Jesus has finished ministering to the crowd. Determined to get some alone time with the Father, He tells the disciples to go to back to the other side of the lake without Him, so He can spend time in prayer.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.”
Now He is finally alone. Jesus can finally have some personal time with the Father. One might have therefore expected that He would spend the full night in prayer, and perhaps the next day walk back, taking the same overland route the crowd had taken. Yet, “When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”
Mark notes that Jesus saw His disciples struggling from His vantage point on the mountain; “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” The disciples would be in a small fishing boat. Such boats were meant to be rowed out and back – they were not sailing ships. Of course, rowing when the wind is against you is a challenge. When the wind is producing strong waves it is more than a challenge – it can be a life-threatening situation. Matthew’s use of language (translated in English as “buffeted”, “battered” or “beaten”) conveys the degree of difficulty the disciples are finding themselves in.
The reader immediately wants to know the rest of the story, and our eyes tend to jump to how Jesus responds. But there is profit in pausing here and considering what it was like for the men in the boat, because there are similar times in every disciple’s life. Times when – as a direct result of obedience to God’s explicit instruction – you find yourself being assaulted by circumstance. This is what our spiritual forefathers called the “dark night of the soul”, when in your face is nothing by elemental opposition. Just as for the disciples, both wind and water fought to hold them back. It is a time to be guided by God’s prior Word. A time to push forward by the strength only our passion to obey can muster, for we are acutely aware that God seems far off. Just as the disciples would be keenly aware that Jesus was not in the same boat.
Yet God does see. God does notice, and God does care.
Jesus does not wait till morning to rejoin them. In His mercy to them and in the power of the Spirit, Jesus goes out to them while they are still on the water. He does not even wait till dawn to supernaturally rescue them, “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” Our God is ever on watch for us. Even in the midst of His communion with the Father, Jesus has His eye on us!
The hand that upholds the, sun in the heavens guides the sparrow in its fall to the ground.Thomas Robinson
The Lord is our shepherd. A very real help in time of need.