Jesus Walks on the Water

Matthew 14:24-33; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21

DIG: Why didn’t Jesus go with the apostles in the boat? After a frustrating day, what new problem do the talmidim encounter on Lake Tiberias? Why were the Twelve terrified? What three things did Christ do to calm their fears? What did the apostles fail to understand in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand that could have helped them in this experience? What was the Lord trying to teach them?

REFLECT: Courage is fear that has said its prayers. Why does God test our faith? In what ways has your faith been tested? How has Jesus responded to you in your test of faith? Why does Yeshua pass by those who are self-sufficient? In their moment of greatest fear, the Messiah calmed the talmidim with words of assurance. How does knowing the Lord help in times of testing? When testing comes, how can I remind myself that Jesus Christ is always there, even if I can’t “see” Him?

After the feeding of the five thousand, our Savior needed some time alone. He sent the apostles ahead in the boat to their next stop. In Christ’s day, traveling by boat was the fastest way to go. Most journeys had to be over land, but whenever a route could include sailing, the trip was often shorter. That is, unless storm winds began blowing.

When evening came, which was six o’clock in the evening, Jesus’ talmidim went down to Lake Tiberias, sometimes called the Sea of Galilee, or the Lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Gennesaret, the fertile plain southwest of Capernaum (John 6:16-17a). With white sails spreading over tranquil waters, it seemed to be smooth sailing to the Gennesaret.

By then it was dark and Jesus had apparently stayed some hours on a mountainside by Himself to pray for He had not joined them (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46 and John 6:17b). Messiah’s withdrawing alone by Himself to pray gives us a hint of the crisis to come. There are only six occasions in the Gospels in which Yeshua withdraws to pray, and each incident involves the temptation not to carry out God’s mission for Him – a mission that would ultimately bring suffering, rejection, and death. These crises seem to increase in intensity and reach their climax in the agony of Gethsemane.799

The first time He went away by Himself to pray was when the Master was driven into the wilderness and tempted by the devil. There, the Holy Spirit was present with Him as He faced the ancient Serpent (see Bj – Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness).

Secondly, Jesus withdrew to pray alone prior to His second major preaching tour (see Cm – Jesus Traveled Throughout Galilee, Proclaiming the Good News). He knew that the Adversary would be actively opposing His mission and prayer would be needed.

Thirdly, the Lord prayed alone after His first messianic miracle (Luke 5:16). During the stage of observation He knew that He would get the attention of the Sanhedrin because it was their responsibility to investigate any claim of messiahship. And so He did - as members of the Sanhedrin traveled all the way to Capernaum to hear Him preach. Christ knew it was going to be a turning point in His earthly ministry because He not only healed a paralytic that day (see Co - Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man), but more importantly, Jesus forgave His sins – claiming to be deity.

Fourthly, Yeshua ha-Mashiach went to a quiet place to pray before choosing His talmidim who would carry on His ministry after He was gone (see Cy – These are the Names of the Twelve Apostles). These were important decisions and He needed to be alone by Himself and pray about it.

Fifthly, after feeding the five thousand, the people wanted to make Him king. Thus, the Rabbi from Galilee sent His talmidim back across the Lake to the Gennesaret, and dismissed the crowd before going up on a mountainside by Himself to pray (see Fo – Jesus Rejects the Idea of a Political Messiah). He delayed going to His apostles long enough to save them from another storm. By walking on the water, He displayed His deity.

And sixthly, in the climax of the Suffering Servant praying alone, He was under so much stress that His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground foreshadowing the cross in the morning (see Kx – The Garden of Gethsemane).

Because in a normal trip across the northern end of the Sea of Galilee the boat would not have traveled more than a mile or two from shore at any point, the storm had obviously carried it several miles to the south, in the middle of the lake. When Jesus saw the talmidim straining at the oars they were already a considerable distance from the land. The little craft was being battered by a strong headwind and the waters grew rough (Mattityahu 14:24; Mark 6:47-48a; John 6:18), pushing them farther and farther away from their destination and closer and closer to calamity.

I have some good news for you friend. The Lord saw them straining at the oars and He sees you straining at the oars of your life. He knows your problems. You don’t have to send up a flare to let Him know. He already knows, and more than that . . . He cares. Have faith in Him no matter what the outcome in the midst of the dark night.

The apostles were still straining at the oars during the fourth watch of the night (Matthew 14:25a NASB). The night was divided into four watches, or shifts. The first was from six pm to nine pm, the second from nine pm to twelve, the third from twelve to three am and the fourth from three am to six am, or just before dawn. So they had only rowed three or four miles in six to nine hours! They were basically making no progress and were totally exhausted and hopeless (Matthew 14:25; John 6:19a). Long enough for more than one talmid to think, “Where is Jesus? We are worn out. He knows we are in the boat. It was His idea in the first place!”

But Yeshua knew of their situation long before it happened. He waited for many hours before He came to them, just as He waited until Lazarus had been dead for three days before coming to Bethany. In both instances He could have come much earlier than He did, and in both He could have prevented Lazarus from dying or the storm from rising. But to fulfill His divine purposes, He allowed Mary and Martha at Bethany and the talmidim on the lake to get to the end of themselves before acting. He left them for a while in the midst of their affliction to prepare them for the victory of their faith after His resurrection and for the years of ministry ahead.800

The Twelve should have been rejoicing with David that if I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I lie down in Sh’ol, you are there. If I fly away with the wings of dawn and land beyond the sea, even there Your hand would hold me fast (Psalm 139:8-10 CJB). The apostles should have remembered that ADONAI is a stronghold for the oppressed, a tower of strength in times of trouble (Ps 9:9 CJB), that ADONAI is my Rock, my fortress and deliverer, my God, my Rock, in whom I find shelter, my shield, the power that saves me, my stronghold (Ps 18:2 CJB), and that He would keep them safe as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).

The talmidim had forgotten Messiah’s own words or assurance that their heavenly Father knew all their needs before they asked Him (Mt 6:32) and that not even a single sparrow will fall to the ground apart from your Father, and that the very hairs on your head are numbered (Mt 10:29-30). All they could think about was their own danger and all they could feel was their own fear.

But Yeshua had not forgotten the apostles. Then they saw Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48b; John 6:19b). The word on is epi which, when used with the genitive case (as it is here) signifies contact. Our Lord’s sandals had actual contact with the water. He walked on the surface of the water as we would walk on hard pavement. This is the fifth of the Lord’s seven miracles in John’s book (John 2:1-11; 4:43-54; 5:1-15; 6:1-15; 9:1-34; 11:1-44).

They needed to call on Him for help. He was about to pass them by when the apostles saw Him and were terrified (John 6:19c). Unlike the earlier storm that Jesus stilled, this one merely stirred up winds and waves that resisted their progress. The talmidim were working hard for nine hours. Absorbed in their own efforts, they apparently almost missed Yeshua walking by on the water. They were probably wondering why He hadn’t accompanied them on their trip, yet they were surprised and even fearful when He suddenly appeared. When we are so wrapped up in the challenges of life, or even obeying Christ’s direction, that we lose a sense of His presence, we have shifted our focus to the wrong thing. Tests often come to call our attention back to Jesus.801

No doubt the storm conditions and limited visibility contributed to the fears of even the seasoned Galilean fishermen on board. And just as there was a specific purpose when Yeshua delayed two more days going to His sick friend Lazarus (see Ia – The Resurrection of Lazarus: The First Sign of Jonah); here, the Lord had a specific reason for not joining the Twelve earlier (John 6:17a) as they struggled at the oars when crossing the lake. He strategically used both delays to perform miracles that would elicit faith and trust from His apostles. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear (Mt 14:26; Mark 6:48c-50a). The term ghost is the Greek word phantasma, which means an apparition, a creature of the imagination, and is where we get the English word phantom (or an illusion).

At this point Jesus comforts them. But He immediately said to them: Take courage! That was exactly what the terror-stricken talmidim needed to hear. It is I. Don’t be afraid (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50b; John 6:20). The modern Hebrew (ani hu) perhaps does not totally capture the force of His declaration. In Greek, it is the phrase I AM (ego eimi), which is used in John’s gospel as a statement of Messiah’s divine nature. In classical Hebrew it would be a form of YHVH, the very name of God, which is the imperfect Hebrew tense of the verb to be. ADONAI is eternal and omnipotent, the great I AM. Since Jesus was attempting to assure His apostles that He had everything under control, this would have been the best possible way to say it. They immediately recognized His voice.

Since the days of Lucian of Antioch in the latter half of the second century this miracle has been ridiculed. Unbelievers, from the time of David Friedrich Strauss, have considered it to be a myth. Strauss found it especially difficult to believe that Christ’s body really defied the law of gravity. Eighteenth century naturalism sought to explain it away by saying that the boat of the apostles kept close to the shore and that Jesus was not walking on the water but on the land.802 Of course, the Bible looks at things differently. It declares that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6a).

Christ did not walk on the water to teach the Twelve how to do it. Peter tried and failed; and there is no record of any of the others trying at all. As far as the apostles were concerned, Jesus was seeking to prepare them for His approaching death and resurrection. This miracle was a prophecy of the resurrection. The same body that had walked on the water would also pass through a door closed and locked without opening it (John 20:19-29).

On a September morning in 2011, Frank Silecchia laced up his boots, put on his hat, and headed out the door of his New Jersey house. As a construction worker, he made a living making things. But as a volunteer at the World Trade Center wreckage, he just tried to make some sense of it all. He hoped to find a live body. He didn’t. He found 47 dead ones.

Amid the carnage, however, he stumbled upon a symbol – a twenty-foot-tall-steel-beam cross. The collapsed Tower One on Building Six created a crude chamber in the clutter. In the chamber, through the dusty sunrise, Frank spotted the cross . . .

A symbol in the shards. A cross in the crisis. “Where is God in all this? we asked. The discovery dared us to hope, “Right in the middle of it all.”

Can the same be said of our tragedies? When the ambulance takes our child away or the disease takes our friend, when the economy takes our retirement or the two-timer takes our heart – can we, like Frank, find Christ in the midst of the crisis? The presence of trials doesn’t surprise us. But the perceived absence of God can crush us.

We can deal with the ambulance if God is in it.

We can stomach the ICU if God is in it.

We can face the empty house if God is in it.

From within the storm of our lives comes the unmistakable voice: I AM.803

In response, Peter came up with an amazing sign of conformation. If the hazy figure in the shadows of the night was really Rabbi Yeshua, then he would ask for a miracle! “Lord, if it’s You,” Kefa replied, “tell me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Kefa was not testing Messiah; he was pleading with Him. Stepping onto a stormy sea is not a move of logic; it’s a move of desperation. Peter grabbed the edge of the boat. Threw out a leg . . . and followed with another. He took several steps. It was like an invisible ridge of rocks ran beneath his feet. At the end of the ridge was the glowing face of a never-say-die Friend. We do the same thing don’t we? We come to Christ in an hour of deep need. We abandon the boat of good works. We realize . . . that human strength won’t save us. So we look to ADONAI in desperation. We realize . . . that all the good works in the world are nothing when laid before the Lamb of God.804

Come, He said. Peter’s love for the Savior was imperfect and weak, but it was real. As the other apostles watched in awe, Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. So long as Kefa kept his eyes on the Lord, he was able to duplicate the miracle of Messiah walking on the water. Christ allowed that miracle to occur for Kefa’s benefit. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and took his eyes off Yeshua, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:29-30).

True to His compassionate character, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him. In the process, He gently admonished Peter (and the others) when He said: You of little faith, He said, why did you doubt (Matthew 14:31)? Faith is only present tense; it does not build up like a bank account. Kefa went from much faith (getting out of the boat), to little faith (beginning to sink), in a matter of seconds.

But Peter’s little faith was better than no faith; and, as in the courtyard when he denied the Lord, at least he was there in the courtyard and not hiding somewhere under a bush like the rest of talmidim. At least he started toward Yeshua, and when he faltered, Messiah took him the rest of the way (see Mn – Jesus Reinstates Peter). Kefa would one day write: In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Christ is revealed (First Peter 1:6-7).805

And as if to confirm Christ’s power over nature again, Kefa and the Savior climbed into the boat, the wind suddenly died down. The Greek verb died down is kopazo, which means to cease from violence, cease raging. The noun form means beating, toil or weariness. This is a beautiful and picturesque word. It was as if the sea sank to rest because it was exhausted by its own raging.806 Immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves because their hearts were hardened (Matthew 14:32; Mark 6:51-52; John 6:21). This idiom didn’t mean they were unkind or cruel (as it does in English). Rather, their reasoning and emotions resisted development. We would say they were “thick-headed.” The lesson here for the apostles was that they needed to depend on the Messiah in any situation that they could not handle themselves. This, of course, was the lesson they should have learned earlier (see Fn – Jesus Feeds the 5,000).

Then those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying: Truly you are the Son of God (Matthew 14:33). After the storm, the apostles worshiped Him. As a group, they had never done that before. Never. Check it out. Open your Bible. Search for another time when all Twelve worshiped Him. You won’t find it. You won’t find them worshiping when He heals the leper. Forgives the adulteress. Or preaches to the masses. They were willing to follow. Willing to leave family. Willing to cast out demons. But only after the incident on the Sea of Galilee did they worship Him. Why? Simple. This time they were the ones who had been saved!807

It is really unfortunate that Peter and the other apostles are many times portrayed as bumbling, weak men who were out of touch with Jesus. While it is true that they were mere mortals when the Messiah came to Isra’el, at least Kefa got out of the boat! That is especially praiseworthy when we consider the fact that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would not start until the future day of Shavuot. It is noteworthy that Peter actually walked on the water until he took his eyes off Yeshua. Don’t we all at some point fall prey to similar temptations and distractions when we turn away from our simple trust in Christ? Are we looking for the waves around us or at our Meshiach who created the waves?808

Lord Jesus, don’t ever let me get so wrapped up in serving You that I stop watching for You. Remind me that resistance and hardship sometimes come to help me see that Your purposes have less to do with what I accomplish and more to do with what You accomplish in and through me. Help me trust that whatever You need to do to accomplish Your purposes in my life, You will do, and at the perfect moment. Teach me to look for You and not let You pass by. Amen. He is faithful.809

 

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