Jesus feeds 5,000, then walks on water
Herod beheads John the Baptist1Herod, the ruler of Galilee, started getting reports about Jesus around this time. 2Herod told his servants, “This guy has to be John the Baptist, back from the dead. That would explain why he’s able to do all these miracles.”
3Herod jumped to that conclusion because he had arrested John earlier. He had John tied up and thrown in prison. He did it because that’s what his wife, Herodias, wanted. She was the ex-wife of Herod’s brother, Philip. 4Herodias got mad at John because he told Herod, “It’s illegal for you to be married to this woman.” 5Herod wanted to execute John. But he didn’t do it. He was afraid of how the people would react. They were convinced John was a prophet.
6Herod’s birthday came around, and Herodias’s daughter gave him a birthday present: She danced for him. He liked it. Yep. 7He liked it so much that he promised to give her whatever she wanted. 8After checking with her mother, she told Herod, “I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
9Herod didn’t like that request at all. It put the pressure on him. But he was stuck. He had made that promise in front of all his dinner guests. So, he gave the order. 10He had John’s head cut off in prison.
11John’s head was brought out on a platter and given to the girl. She gave it to her mother. 12John’s disciples came to the prison, claimed the body, and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.
5,000 for a fish dinner13When Jesus heard about John, he got into a boat and sailed off to an isolated place where he could be alone. It didn’t work, though. When people from towns in the area heard about what happened, they followed Jesus on foot, along the shoreline. 14When he stepped out of the boat and saw the large crowd, his heart melted with compassion. He healed everyone who was sick.
15That evening, the disciples came over to him and said, “We’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s starting to get late. You should send people away, so they can go into the villages and buy some food for themselves.”
16But Jesus said, “They don’t need to leave. You need to give them something to eat.”
17They told Jesus, “We don’t have anything here except five loaves of bread and two fish.”
18Jesus said, “Give them to me.” 19He told the crowd to sit on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and two fish in his hands and looked up into the sky. He said a prayer of thanks. Then he tore the loaves into smaller pieces. He gave the bread to the disciples, and he told them to distribute the food to the people.
20Everyone ate. They kept eating until they were full. The disciples gathered the leftovers: 12 baskets full. 21Five thousand men ate this meal. That’s not counting women and children who ate too.
Jesus walks on water in a windstorm22As soon as the meal was over, Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and sail to the opposite shore. As they sailed away, Jesus stayed behind and told the people to go home. 23After the crowd left, Jesus climbed up the hillside to pray. He stayed there until it got dark. 24By this time, the boat was already far out on the lake. The disciples were fighting headwinds and high waves.
25Sometime between 3 and 6 a.m., Jesus showed up—walking on the water. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. They screamed, “It’s a ghost!” Then they screamed some more.
27Jesus quickly replied, “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
28Peter called out and said, “Lord, if it’s really you, call me out on the water.”
29Jesus said, “Okay, come on out.”
Peter stepped out of the boat and onto the water. He started walking toward Jesus. 30But when Peter realized how strong the wind was, it scared him. Then quickly, he started to sink. He screamed, “Lord, save me!”
31Right away, Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed Peter. Jesus said, “Oh my, you sure don’t have much faith. Why did you start doubting?”
32When the two of them got into the boat, the wind calmed. 33The disciples in the boat stopped to worship Jesus by acknowledging, “You are, without a doubt, the Son of God.”
Jesus heals everyone who touches his robe34They finished crossing the lake and landed at Gennesaret. 35When the people there recognized Jesus, they spread the word that he had arrived. People throughout the area started bringing the sick to him. 36The people pleaded with Jesus to let them touch the edge of his robe. Everyone who touched it got well.
His title was tetrarch, which was a notch above a governor but a notch below a king. When King Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Rome divided his kingdom among his sons. Herod Antipas ruled Galilee as a tetrarch. Philip ruled parts of Syria under that title too. The province of Judea was eventually placed under the control of a Roman governor. Pontius Pilate was the most famous of those governors. His title was prefect, which carried less swagger than tetrarch.
“If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother” (Leviticus 20:21, New International Version).
They were sailing on the lake known as the Sea of Galilee.
Literally, “fourth watch of the night.” Roman soldiers who pulled guard duty at night would work one or more of the four night watches. Each watch lasted three hours. The nighttime watch started at 6 p.m. and ended at 6 a.m.
The disciples may have thought he was a ghost coming to take them into the next life after this windstorm was finished with them.
Gennesaret was a village or region a couple of miles or kilometers southwest of Capernaum. If Jesus fed the crowd anywhere near the vicinity of Capernaum or the rolling hills around the gently sloping Mount of Beatitudes, the disciples didn’t land their boat where Jesus sent them. He sent them east a few miles (km) to somewhere in the vicinity of Bethsaida (Mark 6:45). They ended up in the opposite direction, on a heavily populated, three-mile-long (5 km) plain between Capernaum and Tiberias. Matthew and Mark offer no explanation for this. Bible experts make a wide variety of guesses. Maybe they were blown off course. Maybe the name of Gennesaret was misplaced and should have been kept with the story of the feeding of the crowd, but some editor got confused. Or maybe these were two separate stories that got patched together. Those are some of the theories.
The Bible isn’t the only book that reports King Herod beheading John the Baptist (14:10). A Jewish historian named Josephus, who was born about 10 years after that execution, confirmed the story. He wrote that after Herod lost a battle to some Arabians, the Jews concluded God was punishing him “for what he did to John, who was called the Baptist. Herod killed him, a good man who commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both in righteousness to one another and in piety to God, and in this spirit to be baptized.” It’s rare that Bible characters show up in ancient writings like this. What do you think about that—the fact that it is rare, but that it does happen from time to time?
Story of Jesus feeding 5,000 men (14:21), not counting women and children, is one of the more famous stories about him. With five loaves of bread and two fish, he hosts a whopper of a picnic. All four Bible books about Jesus tell that story: Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13. And two books add the story of another picnic for 4,000: Matthew 15:38; Mark 8:1-10. Let’s assume these stories are not some kind of metaphor, but that the miracles really took place. What do you think was the point of the miracles, if there was a point beyond simply feeding hungry people?
Perhaps one of the stories in the Bible that is hardest to believe is the story of Jesus walking on the water (14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52). Some Christians reading the story wonder if it’s one of those legendary kinds of stories that got exaggerated. If we read the story like a critic, as many people do, what elements in the story might suggest there is some exaggeration going on?
Most Christians probably accept this story as genuine history, correct in every detail. Other Christians might allow for some humanity in the process, with the possibility that the people telling the story to the Gospel writers may have gotten some of the details wrong. What do you think would be the argument for accepting the story as mostly if not completely accurate?
Jesus seemed to be developing a reputation that might compare today with that of a rock star or a movie star. Whenever Jesus walked into a village or town, he drew a crowd. “People everywhere started bringing the sick to him” (14:35). How do you think this was going over with Jewish scholars and other Jewish leaders?
LIFE APPLICATION. King Herod didn’t want to execute John the Baptist. But his wife’s daughter had performed an entertaining dance for him and his guests. So he promised to give her anything she wanted. “He had made that promise in front of all his dinner guests” (14:9). She wanted the head of John the Baptist on a plate. The king didn’t hesitate. He called in the executioner and told him to come back with John’s head. The king considered his pride more important than John’s life. In what ways do we put more stock in our pride than we should?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus needed time alone to pray. After John’s execution, “he got into a boat and sailed off to an isolated place where he could be alone” (14:13). But when they came to shore on a different part of the lake, they were greeted by a large crowd. Jesus, “his heart melted with compassion,” got back to work teaching the people. What lesson do you see in this little story?