Today: [Matthew 14] Did Jesus Actually WANT Peter to Walk on the Water? In chapter 14 of Matthew, we find the account of John’s death and Peter walking on the water. In both instances, there are indications that neither of these instances was actually a part of the determinate plan of God but rather the happenstance of first John’s and then Peter’s own initiatives, which mercifully in Peter’s case, he was spared.
[Mat 14:1-36 KJV] 1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, 2 And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put [him] in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. 5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. 9 And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded [it] to be given [her]. 10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. 11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought [it] to her mother. 12 And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. 13 When Jesus heard [of it], he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard [thereof], they followed him on foot out of the cities. 14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
As reports of miracles become widespread, king Herod hears of Jesus and trembles. He had, by this time, put John the Baptist to death and thinks in his guilt that Jesus is a reincarnation of John. This type of belief was known in ancient times just as it is today; in fact, even some Christians believe that since Elijah was taken to heaven but not by way of death, that he will return, or has returned, in the person of John the Baptist. In Matthew 11:5, Jesus spoke enigmatically that John was “Elias, which was for to come…” Is this saying that John was a reincarnation of Elijah, or suggesting that Jesus believed in reincarnation? You will hear this, and you need to be able to give an answer. Let us remember that in the gospel of Luke we have an account of John’s birth (so he didn’t return as an actual manifestation of Elijah come from heaven) and that the angel who heralded John’s birth states clearly the following:
[Luk 1:17 KJV] 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Thus we see that John was moving in the spirit and power of Elijah, and was not intended to be thought of as Elijah himself in any way. There is hinted at in the wording as well a further fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy by the statement that this one the angel speaks of and that Jesus speaks of as well would move not only in the spirit of Elijah but the power of Elijah. The power of God in Elijah was accompanied by great miracles, but John 10:41 tells us that John “did no miracle…” Perhaps then John either fell short of his own calling or perhaps there is a further fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy of the angel yet to come to pass.
Why did Herod jail John? Because he challenged Herod’s marriage to his brother Philip’s wife. Herod had divorced his wife, and Herodias had divorced Philip in order to accommodate the marriage. John spoke openly against this and, as a result, was imprisoned and ultimately executed. Could this have been avoided? We have no record of God ever actually instructing John to engage in such provocations. Jesus seldom if ever spoke against the power of Rome or the corrupt powers that be over Jerusalem and Judea, neither did Paul or the apostles of Christ either. When John gave an account of his heavenly calling, there is no mention of any activist element in the mandate of God over his life:
John 1:33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. (v. 31 “…therefore I am come baptizing…”).
There are many accounts of men and women moving beyond their calling into roles that were not consistent or explicitly stated in terms of what God actually mandated them to do. It is a lesson that should not go unheeded in the permissive culture of the church today in which leaders feel entitled to foray into any activity they see fit without due consideration as to whether or not this was actually what God desires of them. William Branham of the 50’s healing revivals is an example of this, a man who strayed from a mighty signs and wonders ministry into teaching various and strange doctrines and unfortunately died before his time. Regrettably, there have been many since and now that follow in that negative example and paid the price such as Jim Bakker, obviously an apostle in calling who became more involved as a real estate developer, building buildings where perhaps he should have focused in building the kingdom more specifically. These leaders not only bear the responsibility for their misadventures but also the people who follow them, encouraging them in their unchecked aspirations. In John’s case, his disciples come (v. 12) and take his body to bury it and notify Jesus of His cousin’s death. The next time we encounter John’s followers is in Acts 19:2 when they have developed a cult around the deceased prophet and have no clue as to what is going on around them as to the burgeoning influence of the fledgling early church. Anecdotal evidence in history suggests that their clandestine activities continued long into the second and third century as a sect of neo-Essenes who were known to worship the severed head of what was believed to be John the Baptist’s corpse, and are believed by many to have influenced if not been the actual beginnings of the Templars and their skullduggery that has influenced secret societies right down to our day.
15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. 16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat . 17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. 18 He said, Bring them hither to me. 19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to [his] disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. 20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. 21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children. 22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. 28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth [his] hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God. 34 And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; 36 And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.
After the death of John, Jesus sought to withdraw to a place of solitude, but the crowds followed Him to receive healing and deliverance. The day wore on unto evening, and the disciples suggest that Jesus send them away that they might forage for food. Were the disciples showing prudent concern for the multitude, or were they looking out for themselves? Jesus, perhaps noting their duplicitous motivation, tells the disciples, “they don’t need to go anywhere – YOU give them to eat…” To the disciples, this was asking what they considered impossible. Why would they think this? Did not Jesus give them power in Matthew 10 to work miracles? Perhaps their sense of powerlessness was because their motivation at this point was a selfish one, not born of love. They had faith, but as Paul tells us in Galatians, faith only works by love. Likewise, today is the problem of powerlessness and an anemic, insipid church culture that of a lack of faith or a lack of love. We can preach the moving of mountains and the necessity of faith, but why isn’t love taught as an ingredient as essential to the miraculous as faith itself?
Noting the disciple’s skepticism, Jesus, without a further word, instructs that the people organize themselves in preparation for a meal. An inquiry is made as to what is actually available, and Jesus takes a small portion of five loaves and two fish and miraculously distributes it with the disciple’s help and feeds the vast multitude. Notice that even though the disciples were unbelieving that the bread and fish that Jesus broke still nonetheless multiplied under their unbelieving hands. After the multitude eats their full, there are 12 baskets left, one for each disciple as though Jesus wants them to carry with them the proofs of His power so as to say as He did to Thomas after His resurrection “be not faithless but believing…”
Having performed this great miracle, and healed the sick that were come after Him, Jesus again seeks a place of solitude, going up into a mountain apart to pray, alone by Himself. The disciples had been sent into a ship to cross over to the land of Gennesaret. As they are rowing a great storm comes up, and they are concerned for their lives when to their alarm they see Jesus walking on the water, but they think it is a “spirit” or as the original word employed informs us “a phantom.” What amazement that they are so quick to believe in superstition but are stumbling at every miraculous act of their Master. Jesus calls out and identifies Himself, but the disciples apparently are not believing, perhaps thinking that this phantom walking across the waves was trying to entice them to their deaths, as sailors of the era often feared. Peter challenges the apparition and says in effect, “Jesus, if that is you – bid me come to you on the waves …”
Notice here the trouble and the testimony that Peter gets himself into. He is asking a question to which there is only one answer. He asks, “Lord, if it is you – bid me come…” Well, it WAS Jesus; therefore, He beckons Peter to get out of the boat and come to Him. There is no indication here that Jesus expected or even wanted Peter to do this. Have you ever asked God something to which there was only one answer? “Lord, if it’s you … let my loan application (for the house you can’t afford), go through…” Peter quickly and quite literally got in over his head. Have you ever done this? Of course, Jesus didn’t leave Peter to the consequences of his unbelief, as the manner of some who suggest that God doesn’t help us out of problems we get ourselves into. The story of Peter walking on the water is an absolute contradiction to this thinking. Peter got himself into trouble, with no indication that God wanted him to do what he did, yet with nothing more than a kind-hearted chiding, Jesus rescued him. What love! What kindness! Let us remember the lessons of this account the next time we try to buffalo God into answering us in ways that put us outside His actually plan for our lives.