Something else interesting is happening when Jesus plans to pass by the disciples on the sea the same way that the Lord passed by Moses on the mountain. As we saw yesterday, He is indicating to them the kind of leadership that they are supposed to have among the people, the leadership of Moses, but He is also indicating to them the place where they should have this leadership - the sea.
Moses led from the mountain. Back in the early days of Israel, the mountains were of great significance to the people. They were towering obstacles, but they were also holy places - the people knew that the mountains stood between them and the promise and that God dwelt on the mountains. In fact, God became so associated with the mountains that the biggest argument between the Jews and the Samaritans, notorious for their tensions, was which mountain God dwelt on and therefore should be worshiped on.
Perhaps this emphasis on mountains began when the Lord first appeared and called Abraham to climb one. There, on the mountain, He met the faithful man. And on the mountains of the wilderness, He met Moses and passed him by.
It's important to understand that for a people like Israel, the mountain wasn't of any good use (except, of course, for its being holy). They were a pastoral people, meaning they tended herds of animals, and you can't just climb your animals up a mountain; the best land is in the valley anyway. And when you're moving, you can't just drive your herds over the mountains; you have to go around. And what little you are growing for your own consumption doesn't usually grow well in the rocky soil of a mountain; you need fertile land. And in the case of a mass exodus, the mountains tend to obscure your view of the Promised Land. So there's not a lot of love, necessarily, between Israel and mountains, but it is from the mountain that Moses leads.
What a stark contrast to the disciples and the sea!
In the region in which Jesus ministered, the sea was a source of life for the people. The people ate a lot of fish from those seas, in case that isn't evident enough from the Gospels. A little boy carried two fish in his lunch pail, for example. And a number of the disciples were fishermen by trade, which means that they depended upon the sea for their very lives. Fish were sold in the marketplace, which meant the sea was part of the region's overall economy. And the people used boats to travel from one place to another as needed; it was nothing at all when Jesus got into a boat and went elsewhere. Others simply followed Him. The sea was as natural to the people of the region of Jesus as was any street in Jerusalem.
It should be said, however, that with the sea being so mundane, so routine for this people, not many thought to think of it as holy. The mountains in Moses's time - towering and intimidating and obstructive - were a great muse for reflection on the holy. After all, when you're faced with a mountain, what do you have to do but to think about how desperately you need a very big God? And if you have a very big God, what better place to place Him than on the mountain?
But the sea was common. It just...was. It was so boring to the people that they probably didn't even notice it.
Until and unless the figure of a man comes walking to them on it.
And now, the disciples are all ears, as we should be also. Now, they want to know what it is that the Lord, who left them for the mountain (when He stayed behind to pray) now comes passing by them on the sea.
What it means is simply this - it's Jesus's way of saying to them, "I'm moving your holy ministry." I'm moving the place you do things. No longer will you lead from the mountain, from the holy places, from the towering glories. Now, you will lead from the earth, from the dirt, from the streets, from the common places. Now, you will lead from the places where men dwell, not the places where God dwells.
Your ministry is about to get dirty and very, very real. Are you ready for it?
What once seemed so far away, so forbidden is now so very near, so present and freely given. For God is the God of the mountain, and Jesus is the Lord of the sea.