Walking on Stormy Waters
Jesus Prays on the Mountain
Jesus Prays on the Mountain
Following a day of teaching and healing, Jesus performed one of His most impressive miracles - the feeding of the 5,000. While the crowds recognized Him to be “the prophet that is to come,” their excitement was misplaced, and they tried to make Jesus a king. Jesus responded to the attempt swiftly; while He had been compassionate on the crowds, He could not allow them to proceed with this plot. He immediately sent the disciples to the other side of the sea, and then dispersed the crowds. Sending the disciples away probably helped break up the crowds, and it kept them from being influenced by the hysteria and excitement of the crowd seeking to make Jesus a king.
Jesus Himself retreated to the mountains for time alone in prayer. We can’t know exactly how long the Lord spent in prayer, but it must have been several hours. It was sometime in the “evening” when He began, and it wasn’t until sometime between three and six A.M. that He went to the disciples. This is Jesus’ first opportunity at rest in some time, but He doesn’t use it to sleep; He uses it to pray. The death of John the Baptist is surely still on His mind, and it likely made the approach of His own death all the more real. We may discount the effect of the crowd, but realize that their attempt to make Him a king is not so different than the third temptation Satan offered. All-in-all, Jesus needed time to be alone with God in prayer.
If the Lord Himself needed time alone in prayer, how much more do we need such prayer? In times of despair, trial, or temptation do we turn to God?
Disciples Struggle through the Storm
Disciples Struggle through the Storm
While Jesus spent the evening on the mountain, the disciples tried to cross the sea as the Lord had commanded. John tells us there was a storm due to a “strong wind,” and the disciples had only made it three or four miles across the sea. Matthew tells us the wind was “against them” and Mark says they were “making headway painfully.” The storm may have been just a wind-storm, meaning that the sky may have been clear, with no clouds or rain. This may explain why they are able to see Jesus later. The storm does not seem to be as life-threatening as the previous storm recorded in the gospels, but it is still difficult and dangerous.
Like the previous storm, however, the disciples find themselves in this situation because of their obedience to the Lord. They obeyed Jesus’ instruction and set out across the sea, and it was for that reason that they were in the storm. Once again, Jesus had lead them into a storm, and this time He wasn’t with them!
While He wasn’t with them, He was still watching over them. Mark tells us that Jesus saw them making headway painfully. While the disciples had no idea where Jesus was, He was watching, and He saw their struggle and their need.
Jesus Walks on Water
Jesus Walks on Water
Matthew and Mark tell us Jesus came walking on the water towards the disciples around the fourth watch, which would be sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 AM. We’re not told when He began or where, simply that around this time He approached the boat. While the disciples strained against the wind and waves, Jesus calmly walked on the waves. Critics try to explain away the miracle, but the language of all three writers is abundantly clear - Jesus walked on the water. Not the shoreline, not a sandbar, but on the sea itself.
Mark makes an interesting comment on the event. He says that, “He meant to pass them by” (6:48). Some think He meant to walk alongside them to the shore; some think He was testing the disciples. Mark’s comments might have a much deeper meaning though. We see similar language in a few important spots of the Old Testament:
21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; 9 who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; 10 who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number. 11 Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
As in the feeding of the 5,000; there is here a hint at Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, but in an even higher sense. God is not "passing by" Jesus. Jesus Himself fills the role of God "passing by" His followers. As He filled the role of God as creator in the feeding the 5,000; here He fills the role of God as controller of nature, walking upon the waters. While this may not have been in the disciple’s minds during the event, it seems likely this is the lesson Mark is conveying when he includes this piece of information in his gospel.
At some point, the disciples notice a figure on the water. Either by moonlight, the early light of dawn, or perhaps lightning if it is a rain-storm, they see Jesus walking close to them. Matthew and Mark both tell us they thought it was a ghost. It is not that the disciples believed in “departed spirits” roaming the earth - such a notion is contrary to the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. In their situation however, how else could they explain what they were seeing? What else could it be? Seeing something as this causes dread and terror in the disciples.
Matthew and Mark both record the Lord’s cry to the disciples: “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” Jesus’ words here are not a rebuke, but meant to comfort. The theme of “do not be afraid” is found throughout Matthew’s gospel. Seven other times we read Jesus or an angel instructing individuals or groups, “Do not be afraid,” “fear not,” “have no fear,” etc. Jesus also encourages them to “take heart.” Jesus is not dismissing the disciple’s plight or making light of it. He is seeking to remind them of the security they can know with Him.
Take heart is, as in 9:2, 22, an assurance for those who have good reason for fear: it does not indicate that the crisis is not real, but that in the presence of Jesus fear can be dismissed - RT France, TNTC on Matthew
Jesus does not promise us freedom from difficulty and danger, but neither does He overlook such times. He does not necessarily pull us out of trial, but He equips us to endure it, and promises our eternal safety if we trust in Him.
All three gospel writers include the exact same phrase, “It is I...” Jesus doesn't give His name that they may recognize them - He uses a phrase that carries divine themes. In fact, it is similar to the phrase, "I AM" and echoes the name God gives for Himself in Exodus 3:14 when He says, "I AM WHO I AM." Thus, as one commentator said, "Jesus not only walks in God's stead, but He also takes His name."
Peter Walks on Water
Peter Walks on Water
Only Matthew records the details of Peter walking on the water also. As might be expected, Peter is the disciple that breaks the silence after Jesus’ makes Himself known. Peter’s response is unexpected however.
Peter addresses Jesus as Lord, and bids the Lord to provide a command. "If it is you..." might portray some doubt, but that is unlikely. Some even suggest this could be rendered, "since it is you..." Whatever the case - Peter believes that Jesus not only has the power to walk on water (which he can see before him) but also has the power to enable Peter to accomplish such a feat. While Peter will also be an example of weakened faith, we should not overlook his great example of bold faith at the beginning. After all, none of the others seemed ready to get out of the boat and walk to Jesus.
"[Peter] is impetuous, sometimes arrogant, and quick to speak before he things. But the bottom line is that aside from Jesus, he hold the water-walking record" - Mark Moore, Chronological Life of Christ.
Peter's faith is remarkable, but it also makes sense. Remember, the disciples had recently been sent out by Jesus to preach, and they had been given power to heal diseases and cast out demons. In short, Christ gave them the power to do what He had done. If Jesus could impart that power, why can't He impart this power also? Peter's faith is not a blind leap, but based on what he has learned of Jesus. That does not detract from his faith - it teaches us about the true nature of faith. Faith is built upon what we learn and know of Jesus. As we know Him more, our faith grows more.
Jesus' response is only one word: "Come." The Lord's invitation may be simple and it may be challenging - but it is there and it is empowering. Peter leaves the boat and for a while does the impossible - he too walks on the water. Matthew says in fact he "Came to Jesus." He apparently got quite close to the Lord before doubt took hold.
After already completing the impossible, Peter allowed himself to be distracted. When he "saw" the wind, that is, he noticed the wind and the havoc it was wreaking, he did exactly what Jesus had commanded not to do - he became afraid.
Even when we start with great faith; even when we work for the Lord; even when we reach heights of spiritual maturity; we must still be cautious, because doubt and fear can still cause us to sink. Peter asked to be called; he responded to the call; he walked on water; he even got close to Jesus, yet still the wind weakened his will in the end. We must never take our eyes off Jesus, no matter how far we've come.
Being afraid, he began to sink. Panic, doubt, and fear only lead to worse problems. Sinking into the storm-tossed sea, however, Peter does exactly what is needed - he calls to Jesus again. Peter did not seek to swim on his own accord, he cried out to Jesus, "Lord save me." The same Lord that could bid him walk on the water could pull him up also. Jesus responds immediately. Notice, He didn't respond before Peter called to Him, but when Peter cried out, Jesus immediately took hold of Peter to save him.
If you are sinking in sin, the Lord is standing ready to save. He is not going to pull you from the water against your will, but know that if you desire to be saved, He stands ready to save.
Jesus issues a mild rebuke. He refers to Peter as “you of little faith." Peter had demonstrated great faith, but he allowed his faith to weaken. Strong faith is not a wavering faith, it is a faith that endures even through the greatest storms. Jesus also asks, "Why did you doubt?" How silly Peter must have felt. After all he'd seen; after Jesus calmed the storm before; after the miracles Peter was able to perform; after the feeding of the 5,000; after seeing Jesus walk on water; after walking on water himself, why would he allow the wind to frighten him?
The same is true all times we allow earthly things distract, discourage, and frighten us. Why do we let physical things come before serving the Lord? Why do we value earthly relationship over spiritual service? Why do we fear ridicule and persecution more than disappointing our Lord? After all we know about the Lord, why do we allow our faith to waiver?
The Response of the Disciples
The Response of the Disciples
a. When Jesus gets in the boat, the storm immediately stops. This time the storm responds without Jesus even speaking. It's easy to miss, but this is yet another miracle! John mentions that when Jesus got in the boat, they were immediately at the land to which they were travelling. Some say that means they were simply close to the shore - it seems more likely that this might have been yet another miracle. Matthew and Mark seem to have different endings to this story, but really they complement one another.
Mark highlights the problem that lead the disciples to fear in the first place. They had just witnessed the feeding of the 5,000 a few hours before, a miracle that pointed to the divine power of the Lord (as did many others). Still, they were fearful. They chose fear over faith once again. That is exactly what hardness of heart is.
Hardness of heart is that lack of spiritual perceptivity, that lack of readiness to learn, for which we are ultimately blameworthy ourselves...Smallness of faith is a failure to remember God’s working in the past and to apply that knowledge of his nature to our present problems" R. Alan Cole, TNTC on Mark
Matthew focuses on the final result, or the reaction that the total astonishment mentioned in Mark brought about. He says they, "worshiped Him, saying, Truly you are the Son of God.” To what degree they fully recognize the divinity of Jesus yet, we can't be sure. They clearly see once again though that Jesus is no ordinary Man. We also are seeing some growth. Remember, the first time Jesus calmed the storm, they were terrified and asked each other, "who can this be?" This time, they worship Him and confess Him as "the Son of God." It may be slow, but they are growing.
The Christian life is one of storms, trials, and troubles. Jesus doesn't promise us a storm-free life. On the contrary, He may actually lead us into them from time to time. Christianity is not about avoiding storms, it is about weathering them. We see in this lesson how such is possible.
Remember that Jesus always sees and knows our struggles. He will never abandon us.
Just as Jesus saw the disciple’s struggle from His view on the mountain, so too He see us in our various plights and trials. God’s promise to His faithful children has always been, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
While following Jesus, we need not fear.
Trials do and will confront us, but we can be courageous and strong when we place our hope and trust in the Lord. Satan may use fear to try and distract us and pull us away from the Lord. Always remember the Lord's words, "Take heart, It is I, do not be afraid!"
Always Keep your eyes on Jesus.
When Peter simply obeyed the Lord and was walking towards Him, he was successful. It was only when he turned his eyes to the storm that fear took hold and he began to sink.
When you fail, return to Jesus.
Peter's faith may have slipped, but he didn't let himself drown. He immediately sought the Lord's help, and was delivered by the Lord's mighty hand. There are times that we slip; there are times we begin sinking; there are times that we fall. We are not making excuses for sin, but there simply are times, try as we might, that we fail. How we respond is of eternal importance. Will we allow ourselves to be so discouraged that we refuse to get up? How silly that would be! What if Peter had been too proud to ask for help? What if he was so discouraged by his failure that he refused to seek the Lord’s assistance? He was sinking because of us doubt - should he let himself drown out of shame or stubbornness? Of course not! Neither should we. When we falter, we need to recognize our faults, confess them to the Lord, seek His forgiveness, and learn from our mistakes. When we realize our eyes have been taken away from Jesus, it’s time to turn back to Him once again.