THE CONQUEST OF THE STORM
Immediately he made the disciples embark on the boat and go across ahead to Bethsaida while he sent the crowd away. When he had taken leave of them, he went away into a mountain to pray. When it was late the boat was half way across the lake and Jesus was alone upon the land. He saw that they were sore beset as they rowed, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he came to them walking on the sea, and it looked as if he meant to pass them by. When they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and they cried out in terror, for they all saw him and they were distracted with fear. At once he spoke with them. “Courage!” he said. “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” And he came into the boat with them, and the wind sank to rest. And they were exceedingly astonished within themselves, because they did not understand about the loaves because their minds were obtuse.
After the hunger of the crowd had been satisfied, Jesus immediately sent his disciples away before he dismissed the crowd. Why should he do that? Mark does not tell us but most probably we have the explanation in John’s account. John tells us that after the crowd had been fed there was a move to take Jesus and to make him king. That was the last thing Jesus desired. It was that very way of power that once, finally and for all, he had rejected at the time of his temptations. He could see it coming. He did not want his disciples to be infected and caught up in this nationalistic outburst. Galilee was the hotbed of revolution. If this movement was not checked, there might well emerge amongst the excitable people a rebellion which would wreck everything and lead to disaster for all concerned. So Jesus sent away his disciples lest they too should become inflamed by this movement, and then he calmed the crowd and bade them farewell.
When he was alone, he went up into a mountain to pray. Thick and fast the problems were descending upon him. There was the hostility of the orthodox people; there was the frightened suspicion of Herod Antipas; there were the political hotheads who would make him a nationalistic Messiah against his will. At this particular time there was many a problem on Jesus’ mind and many a burden on his heart.
For some hours he was alone amidst the hills with God. As we have seen, this must have happened about mid-April, and mid-Aped was the Passover time. Now the Passover was deliberately fixed for the full moon, as Easter still is. The Jewish night ran from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and it was divided into four watches–6 p.m. to 9 p.m., 9 p.m. to 12 midnight, 12 midnight to 3 a.m., and 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus looked from the mountainside out across the lake. The lake was only four miles across at that point, and in the light of the moon it lay stretched out before him. The wind was up and he saw the boat, with his men in it, having a hard struggle to reach the other side.
See what happened. Immediately Jesus saw his friends in trouble his own problems were set aside; the moment for prayer was past; the time for action had come; he forgot himself and went to the help of his friends. That is of the very essence of Jesus. The cry of human need to him surpassed all other claims. His friends needed him; he must go.
What happened we do not know, and will never know. The story is cloaked in mystery which defies explanation. What we do know is that he came to them and their storm became a calm. With him beside them nothing mattered any more.
When Augustine was writing about this incident he said, “He came treading the waves; and so he puts all the swelling tumults of life under his feet. Christians–why afraid?” It is the simple fact of life, a fact which has been proved by countless thousands of men and women in every generation, that when Christ is there the storm becomes a calm, the tumult becomes a peace, what cannot be done is done, the unbearable becomes bearable, and men pass the breaking point and do not break. To walk with Christ will be for us also the conquest of the storm.
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