I think we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring the details in a Bible story and just jumping to the ‘point’ or the message or the truth of the tale. The purpose of the story is always important but the details revealed in Scripture are not merely inserted to make the reader feel like they are a part of the story. Or to help flesh out characters or location. Details in Scripture are recorded with purpose. Sometimes details are shared to open the door to reveal additional truth, a truth that agrees or coincides with the larger truth of Scripture. Too often these truths are lost, and I think that this is detrimental to the church and their well-being.
Why don’t we mine for these truths? Why not give these small gems the time and effort they deserve? Take for example the story of Jesus walking on the water.
Jesus has recently ministered to a large crowd and decides to retreat to the hills to pray. His disciples decide that they will go out onto the near by lake, maybe fish a little or just head to the next town on Jesus’ ministry road trip. While out on the lake, a furious storm attacks the disciples, seemingly out of nowhere. The wind and waves pick up with such great violence that the experienced fishermen do not know what do to. It was then that Jesus came down from the hills and walked out to the disciples, on the water.
While the storm raged on, the disciples saw a figure coming out to them on the water. The disciples cried in fear, but to their cries, Jesus responded saying that it was only Him. Hearing that it was Jesus, Peter, one of the disciples, replied that if it was really Jesus on the water, then command me to come walk on the water to you. Jesus told Peter to come to Him. At that Peter jumped out of the boat and began walking on the water towards Jesus. Though amazing this feat was, it did not last long. Peter looked at the wind and the waves and began to sink. Jesus reached out his hand and pulled Peter up. The two of them walked back to the boat of disciples, and at that moment the storm passed. The disciples were all amazed.
This is a great story with a wonderful truth in it. With faith in Jesus, anything is possible. With Jesus, we can do marvelous things for His glory. Without faith in Jesus, we will be lost. We would drown in an unforgiving world. There are other truths to glean from this but what I’m interested in is the truth the recorded details reveal. Because they are important, and astound us as to what was happening in Jesus’ day. Read the actual Bible account.
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. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Matthew 14.22-36 NIV)”
Did you see it? Read it again.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. (Matthew 14.25-26 emphasis added)
A ghost. Jesus is coming to rescue the disciples in the middle of the storm. They can’t tell that it is him. So they all default to the most logical answer, a ghost.
12 grown men see something coming towards them, “an apparition” (CJB), in the middle of a storm, and they collectively agree. If anything was going to be walking on the water in a storm, it wouldn’t be a human. It has to be a ghost. I don’t know how I missed that detail for the last 27 years, but that is a huge and interesting detail. A ghost. Is that not the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard of? And how is that in the Bible? This makes a little more sense with an ancient Israeli history lesson. In that time, the time that Jesus would have lived, it was not unheard of for people to hold a unique superstitious belief. Even for the Jews, this was not uncommon. The superstitious believed that the appearance of spirits or ghosts during the night was what caused such storms or weather related disasters. When we hear these things, we often laugh and mock such beliefs, but this was long before the modern understanding of weather formations. That being said, it is possible that this superstition is what prompted the disciples to respond this way, declaring falsely that Jesus was a ghost.
Interesting detail, wouldn’t you say? It is, but what are we supposed to learn from this now? I make this claim that the details reveal a truth, what has this detail shown? Here it is.
Jesus doesn’t exclude us because of our misbelief. He graciously calls us to greater belief or faith in Him. Jesus could have come at the disciples with so much condemnation and rebuke if He wanted to. How could they be so stupid as to believe in ghosts? Or fear them? Didn’t they as Jews know there was only one God (Deut. 6.4) who was maker and controller of heaven and earth (Gen. 1.1)? Hadn’t they seen that Jesus was a powerful teacher and miracle worker, one who did things they didn’t fully understand? Even calming the wind and waves in the midst of a storm (Matt. 8.23-27)? Jesus could have condemned their lack of faith even before Peter asked to set foot on the waves. But He didn’t. He didn’t shout. He didn’t rebuke. Even though they were living in fear based on a false belief, Jesus simply called them to a more right belief.
This detail reveals a huge truth. An emphasis on the ghost uncovers something wonderful. It is a truth that can encourage the young Christians that are still working out their faith, dragging their preconceived notions into everything. Jesus still says “Come to me.” It can encourage and cause the old Christians to reflect on their established beliefs and behaviors, because they may not all be right according to Jesus.
This detail thrusts us all back into a place where grace and mercy abound over our shortcomings and mistakes. What a beautiful truth. A gem that should have be found and revealed a long time ago. Jesus is gracious, even when our beliefs are not right.
So, do not neglect the details.