Walking on Water
This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript.
This morning, we have people joining us who are at all different points in your walk with Jesus. There are some who have been disciples of Jesus for most of your life. You grew up in a Christian home and when you were old enough to understand the gospel you put your faith in Jesus. So you don’t even remember what life was like without Him.
At the other end of the spectrum there are some of you joining us today who are curious about Jesus and what He can do for you. More than likely you are doing that because of some need in your life and you’re wondering if maybe Jesus can help. Maybe you’re struggling in your marriage or having problems with your kids or your finances are a mess or you hate your job and you want to know if Jesus can fix things and make you happy.
Even if you’ve been a disciple of Jesus for a long time, it’s possible that you’re here today for that same reason. You want to hear what Jesus can do to make your life better in some way.
While it is certainly true that Jesus can do all those things - He can make your marriage better, He can help you do a better job of raising your kids, He can help you straighten out your finances, He can help you love your job - I am here to tell you this morning that if that is the main reason that you’re seeking Jesus, you are likely to be sorely disappointed.
That is because at some point in your life, you are going to feel like you’ve been tricked by a “bait and switch” scheme. That’s because often after someone puts his or her faith in Jesus, things get worse, not better. The Bible is full of examples of very godly people who suffered greatly here on earth as a result of their faith. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul reminds us of that fact:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
This is one of the reasons that we don’t ask people to raise their hand or walk to the front or pray a prayer at the end of the service in order to put their faith in Jesus. We want to make sure that they are making that life-changing decision only after understanding all that it involves.
This morning, as we continue our current sermon series, Seven Signs, we will look at the fifth sign that John records in his gospel account and we will see that that reveals the right reason for us to choose to follow Jesus. And - spoiler alert - it’s not because He is going to make us comfortable or happy.
This fifth sign follows right on the heels of the fourth sign that we looked at last week - the feeding of the multitude. Hopefully you’ll remember that we found that account at the beginning of John chapter 6. Because it is the key to understanding the meaning of this fifth sign, I’ll begin this morning with verses 14 and 15, which serve as a crucial transition between the fourth and fifth sign:
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
We have talked about this before, but since it is so crucial to understanding the reason behind this fifth sign, we need to mention it again. Many of the people who were following Jesus at this point in His ministry, even some of the twelve, were looking for a Messiah who would make their life easier by overthrowing the Roman government, which was very hostile toward the Jews. That is very apparent here where we read that the crowd wanted to make Jesus king. One day Jesus will be a king who will rule over this earth, but that was not His purpose at His first coming.
So Jesus withdrew before the crowd could pursue their desires. And I think that He also performs this next sign, at least in part, to keep His disciples from getting caught up in the emotions of the moment and joining with the rest of the crowd.
With that in mind, let’s read the account of this sign.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
This same sign is also recorded by both Mark and Matthew in their gospel accounts. And both of them add some details that John omits here. I’m not going to read those accounts this morning, but I encourage you to do that on your own. You can find those accounts in Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52. So using the information from those accounts to fill in some of the details, let me give you an overall picture of what occurs here.
Here in John’s account, it almost sounds like the disciples just got in the boat and abandoned Jesus, but both Matthew and Mark make it clear that Jesus commanded the disciples to get into the boat and go to the other shore of the lake. That is important for a couple of reasons:
First, it indicates that these disciples were not abandoning Jesus, they were actually obeying Him.
Second, it supports the idea that Jesus was trying to get the twelve out of this crowd where they might have gotten caught up in the emotions.
Matthew and Mark also tell us that after the disciples departed, Jesus left the crowds and went up to the mountain alone to pray.
It was only about 5 miles by boat from where they were to Capernaum. That route is indicated on the map with the red arrow. This should have been an easy journey, especially given that several of the disciples were experienced fisherman, who were familiar with the Sea of Galilee. But they encountered a strong headwind which pushed their boat out into the middle of the lake - somewhere in the vicinity of the blue arrow on the map. According to both Matthew and Mark, it was now the fourth watch of the night, which would have been between 3 and 6 a.m. So these disciples had been rowing for hours and had only gone 3 or 4 miles and they were no closer to their destination than when they started.
When Jesus finished praying, the disciples had the only boat, so it seems that there is only one way for Jesus to meet them in Capernaum, by walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But the problem was that in order to do that, Jesus would have run into the same crowds that He was trying to avoid. But for Jesus, this wasn’t a problem at all. He would merely walk across the water to the disciples’ boat.
John tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them they were “frightened”. Is that ever an understatement! Of course they were frightened. Matthew and Mark both reveal that the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and that they were “terrified” at the sight.
Matthew also reveals that it was at this time that Peter asked Jesus to command him to walk to Him on the water. Certainly John would have witnessed that, so why do you think he omitted that from his account? There are no right or wrong answers here, so I’d love to hear what you think. If you’re joining us online, you can share your thoughts in the chat.
[Wait for answers]
Remember that John’s entire purpose in writing his gospel is so people will believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they might have life in His name. So although I can’t be dogmatic here, it seems likely that the reason John doesn’t record Peter’s part in this event is that it would have taken away from the focus on what Jesus does here and put the focus on Peter.
As soon as Jesus gets into the boat, the boat immediately arrived on the shore. Matthew and Mark both report that they didn’t land at Capernaum, their original destination, but rather at Gennesaret, a few miles away.
Before we discuss what this fifth sign reveals, let me briefly talk about the lengths that some people will go to in order to try and disprove this and the other miracles that Jesus did.
Several years ago a Florida State University professor of oceanography named Doron Nof actually suggested that during the time of Jesus that it was possible that areas of ice could have formed on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus was merely standing or walking on ice. Of course that explanation comes with its own set of questions like how Jesus balanced on the ice, how it reached out 3-4 miles into the lake and how Jesus got from the ice into the boat.
Others have suggested that Jesus was actually walking on the shore and that the disciples were merely disoriented and thought they were in the middle of the lake when they had in fact run aground near the shore. I even found an article that suggested that based on some recent archaeological discoveries perhaps Jesus was merely standing on mound of stones that may have been deposited in the lake by an earthquake.
I think people are driven to these kinds of explanations because otherwise they must admit that Jesus did indeed do what the Bible claims He did and that in turn requires that they either accept or reject what that reveals about Jesus:
This fifth sign shows that Jesus is Lord of all creation who I must follow because of who He is, not because He will make me happy.
This fifth sign shows that Jesus is Lord of all creation who I must follow because of who He is, not because He will make me happy.
When the disciples set out to row across the lake that night, I think it’s reasonable to assume that, like the crowds, they assumed that Jesus was the kind of Messiah who was going to usher in an earthly kingdom that would make life easier for them. And they obeyed Jesus because they were determined to do what they could to help usher in that kind of kingdom. But when Jesus came walking across the water early that morning, He was showing them that He wasn’t the kind of Messiah they were hoping for. He was instead, the Lord of all creation who was worthy of their allegiance not because of what He could do for them, but because He was in fact the God of the universe.
That is demonstrated here not just by the sign that Jesus performs, but also by His words. When Jesus gets near the boat, what are His first words to the disciples? [Wait for answers]. That’s right: It is I. In Greek, that is a two word phrase – ego eimi – that literally means “I am”. This is the same phrase used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, when God reveals His name to Moses:
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”
Jesus uses this same phrase frequently in John’s gospel and every time He employs it, He is clearly claiming to be God and describing some aspect of His divine nature.
This sign obviously reveals Jesus’ power over nature. When he walked on water, He certainly demonstrated power over gravity. And Jesus also seems to have demonstrated power over time and distance because once He got into the boat, it was immediately at the other side of the lake. And obviously only God is capable of that kind of power.
We are reminded here that God’s purpose is not centered on me at all. It is centered on Jesus and His glory. We see that clearly in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus:
to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The main reason for following Jesus is not because He can make you happy - which He is certainly capable of doing - but rather because He is the way, the truth and the life who is worthy of our worship and worthy to receive all glory because He is the Lord of all creation.
Let’s close this morning by looking at three...
IMPLICATIONS FOR MY LIFE
IMPLICATIONS FOR MY LIFE
Even if I follow Jesus, there will be storms in my life
A lot of times when we experience storms in our lives, the first question we ask is “Why me, Lord?” And asking that question often leads us to conclude that the storm must be a result of something wrong that we’ve done. Now it is certainly possible to create storms in our lives through our disobedience to God and our own wrong decisions. So it is always appropriate to evaluate our lives to see if that is the case. And if it is, we need to repent and take whatever steps are within our control to remove ourselves from that situation.
But in this situation, the disciples were being completely obedient to God. They had done exactly what He had commanded them to do. And they still experienced a great, life threatening storm. So why should we expect that things are going to be any different in our lives?
Jesus doesn’t always remove the storms, but He promises to be with me in them
When the disciples were in the midst of the storm, Jesus came to them. Although both Matthew and Mark mention that the wind ceased once Jesus entered the boat, John doesn’t mention that at all. I think that is because what was far more important was the idea that Jesus walked on water in order to be with His disciples during the storm.
With this sign, Jesus demonstrates that there are no barriers that can prevent Him from being present with His followers. The wind and the waves could not prevent Him from coming to the boat. The distance didn’t hinder Him in any way. And, as we’ve already talked about, even gravity could not thwart Him.
The Scriptures are full of examples of people who faithfully followed God but who still went through the storms. Here are just a few who come to mind:
Noah – It probably took Noah several decades to build the ark and He endured constant ridicule during that entire time. And then he and his family had to spend over a year floating around in the ark with a boatload of smelly animals. And, as we’ve discussed before, the aftermath of the flood was not exactly a pleasant sight.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – When they failed to worship the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had made, they were not spared from being thrown into the fiery furnace.
Daniel – He was not spared from being thrown into the lion’s den.
Stephen – Even though he was full of the Holy Spirit, he was stoned to death for his faith
The disciples –They were all persecuted for their faith in Jesus and, probably with the exception of John, eventually killed because of that faith
But even though the storms weren’t removed by God, in every one of those cases God was with His people in the midst of those storms.
To grow in my relationship with Jesus I need to learn His ways and submit to them even when that is uncomfortable
This sign pushed the disciples out of their comfort zone. It was easy to follow Jesus when they thought he was going to overthrow the Roman government and make life easier for them. But with each of the signs that He performed, Jesus was revealing that He had a different plan in mind - one that involved Him dying on a cross and rising from the grave. And that wasn’t so easy for the disciples to accept. In fact, it was so hard to accept that when Jesus later clearly tells the disciples that is His plan, Peter has the gall to rebuke Jesus:
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
We would do well to listen to Jesus’ response:
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Just because I don’t understand Jesus’ ways doesn’t mean that I can just choose to ignore them or to mold them to fit my own ideas and desires. One of the best evidences that I am growing in my relationship with Jesus is that I am seeking to know Jesus as He truly is and then adapting my life to line up with that rather than trying to make Jesus into who I want Him to be or merely using Him as a means to get something I want or to make my life easier.
Every single one of us need to respond to that sign this morning.
If you have never put your faith in Jesus just because of who He is and not because of what He can do for you, then today, you need to make that commitment. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not going to ask you to raise your hand or walk to the front or repeat a prayer. That is because this is the most important decision you will ever make in your life and I want you to do that only after having all the relevant information and for the right reasons. In just a moment, I will be sharing a number of ways that you can contact us so that we can help you take that next step in your relationship with Jesus.
If you have already made that decision, I’m not in any way trying to create unnecesary doubt in your mind, but I do think it is important to evaluate why you made that decision. As I’ve mentioned several times recently, if you first came to Jesus because you were looking for Him to give you something or make your life better, that’s okay as long as you don’t stay there. So I want to challenge you to answer this question:
Why do you follow Jesus?
Is it so you can use Him to make you happy? Or is it because He is the sovereign Lord of all creation and you desire to bring Him glory? It is so that you can get something from Him? Or is it because you genuinely desire to conform your life to who He really is, even when that is not what you expected or it doesn’t make sense? Once you answer that question, then I am confident that God will reveal what you need to do next - maybe to confess that you’ve been following Jesus for the wrong reasons, maybe to recommit your life to Him and begin to follow Him for the right reasons, or maybe to be obedient to Jesus in some area of your life where you’ve been seeking your own will rather than His.
It is true that Jesus can, and often does, make our life better here on earth. But as we have seen clearly today, that is not the main reason that He left the glory of heaven and came to earth and became a man and lived among those He had created. He did that so that we could follow Him just for who He is the sovereign Lord of all creation. And when we do that, He is the one who gets all the honor and glory. That is why we need to live for Him.