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Grown-Up Bible Stories                                                                                                                                              Jesus and Peter by the Lake

Faith Beyond Nature

It wasn't exactly the best of times. The crowds that constantly swirled around Jesus left little chance for rest. Jesus' team was tired. Jesus had given Simon the name Peter—the Rock, but even this sturdy man was tired. He had dubbed James and John The Sons of Thunder, but even these energetic men needed a break. Now word had come that John the Baptizer was dead. Actually, it was worse than dead. The Roman-appointed king had abused his power to execute John for telling him his adulterous marriage was sinful.

It is easy to imagine the emotional impact of John's death on Jesus and His twelve closest followers. John was Jesus' cousin. He had been a mentor to Andrew and responsible for that man's friendship with Jesus. While it isn't spelled out in Scripture, John's preaching likely had brought spiritual awakening to some of the other disciples as well. The death of John was more than the death of a public figure. It was the death of a respected teacher and relative.

Jesus had pulled back into Galilee at John's arrest. Now he suggested a mini-vacation of sorts. He and the twelve clambered into a boat and headed up the coastline toward a wilderness area. The dry desolate hills offered a place to pull back from the crowds, to rest, and to heal.

It didn't work. Jesus was a local sensation. His presence proved just too much of a draw. Literally thousands hiked along the Galilean shore toward his lonely destination. Others seem to have followed by boat. The crowd arrived before his wilderness retreat could even begin. Tired and grieving or not, Jesus saw the very hearts of those spiritually hungry people. Their needs pulled at His soul. They struggled under a politicized religious system that demanded more than they could give while leaving deep needs unmet. Some of them had pursued pagan practices and come under the power of evil spirits. Others had illnesses the rudimentary medical science of the day couldn't even begin to cure. They needed the love and power of God. Jesus had that love and power. He wouldn't have been Jesus had he jumped back in the boat.

The day of rest turned into another day of helping people. Jesus taught God's law in a pure way and offered answers for their deepest needs. Jesus drove the evil spirits away under the power of God. Jesus cured their illnesses with a word or a touch. As always, He brought Heaven into their earthy world. Yes, the twelve disciples could get tired just helping Him. Jesus Himself could get tired, but the Son of God had come to show people His Father. The divine love He imparted didn't fail.

Evening drew on. Jesus had been demonstrating the power of God over nature all day, but He never intended a permanent suspension of nature. People still needed food, shelter, and rest. The location was intentionally remote, a site for a private getaway. A crowd of five to ten thousand was more than this wilderness could support. Any food they'd brought for their day trip was long gone. The crowd were largely afoot. For walkers, food is fuel, and their tanks were on empty as it were.

The twelve disciples saw the logistical situation. They came to Jesus. “We need to send these guys, away,” they said. “This spot is desert. They need to get into the nearest villages to buy food and find shelter for the night.” [Quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.]

Jesus didn't like the idea. “I don't want them passing out on the way,” He said. “You give them something to eat.” He turned to Philip. “Where shall we buy food for them?” he asked.

Philip knew where the nearest villages were, but he also knew basic economics. “We can't afford to feed a crowd like this.”

Find out what food we have available,” said Jesus.

Finally, Peter's brother Andrew came back. “I found a kid with five loaves of bread and a couple little fish,” he said. “Hardly a meal for the 5,000 men and their families that are here.”

Have them sit down in groups of fifty,” said Jesus.

The disciples moved into the crowd and got the word out. Soon orderly rows formed on the grass. If you've ever lived in a semi-arid region, you will appreciate the picture of that early green grass growing up in a land that is brown and sun-parched for much of the year.

Jesus took those five loaves of bread and those two fish. He said a prayer of blessing over them. Then, He started breaking them into pieces. It would have been normal in that setting to break the bread rather than cut it with a knife. What wasn't so normal was the result. Jesus just kept on breaking and breaking bread and fish. He handed the food to his disciples and they passed it around. One hundred groups of fifty men, many accompanied by their wives and children sat in rows on that nice spring grass and ate their fill. As the crowd finished eating, Jesus sent his twelve friends out with twelve baskets to pick up the scraps. We have no definitive word on where the baskets came from, but Adam Clarke suggests the disciples' previously emptied personal lunch baskets. Each disciple filled a basket with left-overs. Jesus had proved the perfect host, and He'd done it with only five loaves of bread and a couple fish.

Andrew had been right, of course. The raw materials Jesus had to work with were barely a drop in a bucket. There was no natural explanation for what had just happened. But then, Jesus really didn't need natural explanations. He had a special connection to the supernatural.

With no danger of hunger-weakened people dropping in the desert, Jesus gave His twelve devoted friends a break. “Take the boat and head home,” He told them. “I'm going to send the people away. Then, I'm going off by myself and talk with my Father for a bit. I'll catch up with you later.”

Peter and the others climbed into their boat, and headed home. Only, it wasn't quite as easy as it sounds. A wind had come up, and it was coming from the wrong direction. There would be no sailing tonight. They were rowing from the outset, tired backs straining against a wind that pushed them back toward shore. The waves bounced the boat around.

For Peter, Andrew, and the Sons of Thunder, rowing boats in the wind was nothing new. After all, they'd done these things for a living. People who earn their living outdoors learn the power of nature. Sometimes that power is helpful. Sometimes it is devastating. Sometimes it pushes back, pushes back relentlessly, while mortal humans slowly wear themselves out struggling against it. So they rowed, oars dipping into dark waves, the deck angling one way, then the other. The night deepened, and they were still far, far from their destination.

We don't know who saw it first, but soon they were all peering into the dark. Something was moving out on the turbulent surface of the lake. No, no, it wasn't another boat. It was thin, and upright. What appeared to be clothing flapped in the wind. No, it wasn't on the shore. No, it wasn't a mirage--it was night after all. The ghostly figure continued, moving right over the surface of the water, unstoppable, unexplainable. Fear grew in each heart and filled the boat.

It doesn't seem appropriate to say a bunch of guys who often worked at night screamed at something that moved in the dark, but that is essentially what happened. We like to say Peter and his friends thought they were looking at a ghost, but that isn't the best explanation. It is doubtful if the average religious, sensible Jew believed anyone came back from the place of the dead. What these men did have experience with were evil spirits. In a world dominated by idolatry, Satanic beings were far more common than people today might believe. True, Peter and his friends worshiped God, but there were plenty of folks around who didn't. They'd seen the terrified and weird people who'd gotten too close to the wrong part of the spirit world. They'd seen and wanted no part of it. Jesus had an impressive record of driving off demons, but Jesus wasn't there. Now a potentially very dangerous force came drifting across the waves deep into a hard, tired night. Yes, they screamed.

Then, a familiar voice came pitched over the wind. “It is I. Don't be afraid!”

Peter looked out at that dim, wind-blown figure. What ever else he may or may not have been, Peter was a believer. “Sir, if it's really You, invite me to come walking on the water to You!”

Jesus said, “Come.”

Enthralled with a new experience of the power of God, Peter climbed out of the boat and stepped into the water. No, make that onto the water. He didn't sink. He stepped away from the boat. The surface under his feet shifted with the wind as he walked. Here he was, Peter the fisherman who knew all about water and how things sink, walking on the water. He wouldn't qualify as a scientist, but Peter did know water and wind and waves. He could swim. He knew what happened when someone or something fell out of a boat. He was walking in the power of God, and he knew it.

Power of God, or otherwise, Peter's knowledge of nature struggled to keep up with his faith. He could see those waves. He could feel the wind. The water beneath his feet was dark and cold. He looked at the waves and realized what he was trying to do. The unreality of it all caught up with him. He took his eyes off the solitary figure that moved so calmly across that impossible surface. As he did, he began to do what nature dictated he must. He began to sink.

Jesus, save me!” he yelled.

And Jesus did what Jesus always does for those who ask to be saved. He saved him. He reached out and grabbed Peter before the lake could claim him. Then, He said, “Oh you with your little faith. Why did you doubt?”

Jesus helped Peter back to the boat. The wind stopped as soon as they climbed in. The rowing would be easy now, but those twelve friends of Jesus were no longer rowing. They fell on their faces before Him. They'd seen Him display the power of God so often it was beginning to seem normal, but tonight the too-familiar brute force of nature had yielded before Him. Nature, faith, and Jesus Christ had strangely collided in the life of one of their own. What they'd all been beginning to think was becoming conviction. “This is truly the Son of God!”

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

This story is the second in a four-part series: "Jesus and Peter by the Lake." For the previous story, click here: The Fisherman and the Carpenter

For the next story, click here: Nature and Super-Nature.

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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