Jesus Walks on Water!
General Idea: After Jesus used a boy's lunch to miraculously feed some twenty-thousand-plus people, He walked away into the hills alone. Then, the Disciples went down to the shore of the lake to wait for Jesus, but He did not come back and it was getting dark. They needed to cross the lake before dark or they would be stuck there. Thinking that Jesus must have already crossed, they got in their boats and headed across the lake to Capernaum. Suddenly, a violent storm came up; they tried to row through the storm and managed to get a few miles off, but the sea got more forceful. Jesus then crossed this raging lake on foot! The Disciples were about half way across when they saw Jesus, walking on top of the water! He was headed right for them and the Disciples did not know what to make of this; they were terrified. Jesus, calling out to them, said, I am here, do not be afraid! They let Jesus into the boat and suddenly they were at their destination, a miracle of time, arriving at one's destination without travel and walking on a surface that could not hold someone up. Then, the crowd followed! More people came wanting to see and those that were there wanted more, all waiting to see Jesus. But, they realized, He was not there. They were wondering why they were left behind and why He and His Disciples had skipped out into the night.
Contexts and Background:
This passage is a picture of how Jesus rescues us as God rescued the Israelites from Pharaoh when they crossed the Red Sea. We all need to be rescued. He reaches out to us; we all need to do is respond to Him by taking His hand (Psalm 69). This is also about the tests of faith and thinking that the Disciples faced. First, they were given a problem that humanly could not be solved-how to feed a multitude of people with no resources or means. Here, they were going from being overly busy and popular to alone and in dire danger. Next, we will see a call to either commit to Him or to follow the noise of the crowd. Skeptics quickly point to the fact that many pagan gurus and pagan priests claimed they could walk on water. They did it by submerging a plank and standing on it or on a sandbar, but here, the storm made that humanly impossible. Many magicians today can walk on water, but it is not a miracle-just a trick. Magician's today use blocks of ice under the water or plexiglass scaffolds to perform their trick, items not available in Jesus' time. The people who claimed to do this in Jesus time did not go into a lake. They and magicians today are close to shore and in shallow water or in a pool; Jesus was in the middle of a very deep lake, and in a fierce storm, a feat that has never been duplicated.
Commentary-Word and Phrase Meanings:
· Evening came. Meaning sunset or close to it. Matthew records that Jesus met them on the water during the fourth watch, which was between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. Thus, if they left at sunset, it took those experienced fishermen quite a long time just to get half way across the lake.
· Lake/sea. This is the Sea of Galilee, which is 13 miles long and 6 to 8 miles wide, and is located in a basin 700 feet below sea level, making it one of the lowest points on earth. Mountains surround it, and its southern end is a deep, cliff-lined valley. Cool air from the Mediterranean is drawn down through the narrow mountain passes, and collides with the hot, humid air of Galilee lying over the lake. Thus, the size and shape of this area creates a vortex effect within weather patterns so that sudden, violent storms come up without warning. A person in a boat would not see them coming until it was too late, because they would be hidden behind the mountains. Most first century fisherman stayed close to the shore of Capernaum or rowed close to shore around the lake. The disciples showed some faith by being willing to go directly across in the evening to the other side. Now their faith was being challenged (Luke 8:22).
· Boat/ship. This was perhaps a small fishing boat that held about fifteen people; it was roughly twenty-plus feet long and seven feet wide with oars and maybe a small sail that would certainly not work in a storm. A typical fisherman stayed close to shore and would be unprepared for such a storm because it would easily capsize the small boat, killing all aboard. This explains the fear the disciples had, of which more is recorded in Matthew.
· Capernaum. A fishing village with several small townships, all between three and nine miles from Nazareth, depending on locations. Surrounded by mountains and a plain in northern Palestine, it was the home of Mary and Joseph. Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his parents were traveling then; his home was in Nazareth (Isa 9:1). Nazareth and Galilee were small villages that the Romans had built and filled with Gentiles. The more "religious" Jews shunned any Jew who came from there. It was made up of the working class with fishing and trade centers where the people were ethnically mixed, and who were rough and tough. It had "motels" and trading centers for the Roman soldiers and travelers. It was in this area that Jesus spent 30 years of His earthly life experiencing humanity, all that man is, does, goes through, and can become (Jer. 1:1; 11:21-23; Matt. 4:12-17; 26:71; Mark 1:21; 2:1; 6:1-6; Luke 4:14-30; John 7:52; Acts 24:5).
· Jesus had not yet joined them. In Matthew's account, Jesus asked them to go ahead of Him and in this passage the Disciples just waited. This is used as a contradiction by skeptics, but if a loved one or an important person asked you to go ahead and they had no means to join you, wouldn't you wait? The mountains were often used as a place to get away from the crowded towns, as Jesus is shown doing in the previous passage-a retreat where one could refresh and recharge, just as we do today. Most devout, religious teachers then (as today) would often go off alone to pray. Many Rabbis and Pharisees then would take the time to spend two hours a day in prayer. This creates a challenge for us; if a pious fraud or a hypocrite is willing to spend two hours alone with God, what should we do-we who know and have the Truth? Of course, most Pharisees then would use this as a "show" to prove that they were pious, but some, like Nicodemus, actually sought after God.
· Strong wind… grew rough. (See above.) Storms would come up suddenly through the mountain passes to the Sea of Galilee in the valley below.
· Saw Jesus… walking on the water. Jesus reflects God the Father and walked on the water during creation in Genesis, chapter one, showing us His Deity, power, and care! Moses' crossing of the Red Sea was intended to show God's power, protection, and care. In addition, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha all did water miracles; however, they did them by God's power. Jesus is God, showing us His power. This is not the same as the miracle when Jesus calmed the storm in Matthew 8:23-27. Matthew adds to the account of Peter walking out to Him (Matt. 14: 22-36; Gen 1:2; Ex. 15; Job 9:8; Psalm 29:10-11; 77:20; 88:9; 107:28-30; Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 4:67-51).
· Terrified. Here is a typical, scary scene of a dark, powerful storm in the middle of a large lake, and it does not take much imagination to picture their plight. So, when they saw a man walking on the sea, it must have caused considerable fright-especially since Jesus was not with them, or so they thought. But, Jesus was there, and they had to recognize Him before they could trust Him (Mark 6:48-49).
· It is I. This phrase refers to a Deity, literally, the self revelation of God, "I AM," as the name God used to reveal who He was to Moses (Duet. 32:39; Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; 43:10-13, 25; 45:18; 52:6; Hos. 13:4; Joel 2:27; Matt. 14:27; John 6:35; 8:24, 58).
· Don't be afraid. This is also a promise of God, meaning we have freedom from fear, as our Lord is our partner in life and faith. This also means to keep the faith-keep it going, hang in there-step up and do not give up. This was a great comfort for a people who were thinking of leaving the Church. Our confidence is in Christ and not in situations, so we need to encourage one another not to be afraid, but to put our confidence and trust in the Lord (Deut. 31:6-8; Josh. 1:5; 2 Chron. 15:2; Isa. 10:24; 12:2; Jer. 30:10; Psalm 27:1; 37:28; 56:11; 118:6; Phil. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:15; 4:16; 11:23, 27).
· Were willing to take him. Once the fears were gone, the Disciples were willing to look to and trust in Jesus. It is a beacon for us so we will understand that we need to remove our fears and frustrations and allow more room for Christ in our boat of life! This is a necessary step of faith that is easy to do when we can see; however, we usually cannot see in a storm. We cannot wait until it clears up; we have to step out and obey His precepts, regardless of the weather or what others say. Do not let doubts and fears adjoin to the storm; see Jesus cut across the storm, so you can see His hand! We must obey with joy (John 2:5)!
· Immediately the boat reached the shore. Meaning they arrived at their destination without a problem or that there were no more problems because God is the One who leads, directs, and comforts. However, this can also mean they were teleported. This might be a miracle that is often overlooked and even greater; the Disciples could have passed through space and time, teleported to their destination like Ezekiel was. You may see this in a Sci-Fi movie, but not in real life (Psalm 107 23-32; Ezek. 8:3; 11:24; 2 Kings 2:16).
· Tiberias. This name came from the Emperor Tiberias, and was built by Herod Antipas between 18 and 22 AD; it is one of the major cites in the Galilean area. It was a large city for that time to which Greeks migrated and from which religious Jews stayed away. Since Jesus lived and ministered nearby, He may or may not have gone to these cities many times and observed cultural standards. The area between these cites was filled with agricultural villages with populations of 1,000 to 3,000 people each (Matt. 11:1-9).
Devotional Thoughts and Applications:
We, as Christians, need to know that storms will come; storms always come. Either you are in a storm, coming out of a storm, or in the middle of the eye of a storm-surrounded by a storm, but not seeing it. We all will experience rough times, either because of our disobedience or from the misdeeds of others that affect us. Since most of humanity is interconnected by just two or three degrees of separation, all of our actions and decisions affect one another, either for the good or for the bad. But, even in a storm, He takes us to the shore!
During the tyranny of life's urgent matters, a great crowd of people converging, asking questions, stress that the Disciples never faced before, and thinking that Jesus left them, they waited and wondered what was going on; where was He? Where could He be? Why was He not helping in this crisis? There had been such a high point, a great happening that could not be explained, an unsolvable problem solved. Yet, a storm came, a great storm of stress and a storm of weather filled with great physical challenge. The Disciples must have wondered what had happened; they may have expected, more and more, a new age and a great Kingdom, yet they went from such a high point to such a low point mentally, spiritually, and physically, both in geography (as in elevation) and in the measures of success in life and ministry. It seems that Jesus sent them from the mountain top experience of joy into a major storm-from fame to threat to danger. Then when all seemed lost, Jesus came; He literally walked on water to them in the midst of a storm that had them stuck in the middle of a lake, perhaps even facing death. We will all face fame and joys; we will also all face threats and perils, and when it seems that no one cares or is looking, Jesus will come. Yet, did he ever leave? No! We have to see that Jesus does not leave or forsake us; He never left. He is here, always here, even when it is hard to see Him. Jesus cuts across life's obstacles and miraculously intervenes in the storms of life. He is here, and He says to us, "It is I; do not be afraid!" (Isa. 43:1-5)
The Essential Inductive Questions (for more Inductive questions see Inductive Bible Study):
- What does this passage say?
- What does this passage mean?
- What is God telling me?
- How am I encouraged and strengthened?
- Is there sin in my life for which confession and repentance is needed?
- How can I be changed, so I can learn and grow?
- What is in the way of these precepts affecting me? What is in the way of my listening to God?
- How does this apply to me? What will I do about it?
- What can I model and teach?
- What does God want me to share with someone?
1. How do you respond to difficultly and hardships? What do you do when the storms of life come upon you?
2. What are some tests of faith and thinking you have faced? How have these experiences helped you grow in the faith?
3. If real faith is shown when the storms come, what does your faith show right now? What assumptions do you have than need to be convicted?
4. What does it mean to you to keep the faith? What gets in the way of your hanging in there and not giving up?
5. What hopes do you have that do not line up to God's plan for your life?
6. How has Jesus rescued you in the past? From what do you think you need God to rescue you today?
7. In what ways did you fail to recognize that Jesus was there in a time of need or stress? How can seeing what Christ did for you in the past help you trust Him more in the future?
8. What does it mean to you that you have freedom from fear? How is Jesus your Lord and partner in life and faith?
9. Our confidence is in Christ and not in situations. So, what can you do to encourage others in your life and church to not be afraid, but to put one's confidence and trust in the Lord?
10. Have you noticed in your life that once the fears are gone, it is easier to look and trust in Jesus? Why? How can you better remove your fears and frustrations so you can allow Christ to occupy more in your boat of life?
11. Religious teachers then, as today, would often go off alone to pray. How does this inspire you to do this for the Truth when many of them did it for a lie or for pride? How do you need to be challenged to be willing to spend more alone time with God?
12. Jesus reaches out to us; when He does, what do you need to do to respond? How can you better take His lead?