A day which commenced with the Lord Jesus exhorting the disciples, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while" (v.31), was continued by thousands following Him. The need of the people was so great that the Lord was "moved with compassion toward them" (v.34), and what was to have been a quiet day with Him became a day of unexpected miracles when five thousand were satisfied from a "menu" of five loaves of bread and two fishes. Only the Lord could bring about such a blessing for those who were there. However, some of those present determined to take the Lord and make Him king (Jn 6.15). Little wonder that He "constrained" the disciples to sail over to Bethsaida (Mk 6.45).
However, after a busy tiring day He remained on the mountain to pray, making that place able to be described as "a lonely altar from which the fragrance of worship would arise".1 Alone and yet in touch with heaven; alone and yet not alone - such is the loveliness of this scene. When we raise our minds and voices in His presence let us make it indeed fragrance for Him. We must not forget that the Lord Jesus did not only pray at the end of a day, but also at the beginning. Mark states that "in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed" (Mk 1.35).
But the Lord also teaches another lesson: those who seek to be alone with their God can be of value to those who are experiencing the difficulties of making progress. The circumstances of the night deteriorate. "The ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves" (Mt 14.24); the Lord saw them "toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them"; John emphasises the fact that "it was now dark" (Jn 6.17). What is notable at this point is that the Lord saw them even although they had not sought the Lord in any way. They were attempting to handle the storm without help from Him. But those who are going through difficult times should be encouraged to know that they have not been forgotten, even when the pressure is such that they find the circumstances too heavy.
Three matters show His care and His authority. First, it was in "the fourth watch of the night" (v.48), between 3am and 6am, when He came, moving across the sea to take care of them. He had prayed, but now it was time to act. His presence at the time of the storm showed His power, and the progress He made, despite the wind, showed His care.
Second, He also made progress, without a boat, walking across the sea to the disciples. It is sad to note that in the turmoil they did not recognise the Lord, for "they supposed it had been a spirit" (v.49).
Third, "He made the place of their trouble a pavement for His feet".2 They thought that they could cross over, but only with Him present could the destination be reached.
Fourth, only in the account of Matthew (14.24-33) do we learn of the attempt of Peter to go to the Lord across the stormy water. His request was that he walk over the water towards the Lord. Note that the Lord did not request this; it was all from the lips of Peter. From what took place we understand that Peter did walk on the water but the stormy conditions overwhelmed him, and he began to sink (14.30). The cry from his lips was, "Lord, save me", and that took place. Note that Peter did not include this in the record of Mark's Gospel, although he was close to him. The lesson is that we do not ask the Lord to give us the ability to enable us to do that which is beyond us today. Only the Lord Jesus can act in such a way, if it pleases Him.
When we are tested or tried in His service we must turn to the Lord who alone can give the strength and wisdom that is required. He can do beyond what we can achieve, but that is His prerogative alone.