Mat_14:22. 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.
Straightway is a business word: Jesus loses no time. No sooner is the banquet over than he sends off the guests to their homes. While they are well fed he bids them make the best of their way home. He who made the multitude sit down was able also to send the multitude away, but they needed sending, for they were loth to go. The sea must be crossed again, or Jesus cannot find seclusion. How he must run the gauntlet to get a little rest! Before he starts again across the sea, he performs another act of self-denial; for he cannot leave till he sees the crowd happily dispersed. He attends to that business himself giving the disciples the opportunity to depart in peace. As the captain is the last to leave the ship, so is the Lord the last to leave the scene of labour. The disciples would have chosen to stay in his company, and to enjoy the thanks of the people; but he constrained them to get into a ship. He could not get anyone to go away from him at this time without sending and constraining. This loadstone has great attractions. He evidently promised his disciples that he would follow them; for the words are, “to go before him unto the other side.” How he was to follow he did not say, but he could always find a way of keeping his appointments. How considerate of him to wait amid the throng while the disciples sailed away in peace He always takes the heavy end of the load himself.
Mat_14:23. 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.
Now that the crowd is gone, he can take his rest, and he finds it in prayer. He went up into a mountain apart: in a place where he might speak aloud, and not be overheard or disturbed, he communed with the Father alone. This was his refreshment and his delight. He continued therein till the thickest shades of night had gathered, and the day was gone. “Alone,” yet not alone, he drank in new strength as he communed with his Father. He must have revealed this private matter to the recording evangelist, and surely it was with the intent that we should learn from his example. We cannot afford to be always in company, since even our blessed Lord felt that he must be alone.
Mat_14:24. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
While Jesus was alone, they, in the ship, were in the same condition, but not occupied with the same spiritual exercise When they first quitted the shore it was fair sailing in the cool of the evening; but a storm gathered hastily as night covered the sky. On the lake of Galilee the wind rushes down from the gullies between the mountains, and causes grievous peril to little boats; sometimes fairly lifting them out of the water, and anon submerging them beneath the waves. That deep lake was peculiarly dangerous for small craft. They were far from land, for they were “in the midst of the sea,” equally distant from either shore. The sea was furious and their ship was “tossed with waves.” The hurricane was terrible. “The wind was contrary,” and would not let them go to any place which they sought. It was a whirlwind, and they were whirled about by it, but could not use it for reaching either shore. How much did their case resemble ours when we are in sore distress! We are tossed about and can do nothing; the blast is too furious for us to bear up against it, or even to live while driven before it. One happy fact remains: Jesus is pleading on the shore though we are struggling on the sea. It is also comfortable to know that we are where he constrained us to go (See verse 22), and he has promised to come to us in due time, and therefore all must be safe, though the tempest rages terribly.
Mat_14:25. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
Jesus is sure to come. The night wears on and the darkness thickens; the fourth watch of the night draws near, but where is he? Faith says, “He must come.” Though he should stay away till almost break of day, he must come. Unbelief asks, “How can he come?” Ah, he will answer for himself: he can make his own way. “Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.” He comes in the teeth of the wind, and on the face of the wave. Never fear that he will fail to reach the storm-tossed barque: his love will find out the way. Whither it be to a single disciple, or to the church as a whole, Jesus will appear in his own chosen hour, and his time is sure to be the most timely.
Mat_14:26. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit, and they cried out for fear.
Yes, the disciples saw him; saw Jesus their Lord, and derived no comfort from the sight. Poor human nature’s sight is a blind thing compared with the vision of a spiritual faith. They saw, but knew not what they saw. What could it be but a phantom? How could a real man walk on those foaming billows? How could he stand in the teeth of such a hurricane? They were already at their wits’ end, and the apparition put an end to their courage. We seem to hear their shriek of alarm: “they cried out for fear.” We read not that “they were troubled” before: they were old sailors, and had no dread of natural forces; but a spirit — ah, that was too much of a terror. They were at their worst now, and yet, if they had known it, they were on the verge of their best. It is noteworthy that the nearer Jesus was to them, the greater was their fear. Want of discernment blinds the soul to its richest consolations. Lord, be near, and let me know thee! Let me not have to say with Jacob, “Surely God was in this place; and I knew it not!”
Mat_14:27. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
He did not keep them in suspense: “Straightway Jesus spake unto them.” How sweetly sounded that loving and majestic voice! Above the roar of waves and howling of winds, they heard the voice of the Lord. This was his old word also, “Be of good cheer.” The most conclusive reason for courage was his own presence. “It is I; be not afraid.” If Jesus be near, if the spirit of the storm be, after all, the Lord of love, all room for fear is gone. Can Jesus come to us through the storm? Then we shall weather it, and come to him. He who rules the tempest is not the devil, not chance, not a malicious enemy; but Jesus. This should end all fear.
Mat_14:28. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
Peter must be the first to speak, he is impulsive, and besides, he was a sort of foreman in the company. The first speaker is not always the wisest man. Peter’s fears have gone, all but one “if”; but that “if” was working him no good, for it seemed to challenge his Master: “Lord if it be thou.” What a test to suggest: “Bid me come unto thee on the water!” What did Peter want with walking the waters? His name might have suggested that like a stone he would go to the bottom. It was an imprudent request: it was the swing of the pendulum in Peter from despair to an injudicious venturing. Surely, he wist not what he said. Yet we, too, have put our Lord to tests almost as improper. Have we not said, “If thou hast ever blessed me, give me this and that”? We, too, have had our water-walking, and have ventured where nothing but special grace could uphold us. Lord, what is man?
Mat_14:29. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
When good men are unwise and presumptuous, it may be for their lasting good to learn their folly by experience. “He said, Come.” Peter’s Lord is about to teach him a practical lesson. He asked to be bidden to come. He may come. He does come. He leaves the boat, he treads the wave. He is on the way towards his Lord. We can do anything if we have divine authorization, and courage enough to take the Lord at his word. Now there were two on the sea, two wonders! Which was the greater? The reader may not find it easy to reply. Let him consider.
Mat_14:30. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
“But”: a sorrowful “but” for poor Peter. His eye was off his Lord and on the raging of the wind: “he saw the wind boisterous.” His heart failed him, and then his foot failed him. Down he began to go — an awful moment is this “beginning to sink”, yet it was only a “beginning,” he had time to cry to his Lord, who was not sinking. Peter cried, and was safe. His prayer was as full as it was short. He had brought his eye and his faith back to Jesus, for he cried, “Lord!” He had come into this danger through obedience, and therefore he had an appeal in the word “Lord.” Whether in danger or not, Jesus was still his Lord. He is a lost man, and he feels it, unless his Lord will save him — save him altogether, save him now. Blessed prayer: “Lord, save me.” Reader, does it not suit you? Peter was nearer his Lord when he was sinking than when he was walking. In our low estate we are often nearer to Jesus than in our more glorious seasons.
Mat_14:31. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Our Lord delays not when our peril is imminent and our cry is urgent: “Immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand.” He first “caught him” and then taught him. Jesus saves first, and upbraids afterwards, when he must needs do so. When we are saved is the fit time for us to chasten ourselves for our unbelief. Let us learn from our Lord, that we may not reprove others till we have first helped them out of their difficulties. Our doubts are unreasonable: “Wherefore didst thou doubt?” If there be reason for little faith, there is evidently reason for great confidence. If it be right to trust Jesus at all, why not trust him altogether? Trust was Peter’s strength, doubt was his danger. It looked like great faith when Peter walked the water; but a little wind soon proved it to be “little faith.” Till our faith is tried, we can form no reliable estimate of it. After his Lord had taken him by the hand, Peter sank no further, but resumed the walk of faith. How easy to have faith when we are close to Jesus! Lord, when our faith fails, come thou to us, and we shall walk on the wave.
Mat_14:32. And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
So that Peter’s walk and his rescue had happened in the face of the tempest. He could walk the water well enough when his Lord held his hand and so can we. What a sight! Jesus and Peter, hand in hand, walking upon the sea! The two made for the ship at once: miracles are never spun out to undue length. Was not Peter glad to leave the tumultuous element, and at the same time to perceive that the gale was over? “When they were come into the ship, the wind ceased,” it is well to be safe in a storm, but more pleasant to find the calm return and the hurricane end. How gladly did the disciples welcome their Lord, and their brother, Peter, who though wet to the skin, was a wiser man for his adventure!
Mat_14:33. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
No wonder that Peter “worshipped him,” nor that his comrades did the same. The whole of the disciples, who had been thus rescued by their Lord’s coming to them on the stormy sea, were overwhelmingly convinced of his Godhead. Now they were doubly sure of it by unquestionable evidence, and in lowly reverence they expressed to him their adoring faith, saying, “Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”