You remember the day on the grassy slopes above the Sea of Galilee, when the Lord fed the multitude with loaves and fishes - five barley loaves and two small fishes. We thought how they must have wondered when they saw the disciples going back and back again to the Lord, and still bringing more till all the people were fed, and when they saw the disciples gather up twelve baskets full of pieces. The multitude believed that the Lord must be the king who had been promised and whom they were all expecting; they thought that He would lead their armies and make them the greatest nation in the world. These thoughts were in the minds of the people, and it says that Jesus perceived that they would come by force and make Him a king. (John 6:15) The Lord was a King, and the whole world is His kingdom, but He was not such a king as the people wanted and hoped that He would be. He sent them away, first the disciples in the boat to go back to Capernaum; then all the people to go back to their homes; then He went alone into a mountain to pray.
So the night came on and it was dark. The wind was blowing on the sea and the disciples were rowing hard against it. They were about half way across, and it was the beginning of the fourth watch, which means after three o'clock, the very early dawn. They looked and saw One coming toward them walking on the sea. At first they were afraid, but when He spoke they knew that it was the Lord. We must read the story and how Peter tried to walk on the water to the Lord, and was beginning to sink when the Lord stretched out His hand and caught him; and how when the Lord came into the ship the wind ceased and they were at the land where they were going. (John 6:21)
It was the Gennesaret shore near Capernaum. They had come home, and many people in that country knew the Lord. When they heard that He was there they sent into the country all about and brought the sick people to Him; many only touched the hem of His garment and were made whole. Listen to the story. (Matthew 14:22-36)
When we study our lesson today, let one of the class find the story in Matthew 14:22-36, one in Mark 6:45-56, and one in John 6:15-21, and see what particulars each Gospel adds to the story.
After the miracle of the loaves and fishes the disciples wished to make the Lord a king. All the Jewish people in those days were expecting a king; they called him the Messiah; there were many prophecies about him; how glorious he would be, and how strong his kingdom would be. How did the Jews understand these prophecies? What sort of a king were they expecting? At that time they were under the Roman power. They expected especially that the Messiah would be a king who would throw off this power and make them great.
The Lord was the Messiah, the promised King. Remember the angel's words to Mary: "The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:32, 33) And remember the Lord's own words to Pilate: "Thou sayest that I am a king" (John 18:36, 37); but He also added, "My kingdom is not of this world." The Lord was a different kind of king from what the people expected; His power and glory were different from what they wanted.
When they came after the miracle of the loaves and fishes to make Him a king, He sent them all away, the disciples and the multitude. He went alone into the mountain to pray. We can imagine in part the purpose of His prayer. In one of the Lord's temptations in the wilderness the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. It must have been one purpose of His prayer on this night in the mountain, to meet this temptation and to put away all thoughts of worldly power and greatness. Was it not a sort of picture of the victory in Himself which He gained in this night of prayer, when presently He came to the disciples walking on the sea, all disquiet and worldly thoughts under His feet? And every victory in Himself gave the Lord power to overcome the same evil things in the disciples and in all people. And was it not an expression of this power when He calmed the storm for them? Do you remember another miracle of calming the sea? Can you tell me about it?
Besides this deeper lesson which we see in this miracle, the promise of the Lord's help to overcome disquiet, worldly thoughts and feelings, it is also a beautiful reminder of the Lord's power in nature. Things in the world around us happening all the time become so common that we forget to stop and think what power is doing all these things. Science learns something of the processes by which plants grow, by which storms gather and are dispersed, and a thousand other things take place, and we become so much interested in these processes that we almost forget that they do not take place of themselves, but that these are simply ways in which the Lord's power is working in the world around us. The Lord's power brings the sunrise so regularly and with such a gift of new life each day; it brings the spring, awakening the world from the sleep of winter; His power is in the clearing of the storm when the wild winds and waves are still and the peaceful sunshine returns. Very early in the Scriptures we are taught to find a lesson of the Lord's power in the clearing of the storm and to think of the beautiful rainbow as a token of His remembrance. (Genesis 9:12-17.)
The last verses of the chapter tell of the coming home to the Gennesaret shore. We read in an earlier lesson (Matthew 9) of another time when the Lord and the disciples came by boat to Capernaum from the further shore, and how the people were waiting to ask His help. It was the same at this time that we read of in our lesson. It says that they besought Him that the sick might only touch the hem of His garment; and as many as touched were made perfectly whole. Do you remember one miracle which we have learned of, in which one was healed who touched His garment's hem?
1. What does the word "constrain" mean?
2. "Unto the other side." Of what? To which side did they come?
3. How did the Lord come to the disciples? When did He come? How did He help them? What did Peter say and do?
4. What happened after the feeding of the multitude, that shows a reason for the Lord's prayer in the mountain? What happened afterward that shows the result of the prayer?
We must think more carefully of the spiritual meaning of this walking on the sea and calming the storm. What does the sea represent? Remember the calling of the disciples and the promise that they should become fishers of men. They should lift men up from a natural, worldly state of life to a spiritual state. They should teach how to make natural things of service to spiritual life. The sea, contrasted with the upper air and sunshine, is like the lower atmosphere of natural, worldly thought. And the storm on the sea? It represents a state of temptation when worldly thoughts and ambitions are aroused and threaten to swallow us up from the light of heaven. And what are the winds which raise the waves upon the sea? They represent the unseen influences from hell which arouse the evil thoughts in us.
Had there been any such excitement of worldly thoughts and feelings at the time which we read of in this lesson? What had just taken place on the eastern shore? Thoughts of worldly power and greatness had been awakened in the disciples' minds which they could not quiet for themselves; their helplessness is pictured in their toiling against the storm. The Lord in His prayer on the mountain overcame these temptations of the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, putting all thoughts of worldly greatness under His feet, and gaining the power to quiet the disturbance in the minds of the disciples. It was an expression of His victory over worldly things and of His power to calm the storms of worldliness for others when He came to the disciples walking on the sea and stilled the storm for them. "Be of good cheer," He said at another time; "I have overcome the world." (E. 419, 514; T. 123)
It was night when the disciples were toiling on the sea and the Lord was praying in the mountain. What does this, night tell us in regard to the spiritual state? Our minds are dark and it is spiritually night when we are in states of excitement and temptation; we do not see clearly what is right; the Lord seems far away from us. When we do awaken to a sense of the Lord's nearness and receive His help, the darkness passes by and our minds grow bright. Notice in our story how the darkness is associated with the Lord's absence from the disciples: "It was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them"; and that His coming was with the dawn. (Psalm 30:5; A. 6000, 10134)
The incident of Peter's walking on the water contains much that is interesting and valuable. The Lord bade Peter to come, but when he saw the wind boisterous he was afraid, and began to sink, and as the Lord caught him His words were, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" The state of mind represented by Peter in this passage is evidently one which has some knowledge and confidence in the Lord, but not enough to make it strong in putting worldly things in their right place. For example, all the disciples and the multitude had faith in the Lord as the Messiah; but as the story shows, that faith was not enough to calm the excitement of worldly thoughts. They must gain a higher conception of the Lord and His power. That truer faith is expressed in the exclamation of the disciples when they received the Lord into the ship and the storm ceased; "Of a truth Thou art the Son of God." The thought of a worldly king is associated with the storm. This acknowledgment of the Divine, the Heavenly King, is associated with the ceasing of the storm and the coming of the ship to the land whither they went. (E. 815)
One thought more about this coming to the land. We have thought of the farther shore of the sea outside the strict limits of the Holy Land as representing natural, external states. The other shore which is strictly of the Holy Land represents interior and spiritual states. It was on that farther shore and on the sea that the thoughts about the worldly kingdom were aroused. The return of the disciples to Capernaum and the familiar shore was also a return to a more spiritual state of interest and helpfulness in the Lord's ministry to men. In this thought it is significant that the return to the Gennesaret shore on this occasion and on the earlier occasion mentioned in Matthew 9 was followed by an abundance of works of healing. (E. 440; A. 4117)