Summary: God has a great story He wants us to join.
Walking on Water
The phrase “Walking on Water” has become a proverb. It is spoken of someone who seems to prevail against all odds. It is to do the impossible. This goes back to Jesus himself. It is impossible for a human to walk on water by natural means. There are preacher jokes about three preachers in a boat, where two get out and walk to shore. The third is dumbfounded and gets out of the boat to follow and immediately sinks into the water. When he asks later how they did it, one of them replied that they knew where the rocks were. Others say they can walk on water if the lake were frozen. Others say that they can walk on water in waterskis. Everyone either chuckles or groans at these attempts at humor. But can one really walk on water? Let us look at this passage and see.
As is usual in Scripture, there is more in the named miracles of Jesus than the miracle itself. Jesus performed many miracles of healing, casting out demons, and even raising the dead. John tells us that there were a lot more things that Jesus did that he did not record. The same is true for Matthew, Mark and Luke. John calls certain miracles “signs.” A sign is a real entity which points to something greater than itself. Likewise, the stated miracles of Jesus were real miracles performed in history. They literally happened. But there is also a greater meaning in these signs. What we need to do is see what these signs are saying.
Jesus had just finished feeding 5,000 men plus women and children with what we would call today five slices of bread and two sardines. The leftovers from this meal were exponentially larger than what Jesus had to start with. One can view this with awe. What a magnificent sign! But what did the sign say? It says something about the person of Jesus who had done this miracle. Who could feed such a crowd in the wilderness? This compares with Moses feeding the children of Israel in the wilderness, although it was actually Yahweh who had provided the manna. Moses was just the mouthpiece. The Jews knew their history. Was this the new Moses? Moses had led the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Was Jesus the promised Messiah whom they felt would lead Israel to victory over the Romans? They saw that the bread pointed to a greater reality. But as it would be demonstrated, they had interpreted the sign wrongly.
Today’s passage starts with Jesus urging his disciples to get in the boat and leave while he dismissed the crowd and went to pray. What was the rush? John’s gospel gives us the answer. The crowd was about to seize Jesus and make Him king. (John 6:15) Jesus did not want His disciples to get infected with this idea as He had a hard enough time trying to tell them what His mission really was. They had Messiah fever also. He had not come to overthrow the Romans.
So, the disciples started off for a journey of several miles across the lake. Most boats had a small sail as well as oars. One could sail across the lake unless the wind was directly in his face. This was the case for the disciples. This would require the disciples to have to manually row the boat which was made even more difficult by the waves and the wind trying to push the boat back. The disciples were already tired. Mark’s gospel tells us that the disciples were tired from their mission tour, and Jesus had invited them to come to a desert place and rest. Instead of resting, the crowds came. After a long teaching session, he had them prepare the place for feeding the 5,000 and serve. They must have been utterly exhausted.
Mark’s gospel adds one more tidbit. It says that Jesus “saw” the difficulty they were in. How could he have seen a small storm-tossed boat more than a mile off in the pitch dark? This is a detail we often overlook. But it also reveals who Jesus is. This was no mere mortal, although He was fully human. He is also God, the Son. He can see us in our darkness and troubles, even though He seems to be far off doing something else. The disciples could not see that Jesus saw them. And they struggled on.
There is a little more information that needs to be brought out here. The Israelites had a deathly fear of the sea and storms. They were traditionally “hill people.” The Philistines, for example, were “sea people.” For the Jews, invasions came from the sea coast. We can see the absolutely disobedient spirit of Jonah in that he took a boat headed for Tarshish, the uttermost part of the known earth. When the storm arose, he would rather be thrown into the sea rather than to tell the sailors to go back to Nineveh. The Jewish people equated the Gentiles with the chaos of the sea. They feared the swarms of invading nations. Jonah hated the Gentiles and was willing to take his chances with the sea.