasts: John the bold, in prison; and Herod the powerful, subdued by his own sensuality and moral weakness—internal prisons that John never knew. Herod became weak through a lifetime of weak decisions, culminating in this sorry spectacle. His life was tragic and wasted.|
|Be careful about those small moral compromises that lead to bigger ones. Herod found himself on a slippery slope and could not stop the slide. Examine all your decisions and choices. Does each step you take reflect what God wants for your life? As soon as you exclude his will from your daily decisions, you risk the error of merely pleasing people.|
14:8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”NRSV Any young woman might be prepared with a thousand possible suggestions to an offer such as Herod’s, but Salome was still a fairly young girl and had already been prompted. The Matthew account seems to sound as though Salome already knew what she would request; Mark’s Gospel says she returned to her mother to find out what she should ask for. The mother’s dark desires dominated the situation. Salome responded with the gruesome request, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” Herodias wanted John killed and the proof of his death returned on a platter. Bringing the head to the one who ordered the execution was common; however, beheading, while a Roman custom, was not a normal form of Jewish execution. Neither was it legal to put a person to death without a trial. But Herod, faced by drunk and smirking officials who waited to see what he would do, was too weak to object. Herodias would have her way. Herod caved in under the social pressure and John’s death was sealed.
14:9-10 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison.NIV When Salome grandly gave her request to Herod in the hearing of all the important officials, Herod suddenly realized what he had done—and he probably knew he had been trapped by Herodias. Herod was distressed because he put himself in this position in front of all the people he wanted to impress (14:5), and yet he considered John a holy man whom he both respected and feared (Mark 6:20). Herod had made a promise and had sealed it with an oath. Such words were considered irrevocable. To back out on the promise would show his important guests that Herod was not a man of his word or that he was afraid of this “unimportant” prisoner in a dungeon. So, because of his oaths and for his reputation in front of his dinner guests, Herod decided to show his authority by immediately fulfilling the girl’s request.
|LIFE APPLICATION – STUPID PROMISES|
|It’s a good rule to keep your promises. Like most rules, however, sometimes an exception is necessary. It may require a lot of embarrassing backtracking, but some promises need to be rescinded before they lead to greater trouble. Herod failed to swallow his mistake and, instead, violated local criminal procedures and ordered the summary execution of a man undeserving of that fate.|
|Try not to make promises you cannot keep (Christian parents and politicians, take note!). But when you make a stupid promise, swallow your pride and get out of it. Better to feel embarrassed than to commit a grave sin.|
14:11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother.NRSV If Herod was at his usual location in his palace in Tiberias, some time had to elapse between saying he would fulfill Salome’s request and the actual return with the gruesome results. Some scholars think that Herod was at the prison fortress of Machaerus by the Dead Sea where John was imprisoned. If so, the event would have taken place almost immediately. An executioner beheaded John and brought the grisly trophy back to the girl. The Greek word translated “girl” (korasion) means a girl of marriageable age. As suggested above, she was in her early to middle teens, yet young enough to still be under her parents’ authority.
Herod fulfilled his oath and saved face before his guests. But he had been manipulated by his wife and was left with great fear over what he had done in killing a holy man. Herod’s guilt could not be assuaged. Thus, when Jesus came upon the scene, Herod thought that John had come back to life (14:2).
|LIFE APPLICATION – GRUESOME INSENSITIVITY|
|What mother would ask her teenage daughter to do this . . . the head of a dead man on a tray? By any human standards, the consciences of both mother and daughter were totally desensitized.|
|Are children similarly desensitized today by early exposure to violence on television, in motion pictures, and in popular music? Is sex so commonplace and murder so normal that the “unspeakable” begins to bore? Researchers have gathered lots of data, and the best results point in that direction: the more exposure we have to gruesome media, the less sensitive we become to real-life cruelty.|
|Check out the themes on your Sunday night television schedule if you want a modern menu of what Herodias must have taught Salome. And be forewarned.|
14:12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.NRSV John the Baptist apparently still had disciples, even though many had left him to follow Jesus (which John was content for them to do, see John 1:35-37). When they heard that John had been beheaded, they came, took away his corpse, and gave it a proper burial (instead of leaving it to be disposed of by the guards in the prison). Then, they went and told Jesus. Matthew’s mention of this report to Jesus shows the close link between John’s and Jesus’ ministries. The report could have also been a warning to Jesus about the violence of which Herod was capable, and the danger of public preaching. “Don’t let the same thing happen to you,” may have been the messengers’ warning. John was the first to feel what could follow for Jesus.
JESUS FEEDS FIVE THOUSAND / 14:13-21
Apart from Jesus’ resurrection, this is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospels, showing its importance to Jesus’ ministry and to the early church. While many people have tried to explain away the incident, it is clear that all the Gospel writers saw this as a wonderful miracle. In Matthew and Mark, this miracle follows the account of Herod’s tragic feast where John the Baptist was killed. The placement of the event creates a stark contrast between Herod’s deadly orgy and the miraculous feast that Jesus provided for the multitude. Like each of Jesus’ miracles, the feeding of the five thousand demonstrated his control over creation and showed that God will provide when we are in need.
14:13-14 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.NIV News of John’s death resulted in Jesus’ desire to pull away and be alone for a while with his disciples. Jesus and the disciples got into a boat (probably the same boat that had transported them already on the Sea of Galilee, see 8:23; 9:1) and withdrew . . . privately to a solitary place. The disciples apparently knew of a good location where they thought they could get away from the crowds. Luke tells us that they “withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida” (Luke 9:10 nrsv), probably landing at a solitary harbor apart from the city, or else they went on foot into the hills to find the “solitary place” where they could rest. This location may have been just outside of Galilee and, therefore, away from Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction.
|LIFE APPLICATION – COMPANION IN PAIN|
|Jesus performed some miracles as signs of his identity. He used other miracles to teach important truths. But here we read that he healed people because he “had compassion on them.” Jesus was a loving, caring, and feeling person. He put aside his own need for rest and retreat from hostility. When you are suffering, remember that Jesus hurts with you. He has compassion on you. Likewise, we must be available to show compassion to others who need Jesus’ kindly touch.|
Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.NIV Popularity and recognition have their own pitfalls. Jesus and the disciples needed rest and quiet time, but the crowds would not let them get away. Instead, they followed him on foot from all the towns between Capernaum and Bethsaida. The news spread as more and more people joined the crowd that made their way to where Jesus and the disciples would land. Either the people had heard where the boat was headed, or perhaps the boat was sailing not quite out of sight along the horizon so that the people could follow it.
As soon as Jesus landed, the rest was over because a large crowd waited on the shore. Far from feeling impatience and frustration toward these needy people, Jesus had compassion on them. While Jesus had hoped to be alone with the disciples for a time of rest, he did not send away this needy crowd. He had compassion for the people and took it upon himself to meet their needs. Jesus knew that his time on earth was short, so he took advantage of every opportunity to teach the Good News of the kingdom to those willing to listen.
14:15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”NRSV Jesus had been teaching the people until evening and the hour was late (after 3:00 p.m.). Sunset was approaching, and the disciples wondered what Jesus planned to do with this crowd that had come far from their homes to be with them. The place where Jesus had been teaching was deserted, far from any town or village. It was near Bethsaida, east of the lake about four miles from Capernaum. Note the frustration in the disciples’ statement: Without the normally respectful “Lord,” they told Jesus where he was, what time it was, and what he should do. The disciples were upset and thought that Jesus would be wise to let the people go before it got dark in order for them to find food and lodging for the night. So they brought their suggestion to Jesus: send the crowds away. No doubt, the disciples also hoped to soon get the rest they had anticipated when they had set out on this journey.
|LIFE APPLICATION – YOU FEED THEM|
|Jesus loved the people in a specific and concrete way. They needed food; they received. We learn two important lessons in this miracle:|
|1. Jesus provides for our needs. If we trust him, we can find full provision for our basic needs. He has the people and the provision in his church to care for his people. He can multiply meager resources to help us.|
|2. As Christians, we should be concerned to feed others. This miracle finds a place in all four Gospels and reminds us, “You feed them.” So quickly we spiritualize the truth away. But the reality remains that millions are starving in our world today. In honor of our Lord, we should be intermediaries for those with such desperate needs. Find a relief organization that provides food and give to it.|
14:16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”NKJV The disciples were very concerned regarding the people’s needs when they suggested that Jesus send them away. After all, they would need to reach the town before sunset if they were going to obtain food. Jesus’ answer both astounded and exasperated them: They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat. Jesus directly involved his disciples in the miracle so that it would make a lasting impression on them.
14:17-18 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”NRSV There was nothing in the crowd but five loaves and two fish, common staples for the poor of Jesus’ day. These were not large loaves of bread, but small rye buns, and the fish were small dried fish (see John 6:9-11). Apparently, in their hurry, no one else in the crowd had thought to bring along food to eat. A young boy offered his lunch to the disciples (specifically to Andrew, see John 6:8), but the disciples could see only the impossibility of the situation. Andrew asked the obviously redundant question, “But how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9 niv). The normal answer: They will feed one hungry young boy. But Jesus had an entirely different answer, and he asked the disciples to bring the five loaves and two fish to him.
14:19 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.NIV Jesus did not answer the disciples or explain what he would do. Instead, he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Mark recorded that Jesus gave the disciples the job of organizing the people into groups. This may have been to make food distribution more efficient, or it may have been to emulate what Moses did (see Exodus 18:21). The men were probably separated from the women and children for the meal, according to Jewish custom.
Jesus, acting as the host of the soon-to-be banquet, took the loaves and fish, looked up to heaven, thanked God beforehand for the provision he was about to give, and then broke the loaves. As Jesus broke the loaves, the miracle occurred.
The miracle occurred in Jesus’ hands. He broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples to then give to the people. He did the same thing with the fish. The disciples acted as waiters to the groups of hungry people seated on the grass, taking bread and fish, distributing it, and then returning to Jesus to get more. They continued to serve the crowd until everyone had had enough to eat.
The God who multiplied the bread was authenticating Jesus as his Son and portraying the munificent blessings of the kingdom. Just as God had provided manna to the Hebrews in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and had multiplied oil and meal for Elijah and the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16) and for Elisha (2 Kings 4:1-7), he was providing bread for the people on this day. It points to the feast that the Messiah will provide for people in the wilderness (Isaiah 25:6).
|LIFE APPLICATION – MORE THAN ENOUGH|
|Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed over five thousand people. What he was originally given seemed insufficient, but in his hands it became more than enough. We often feel that our contribution to Jesus is meager, but he can use and multiply whatever we give him, whether it is talent, time, or treasure. When we give to Jesus, our resources are multiplied.|
14:20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.NIV The five loaves and two fish multiplied so that every person had his or her fill. Even the leftovers were more than they had begun with. The disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number “twelve” could simply indicate that there was one basket for each of the twelve disciples, or it could also signify fullness and completeness. In any event, there would be no waste at this banquet. The disciples may have taken the food to feed themselves later.
14:21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.NIV If the readers weren’t impressed already, now they should be astounded. The Greek word translated “men” is andres, meaning not “people” but “male individuals.” Therefore, there were five thousand men besides the women and children. The total number of people Jesus fed could have been over ten thousand. The number of men is listed separately because in the Jewish culture of the day, men and women usually ate separately when in public. The children ate with the women. We don’t know if this was the case at this particular meal. Jesus did what the disciples thought to be impossible. He multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed over five thousand people.
JESUS WALKS ON WATER / 14:22-33
The miracles of Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm (8:23-27) were a double demonstration of Jesus’ power over nature. Matthew and Mark highlighted the effects of these miracles on those who participated in them.
14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.NRSV As soon as the crowd had been fed and the disciples had picked up the scraps, Jesus immediately got his disciples and the crowd moving. His sudden desire to dismiss the crowd and send the disciples off in their boat is explained in John’s Gospel. Upon seeing (and participating in) the miracle of multiplied loaves and fish, the people “intended to come and make [Jesus] king by force” (John 6:15 niv).
|Before the crowd could become an unruly mob, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side. The disciples may have wanted to stay and share the crowd’s excitement. They may have been tempted to think that Jesus was ready to inaugurate his kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom would not be an earthly one, and he didn’t want the enthusiasm of the crowd to deter him or his disciples from fulfilling their true mission. It was getting late in the day, so Jesus dismissed the crowds with a few final words before going up to the mountainside by himself.||
Jesus Walks on the Sea
The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 occurred on the shores of the Sea of Galilee near Bethsaida. Jesus then sent his disciples across the lake. Several hours later, they encountered a storm, and Jesus came to them—walking on the water. The boat then landed at Gennesaret.
Exactly where the disciples were going causes some confusion if one compares the Gospel accounts. Mark records that Jesus told the disciples to go “to the other side, to Bethsaida” (6:45 nrsv). According to Luke 9:10, Jesus and the disciples were in Bethsaida for the feeding of the five thousand. According to John 6:17, the disciples “set off across the lake for Capernaum” (niv). One solution is that two communities were named Bethsaida. Luke 9:10 identifies Bethsaida (near Julias) on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee. The reference in Mark 6:45 identifies Bethsaida as a village (near Capernaum) on the western shore.
14:23-24 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.NIV Jesus dismissed the crowd and “made the disciples get into the boat” and leave (14:22); then he went alone up on a mountainside to pray. Jesus wanted time to communicate with his Father. During his ministry on earth, Jesus was in constant contact with the Father—he may have gone off alone to pray often, so his desire to do so may not have surprised the disciples, who left in the boat as instructed.
Jesus had just left a crowd that wanted to make him their king. Perhaps the high popularity was a temptation in itself, for it could have threatened to turn Jesus away from his mission—death on the cross to accomplish salvation. Maybe his prayer on the lonely mountainside focused on fulfilling the mission of suffering when it seemed (at least humanly speaking) more credible to accept their offer of kingship. Jesus, in his humanity, may have continued to face the temptation to turn away from the difficult path and take the easier one. He constantly sought strength from God. Going into the wilderness, alone with the Father, helped Jesus focus on his task and gain strength for what he had to do.
When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.NIV The disciples had left sometime before sunset, so by the time evening came, they were a considerable distance from land. The disciples often fished during the night, so sailing out into the night was not unusual. However, the disciples were being blown off course, fighting the sea in their boat, buffeted by the waves. At least the last time this had happened, Jesus had been in the boat with them (although they had to awaken him to get his help, 8:23-27). This time, Jesus was alone on the land, and the disciples were left to fend for themselves (or so they thought) against another raging storm.
The other Gospel writers record various details of this scenario. The disciples took down the sails and tried to keep control of the boat by strenuous rowing. For the entire night they fought the storm, able to row only about three or four miles (John 6:19). As Jesus prayed on the mountainside, he “saw the disciples straining at the oars” (Mark 6:48 niv).
|LIFE APPLICATION – PLAYING SOLITAIRE|
|Seeking solitude was an important priority for Jesus (see also 14:13). He made room in his busy schedule to be alone with the Father. Spending time with God in prayer nurtures a vital relationship and equips us to meet life’s challenges and struggles. Develop the discipline of spending time alone with God; it will help you grow spiritually and become more and more like Christ.|
14:25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.NKJV From evening until the fourth watch of the night (between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m.), the disciples had been out on the sea, much of that time fighting a strong headwind and rough seas. Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. While some might try to explain away this miracle by saying Jesus was simply on the shore, the Gospel writers made it clear that Jesus walked “on” the water. Not only that, but he walked a great distance. John recorded that the disciples had gone three or four miles by the time Jesus came to them (John 6:19). So the waves were indeed fierce.
The Old Testament often describes God’s control over the seas. Jesus’ walking on the sea was an unmistakable picture of his identity and power (see Job 9:8; 38:16; Psalm 77:19; Isaiah 43:16).
14:26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.NRSV The disciples were battling exhaustion even before they got into the boat to head back across the lake.
|Their anticipated rest in a solitary place had been interrupted by the crowds (14:13-14). They had been battling the buffeting waves for some time. Suddenly, in the predawn mist, Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. They reacted in terror, imagining that they were seeing a ghost. They all cried out in fear. They thought they had left Jesus back on the mountainside.||He uses the element we dread as the path for his approach. The waves were endangering the boat, but Jesus walked on them. In our lives are people and circumstances we dread, but it is through these that the greatest blessing of our lives will come, if we look through them to Christ.
F. B. Meyer
The Greek word for “ghost” used here is phantasma, meaning an apparition or specter. The word was associated with magic and charms. The word differs from pneuma, also sometimes translated “ghost,” meaning the disembodied spirit of someone who had died (Luke 24:37). Jesus was (as far as they knew) alive and well, so they were terrified by what they saw. Once again, Jesus was doing the unexpected and the impossible. Again the disciples were not ready to grasp what it meant.
14:27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”NRSV Jesus called out to the disciples over the storm, telling them to take heart. He identified himself and told them not to be afraid any longer. The literal reading for “It is I” is “I am” (Greek, ego eimi); it is the same as saying “the I AM is here” or “I, Yahweh, am here” (see Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10; 52:6). Jesus, the “I AM,” came with unexpected help and encouragement during the disciples’ time of desperate need. Their need was real; their fear was real. But in the presence of Jesus, fear can be dismissed.
|LIFE APPLICATION – COURAGE!|
|When Jesus arrived, he made a huge difference! Because of Jesus—all he taught, all he did—your life is different now! You’re not alone, and you’re not lost. You have a heavenly Father, a living Savior, and a present helper, the Holy Spirit. All the problems that beset you are now theirs as well.|
|Lest we forget, try this. At the end of a phone conversation, instead of “good-bye” say “courage!” Gently, softly, remind one another of what Jesus gives us. In the face of every trouble, every heartbreak, every troubling diagnosis . . . courage!|
14:28-29 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.NIV Peter was not putting Jesus to the test, something we are told not to do (4:7). Instead, he was the only one in the boat who reacted in faith. His impulsive request led him to experience a rather unusual demonstration of God’s power. Jesus’ presence in the storm caused Peter to exercise a fearless faith. Peter overcame his fear and attempted the impossible. But notice that he did so only with Jesus’ command to come. Notice also that he asked only to do what Jesus was doing; that is, he wanted to share in Jesus’ power, some of which the disciples had already been experiencing (10:1).
14:30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”NRSV Peter started to sink because he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the high waves around him. His faith wavered. His faith was strong enough to trust that he could walk on the water. But when he realized that he was in a terrifying storm, his faith did not stand up to the storm. Although we start out with good intentions, sometimes our faith is weak. In Peter’s faltering faith we can see the path of discipleship. We have to exercise faith to have the power, but often we stumble and fail to grasp it fully. When Peter’s faith faltered, he reached out to Christ, the only one who could help. He was afraid, but he still looked to Christ. When you are apprehensive about the troubles around you and doubt Christ’s presence or ability to help, remember that he is the only one who can really help.
14:31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”NKJV Jesus’ immediate response showed Peter that divine undergirding and power are present in times of testing. Jesus caught Peter, saving him from drowning in the waves. Peter had taken his eyes off Christ and was focusing instead on his situation. Jesus’ question focused on why Peter allowed the wind and waves to overwhelm his faith. He momentarily despaired and so began to sink. His doubt became his downfall.
14:32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.NKJV Jesus and Peter then got into the boat with the rest of the disciples, who must have been speechless. Then, as had occurred once before when the disciples had experienced another storm, the wind ceased and the sea once again became calm (see also 8:26). Jesus had revealed to them his complete mastery over nature. (See Isaiah 51:9-16 for a dramatic description of God’s power over the sea.)
14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”NIV The disciples’ declaration, Truly you are the Son of God, indicates a progression in faith.
|In 14:27, Jesus said, “It is I”; in 14:28, Peter said, “If [since] it’s you . . .”; and here the disciples exclaimed, “Truly you are.” Mark’s account focuses on the disciples’ hardness of heart in understanding Jesus’ true identity; Matthew’s account focuses on their astonishment over his encounter with Peter.||The first result of walking with God is great joy, abounding joy, and secondly, a great sense of security, of abiding peace.
R. A. Torrey
While the disciples worshiped and called Jesus the Son of God, they still had much to learn about who Jesus was and what he had come to do.
JESUS HEALS ALL WHO TOUCH HIM / 14:34-36
14:34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.NIV The storm had blown the disciples off course, so they did not land at Bethsaida as planned (14:22; see also Mark 6:45). The plan had been to meet Jesus in Bethsaida, but Jesus had come to them on the water. So after the storm ceased, they landed at Gennesaret. Gennesaret was a small fertile plain located on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, as well as the name of a small town there. Capernaum sat at the northern edge of this plain.
14:35-36 After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.NRSV Jesus was well-known in the region of Galilee, and his presence always created great excitement. Immediately upon getting out of the boat, people recognized Jesus, and a flurry of activity began. There still would be no rest for him. The news of Jesus’ arrival spread like wildfire through the area. As Jesus moved through the region, people brought all who were sick to him so that he might heal them.
Jesus had gained a widespread reputation as a healer; so a great crowd of people came for healing. In a day when medicines and medical help were few and limited, sickness was rampant and constant. Perhaps the story had spread of the woman in Capernaum who had been healed by touching Jesus’ cloak. For at this time the people begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak. Jewish men wore tassels on the hem of their robes in order to obey God’s command in Deuteronomy 22:12. By Jesus’ day, these tassels were seen as signs of holiness (Matthew 23:5). It was natural that people seeking healing should reach out and touch these. No one missed out on Jesus’ loving compassion, even if they could only touch the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. But as the woman in Capernaum learned, healing came from faith in Jesus, not from his garment (9:20-22).
What a contrast in receptions! In Nazareth, his hometown, Jesus found no honor (13:54-58), but in pagan Gennesaret he was recognized immediately and swamped with believing citizens. Even Jesus’ disciples had not recognized him (14:26) as readily as did these people. At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, religious leadership felt threatened, but pagan astrologers (the wise men) came to worship. Pedigree and tradition may obscure God’s truth for the religiously inclined, while “outsiders” come to Jesus eagerly, and he to them. Jesus loves faith; he is Lord of all peoples; and his church is truly international.
|LIFE APPLICATION – DOES JESUS HEAL TODAY?|
|Some Christians say no. Healing was part of the work of Jesus and the early church to establish his authority, but today it’s not part of God’s plan, they say. That answer takes away a major source of help for reasons that have nothing to do with Jesus at all.|
|Some Christians say yes, and there’s no need for help of any other kind. To consult a doctor is to show a lack of faith, they say. That answer suggests that twenty centuries of medical knowledge (since Jesus’ time) somehow violate God’s will.|
|The best answer is to trust Jesus for concrete help when we’re sick, to pray in faith, and to respect the professionals who administer health to our day and age. Use all the means God has given to promote health and reduce suffering: prayer, science, and healthy habits of eating and exercise.|
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.