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Matthew 14 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Lord of the Sea

By providing for the crowds, Jesus showed himself greater than a human magician who could just heal some individuals or turn some stones into bread. At the least, Jesus was a prophet like Moses or Elisha (vv. 13-21; Ex 16:14-18; 2 Kings 4:42-44). But by treading on the sea, Jesus now takes a role that the Hebrew Bible had reserved for God alone (Job 9:8; see also Ps 77:19; Hab 3:15; Davies and Allison 1991:504). Nevertheless, as in an earlier storm scene, Matthew is interested here in teaching us not only Christology but also about the requisite faith for disciples (Mt 8:26). Of all the disciples, Peter alone begins to walk, but Jesus regards even his faith as less than what a disciple should have.

The Setting for the Miracle (14:22-24)

From the setting we already see Jesus as a man of prayer (v. 23). Rather than sticking around to reap the political benefits of his miracle, Jesus retires to prayer, which, unlike political advancement, is central to his mission (compare Jn 6:15). We also learn that the fact that disciples face difficult situations does not mean that Jesus is not the One who sent us (Mt 14:22, 24).

Jesus' Coming Should Bring an End to Fear (14:25-27)

If the disciples were still struggling against the winds at the fourth watch of the night-the Romans divided the night into four instead of the Jewish three watches-the disciples must have been exhausted. Probably accustomed to awakening around 6:00 a.m., they instead found themselves still trying to cross the lake between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. We may chide the disciples for accepting the popular notion of ghosts, but the biggest offense here is that they still underestimate Jesus' power. It has not occurred to them that he could know their plight, walk on water to come to them or catch up to them in a storm! To their credit, however, the fear issue seems to be solved once they recognize that their teacher is with them. They knew him well enough to know that if he was there, he would bring them through their storm.

Jesus Wants Us to Imitate His Works (14:28-31)

Although the proposal that Peter walk on water is first Peter's idea (v. 28), Jesus' response indicates that he approves of it (v. 29). Peter is gently reproved not for presumptuously stepping from the boat but for presumptuously doubting in the very presence of Jesus (v. 31; compare 6:30; 8:26; 16:8; 17:20; see Manson 1979:206; France 1985:239). Disciples were expected to imitate their masters, and Jesus is training disciples who will not simply regurgitate his oral teachings but will have the faith to demonstrate his authority in practice as well.

Once Jesus has given the command, walking on water is simply a matter of trusting the One who has performed so many miracles in the past. Peter's failure comes as he observes the wind (14:30), looking to his situation rather than to God's power that is sustaining him. Still, Peter knows by this point whom to cry out to; his feeble attempt to walk on water is no more feeble than our first attempts to walk on land. Our faith may be more infantile than Peter's if we have never even tried to step out in obedience to Jesus' commands or direction for our lives; many of us have less practice walking in faith than two-year-olds have walking physically.

It is important to note that while Jesus is disappointed with Peter's inadequate faith, Peter has acted in greater faith than the other disciples-he is learning. Faith cannot be worked up by formulas or emotion, but it grows through various tests as we continue to trust our Lord and he continues to teach us. Faith grows out of a relationship with the Person of Jesus, and in no other way.

Jesus Has Authority to Settle Any Crisis (14:32)

As soon as they enter the boat, the wind grows still. Stilling storms was a sign of God's authority in the biblical record (see Davies and Allison 1991:509-10). The disciples may recall an earlier occasion on which Jesus simply commanded and the storm died down (8:26); this time, however, the storm acts out of respect for him-apparently without so much as requiring a word on his part.

Jesus' Power Leads the Disciples to Acknowledge His Identity (14:33)

Their knowledge will still need to be tested outside the excitement of miracles (16:15), but the disciples nevertheless offer the correct response. When we recognize Jesus' works, thereby learning more of his character, the appropriate response is to worship him. This will deepen our relationship of faith with the Lord we love.

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