We have now covered Jesus feeding the 5,000, both the miracle of it, and also how it functioned as a sign which points to who Jesus is. Well, right after this we have our story for today – Jesus walking on water.
This story is somewhat similar to what happens in chapter 4 when Jesus calms the storm. And, as we’ll see, the question the disciples ask at the end of that story, “Who then is this that even wind and sea obey him?,” is answered even more clearly in our passage.
[In fact, this story in chapter 4 begins this section in Mark and our story today ends it in chapter 6, which we talk about next time.]
[Notice the parallels between these two stories: 1) Both are a water crossing – west to east; east to west. 2) Both begin with the same time frame – “when evening came.” 3) Jesus is not available – he is asleep; he is on land. 4) There is wind and struggle – the boat was taking on water; they can’t make headway. 5) The disciples are afraid – going to die; a ghost. 6) Both have the same phrase – “the wind ceased.” 7) Jesus demonstrates his power over the waters – calm sea; walks on the water and calm. 8) Jesus challenges the disciples’ fear – “Why are you so afraid?” “Do not be afraid.” 9) The disciples respond in similar ways – “filled with great awe” “utterly astounded”]
Here is a map of where this happens –
There are two key things I would like to highlight from this story, a word of encouragement for us, and what we will look at first as we go through the passage –
Who Jesus is: Mark 6:46-53
46And after he had taken leave of them (the crowd), he went up on the mountain to pray.
Finally, Jesus gets some time away from the crowds, even if just for a few hours. And he spends it in prayer. (See also – 1:35, 14:35-39).
Jesus has just revealed himself, his identity as the Messiah and Son of God in the feeding of the 5,000, at least to those who had eyes to see it. And he’s about to reveal himself again to the 12.
47And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.
So the disciples are in the boat and he’s still on land.
48And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.
Jesus, still on the mountain, saw the 12 struggling, just after it got dark. The disciples were several miles away. Was it a clear night so that Jesus could see them in the moonlight or is this supernatural? Not sure.
Unlike in chapter 4 and the calming of the storm, the 12 are not in mortal danger. But they are struggling mightily against a strong headwind and not getting anywhere.
And about the fourth watch of the night . . .
This would be from 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM in the morning. Now Jesus saw them struggling earlier in the evening, but doesn’t do anything about it until the fourth watch, several hours later.
What does he do?
. . . he came to them, walking on the sea.
This is the miracle of our story. He’s not on another boat. He’s not walking in shallow water – there’s no illusion going on. He’s literally walking on top of the waves and the water!
Here we need to remember that in Hebrew thought the deep waters are connected to ideas of chaos, turmoil and evil. Indeed they are associated with Satan and judgment (e.g. Psalm 74:13-14, Revelation 12:9). And Yahweh is the one who has power and dominion over the waters (e.g. Psalm 93).
This was clearly demonstrated when God divided the Red Sea and allowed his people to escape Egypt. And when this happened, God is described as making a path through the sea. Psalm 77:19 says, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters.” (See also Isaiah 43:16 and Job 9:8).
That Jesus walks on water, that is, he makes his path through the sea, shows that he too has complete dominion over the waters. Jesus is doing what only God can do, which demonstrates that Jesus is God’s Son, for like Father like son.
The story goes on –
He meant to pass before them . . .
It doesn’t seem likely that Jesus intended to leave the 12 behind while he went to the other side. No. The word for “pass before” is used in some key places in the Old Testament (LXX) for when God reveals himself. And this is in the background here. Let’s look at the most important example. Remember in Exodus 33 and 34 when Moses was on Mt Sinai? God, it says, “passed before him” – Exodus 34:6 (Also 33:19, 22). And when he does this he reveals himself to Moses. He can’t see God’s face because that would kill him, but he sees God’s back. So ‘passing before’ has to do with God’s self-revelation to people. (See also 1 Kings 19:11-12).
Well, here, like God his Father, Jesus is seeking to reveal himself to them; his identity as God’s Son in walking on the water.
49but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50for they all saw him and were terrified.
So Jesus is trying to reveal himself, but the disciples don’t get it, but are rather terrified thinking that they’re seeing a ghost or sea demon on the water. We get our word “phantom” from the word used here for ghost.
But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
So Jesus comforts them by telling them that it’s him and encouraging them not to be afraid. But there’s more going on here. The phrase “It is I” (ego eimi) is the way that God’s name “Yahweh” is translated into Greek – Exodus 3:14. And when God passed before Moses on the mountain, a key part of God’s revealing of himself was saying his name – Exodus 33:19. So Jesus here is saying the divine name in relation to himself, or more specifically – I am Yahweh’s Son. He is God’s Son in human form. This is who Jesus is.
51And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.
This is what happened when Jesus calmed the storm in chapter 4. Both have the phrase “the wind ceased.” Jesus delivers the 12 from the storm.
And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
They couldn’t believe what just happened. As we saw before, if they had gotten what Jesus was trying to communicate in the feeding of the 5,000 – they would’ve known that Jesus is God’s Son. And as such he’s perfectly capable of walking on the waters.
Our story ends with v. 53 –
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore.
They made it safely to the other side and back onto land.
Now let’s talk big picture for a moment. As we have gone through this perhaps you’ve noticed that our story today, and the story of the feeding of the 5,000 go together. The feeding of the 5,000 which we saw is reminiscent of the feeding of Israel in the wilderness is paired with this water crossing which has parallels to the crossing of the Red Sea.
[Parallels between this and the Red Sea crossing include:
- God came from his mountain – Habakkuk 3:3. Jesus came from a mountain to the 12.
- The Israelites crossed the sea at night, early morning – Exodus 14:21, 24, 27. This story takes place at night and early morning.
- There was a storm involved – Exodus 14:24-25; Psalm 77:17-18. There was a storm involving strong wind.
- God is described as making a path through the sea – Psalm 77:19-20; Isaiah 43:16. Jesus walks on the water to his disciples.
- God came for the salvation of his people – Habakkuk 3:13. Jesus came to deliver his disciples.]
So in these two events Jesus is symbolically reenacting the story of Israel’s salvation, although in reverse order; God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt and his caring for them in the wilderness. (It’s not in reverse order if this is seen as the crossing of the Jordan into the land of Israel, which itself was a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing).
In this light, Jesus can be seen as showing forth his identity as the Savior of God’s people. Just as God delivered Israel and cared for them, so Jesus as God’s Son is the one who is bringing about God’s kingdom salvation for the remnant of God’s people. This is who Jesus is.
Let me end with –
A word of encouragement for us
This story can teach us a few things about going through trials ourselves.
- Just as with the disciples, we will go through deep waters and experience strong headwinds in life, both as individuals and as a congregation.
- Just as with the disciples, Jesus sees us and knows our struggles. Even though he seems far away or absent, he always knows what’s going on in our lives.
- Just as with the disciples, he lets us go through trials. Jesus saw the disciples struggling but waited several hours before he came. We have to remember that trials are meant for our good. God is working in us to cause us to grow in our character and relationship with him. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
- Just as with the disciples, Jesus comes to be with us and tells us to take heart, don’t fear. He gets into the boat with us in the midst of our struggle. As Isaiah 43:1-3 says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . .. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
- Just as with the disciples, Jesus reveals himself as Son of God and Savior. At the right time he delivers us from the wind and storm; from the clutches of the deep waters. Peter gives these comforting words in 1 Peter 5:10 – “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”