This article is adapted from a sermon preached by Adam Brock entitled Wonder on the Water.
Have you ever, as a kid, tried to walk on water?
Maybe you are like me and there has been that moment where you said, “let’s try!” Or maybe you’ve never thought about it and now you’re wondering what would ever possess a person to try!?
As a child after hearing the story of Jesus walking on water, I know, I wanted to try it out. I remember standing at the edge of the pool and thinking, “maybe if I get a running start…” Spoiler: It didn’t work!
Well, today I want to talk to you about the wonder on the water.
Here's what the scriptures say:
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. 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.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.Mark 6:45-52, NIV
“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.”
Jesus immediately sends His disciples on their way. Now one thing to note about God’s plans is that we are not meant to just sit and soak. You’ve heard it said before that God’s plan to reach this world is the church, therefore we must fight the temptation to sit back and not advance the mission. The feeding of the 5,000 right before this found them sitting on “green grass” (verse 39), with plenty of food, and a large crowd to boast about. But Jesus would not let them stay in this place of comfort because He knew it would not grow their faith, and it would subvert His mission.
We too must not grow complacent and neglect our mission as well. Having a large crowd here sure is exciting but it is not the end goal. We exist to make disciples of all nations. We don’t exist for the purpose of large crowds or high numbers.
God has us here, in the Lake Area, so that we might grow into the image of Christ, and in doing so be used to help those who are lost become found. This is our purpose! This is God’s plan!
If the disciples had stayed put in this passage the crowd would have surely come to establish Jesus as a political revolutionary, but that wasn’t His goal. So, He tells His disciples to get in the boat and go. This is especially important because that means the disciples were exactly where Jesus wanted them to be.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Their sailing was not merely under His sanction, but by His express command. They were in the right place and yet they met with a terrible storm.”
I tell you that because God’s plan for you will surely include some mountain top moments, but following Jesus also includes going through life’s difficulties, which is an important lesson to learn. Obedience doesn’t earn for us a “free pass” on the trials of life.
This whole passage is a good illustration of the life of discipleship, because it was through direct obedience to the command of Jesus, that the disciples found themselves in this danger. The storm did not show that they had deviated from the path of God’s will: Instead, God’s plan for them included the storm. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Warren Wiersbe said, “Spiritual blessings must be balanced with burdens and battles, otherwise, we may become pampered children instead of mature sons and daughters.”
Following Jesus means trusting Him, even when He leads us into storms. For it is in the storms of life that our faith has the chance to grow. His plans are not always easy, or what we desire, but they are for our good because they serve His redemptive purposes.
“After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.”(Mark 6:46 NIV)
If Jesus is constantly retreating for prayer, how much more do you think we should be praying? Jesus had a regular prayer time. Jesus did not want to become a healer and He did not want to become a feeder. He came to reveal the Father, and He shows us through His consistent prayers what closeness with God looks like.
Any time Jesus faced a critical moment, He prayed. Prayer for Jesus was intense. He was keenly aware of the spiritual warfare taking place all around Him, so He prayed!
John Piper says, “Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for.” Jesus knew this better than anyone! He sought the Father in the heat of the battle, and we should be encouraged by His example and by the fact that He remains in a posture of prayer, interceding for His children.
“Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. 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 6:47-50, NIV
At this point, it’s late, somewhere between 3 PM and 6 AM. The disciples are out on the water and Jesus is on the land. He could see the disciples struggling with the oars against the crashing waves and was filled with compassion for them. He left His prayers and His own troubles behind and set out to help them. He made His way to those He has called, loves, and cares for. He knew where they were and what they were going through.
The word we see here translated as “straining” is actually a word that means tormented or distressed. I point that out to illustrate just how serious the situation was. It’s not as if they were casually sailing on the sea. No, they were struggling, but Jesus saw them. And it says He went out to them, walking on the lake. Yep, you read that right, walking-on-the-lake! (don’t try this at home!) He came walking on the water! In doing this, Jesus demonstrates that there are no barriers that can prevent Him from being present with His followers. That was true then and it remains true today.
The disciples might have felt forgotten, but they weren’t.
You must not listen to the lies of the enemy when in the middle of hardships, he whispers “where is your God, if He loved you, you’d never be going through this!?”
God’s grace will often take us into the storm, but rest assured we won’t be abandoned in the storm. His grace is also what sees us through.
This was another nature miracle of Jesus for the purpose of strengthening the disciples’ faith. They witnessed His power and authority in many different ways. But they still did not understand; they were still afraid and amazed.
The phrase “He was about to pass them by” is an interesting phrase and has been a puzzling thought for people throughout the years.
There are a number of varied reasons scholars have suggested for why Jesus would intend to pass them by but after studying, I think the best reason is rooted in the Old Testament understanding of a theophany. A theophany is a visible appearance of God to humans. Jesus, by walking on the water, is doing something that only the creator of water and wind would be able to do.
Dr. Danny Akin has some excellent comments on this and he writes that this event should be understood in relation to the Old Testament story of Moses in Exodus 33:18, 20-23, NASB:
Just as the Lord “passed by” Moses in Exodus 33 and by Elijah (1 Kings 19:11), so now we see the God of the Old Testament, who is Christ, “wanted to pass by” His disciples so that they might see His glory and believe! Only God can walk on water, and Jesus is showing them beyond question that He is God! Job 9:8 says, “[God] alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.”Jesus came to do in flesh and blood what God had only done in wind and voice in the Old Testament. To see Jesus then, is to see God fully revealed.Danny Akin
This is abundantly true when you consider Mark 6:50-51, NIV. Notice the Person: “Because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then He climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed.”
Think about this, if Jesus’ goal here was simply to relieve the difficulty of the disciples, He could have done that back on the mountain. He did not have to be in the boat to make the waves and wind stop. From the dry ground, He could have simply prayed, and the same result would have occurred. But He has them in this situation, and He comes to them on the water, so they can see who He really is! This miraculous event was not just about Jesus rescuing the disciples from their problem. It was to reveal to them His deity.
Jesus wants to use their difficulty to reveal His person to them! Jesus wants to use your difficulty today to reveal His person to you!
Pay careful attention here to what Jesus says. Yes, the wind ceased, and yes, He was walking on the water, but we must note the significance of Jesus saying, “It is I.”
Our English translations don’t help us see the weight of this because in the Greek it is simply “I AM.”
Jesus says, “Have Courage! I AM.”
These are the words God spoke to Moses at the burning bush. In John 8:58 Jesus declares Himself to be the Great I AM. Jesus not only walks where only God can walk; He also bears the name of God.
He also tells them to “take courage.” This phrase is used, by Jesus, as a way of encouraging belief or faith, in the person of Jesus specifically.
The disciples are overwhelmed, and you would be too. The God of all creation, the One they’ve spent their whole lives worshiping and studying, is now standing before them in flesh and blood. But they still don’t get it. And they won’t until the resurrection, but that allows us to see the Lord’s patience.
“For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”(Mark 6:52, NIV)
They were slow learners. Jesus was patient with them. This is so encouraging to me. If the disciples had understood the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, they would have understood Jesus walking on the water. They should have understood that Jesus is the Lord of creation. He had primacy over the bread they ate and the water upon which they sailed.
And yet, they don’t receive a rebuke from their master. The compassionate Shepherd knew they had much to learn, and He doesn’t give up on them. Praise God, He does not give up on us in our ignorance and hard-heartedness too.
Now, when it says, “their heart was hardened,” this is a difficult theological concept. It is best understood as a Hebraic idiom for their own biases and Jewish traditions blinding them to the truths so obvious in Jesus’ deeds and words. Despite being presented with an abundance of evidence, there are those in scripture who simply refused to believe in and submit to Jesus.
Let’s not make that mistake. Understanding Jesus’ authority was and is a central issue. Because if His authority comes from His identity being God, then we need to be ready to totally submit to Him.
This is as plainly as I can present it: If Jesus is God, then you and I should devote our entire lives to Him! We should obey Him, we should submit to Him, we should worship Him, and we should exalt Him.
And I stand before you as one who does in fact believe this. I believe Jesus is God, and He has made a way for you and me, as sinful as we are, to be included in the family of God, if we will submit our lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Don’t miss this, you and I must submit.
Because Jesus didn’t walk on water so that you and I would be amazed today! Surely, to have seen that would have been amazing, but that was not His goal. And yet, so many will read these words and hear this story, and they will be amazed, but unmoved.
Like the child who’s been given the most expensive and most wonderful gift, who rips it open, sets the gift aside and walks off playing with the box. That’s what it is like to be amazed, but unmoved.
Jesus came walking on the water so that you would read these words, hear the Spirit speaking to you, and then respond (not with amazement), but with faith!
Will you step out in faith? Will you be obedient to what God is calling you to do?
If so, or you wish to learn more or just connect with Trinity, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 337-480-1555.
If you look to your job, or your school, or your club, or your possessions to give you life and identity, you’re going to be severely disappointed because all these things make really crummy saviors! Nothing created can ever take the place of the creator.
Knowing what is in the Bible is certainly important, but its chief aim is not to inform you about God, but rather to introduce you to God, to reveal God. The gospel of John is a gospel tract.