Matthew and John also record this miracle as a sequel to the feeding of the five thousand, and on the evening of the same day. We think first of the:
Some regard this incident as an allegory but this is to deny an obvious historic fact. To translate ‘walking on the sea’ as ‘on the shore’ is inconsistent with the general tenor of the narrative which places the ship in the middle of the sea and lays stress upon the fear of the disciples at such an astonishing event.
‘He … . them'
This expresses a wonderful relationship.
‘He constrained them’, 6. 45. Why did the Lord constrain them to go to the other side of the lake when it is apparent that the disciples had no desire to do so? The key to this question is given by John when he records that the people, so impressed by the miracle of ‘the loaves’, would come to take Him by force to make Him king; so He departed into a mountain to be alone, 6. 46. The Lord Jesus would not accept popularity as the consequence of the miraculous, though this would have pleased the disciples, who still looked forward to an earthly kingdom.
‘He saw them’. ‘When even was come … He saw them toiling in rowing’, John 6. 46. Having commissioned them to take the Journey He did not fail to mark their progress. The life of discipleship is one of constant testing and deliverance. This experience was not the consequence of disobedience or self-will but of direct obedience of the Lord’s command. His path for them was through the storm to the other shore. This may not have been a sudden storm as in 4. 39, but a ‘contrary wind’ necessitating patient and strenuous rowing. With a contrary wind they might have turned and sailed before the wind but this would have been to disobey the Lord’s command and to miss the lesson purposed by the Lord. In the darkest hour, in the time of greatest need and in a way totally unexpected, Jesus came to their rescue. In the one storm He was asleep in the stern of the ship; in the second at prayer on the mountain. Did il seem that He was uncaring for the plight of His disciples?
‘He came to them’. ‘About the fourth watch He came to them walking upon the sea and would have passed by them’, 6. 48
The Jews recognized three watches, the Romans, four. So it was that Jesus came to them between 3am and 6am when despite their efforts, they had crossed little more than half-way, some 25-30 furlongs, John 6. 19. It was His purpose to lead them to higher things and greater faith. The first storm was by day, now it was night. Then He was with them in the ship and His presence bad given them a sense of comparative security. Now tried to the uttermost, ‘the fourth watch’. He brought them deliverance. It was ‘in the morning watch’ that the Israelites found deliverance on the shores of the Red Sea many centuries before, Exod. 14. 24. ‘Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning’, is a cheering promise to the Lord’s suffering people.
‘He would have passed by them’. As later, on the Emmaus road, ‘he made as though he would have gone further’, Luke. 24. 28, they constrained Him and He stayed with them. He seemed to be passing by but on hearing His voice they knew Him; ‘they willingly received Him into the ship’, John
6. 21. His words, ‘Be of good cheer, It is I; be not afraid’, wrought assurance in their troubled hearts for ‘they supposed that they had seen a spirit’. It is too often, that the ‘suppositions’ of life cause us unnecessary anxiety.
‘He went up unto them’. ‘And the wind ceased, and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered’, 6. 51.
Mark omits the incident of Peter walking on the sea and this may seem remarkable as it is most probable that he received his information from Peter. It may well be that Peter did not wish to record so wonderful a miracle of his own walking on the water, until his faith failed him. The sacred writers never omitted to record a matter because it told against themselves. We might have thought too much of the failure and forgotten the full wonder of the miracle of the calm.
With Christ’s presence in the ship ‘they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure and wondered’. It is Mark’s way to record the infinite astonishment of the disciples at everything they witnessed, see 2. 12; 5. 42; 7. 37; 9. 15. Matthew records that others who were sailing with them also caught a glimpse of His greatness and ‘came and worshipped Him, saying, of a truth, thou art the Son of God’, Matt. 14. 33. This is the first time in the synoptic gospels that the title is applied to the Lord Jesus by men.
Their amazement is explained by their failure to appreciate the full implication of the miracle of the loaves and to recognize the Lord of creation. ‘Their heart was hardened’, not wilfully or wickedly but through weakness and lack of perception, compare 7. 18; 8. 17-19; Rom. 11. 7, 8.
God trains His people in the knowledge of divine things by slow degrees and gradual growth, leading them from strength to strength.
A parable of Grace
One has written, ‘Anointed eyes will discern beneath the narrative a parable of grace. In the history as given, Christ broke the bread, ascended the mountain for prayer and later returned to relieve His discouraged and distressed disciples. In the corresponding typical teaching we understand the meaning of His body broken at Calvary, His present priestly intercession for His people and finally His personal advent in power, 6. 41, 46, 51.
Yesterday, He died for us and for our salvation; today He lives for us, and tomorrow He will come to conduct us to His Father’s house’.