Walking on water or Jesus in the boat (Preach Notes)

Walking on water or Jesus in the boat

The three accounts are found in
Matt 14:22-36
Mark 6:45-56
John 6:16-24

Combined version of Matthew, Mark & John 
As it was now evening time Jesus immediately made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side of the lake, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.  Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already in the middle of the lake a considerable distance from land, about three to four miles from the shore.  By now it was dark and Jesus had not yet joined them and the boat was being buffeted by the large rough waves with the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against it.
Jesus was watching all that what was going on with the boat and the storm and shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake and was about to walk past them.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage!  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

“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!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

The disciples were now willing for Jesus to get into the boat and when both he and Peter had climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then all in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  In fact they were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.  However immediately they found the boat had crossed over the lake to enable them to anchor and land on the shore by Gennesaret, which is where they were heading. 

As soon as they got out of the boat, the local people recognized Jesus and ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Context & background to this event:

Matt 14:10-14 NASB  He sent and had John beheaded in the prison.  And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.  His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.  Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.  When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.

I don't think "and they went and reported to Jesus.  Now when Jesus heard about John"  is insignificant, this had an impact on Jesus, it is likely that Jesus and John grew up together as children and teenagers after all their families were blood relatives, probably cousins  "Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month"   Lk 1:36  and it's highly unlikely they had nothing to do with each other as they grew up.   On top of that John had baptised Jesus as well.  
Try putting yourself in their situation. Jesus' cousin has just been beheaded, an untimely death and Jesus along with the disciples go off for an away day together no doubt to grieve and process all this. But the crowds all follow and indeed have run round the lake quicker than they sailed/rowed across it. Instead of now being alone with Jesus, a time of solitude, intimacy and rest has turned into ministering to the needs of others yet again and therefore no rest.  Granted they'd been part of an incredibly amazing miracle which they did not understand and were still processing. So their day of rest had turned into one of service instead and they probably didn't understand Jesus' compassion thing either and still didn't even days or months later - e.g. in Matt19:13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.    

I guess they were looking at all this from an earthly perspective.  They were by now used to the 
miracles - seeing Jesus do them and also themselves Mark 6:30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. They were also still coming to terms with the death of John the Baptist.  So with all this going on Jesus tells them to get back into the boat and head for the other shore while he stayed behind to dismiss the crowd and spend time alone with his Father.  Although it's not clear it seems they were expecting Jesus to join them somehow, it's hinted at in John 6:17 By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 

The fact is they were alone without Jesus, in the dark, in the middle of the lake, in a storm and they were struggling to make any progress.  OK there were seasoned Galilean fishermen on board (Peter, James & John) but still things were not good.  I wonder what the mood was in the boat?   Given the context.  I suspect; disappointment, feeling let down, confusion over Jesus' actions.  No doubt there was amazement over the feeding of the 5000 - how did we do that? But probably they also felt lonely as Jesus had left them, it was dark, there was a storm going on and they were struggling and probably the landlubbers amongst them were scared.  No doubt some were grumbling and complaining as well. 

I don't really know but I don't expect they were an excited bunch just returning from their latest mission trip singing Jesus songs. 


1   Intended to pass them by 

It is in this somewhat stranded and helpless situation that Jesus comes walking to them on the water but note a very important part is that He intended to pass by them Mark 6:48 NASB   So to our surprise in the midst of their struggling, confusion, hurt and pain, disappointment and tiredness Jesus was intending to pass them by.  Why?  Is there anywhere else Jesus did this?  Yes - the account of the two on the road to Emmaus Luke 24:28 NASB  And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther.  So why would Jesus behave like this?  

Jesus always shows up in his time but not always as we expect, it's to test our faith, our love and our hunger for him.  Did you know that just because people see and believe the miraculous does not necessarily mean Jesus entrusts himself to them John 2:24-25 NASB  Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.  But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. 

RT Kendall in Understanding Theology Vol 2 calls this type of experience 'The Divine Tease' which he describes as
 "God's set-up, a test by which he sometimes disguises his presence and purpose at first in order to reveal our real feelings.”

It is a divine set-up.  
Jesus set up both of the above events. He who controls all storms did not turn up until the fourth watch of the night - and still waited before he came to their rescue; they later realised he was at the bottom of it all!

On the road to Emmaus they were kept from recognising him .... and he disappeared from their sight .... the whole thing was God's set-up.
God disguises his presence and purpose

a) His presence. When Jesus walked on the sea his disciples thought he was a ghost.    b) His purpose was to wait until the appointed time to reveal himself ....  also to see what their reaction would be. 

At first    a) The whole point of the Divine Tease is to withhold the Lord's presence and purpose at first.  Had the disciples .... recognised Jesus there would have been no testing.  The essential purpose of the divine tease is to test us.  b) Therefore at first there is no hint that  1. it really is the Lord   2. God is up to something. In order to show our feelings.   .....The real feelings of the disciples became evident in the end 
In addition; to quote from Bill Johnson in Dreaming with God Ch 3 The Value of Mystery  
?'Living with mystery is the privilege of our walk with Christ. .... The walk of faith is to live according to the revelation we have received, in the midst of experiences we can't explain. ....     Too many only obey what they understand, thus subjecting God to their judgments. God is not on trial.  A true Cross-walk is obeying where we have revelation in spite of the apparent     contradiction we can't explain. To obey only when we see that there will be a favourable     outcome is not obedience. .....  Not understanding is okay. Restricting our spiritual life to     what we understand is not.  It is immaturity at best. God responds to faith but will not surrender to our demands for control.'

Other passages where Jesus teaches or does the unexpected.

Matt 15:21-28 esp. vs 23    The Faith of the Canaanite Woman 
Luke 11:5-8            Friend at Midnight 
Luke 18:1-8            Persistent Widow  
John 11:1-16            Death of Lazarus 

Other examples in the Old Testament.
Gen 22:1-19        Abraham sacrificing Isaac   
1 Sam 30:1-6 ff         David strengthening himself in the Lord  
1 Kings 19:10-18    Elijah's Still Small Voice  
2 Chron 32:31        Hezekiah when God left him  


2    Unrecognised and terrified 

Not only was Jesus about to pass them by but they did not recognise him either, they thought this was a ghost and were terrified as a result.  

Have you noticed that God often turns up in unexpected ways, ways in which we might not recognise him, ways in which we might at first even find offensive. e.g. Tongues, Toronto Blessing, laughter, shaking and all sorts of other manifestations.   You can't put God in a box, he does what he likes when he likes and will not conform to our preconceived ideas and limitations.  

Ps 115:3  But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

Ps 135:6  Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.
Dan 4:34-35  "But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?'

The Pharisees had God all sorted out along with biblical passages to prove it and missed the greatest revelation of God there has ever been.  As someone has said   'God offends the mind to reveal the heart'  
So Jesus tries to calm their fears by telling them it's him and don't be afraid, but how well did that work?  After all it's not every day, even for the disciples, you see someone walking on the water and in the dark on a rough windy sea at that.  I'm not aware of any precedent for this anywhere in scripture or for that matter any occasion since.  Try putting yourself in the situation - how would you react?    Well Peter says 'Lord, if it's you tell me to come to you on the water' Matt 14:28   Jesus told him to come to him and Peter took him at his word, got out of the boat and did so.

Now we know that Peter had a habit of acting without thinking - he still had that months later at the arrest of Jesus  John 18:10  Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servants, cutting off his right ear.  So was this response of Peter's faith or impulse?  Whatever it was, (Jesus called it faith) he was prepared to take Jesus at his word, to put his trust in Him.  He believed and was willing to put them to the test.  However once he realised what he was actually doing 'he was afraid and began to sink and cried out Lord, save me!'  Needless to say Jesus did not leave him there but 'Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  You of little faith he said, why did you doubt?  Mat 14:30-31 

3    Invited into the boat

What was the impact of Peter's impulsive act of faith?            It enabled and led others to believe.  Those that were looking on, observing from a distance saw, believed and invited Jesus into their boat.  As a consequence their lives from that moment on (along with Peter's) were changed.  The storm stopped  'and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading'  John 6:21  They experienced peace and rest straight away and both at the same time. 

In this story we see four distinct miracles taking place 

Jesus walking on the water
Peter walking on the water
The storm stopping
The boat immediately being at the shore they were heading to

Was one greater than the other?  Was Peter's faith in getting out of the boat greater than the other disciples asking Jesus to come aboard?   I think not.  But rather we see the following:

The test revealed their hearts; the result was they all believed and worshipped him saying 'Truly you are the son of God' Matt 14:32  
Peter's faith resulting in pioneering impulsive action did something special for him and as he began to doubt he saw more of God's keeping power, mercy and goodness. 

As a result of his actions it enabled others to believe too. But they did not all copy Peter and jump out of the boat but did what some might consider the more sensible thing and invited Jesus into the boat. 

Instead of a miracle being exclusive to only one (Peter) now all the disciples experience two more miracles.  So it could be argued that the greater blessing was gained by those who stayed in the boat - but the key to this was the minute they knew it was Jesus they did not dither but immediately invited him aboard.

Jesus wants us all to have peace and rest and they will only come through faith in him and the willingness to invite him in to the vessels of our lives  John Newton’s hymn ‘Begone Unbelief’ has the line 'With Christ in the vessel I smile at the storm'  

So what can we learn from all this?

Events will happen in our lives that we don't understand, cause us to doubt and be confused. 
Sometimes even seeking Jesus may not give us the comfort or answer we hoped for.
He might direct us in a certain way only for more struggles and uncertainty to arise. 
He may not rescue us straight away but leave us to our own devices and in the process we get nowhere.
He will be watching though and when he does come to us it may not be in a manner or form as we might have expected.  We may even be terrified!
He sets us up so we can discover for ourselves what is truly in our hearts.  ('God offends the mind to reveal the heart') Each test we pass strengthens our faith and trust in Him along with his faith and trust in us.
The impulsive pioneer of faith should expect that when you realise what you are doing sincere doubts may occur and you may even begin to 'go under' but call out to Jesus and he will rescue you.
Pioneering faith however has great impact on others who are watching and leads them to faith and experience of the miraculous as well.
We don't all have to be pioneers or even try to do the same things as them.
But the minute we recognise it is Jesus and invite Him into our precarious situation we, along with others, collectively experience the peace and rest that we'd wanted all along.   

Oswald Chambers in his book 'My Utmost for His Highest' in the reading for Oct 21st has a little commentary on Peter that says:  "Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different.  Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he 'followed Him at a distance' on dry land Mark 14:54.  We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises - human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently.  But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus.”


Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me
Take me deeper that my feet could ever wander 
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour.  

Bill Reynolds, 10/02/2015