Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.
This story is chock full of lessons for the hungry believer.
These events took place right after the supernatural feeding of 5,000 men, plus women and children. In that account we saw Jesus multiplying a mere five loaves of bread and two small fishes so that all ate and were completely satisfied.
A glaring omission from the gospel accounts is any reference to the disciples having learned anything from this miracle, or having been amazed at the Person of Christ for what He had done. No conclusions about Him had been reached; He performed a sign, and that was it. Nothing more happened in their hearts at that time.
Then Jesus directed the disciples to take a boat to the other side of the Galilee, where He would later meet them. But rowing was tough due to the contrary winds. They ended up being out on the water for many hours, from late afternoon until the wee hours of the morning (the “fourth watch” was anytime between 3-6 am). A trip which ordinarily would take a couple of hours (at the most) had already taken as many as 14.
It was at the point of probable exhaustion and frustration that Jesus came to them. At first, they did not recognize Him at all … they’d not expected him to show up. In fact, they were horrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost. To their utter astonishment, He identified Himself, got into the boat, and made the wind immediately stop.
The reason for their dismay and amazement was that they had not learned anything about the previous miracle of the loaves and fishes. Their failure to understand stemmed from their heart condition: their hearts were hardened.
When I think about what makes up a hardened heart, I think of Pharaoh. He hardened his heart in failing to recognize the supremacy of Yahweh above all the so-called gods of the Egyptians. I also think of the people of Israel, who refused to go into the Promised Land due to fear of the giants and Canaanites that dwelt therein. In both cases, unbelief was the root cause.
So when we read of the disciples’ hardened hearts, we surmise that the hardness stemmed from unbelief. Had they taken the time to ponder the Person who fed the 5,000, perhaps their hearts would have remained soft. Had they come to conclusions about who Jesus is—arrived at by meditation upon what He does—they would have expected Him to show up that night out on the water, in one way or another.
So here are some pointed lessons for disciples today:
- Jesus Christ may send us and command us to go into situations that are difficult and at times, impossible. Such difficulties are not an indication that we are out of the will of God (as some would say), but rather confirmation that we are right in the center of it.
- When we are in difficult or testing times, we need to stay on the lookout for Jesus. He will most certainly come. The timing of His coming to us is His decision. The manner of His coming to us is His decision as well. But if we’re looking for Him, we’ll see Him. He may come to strengthen us in the difficulty, or He may come to deliver us out of it. In either case, the important thing is that He comes … and that we are watching for Him.
- The degree to which we truly know the Lord will be the degree to which we expectantly wait for Him. If we take stock of His actions and learn from them, we will give ourselves the opportunity to know Him better. To know Him is to love Him; to love Him is to trust and obey Him. This is where journaling and giving testimony come in handy. Both are tools for writing our own history with the Lord. This is of inestimable value in our walks with Him.
When the Lord allows severe testing in our lives, it is for a number of purposes.
One purpose is to display our progress in the faith … to angels and to our own hearts. He knows what’s inside of us, but we may not know it. Remember Abraham? God tested him in the matter of the offering of his only son Isaac. God knew that Abraham was up for it; He knew that Abraham would believe in a resurrection of his son, if he indeed had to go through with the horrible task (Hebrews 11:17-19). After the test was completed, everyone could see what an amazing man of faith Abraham was. His story is held up to us today as a prime example of what it means to wholly trust the Lord.
Another purpose for severe testing is to develop character within us (Romans 5:3-5). As we endure pressures, a diamond is being produced. The metal of our being is being forged and hardened. We are becoming more like Christ.
Still another purpose for testing is to bring us to the end of ourselves. As long as we’re confident in our own abilities and oblivious to God’s strength, we are basically useless. It is only in our weakness that His power is perfected (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Finally, severe tests are opportunities to grow in our knowledge of the Lord. We see what He is capable of when a thing is impossible to us. Like the disciples, we may be exhausted and frustrated, but He remains on His throne, in complete control. Each single test builds our historical and experiential resume with the Lord Jesus. We draw conclusions about Him from that resume. We learn to rely upon His character. We know He is completely loving, all-wise, infinitely strong, and ever faithful.
Thanks for reading.