This account of Jesus walking on the water occurs immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 that we looked at together last week. Events continue to unfold here as Jesus instructs his disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side while he dismissed the crowd. Perhaps this was because Jesus wanted to dissuade the crowds from causing any difficulties with the authorities, especially knowing that the time – his time – had not yet come.
Instead of immediately joining his disciples, Jesus went up on the mountainside to spend time alone with his heavenly Father. After giving of himself in the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, it is not surprising that he wanted to spend time alone to be restored. It is an important example for us too since we should also seek to spend time with God to be restored and give ourselves chance to refocus on our calling and vocation.
Some time must have passed; we are told that Jesus went out to join his disciples shortly before dawn (between 3 am and 6 am) by which time the boat was already a considerable distance from the land, and was being buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. It must have been slow and hard progress, but despite this they managed to travel between 3 and 4 miles from the shore (see John 6:19). It is here that Jesus approached them, walking on the lake.
At first, the disciples’ reaction is very human – they were terrified, thinking Jesus was a ghost. And let’s be clear here, some of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fishermen and no strangers to the storms and dangers they might experience in a boat on the water. Their reaction must therefore have been in seeing something different, something other. I wonder how you might have reacted. Knowing their terror, Jesus immediately calms and reassures them – “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
The great evangelist and pastor F B Meyer said Jesus used “the element we dread as the path for his approach. The waves were endangering the boat, but Jesus walked on them. In our lives are people and circumstances we dread, but it is through these that the greatest blessing of our lives will come, if we look through them to Christ.” Jesus can step into our lives in this way and it helps when people come alongside us when we face terrors to remind us that we are not alone and that he will bring us through.
A series of miracles have happened in rapid succession. First the feeding of he 5,000, then Jesus walking on the water. But it does not end there. Seeing Jesus stood there on the water, Peter’s response at this moment is incredible. “LORD, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” What must have prompted Peter to say this I wonder? And when invited to by Jesus, Peter walked on the water towards him. This is nothing short of miraculous too.
A number of things occur to me from this encounter:
- Firstly, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Peter actually walked on water
- Yes, the wind and likely the waves will have caused Peter’s faith to waver at which point he began to sink. But instead of turning back and making his way to the boat (as I am sure many of us would have done), Peter cried out to Jesus – “Lord, save me!”
- What was it that Peter’s faith wavered in – Jesus or himself? At a time when his faith wavered, he turned to Jesus. Jesus response suggests to me that he is basically saying to Peter “you know I am with you and no harm will befall you…don’t doubt yourself and trust in me.” I believe the fact that Peter turned to Jesus and not the boat suggests he lost faith in himself and what he might accomplish through Christ.
Making their way to the boat together, they climbed into the boat and the wind died down.
There will be times when we too feel buffeted by the wind and waves of life and perhaps feel anxiety and fear. There will also be times when we face challenging and testing times. It is good to remember Jesus words at this time. Take courage (or take heart). He will not cause us to endure more than we can bear because we are not alone, and Jesus himself is with us. Do we look to him or do we look to the ‘boat’ which might be represented by all of those things in life in which we place our security? Sometimes we need to begin with small steps. Yes, the steps might be small but what is important is that we take them. And then when we are “in the boat” and the wind and waves of life have died down, what is our response when we encounter Jesus? Do we come before him with grateful hearts, and with reverence and awe? The rest of the disciples’ response says it all. Their response was to worship him…“Truly you are the Son of God.” Amen