There was a great deal of excitement at Rock’s home in Bethany near Capernaum. The pairs of disciples that Jesus had sent out over a week before were returning with amazing reports.
“You won’t believe it!” John exclaimed when he and James walked in the door and saw all of their companions already there. “James and I cast out demons, and a whole bunch of sick people were healed when we anointed them with oil!”
“What do you mean we won’t believe it?” Thomas the Twin returned with a laugh. “What do you think the rest of us were doing?”
“But how was your message received?” Jesus asked.
“It worked just like you said it would, Teacher,” James answered. “When we entered the towns, we first found the sick and demon possessed and healed them.”
“It was so awesome!” John added enthusiastically.
“After the people saw that we had power to heal, they were ready to listen to what we had to say,” James added.
“We used a few of your stories, Teacher,” John said, “and taught them that they should repent. A lot of people listened to us. And they really seemed excited to hear about Your kingdom coming.”
The rest of the disciples whole heartedly agreed with the brothers’ assessment.
“We even had groups of men follow us back here,” Matthew added. “Teacher, they’re saying that You are the One everyone’s been looking for. They think something exciting is about to happen, and they don’t want to miss it.”
All of the joy and excitement in the room was suddenly cut short by a voice at the door. “John’s dead!” The speaker was Eliezer, a former disciple of the Baptizer’s who was now following Jesus. “I just received word. Herod had John beheaded in prison.”
Immediately a heavy cloud of sorrow descended on the room. Tears flowed from more than a few men, many of whom had been John’s disciples first. The weight of this terrible news was just being dealt with when another man stuck his head in the door.
“Hey, which one of you guys is Jesus? I’ve got a one-hundred-man militia just coming into town, and we need to know where you want us.”
On hearing this, Jesus stood up. “Rock, is your boat ready to sail?”
“Yes, Teacher, we always keep it ready.”
“Good,” Jesus returned. “Everyone head to Rock’s boat. We’re leaving now.”
“But what about my men?” the stranger asked again. Jesus walked past him without answering.
Five minutes later Jesus and the twelve were pushing the slightly overloaded fishing boat away from the shore, to the annoyance of a growing crowd of people on the beach.
“Where are we going, Teacher?” Philip asked as they moved further away from the land.
“We need some time alone,” Jesus answered. “Rock, let’s sail across the top of the Sea of Galilee to the other side.”
“But there’s nothing over there, Teacher,” Rock returned.
“That’s exactly why we’re going there.”
The breeze was against them, so Rock, Andrew, James, and John had to tack the boat repeatedly to make headway. A trip that, with a nice breeze from behind, would have normally taken twenty minutes, wound up taking nearly two hours, but the peaceful quietness was a blessing to each of their heavy hearts.
“Uh oh!” Rock said from his place at the tiller. He was looking at the approaching shore. “Look at that!”
“What in the world?” Andrew exclaimed. “Why are all those people there?”
“And look off to the left,” Simon said as he pointed to the north shore of the sea. “There’s got to be several thousand more running along the bank to join them.”
“It’s those militia groups!” Nathaniel observed. “We’re definitely not going to be alone.”
“What do you want to do, Teacher?” Rock asked. “Should we turn around and sail back across to the west side?”
Jesus stood up and leaned against the mast as he studied the men on the shore, eagerly waiting for them. “Just look at them,” Jesus said with compassion. “They don’t know what to do, so they ran all the way around the north end of the sea because they are desperate for a leader.”
“To me they look like a bunch of rude people who are trying to push themselves on You,” Little James said with disgust.
“To me they look like sheep without a shepherd,” Jesus returned. “We’ll land here. I want to speak to them.”
Stepping out of the boat, Jesus led His disciples through the huge crowd of men and climbed part way up the steep hillside. Seating Himself on one of the large rocks, Jesus began to teach. At first the crowd was restless. They were ready for action. They had come to fight to bring in God’s kingdom and kick out the Romans, but Jesus was talking about meekness, gentleness, forgiveness, and peace making. He told them stories about lost sheep, lost coins, and lost boys. He told a story about a foolish king who went to wage war without first counting the cost. Jesus spoke to them the entire day, and by the late afternoon, the men had lost their zeal to fight and were fascinated with Jesus’s lessons.
“It’s getting late, Teacher,” Philip spoke up. “You should send the people away to buy food. They’ve got to be hungry.”
“You’re right,” Jesus answered. “You give them something to eat.”
“What?” Philip returned, dumbfounded.
“What do you think, Philip?” Jesus asked. “Where are we to buy bread so that all of them can eat?”
“Teacher, it’s not a matter of where to buy the bread; it’s how to buy it. We only have about two hundred denarii in the money box, and that wouldn’t purchase enough bread for everyone to just get a taste.” When Philip said that, everyone turned and look at Judas, who in response clutched the money box tighter.
“How much food do you have?” Jesus asked. “Look and see.”
After several minutes Andrew came walking up with a young man. “Teacher, there’s a lad here with five barley loaves and two opsaria*, but what is that among so many?”
With a smile at the lad, Jesus took the bread and fish and announced, “Have the militias get together in their groups of fifties and hundreds and sit down on the grass.
“Rock, we’re going to need some large baskets,” Jesus added.
Twelve carryall hampers were emptied and borrowed from militia members. As soon as Rock and the others set these before Jesus, the Teacher lifted the barley loaves to heaven and began thanking God for them. He then pronounced a blessing of abundance over the bread and immediately began tearing off pieces and dropping them into the baskets.
It didn’t seem to Rock that more than a few pieces had been tossed into the first basket when he saw bread chunks appear at the top. “Whoa! This one’s full!” Rock called and quickly replaced the full basket with an empty one. “John, take this basket of bread and start passing it out.”
No sooner had John left than the next basket was full. As James hefted the load of bread, he exclaimed, “There’s way more than five small loaves here!”
“You better get busy, partner; the next basket is almost full,” Rock laughed.
There was no hiding that a major miracle was taking place. Jesus stood in front of everyone breaking chunks of bread into the baskets, but the more He broke off, the more there was to break.
As John returned with his empty basket, Jesus called to him, “Let’s have those two opsaria, John.” Once again the Teacher thanked His Father for the provision and then pronounced a blessing on the fish. Suddenly broken pieces of fish began to fall from the Teacher’s hands and into John’s basket.
When everyone saw the abundance of food and realized where it came from, a party atmosphere broke out. They ate until they could eat no more.
“Don’t waste any of it!” Jesus cried out. “Gather all the remaining pieces!” As the large baskets were filled with the leftovers, the excitement of the crowd grew.
“Do you have any doubts that this is the King of Israel?” Nathaniel called loudly to the mass of men.
“Nathaniel is right!” Simon the Zealot shouted. “Jesus just fed a five-thousand-man army** with five small barley loaves and a couple of opsaria! What more do you want from a king?”
Quickly a chant was started. “CROWN HIM! CROWN HIM…” The disciples eagerly added their voices to the shouting.
“ROCK!” Jesus’ voice pierced the den.
“Yes, Teacher,” the big fisherman returned enthusiastically.
“GET ALL OF OUR PEOPLE LOADED IN YOUR BOAT AND LEAVE.”
“But, Teacher,” Rock returned, “You have Your army!”
“TAKE ALL OF OUR PEOPLE AND LEAVE NOW! I WILL MEET YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SEA!”
“What about all these men?”
“I WILL DISMISS THEM!” Jesus returned firmly. “YOU AND THE OTHERS ARE TO LEAVE NOW!”
Obediently Rock began gathering the other confused disciples and pushed them toward the boat.
“But why, Rock?” Simon the Zealot pleaded. “The army in here! This is the time! Why must we leave?”
“For once I agree with the assassin,” Judas spoke up. “We have to take advantage of all this enthusiasm!”
“All I know is the Teacher ordered all of us to get in the boat and meet Him on the other side,” Rock shot back angrily. “I don’t understand it! That’s not what I want, but it’s the Teacher’s orders, so I’m leaving. And all of you are supposed to come with me. Help me push off. We’re going!”
As Jesus’s angry and disappointed followers rowed away from the shore, the Teacher began addressing the passionate militiamen. He told them about the love of the Father. He challenged them to love their enemies and to forgive others as their Heavenly Father forgave them. He thanked them for spending the day with Him, but He told them it was getting late, and He ordered them to return to their homes. Jesus then announced that He was going up into the hills to pray, and having said that, He walked off.
The bad attitudes of the disciples were not improved by the fact that they were forced to row into the teeth of a strong headwind. As strong arms grew tired, they swapped out rowers. Night fell, and angrily the disciples labored on through the wind and the waves.
It was nearly three in the morning when Judas, who had been rowing for the last two hours, got fed up. “I DON’T GET IT, ROCK!” the irritated disciple snapped. “WHY WOULD THE TEACHER MIRACULOUSLY FEED THIS HUGE ARMY AND THEN NOT USE IT? WE SHOULD BE MAKING PLANS AND ORGANIZING AN ATTACK ON THE ROMANS, BUT INSTEAD WE’RE ROWING THIS REDICULOUS BOAT! WE’VE BEEN DOING THIS FOR HOURS, WE’RE GETTING NO WHERE, AND I’M FED UP WITH IT!”
“Do you want to get out and walk?” Rock growled back from where he sat holding the tiller.
“Uh…Rock, look!” The words were spoken by John, whose wide eyes were clearly visible in the darkness. He was pointing into the sea behind them. Turning, Rock stared in amazement at a radiant figure walking toward them on the rolling sea.
“WHAT IS IT?” Matthew cried out. He was in the furthest end of the boat and struggled to look over the others.
“IT’S A BEING!”
“IT’S A GHOST!”
“IT’S A PERSON!”
“IT’S JUST ME!” a familiar voice called back. “DON’T BE AFRAID!”
“It’s the Teacher!” John exclaimed. “He’s walking on the water!”
“He’s going to walk right past us!” Thomas called with concern. “He knows we’re upset with Him!”
“Well, He’s not walking past me!” Rock announced as he stood up in the boat.
“LORD,” Rock called across the waves, “IF IT’S REALLY YOU, COMMAND ME TO COME TO YOU ON THE WATER!”
With cautious excitement Rock slid his legs over the side and was amazed that, when his feet touched the water, the surface was solid. A wide grin spread across the rough fisherman’s face as he stepped eagerly toward his master. Rock had only taken a few steps when he was far enough away from the boat that it no longer blocked the wind. Suddenly the fierce breeze hit him firmly in the back, staggering him. Rock turned and saw how far he was from the violently rocking boat as another blast of wind and spray hit him in the face. It was at that moment that he began to sink. “SAVE ME, LORD!” he cried and stretched out his hands to the Teacher.
Jesus quickly grabbed him and lifted him up.
When they were both in the boat, Jesus said to the embarrassed Rock, “Why did you doubt?” As He said this, He looked around at the rest of them. They had all doubted Him. In less than twelve hours, He had worked two miracles that only God could do, and yet when His plans went against theirs, they doubted and hardened their hearts. It was clear that Jesus wasn’t the Lord that they expected. The question was if they would they accept Him as the Lord that He is. But Jesus knew this was the challenge they needed to face, and things would happen this next day that would force them to choose.
By Alan W. Harris
(Inspired by John 6:1-21 and Matthew 14:1-33)
*Opsaria is the Greek word for sardine-size fish that are caught in abundance in the Sea of Galilee. The small fish are pickled in brine and used as a condiment.
** In Matthew 14:21 it says “and there were about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children.” The greek word for aside can also be translated without. It is my belief based on the events that occurred that there were no women or little children there. It makes more since that this was a five thousand man army ready for a king.