Sink or Swim? Walking On Water Was the Easy Part
Posted On June 29, 2015
Sometimes we just need a little encouragement to do the impossible. Moving mountains and walking on water may seem crazy, but maybe those who try to explain away miracles are the ones who are little crazy. Jesus led the way not merely to prove He is God, but to encourage us to follow Him on the waves as well. If we could just focus on each step He is making for us in the waves, nothing will be impossible for us.
22 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. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Earlier Jesus had learned his cousin John had been killed. Finding Himself alone at night, He went to His favorite place to pray. No one knows what He prayed about, but given His need to be alone, I imagine it had much to do with his grief over John’s death.
Being up on the mountain, Jesus could see for miles. He saw the crowd walking back home – some waddling having eaten too much fish and chips. He saw the storm coming as the sun went down. He saw the disciples in the boat, struggling to get to the other side of the lake. Mark adds a detail in his account.
He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. (Mark 6:48)
Notice the disciples were not afraid at this point; they simply couldn’t get anywhere despite their greatest effort. “The disciples’ situation is not presented as one of danger, but rather of inability to make progress, together with extreme physical effort and discomfort (“tortured” will ring true for those who have experience of rowing a heavy boat against the strong wind).” (R.T. France The Gospel of Mark NIGTC Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2002. P. 271)
Have you ever struggled to get somewhere or accomplish something that you believe God wants you to do? You’re not alone. It happened to the disciples too. Jesus was watching them in the midst of their struggle and wasn’t worried. Maybe we shouldn’t be worried either.
25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
“The fourth watch was the last (and the darkest), the time between 3am and 6am. This implies that the disciples struggled without Jesus for quite some time.” (Davies and Allison Matthew 8-18 ICC 2004 p.504) Sent before sunset and still going after 3am, the disciples were rowing for six to ten hours and getting nowhere fast.
As with every miracle in the Bible, there are those who try to explain it away. Davies and Allison give a brief overview:
There are, to be sure, those who remain content with the affirmation that the narrative simply records what happened: Jesus walked on the water. But, because of the modern reluctance to accept miracles at face value, there has been no dearth of other explanations.
1. Klausner supposed that the story goes back to a hallucinatory experience of the disciples – ‘simple, oriental village-folk and fishermen, for whom the whole world was full of marvels.’
2. “Jesus was able to project his ‘etherial double’ in order to calm the troubled disciples.” (p. 499)
The first theory assumes the stupidity of uneducated, simple-minded men, either that they were easily fooled or all hallucinated the exact same thing. Actually, these were all highly educated men, chosen by Jesus (a respected rabbi to say the least) to learn from Him for over three years. The second theory is an even bigger stretch incorporating the “phenomenon of bilocation.” Never mind that this doppelganger of Jesus scared the disciples out of their wits rather than calm them as the theory suggests. Nor does it account for how the “real” Jesus ended up on the other end of the lake at the end of this event. I guess people will believe anything so long as they don’t have to believe in miracles.
Why did Jesus walk on water? Certainly it was to reveal Himself to the disciples that He is God. But levitating or stilling the storm or inventing a jet pack would have been just as effective. I believe He walked on water so the disciples could follow Him on the water. Psalm 77:20 says, Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. The boat obviously wasn’t working for them. He was safer than the boat. If they had trusted Him completely, they could have left the boat and walked with Him to shore.
He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Mark 6:48-50)
Many assume Jesus was walking on water so He could get in the boat with them. But why would He do that? They were getting nowhere. He didn’t need the boat; He could walk on the water! Many scholars believe He “intended to pass by them,” but changed His mind and decided to help them out instead. Gerhard Kittel adds, “The element of intention is carried a step further when it acquires the sense of ‘to be on the point of doing something.'” (TDNT vol. 3 p.46 1999) Jesus was at the point of passing them when their screams of terror prompted His words of assurance. As I explained earlier, they were never in any danger so He wasn’t being callous when He started to pass them by. Perhaps He was even making a path for them in the waves. Job.9:8-11 might provide a clue as well. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. Clearly the disciples did not see Him for who He was; they thought it was a ghost. Jesus reassured them with three short phrases.
1. “Take courage” is different from “have courage.” Having courage assumes you already have courage but are not utilizing it; you must somehow work up the courage yourself. Taking courage assumes you have no courage and must take it from someone who has it. Jesus was saying, “Trust me. Take courage from me.” To encourage someone then is to give another the courage to do something they might otherwise find impossible. If we would only take courage in Him, we could do what otherwise would be impossible – like walking on water.
2. “I am” goes back to Moses at the burning bush who asked God what His name is. God said, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (Exodus 3:14) “I am” has to do with existence. God always was, is, and will be; He is present everywhere. It is how we can find courage for courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of God.
3. “Don’t be afraid” is the most frequent command in the Bible – probably because most of us just don’t learn the first time. The word translated “afraid” is the word from which we get “phobia.” Phobias are irrational thoughts and fears which paralyze us and often cause us to miss opportunities to do extraordinary things.
Here are my top ten favorite phobias:
10. Anuptaphobia- Fear of staying single. 9. Arachibutyrophobia- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.
8. Automatonophobia- Fear of ventriloquist’s dummies, animatronic creatures, and wax statues
7. Enissophobia- Fear of having committed an unpardonable sin or of criticism
6. Eremophobia- Fear of being oneself
5. Gamophobia- Fear of marriage
4. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia- Fear of long words
3. Phobophobia- Fear of phobias
2. Pteronophobia- Fear of being tickled by feathers
1. Zemmiphobia- Fear of the great mole rat.
The disciples were afraid of ghosts. As a result, eleven of them missed out on the chance to walk on water. What are you NOT doing because of fear? Starting your own business? Talking to your neighbor? Doing the dishes for your woebegone wife? Letting go of fear has to start somewhere.
28 “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!”
Just like Jesus, Peter walked on the water. It is simple as that. There was no long prayer beforehand. The disciples didn’t lay hands on him. Peter didn’t confess his sins just in case it didn’t work out. He merely obeyed Jesus, got out of the boat, and effortlessly started walking towards Jesus. It seems as if that was the easy part.
Many have said Peter started to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus. That is a nice and warm picture, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but my life isn’t always bright and sunny with clear sight-lines to Jesus. It was dark and the waves were tall. Peter couldn’t have focused on Jesus if he wanted to. He just walked in the dark, spotting Him every now and then with the rhythm of the waves, and trusted in the word of Jesus. He started to sink when he started looking around for evidence of Jesus’ presence on the other side of the wave. He began to focus on the wind. But who sees the wind? He saw the effect of the wind. It howled and blew the waves around. It is when he began to focus on the effect of the wind that he began to sink. Instead he should have focused on the effect of Jesus on the waves before him.
31 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.”
Notice Jesus didn’t have to do anything other than reach out His hand to catch Peter. The text says nothing about Jesus running on water like David Hasselhoff in tight spandex to get to Peter; He needed only to reach out because Peter was close to Him when he began to sink. The text says only that Peter “came toward Jesus.” Whether Jesus kept walking towards the boat and met him halfway or He stopped and let Peter come to Him like a proud father watching his son take his first steps, Peter was closest to Jesus when he began to sink. He had made all that way, to within a step of Jesus, when began to sink. Remember, this was not quicksand where Peter sank slowly. This is water. Just like what his name means, Peter sank like a rock, but Jesus was there to catch him before he even went under.
Peter came towards Jesus without thinking ahead. He thought the goal was to get to Jesus, but Jesus wanted him to go further. Taking a step towards Jesus is a good start, but Jesus wants us to follow Him through the storms after we come to Him. He has made the path already. We need only follow His lead.
Jesus refers to Peter as “you of little faith,” but three chapters later encourages the disciples that they need only a little faith to do impossible things. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) Mature faith allows us to follow Jesus through the storms even with his back to us and His voice silent. He will make a path for you on the waves to follow Him.
Let me encourage you. Whether you are taking your first step towards Jesus or you are straining at the oars and feel like you are going nowhere, if you trust in Jesus, you will make it safely to your destiny. Let go of your phobias, take courage from Jesus, and do the impossible. And if none of your goals in life seem impossible without God’s help, maybe they are too easy. Maybe you haven’t really even left the boat yet.
Another relevant post: