This passage of story we had Matt. 14:22; only what was there related concerning Peter, is omitted here. Here we have,
I. The dispersing of the assembly; Christ constrained his disciples to go before by ship to Bethsaida, intending to follow them, as they supposed, by land. The people were loth to scatter, so that it cost him some time and pains to send them away. For now that they had got a good supper, they were in no haste to leave him. But as long as we are here in this world, we have no continuing city, no not in communion with Christ. The everlasting feast is reserved for the future state.
II. Christ departed into a mountain, to pray. Observe, 1. He prayed; though he had so much preaching-work upon his hands, yet he was much in prayer; he prayed often, and prayed long, which is an encouragement to us to depend upon the intercession he is making for us at the right hand of the Father, that continual intercession. 2. He went alone, to pray; though he needed not to retire for the avoiding either of distraction or of ostentation, yet, to set us an example, and to encourage us in our secret addresses to God, he prayed alone, and, for want of a closet, went up into a mountain, to pray. A good man is never less alone than when alone with God.
III. The disciples were in distress at sea; The wind was contrary (Mark 6:48), so that they toiled in rowing, and could not get forward. This was a specimen of the hardships they were to expect, when hereafter he should send them abroad to preach the gospel; it would be like sending them to sea at this time with the wind in their teeth: they must expect to toil in rowing, they must work hard to strive against so strong a stream; they must likewise expect to be tossed with waves, to be persecuted by their enemies; and by exposing them now he intended to train them up for such difficulties, that they might learn to endure hardness. The church is often like a ship at sea, tossed with tempests, and not comforted we may have Christ for us, and yet wind and tide against us; but it is a comfort to Christ’s disciples in a storm, that their Master is in the heavenly mount, interceding for them.
IV. Christ made them a kind visit upon the water. He could have checked the winds, where he was, or have sent an angel to their relief; but he chose to help them in the most endearing manner possible, and therefore came to them himself.
1. He did not come till the fourth watch of the night, not till after three o’clock in the morning; but then he came. Note, If Christ’s visits to his people be deferred long, yet at length he will come; and their extremity is his opportunity to appear for them so much the more seasonably. Though the salvation tarry, yet we must wait for it; at the end it shall speak, in the fourth watch of the night, and not lie.
2. He came, walking upon the waters. The sea was now tossed with waves, and yet Christ came, walking upon it; for though the floods lift up their voice, the Lord on high is mightier, Ps. 93:3, 4. No difficulties can obstruct Christ’s gracious appearances for his people, when the set time is come. He will either find, or force, a way through the most tempestuous sea, for their deliverance, Ps. 42:7, 8,
3. He would have passed by them, that is, he set his face and steered his course, as if he would have gone further, and took no notice of them; this he did, to awaken them to call to him. Note, Providence, when it is acting designedly and directly for the succour of God’s people, yet sometimes seems as if it were giving them the go-by, and regarded not their case. They thought that he would, but we may be sure that he would not, have passed by them.
4. They were frightened at the sight of him, supposing him to have been an apparition; They all saw him, and were troubled (Mark 6:50), thinking it had been some daemon, or evil genius, that haunted them, and raised this storm. We often perplex and frighten ourselves with phantasms, the creatures of our own fancy and imagination.
5. He encouraged them, and silenced their fears, by making himself known to them; he talked familiarly with them, saying, Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid. Note, (1.) We know not Christ till he is pleased to reveal himself to us. “It is I; I your Master, I your friend, I your Redeemer and Saviour. It is I, that came to a troublesome earth, and now to a tempestuous sea, to look after you.” (2.) The knowledge of Christ, as he is in himself, and near to us, is enough to make the disciples of Christ cheerful even in a storm, and no longer fearful. If it be so, why am I thus? If it is Christ that is with thee, be of good cheer, be not afraid. Our fears are soon satisfied, if our mistakes be but rectified, especially our mistakes concerning Christ. See Gen. 21:19; 2 Kgs. 6:15-17. Christ’s presence with us in a stormy day, is enough to make us of good cheer, though clouds and darkness be round about us. He said, It is I. He doth not tell them who he was (there was no occasion), they knew his voice, as the sheep know the voice of their own shepherd, John 10:4. How readily doth the spouse say, once and again, It is the voice of my beloved! Song 2:8; 5:2. He said, ego eimi—I am he; or I am; it is God’s name, when he comes to deliver Israel, Exod. 3:14. So it is Christ’s, now that he comes to deliver his disciples. When Christ said to those that came to apprehend him by force, I am he, they were struck down by it, John 18:6. When he saith to those that come to apprehend him by faith, I am he, they are raised up by it, and comforted.
6. He went up to them into the ship, embarked in the same bottom with them, and so made them perfectly easy. Let them but have their Master with them, and all is well. And as soon as he was come into the ship, the wind ceased. In the former storm that they were in, it is said, He arose, and rebuked the winds, and said to the sea, Peace, be still (Mark 4:39); but here we read of no such formal command given, only the wind ceased all of a sudden. Note, Our Lord Jesus will be sure to do his own work always effectually, though not always alike solemnly, and with observation. Though we hear not the command given, yet, if thus the wind cease, and we have the comfort of a calm, say, It is because Christ is in the ship, and his decree is gone forth or ever we are aware, Song 6:12. When we come with Christ to heaven, the wind ceaseth presently; there are no storms in the upper region.
7. They were more surprised and astonished at this miracle than did become them, and there was that at the bottom of their astonishment, which was really culpable; They were sore amazed in themselves, were in a perfect ecstasy; as if it were a new and unaccountable thing, as if Christ had never done the like before, and they had no reason to expect he should do it now; they ought to admire the power of Christ, and to be confirmed hereby in their belief of his being the Son of God: but why all this confusion about it? It was because they considered not the miracle of the loaves; had they given that its due weight, they would not have been so much surprised at this; for his multiplying the bread was as great an instance of his power as his walking on the water. They were strangely stupid and unthinking, and their heart was hardened, or else they would not have thought it a thing incredible that Christ should command a calm. It is for want of a right understanding of Christ’s former works, that we are transported at the thought of his present works, as if there never were the like before.
V. When they came to the land of Gennesaret, which lay between Bethsaida and Capernaum, the people bid them very welcome; The men of that place presently knew Jesus (Mark 6:54), and knew what mighty works he did wherever he came, what a universal Healer he was; they knew likewise that he used to stay but a little while at a place, and therefore they were concerned to improve the opportunity of this kind visit which he made them; They ran through that whole region round about, with all possible expedition, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, and not able to go themselves; there was no danger of their getting cold when they hoped to get a cure, Mark 6:55. Let him go where he would, he was crowded with patients—in towns, in the cities, in the villages about the cities; they laid the sick in the streets, to be in his way, and begged leave for them to touch if it were but the border of his garment, as the woman with the bloody issue did, by whom, it should seem, this method of application was first brought in; and as many as touched, were made whole. We do not find that they were desirous to be taught by him, only to be healed. If ministers could not cure people’s bodily diseases, what multitudes would attend them! But it is sad to think how much more concerned the most of men are about their bodies than about their souls.
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