Summary: 5th of 7 signs Jesus performed in the Gospel of John whereby he revealed something of his person to the world.
…BUT JESUS WALKED ON WATER
When I attended Seminary 10 years ago I had no idea that there was a great divide between the College and the Seminary. Apparently the College students had the notion that we Seminarians thought more highly of ourselves. They perceived that we thought of ourselves as closer to God than them. Which, in truth, we were, since they were on the second floor and we were on the third.
I’m not sure if that perception is still there today. Back then, however, there was the old adage which College students perpetuated, “Seminarians think they can walk on water.” And I thought, “We can?” That would be really cool. Armed with this new knowledge I went behind the Seminary to the Rat River to try out this amazing ability. Would you believe it? I could walk on water! Mind you, it was…January.
This is the 5th sign that John records in his gospel. Of course we know that John has a purpose in choosing these signs – he wants to show us something about Jesus. The purpose of these signs can seem ambiguous or even frivolous at first glance. This story of Jesus walking on the water is a simple one – not much dialogue – quite a brief incident. What are we supposed to learn about Jesus other than what we learned in Sunday School? What did John see in Jesus that day that would matter to us?
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake where they into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.”
Following a stressful encounter where Jesus fed the huge crowd with a small lunch, and then had to fend off their attempts to make him king, Jesus needed a retreat. Being a good leader he also sent his disciples off in a boat to avoid any further trouble from the crowd. Matthew and Mark say that Jesus “made” the disciples get in the boat. There were probably some who resisted and wanted to stay with Jesus, but he furrowed his brow and said, “Get in the boat.”
It seems that Jesus wanted to be alone to pray after this hectic encounter, according to Matthew and Mark. This is but a glimpse into how Jesus dealt with stress and pressures of leadership.
What we need to know here is the significance of the Lake. John told us earlier that the lake is actually the Sea of Galilee. The rabbis of ancient times said, “The Lord created seven seas, but the Sea of Galilee is his delight.” Apparently it is a beautiful freshwater lake that sits 700 feet below sea level. Contrast that with the hills that sit 1400 feet above sea level. But because the sea sits so far below the hills, sudden and violent storms can come over the mountains and really churn up the sea.
The Jews were not sailors; they were desert nomads. Despite being a coastal nation, they never controlled the seacoast. Israelites were not at home on the sea. Even the fishermen that worked the Sea of Galilee stayed in mostly shallow waters, though the sea was 200 feet deep in places.
Consider this too, the sea in general is a negative image throughout the Bible. Almost nothing good can come from the sea. Partly due to the Israelites’ desert background, the sea probably appeared alien and threatening.
Think of the great flood of Noah’s day and the judgment that God brought on the earth. Or Jonah when he was thrown into the depths of the sea when he ran from God. He was in his own personal hell until God released him on land. Then there is that terrible sea creature we read about in the OT called Leviathan. This creature was such a horrible menace it came to symbolize the pagan nations that opposed Israel. Where did Leviathan come from? From out of the sea.
Daniel describes other great beasts in the sea and the terror they spread. This was based on the image of the sea as the home of evil, a chaos that only God could control.
One Psalmist wrote, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for God.” Sounds kind of like Peter went he wanted to walk on water too. But this Psalmist was merely using the imagery of water to describe his depression, his terror.