FAITH FOCUSES ON THE DIVINE IDENTITY OF JESUS WHO HAS POWER OVER CREATION AND RESCUES THOSE WHO CALL OUT TO HIM
Stanley Saunders: Matthew riddles this account with double entendre, much of which is lost in English translation and most of which focuses on the divine power of the human Jesus. Matthew develops two main claims in this story of divine power and presence: Jesus is again crossing the boundaries between the human and the divine, between earth and heaven; and the same powers Jesus demonstrates are also available to other humans, first of all to Jesus’ disciples.
Walter Wilson: Like the picture of Jesus feeding the multitude, the picture of Jesus walking on water illustrates both his authority over the forces of nature and the expectation that his followers will somehow participate in this authority. . . While the previous story alluded to the feeding of Israel in the wilderness, this story alludes to Israel’s salvation at the Red Sea (Exod 14–15), thereby extending the narrative’s exodus typology.
William Barclay: In the hour of the disciples’ need, Jesus came to them. When the wind was contrary and life was a struggle, Jesus was there to help. No sooner had a need arisen than Jesus was there to help and to save.
In life, the wind is often contrary. There are times when we are up against it and life is a desperate struggle with ourselves, with our circumstances, with our temptations, with our sorrows and with our decisions. At such a time, no one need struggle alone, for Jesus comes to us across the storms of life, with hand stretched out to save, and with his calm, clear voice bidding us take heart and have no fear.
Donald Hagner: As in both Mark and John, this miracle occurs immediately after the feeding of the five thousand. The effect of these successive narratives is powerful. The question of the identity of this Jesus, which has been before the readers previously (cf. 7:28–29; 11:3; 13:54–56; 14:2), especially in 8:27, and which was left implicit in the preceding narrative, again cries out for an answer that is now unequivocally given in v. 33.
Ray Fowler: This week’s passage always reminds me of the joke about the two deacons who took their pastor out fishing on a lake in their boat. They were anchored some distance from shore, and after they had been fishing awhile, the first deacon says, “Oh, I left my sandwich in the car.” He steps out of the boat, walks across the water to the shore, gets his sandwich, walks back across the water and gets back into the boat. The pastor is amazed at this, but the other deacon doesn’t say anything about it, so neither does he.
Then the second deacon says, “Oh, I forgot my thermos.” He steps out of the boat, walks across the water, gets his thermos, walks back across the water and into the boat. The two deacons just keep on fishing, while the pastor is thinking, “Well, if they can do it, I guess so can I!”
So, he casually tells the deacons, “I need to get something, too.” He steps over the side of the boat, promptly sinks like a rock and starts swimming for shore. The first deacon turns to the second deacon and says, “Do you think maybe next time we should tell him where the rocks are?”
Of course, Jesus didn’t need any rocks when he walked on the water, and this is an amazing miracle of God’s power, love and care for his followers.
1) You are never out of God’s sight (:22-24).
2) You are never out of God’s reach (:25-26).
3) You are never out of God’s care (:27-36).
God is all-knowing, which means you are never out of his sight. God is all-present which means you are never out of his reach. God is all-loving and all-powerful, which means you are never out of his care.
You are never out of God’s sight, and so that means God has not forgotten you. You are never out of God’s reach, and so that means God has not abandoned you. You are never out of God’s care, because God loves you so much, he sent his Son to die for you. He is the all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful, all-loving God who knows your troubles and will rescue you in his perfect timing.
I. (:22-23) JESUS MODELS DEPENDENCE AND DEVOTION IN PRIVATE PRAYER
A. (:22) Purpose of Solitude
“And immediately He made the disciples get into the boat,
and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.”
Robert Gundry: “Compelled” implies that he exercised his authority on them against their will. Disciples want to stay with their master. “Immediately” stresses Jesus’ exercise of authority.
Warren Wiersbe: John recorded the reason why Jesus was in such a hurry to dismiss the crowd and send the disciples back in the boat: The crowd wanted to make Jesus king (John 6:14-15). The Lord knew that their motives were not spiritual and that their purposes were out of God’s will. If the disciples had stayed, they would certainly have fallen in with the plans of the crowd, for as yet, the disciples did not fully understand Christ’s plans. They were guilty of arguing over “who was the greatest,” and a popular uprising would have suited them perfectly.
D. A. Carson: Why Jesus “made” (the verb is very strong and might be translated “compelled”) the disciples go on ahead of him may be deduced from these bits of information:
(1) he wanted to be alone to pray (v.23);
(2) he wanted to escape the crowd with his disciples to get some rest (Mk 6:31–32); and
(3) he may have dismissed the disciples forcefully to help tame a messianic uproar (Jn 6:15).
B. (:23) Priority of Prayer
“And after He had sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself
to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.”
Charles Swindoll: Jesus was finally getting a long-awaited quiet time alone. With the disciples heading across the northeastern quarter of the lake and the crowds dispersing, Jesus was able to slip away and climb one of the nearby hills in that secluded location. He was going to do what He had originally intended to do before the masses of people had swarmed Him – commune with His heavenly Father (see 14:13).
David Doriani: People sometimes ask why Jesus needed to pray. Jesus prayed because he was a real man, because his humanity was an essential component of his work as the mediator between God and mankind. A mediator approaches two estranged parties in order to reconcile them.
II. (:24-27) DISCIPLES MODEL FEAR AND PANIC IN TIMES OF TESTING
A. (:24) Difficult Circumstances Test Our Faith
“But the boat was already many stadia away from the land, battered by the waves;
for the wind was contrary.”
Charles Swindoll: The boat was literally “many stadia” from land. A stadion was about 600 feet, which means the boat was precariously distant from the safety of the shore. What’s worse, “the wind was contrary,” and the boat was “battered by the waves” (14:24). Matthew describes the action of the waves with the word basanizo, a verb that means “to subject to severe distress, torment, harass.” Thought the disciples had likely intended to hug the shoreline as they headed north, the wind and waves were pushing them farther and farther out to open water, away from their destination and toward certain calamity! It was after three o’clock in the morning, but not yet dawn – “the fourth watch of the night” (14:25). In short, the disciples were in trouble, and as far as they knew, they were all alone.
Grant Osborne: A severe storm hit, and the boat was under severe distress (βασανίζω is a strong verb meaning to “torture” or “cause great distress,” often used of illness or even demonic oppression). Some scholars go so far as to see cosmic powers at work. There was a strong headwind (ἐναντίος, “against it”), and huge waves threatened the lives of the disciples.
Walter Wilkins: The lake’s low elevation leads it to be subject to a powerful east wind (“Sharkiyeh”) that blows in over the mountains.
R. T. France: The disciples’ predicament this time is the inability to make headway rather than an imminent danger of sinking.
B. (:25) Divine Presence Appears Miraculously
“And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.”
Stu Weber: According to Jewish time reckoning, the day begins at sunset (about 6:00 P.M.). The Jews divided the twelve-hour night into three watches, but the Gospel writers used the Roman custom of four three-hour watches—6 to 9 P.M., 9 P.M. to midnight, midnight to 3 A.M., and 3 to 6 A.M.
C. (:26-27) Dread (Fear and Panic) Met with Reassurance
- (:26) Fear and Panic
“And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear.”
Stu Weber: Fatigue, combined with superstition and lack of faith-filled insight, set them up for a response of pure terror when they saw Jesus.
Donald Hagner: Given the popular belief that the sea was the home of evil spirits (cf. Rev 13:1), they undoubtedly thought the “ghost” meant to do them ill. In Luke 24:37, the risen Jesus appears to the disciples, who are filled with fear and conclude they are seeing “a spirit” (πνεῦμα; but D: φάντασμα; as in our text; for a similar word, see Wis 18:17). OT symbolism concerning the mastery of God over the sea and specifically his walking upon it (e.g., Ps 77:16, 19; Job 9:8; 38:16; cf. wisdom in Sir 24:5), while significant in retrospect, could hardly have occurred to the disciples at the time, although for the evangelist and his readers it must have been suggestive.
Richard Gardner: The epiphany in the text before us clearly anticipates the revelation of Jesus’ glory in the resurrection.
- (:27) Reassurance
“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying,
‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’”
R. T. France: The disciples’ irrational fear is met by the familiar voice of Jesus; considering the startling manner of his appearance, his words sound almost banal, but their very ordinariness contributes to the reassurance.
Robert Gundry: The disciples’ disconcertedness and fear stem from non-recognition of Jesus, not from failure to understand that as deity he could walk on the sea. So between his commands to take courage and stop being afraid, he identifies himself with “I am,” where we’d say, “It’s me” (compare John 9:9, for example). For Matthew’s Jewish Christian audience, though, “I am” also equates with the divine title, “I AM,” by which God identified himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14. The equation contributes to walking on the sea as a demonstration of deity. The immediacy with which Jesus speaks this encouraging self-identification underscores his deity, which makes him greater than Moses.
David Doriani: Once we safeguard the uniqueness of Jesus’ miracle, we can affirm that we are like the disciples in important ways.
- First, Jesus was with the disciples during the storm and Jesus is with us today. He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” ( 28:20).
- Second, when Jesus comes, it spells the end of fear. The command “Don’t be afraid” appears seven times in Matthew (1:20; 10:26–31 [3 times]; 14:27; 17:7; 28:5, 10).
III. (:28-33) PETER MODELS INCONSISTENT FAITH BUT GROWING RECOGNITION OF THE TRUE IDENTITY OF JESUS
A. (:28-29a) Imitating Christ = Challenging Goal
- (:28) Entreaty of Investigation
“And Peter answered Him and said,
‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’”
Walter Wilson: Finally, it is noteworthy that in both stories, a speaking role is assigned to Peter (14:28, 30; 17:4).This last point illustrates one of the principal features of the section in which our story is situated (13:53 – 17:27), namely, the emergence of Peter as the disciples’ spokesperson and representative. In this instance, his actions contribute to the gospel’s imitatio Christi theme, which surfaced previously in the mission discourse (e.g., 10:25). Peter asks for permission to emulate Jesus’s miracle, that is, to participate in his power over the sea and what the sea represents, especially death. Jesus’s response implicitly acknowledges the legitimacy of such a request, thereby also revealing something important regarding the nature of his messianic authority. Similarly, in the mission discourse, Jesus commands the disciples to perform the same miracles they have just seen him perform, conferring upon them the authority to—among other things—raise the dead (10:8). Power over death is thematized by another story of this section in which Peter has a speaking role, namely, his confession of Christ at Caesarea Philippi: “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (16:18). Comparison with 10:8 and 16:18, then, suggests that Jesus’s response to Peter in 14:29 functions as a type of commission, specifically a commission to participate in his power over death. If this line of reasoning is correct, the inclusion of such a commission represents another way in which 14:25–33 generically resembles an account of a post-resurrection appearance. Put differently, the texts in 10:8, 14:29, and 16:18 belong to a series of commissioning episodes culminating in the great commission issued by the resurrected Jesus (28:18–20), with each episode manifesting a different dimension of the power of the Messiah and his followers over death.
- (:29a) Enabling Invitation
“And He said, ‘Come!’”
Donald Hagner: Peter is here paradoxically a model both of faith and of lack of faith. The story is also a demonstration of the saving power of the Lord. If we take the narrative as historical, it is difficult to know what lay behind Peter’s request. It may be that Peter wanted to participate with Jesus in this miracle as he had in the preceding one. Perhaps it was no more than impulsiveness or the desire to do something excitingly dangerous—to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience—which appealed to him. The impossible would be possible through the power of Jesus. Thus Peter’s request is based upon faith in Jesus and not upon an uncertainty about whether the apparition really was Jesus (this reality is assumed in the protasis of the condition). He did get out of the boat and did walk toward Jesus.
B. (:29b) Intentional Faith Takes Aggressive Action
- Got Out of the Boat
“And Peter got out of the boat,”
- Walked on the Water
“and walked on the water”
- Came Toward Jesus
“and came toward Jesus.”
C. (:30-31) Intervention of Jesus Delivers from Failure to Maintain the Focus of Faith
- (:30) Failure to Maintain the Focus of Faith
a. Taking Eyes Off Jesus and Focusing on Difficult Circumstances
“But seeing the wind,”
Walter Wilkins: Jesus does not criticize him for that request; he only mildly chides him for his ineffective faith once he gets out there. It took much courage to follow Jesus on the water, and Peter does fine until he looks at his circumstances (“seeing the wind,” 14:30) and takes his eyes off of Jesus; then he finds himself afraid and in trouble. We will face many circumstances for which we are completely unprepared, and the circumstances we face from day to day will change. But the one constancy we have in this life is Jesus. As we go through life focused on an intimate walk with Jesus through each and every circumstance, we learn how to apply his consistency to our circumstances.
b. Replacing Faith with Fear
“he became afraid,”
c. Experiencing Negative Consequences
“and beginning to sink,”
d. Calling Out for Salvation
“he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’”
- (:31) Intervention of Jesus Delivers
a. Hand of Deliverance
“And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him,”
b. Word of Correction
“and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
Charles Swindoll: The Greek word for “doubt” here is a rare one – distazo. In the whole New Testament it’s found only here and in Matthew 28:17: “When they saw him they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.” In both places, the term is used in reference to people who do, in fact, believe in who Jesus is and what he’s capable of but who at the same time harbor lingering doubts. This wasn’t the kind of doubt that an unbeliever has, which is more like stubborn unbelief. It’s the doubt that comes from living in a world filled with situations, circumstances, trials, and tribulations that cause strong believers to wonder about the goodness and mercy of God.
Jeffrey Crabtree: The question pointed to the reason for Peter’s failure. He did not stop believing completely. He stopped believing in the complete adequacy of Jesus (Osborne 576). Why did he doubt? He had walked on water, but had he become afraid of the waves? He should know that the one who enabled him to walk on water could keep him safe from the winds or waves.
Leon Morris: Jesus bestows on Peter the epithet “Man of little faith” (for this term see on 6:30; this is the only place where it is used of one individual; elsewhere it refers to disciples as a whole). “Why did you doubt?” Jesus asked him. The leading apostle might have been expected to trust more wholeheartedly, more especially since he had already taken some steps in his alien environment. He was learning that problems arise when doubt replaces trust.
D. (:32-33) Identity of Jesus Confirmed by His Power over Creation
- (:32) Submission of Creation
“And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”
Donald Hagner: A sometimes unnoticed aspect of the story is the miraculous cessation of the powerful wind. This makes the story quite similar to that of the stilling of the storm in 8:23–27.
- (:33) Worship of the Disciples
“And those who were in the boat worshiped Him,
saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’”
Robert Gundry: Worshiping Jesus—that is, bowing low before him—adds bodily confession to verbal confession so as to highlight even further the disciples’ true understanding.
Stu Weber: Jesus probably intended the feeding of the five thousand to be primarily a lesson in faith for his disciples. Here, on the heels of the first lesson of the day comes the second lesson. The disciples had demonstrated no confidence in Jesus’ ability to feed the crowd, but at least Peter began to show the first flicker of true faith. With much yet to learn, the disciples came closer than ever to an understanding of who Jesus was (14:33).
D. A. Carson: The climax of the story is not the stilling of the storm (v.32) but the confession and worship of the disciples: “Truly you are the Son of God” (v.33). This is the first time Jesus has been addressed by the disciples with this full title (cf. 16:16; 26:63; 27:40, 43, 54). But it already lurks behind 3:17 (“my Son”), and the devil has used it of Jesus (4:3, 6). It is most likely abbreviated to “the Son” in Jesus’ self-references in 11:25–27. In the earlier passage (cf. 3:17), we have seen how the title would most likely have been understood by the disciples at the time and how it would have been fleshed out in light of the resurrection.
Jeffrey Crabtree: The word translated “worship” (Greek proskuneō) means “to prostrate oneself before someone as an act of reverence, fear or supplication” (Louw and Nida I:218) or to “express by attitude and possibly position one’s allegiance to or regard for deity” (Louw and Nida I:540). The Magi (2:11), a leper coming to be healed (8:2), and Jairus (9:18) had prostrated themselves before Him. Now with the fullest understanding so far, the Twelve—at least in attitude and possibly even in position—bowed before Him in the boat, and worshiped Him as one worships God. This is the first time Matthew records that the Twelve worshiped Jesus. . .
The day had been busy and long. Jesus showed the Twelve more and more of His glory (Jn. 1:14; 1 Jn. 1:1, 2). Many were healed, over five thousand were miraculously fed, Jesus walked on water across a large portion of the lake, Jesus enabled Peter also to walk on water to meet Him, and Jesus calmed the sea. The Twelve had served the miracle food to the five thousand, gathered up the uneaten food, and had rowed against a headwind across a significant portion of the lake. Evidently, no one had slept. Jesus had prayed on the mountainside and the Twelve had wrestled against the waves, perhaps most of the night. So much for a getaway for rest (Mk. 6:30-31); yet this was a day etched forever in their memories. This day they recognized that Jesus was no mere human. He was God’s Son. Perhaps this was why Jesus chose to disclose such power at this time.
Grant Osborne: Matthew presents the gradual process by which the disciples come to understanding and overcome their failures as a result of Jesus’ presence with them (see on 13:11–12, 16–17, 23, 51–52; 16:12). Of course, this hardly means full understanding, for Jesus will castigate their ignorance in 15:16; 16:9. The disciples have no concept of deity until John 20:28 and later. They use the title in a vaguely messianic sense, but understanding is dawning, and Matthew expects the reader to see all the title portends.
(:34-36) TRANSITION – SUMMARY OF POWERFUL ONGOING HEALING MINISTRY
Walter Wilson: The picture is completed with a narrative hinge in 14:34–36, which briefly shows the audience what transpires when the boat reaches its destination. Here the power of the gospel is communicated both in the manner in which word of Jesus’s presence goes out to the people and in the manner in which large numbers of people respond by coming to Jesus for healing.
D. A. Carson: This little pericope stresses again the sweeping extent of Jesus’ public ministry (cf. 4:23–25; 8:16; 9:35–36) and shows that Jesus’ ministry extended to all the people, though his close disciples had special access to him and his more intimate instruction. Also, because the stricter groups, such as the Pharisees and the Essenes, counted it an abomination to rub shoulders in a crowd—one never knew what ceremonial uncleanness one might contract—Jesus’ unconcern about such things neatly sets the stage for the confrontation over clean and unclean (15:1–20). As in 8:1–4; 9:20–22, he himself cannot become unclean; instead, he makes clean.
Donald Hagner: Jesus again engages in a healing ministry as part of his proclamation of the dawning of the kingdom of God. The healings and their inclusiveness (“all”) point to and foreshadow the blessings of the eschatological order in its final realization in the future. Jesus is central to the experience of, and even the possibility of, these healings. His power is so overwhelming that simply to touch his garment is to experience immediate healing. The same presence and power of Jesus are available to the church in ways that transcend temporary, ad hoc healings of this kind. The salvation experienced by the church goes beyond what was experienced at Gennesaret; the healings at Gennesaret are at best only anticipations of the eschatological wholeness of the church to be experienced by every believer.
Richard Gardner: As noted earlier, the summary here forms an inclusion with the summary at the beginning of the unit in verses 13-14. And the content is typical of summary statements found at a number of places in the narrative (cf. 4:23-25; 8:16-17): All the sick throughout the region are brought to Jesus, and all who are brought are healed The unit ends then, as it began, by attesting the divine compassion of Jesus for those in need of wholeness.
A. (:34) Safe Arrival at Destination of Gennesaret
“And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Jesus and the Twelve went to Gennesaret, a heavily populated, fertile plain located on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. The plain of Gennesaret is about three miles (5 km.) long and one mile (1.6 km.) wide. It extends northward along the coast from Magdala almost to Capernaum (ISBE II:443).
Walter Wilkins: The region of Gennesaret did not figure prominently in Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the Gospels, but the response to Jesus on this occasion was remarkable. Josephus’s description captures not only the beauty of the region, but also indicates the exquisiteness of the lands surrounding the Sea of Galilee.
Skirting the Lake of Gennesar [Galilee], and also bearing that name, lies a region whose natural properties and beauty are very remarkable. There is not a plant which its fertile soil refuses to produce, and its cultivators in fact grow every species; the air is so well-tempered that it suits the most opposite varieties. The walnut, a tree which delights in the most wintry climate, grows luxuriantly, beside palm-trees, which thrive on heat, and figs and olives, which require a milder climate. One might say that nature had taken pride in this assembling, by tour de force, the most discordant species in a single spot, and that, by a happy rivalry, each of the seasons wished to claim this region for her own.
B. (:35-36) Sick Healed by Contact with Jesus
- (:35) Jesus Functions as a Magnet for Needy People
“And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent into all that surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick;”
David Doriani: There is no hint that they wanted more than healing, no hint that they came to become disciples. They came to take from Jesus, to use him for their ends, much like the crowd that saw Jesus multiply bread and followed him, merely hoping for more food (14:13–21; John 6:25–34). Jesus knew they were using him, but he felt compassion and healed them regardless. It was his way to give to the undeserving. Just as he provided for the unbelieving crowds then, so he cares for us even before we believe. Jesus cares for our health, gifts, and friendships because any of these may one day move us toward faith in him.
- (:36a) Jesus Makes Himself Available and Approachable
“and they began to entreat Him
that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak;”
Charles Swindoll: So powerful were His miracles that if people touched even the fringe of his cloak, they were cured of their diseases (14:36). That people entreated Jesus to let them touch His cloak for healing may suggest that they had heard the testimony of healing from the woman who had been cured of the twelve years of bleeding (see 9:20-22). If so, this gives us a good example of how word of Jesus’ astonishing miracles had made an impact on the crowds.
- (:36b) Jesus Heals with Impartiality, Power and Finality
“and as many as touched it were cured.”
Stu Weber: The Lord will graciously reward any expression of true faith.
Jeffrey Crabtree: As Jesus traveled to various communities, people would place their sick where they knew He would pass. Though Jesus healed the sick, this was not His primary ministry (11:4-5; 12:28; Hagner 33B:427). His primary ministry was providing access into the kingdom. Healings indicated that the kingdom Jesus was preaching had arrived (Mt. 11:2-6; Lk. 4:18-21; Is. 61:1-2). Matthew’s point in these verses is not so much the faith of the people as it was the power of Jesus (Hendriksen 604). He who had fed the five thousand and walked on water now healed every disease brought to Him. Bruner (2:79-81) points out that Matthew used “five excited absolutes” in his description: “all that country, . . . all that were diseased, . . . only touch, . . . as many as touched, . . . [and] perfectly whole.”
William Barclay: This is just one of Matthew’s almost colourless little connecting passages. It is a sentence or two of the gospel story that the eye might easily pass over as quite unimportant; and yet it is very revealing of Jesus.
(1) There is beauty in it. No sooner did Jesus appear anywhere than people were crowding and clamouring for his help; and he never refused it. He healed them all. There is no word here that he preached or taught at any length; there is simply the record that he healed. The most tremendous thing about Jesus was that he taught men and women what God was like by showing them what God was like. He did not tell them that God cared; he showed them that God cared. There is little use in preaching the love of God in words without showing the love of God in action.
(2) But there is also pathos here. No one can read this passage without seeing in it the grim fact that there were hundreds and thousands of people who desired Jesus only for what they could get out of him. Once they had received the healing which they sought, they were not really prepared to go any further. It has always been the case that people have wanted the privilege of Christianity without its responsibilities. It has always been the case that so many of us remember God only when we need him. Ingratitude towards God and towards Jesus Christ is the ugliest of all sins; and there is no sin of which we are more often and more consistently guilty.