The One Who Walks on Water
May 19, 2019
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 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, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Illumination:
Lord God, give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand. Holy Spirit, illumine us so that the words give us life. On our own, these are just words. But if you give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand then these words are life. Lord, prepare our hearts so that we can receive your word. Amen.
Since the New Year, we’ve been looking at the Gospel of Mark. And we’ve been looking at Mark’s gospel so that we can see the real, historic Jesus. The reason that we’ve been looking at Mark is because we live in a time and culture where we regularly re-imagine people.
One of the most anticipated movies coming out this year is The Lion King. The Lion King originally came out in 1994 as an animated Disney film. It is a classic family friendly movie with talking animals. While it is incredibly original in the artwork and the songs, it is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Or a few years ago there was a popular show called Once Upon a Time. It was a re-imagining of classic fairy tales.
It’s not just classic stories that we re-imagine. We try to re-imagine Jesus. I know I’ve used this before but in Talladega Nights the main characters say “you can pray to any Jesus you want to”. That’s not just something that happens in movies. People want to re-imagine Jesus into whatever they want. They want to make Jesus into a caricature of him to support their position or cause.
So we’ve been looking at Mark so that we can see who the real, historic Jesus is. And Mark has been making clear that Jesus is Son of God, God incarnate. And this passage reinforces that. This passage tells us two things about Jesus and one thing about those in the Church. It tells us about Jesus’ intercession, about Jesus’ divinity, and a failure to understand who Jesus is.
“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.” This follows right on the heels of the miraculous feed in the wilderness. We looked at it last week. The picture that Mark is painting for us is that Jesus is rushing the disciples away right after the feeding. The disciples have just collected twelve baskets of bread fragments and fish. And Jesus is sending them away. It says “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat”. It seems as though they didn’t really want to leave. It seems as though that even though they originally wanted to send the crowd away they are now enjoying the party.
Why? Why does Jesus send the disciple away? It seems that the disciple might have been susceptible to the crowd’s desire to make Jesus king. Remember, that is what they were desiring. They wanted a revolution. They wanted to overthrow the Roman government and they thought Jesus would be the one to do that. They wanted to make Jesus king. And the disciples might have started to think that might be the way. They might have started to think that Jesus’ mission was to overthrow Rome and become king.
But Jesus knows that’s not how he’ll become king. He knows that the revolution he brings is not by killing but by being killed. He knows the enemy is not Rome or some other government but sin and death. He knows the way for his kingdom to come is through his death on the cross. So he sends the disciples away so they don’t start thinking Jesus will overthrow Rome.
While the disciples sail away toward Bethsaida, Jesus remains on the western shore to dismiss the crowd. He stays to make sure the crowd disperses without any incident. If he were to just leave, the crowd might start to riot. So he stays behind to dismiss them and send them away so there is no incident.
“After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.” All alone, Jesus goes up on the mountain and prays. Jesus doesn’t need to pray to feel close to God. When we pray, we often go into prayer so that we can feel close to God. And that’s a natural aspect of prayer. Prayer is a way for us to be close to God and commune with him.
But Jesus doesn’t need to pray to be close to God. In John 14:11 he says “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. He is always in conversation with the God the Father and God the Spirit. The three persons of the Godhead are always in conversation with one another.
So then why does Jesus go up the mountainside to pray? John Calvin notes that this helps us to know that Jesus intercedes for his people. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells Peter that he has interceded for him. He says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31a).
Here is doing the same thing. The disciples are tempted to believe that what they should do is revolt; that Jesus should be made king over Israel. But that’s not the way; that’s not how Jesus is going to enter his kingship. So Jesus prays that the desire the disciples have to overthrow Rome dies away. He intercedes for them. He prays that the Spirit would keep them from this temptation.
Jesus continues to intercede for his people. He is currently at the right hand of God the Father making intercessions for his people, praying for them. He is praying that those who have been elect from before time would be renewed and regenerated. He is interceding and praying that those whom God has predestined would recognize their sin and need. He intercedes so that the Holy Spirit applies the gospel to their souls. He is praying that the saints, the Church, would receive pardon for their sins and know that Jesus has paid the penalty for all of their sins with his death on the cross. He is praying that Satan’s temptations do not come to fruition in the saints. He is praying that his Church would grow in holiness.
Jesus’ intercession for the disciples lasted from about four in the afternoon to after dark. By that time, the disciples have sailed to the middle of the Sea of Galilee. And as he looked out into the Sea, “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”. The disciples have been sailing for seven or eight hours. Normally, that would mean they would have reached the other side of the Sea. But Mark specifically notes that they are only in the middle of the Sea.
The twelve have been held up by the wind. It isn’t uncommon for storms to randomly occur on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee sits 700 feet below sea level. Thirty miles north is Mt. Hermon whose highest peak is 9,200 feet above sea level. It isn’t uncommon for the cold air coming down off the mountain and mixing with the warm air rising from the basin causing storms. This storm has held up the disciples so that they have only made it to the middle of the sea. The disciples have lowered the sails and been rowing hard against the wind. And as they struggle to row against the wind, Jesus walks out upon the sea beside the boat.
Like last week, skeptics deny any miracle happened here. People cannot walk on water. I’m sure each of you have gone swimming. And if you’ve gone swimming, you know that you don’t people don’t stand on top of the water. And skeptics knowing that argue there is no way Jesus was walking on the water. Many argue that what really happened was that Jesus was walking on a hidden sandbar.
Now, that’s not what happened. Jesus didn’t walk on some hidden sandbar. He walked upon the water. The middle of the Sea of Galilee is roughly 140 feet deep. Sandbars don’t form in waters that deep. They form at a depth of 36 feet, not 140 feet. So then Jesus isn’t walk on a sandbar. He’s actually walking on the water.
The fact that he walks on the water shows Jesus is divine. It shows that Jesus is the Son of God; that he is God incarnate. In the Old Testament, the one who walks on the waters is God. At creation, God hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). God has just created the heavens and the earth. And the water covers the entire earth. It is formless and void. And yet God hovers on top of the waters. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word is to stand upon. The image we have from Genesis 1:2 is God standing on top of the waters covering the world.
In Job chapter 9, Job responds to one of his friends by saying that God “alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” Job makes clear that the only one who can walk upon the waters is God.
And here we have Jesus walking on the waters. This is indicative of Jesus’ divinity. By walking on the water, Jesus is showing that he is divine. He is showing that he is the Son of God; that he is God incarnate.
And when the disciples see Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified “they thought he was a ghost. They cried out”. The disciples react like how we would. They know that people cannot walk on water. Half of the disciples were fishermen. They spent their lives on the sea. They knew that if someone was in the middle of the sea only their head and shoulders would be above the waves. So they are think that Jesus is a ghost.
“Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Jesus comforts his disciples by telling them to take courage and to not fear. And he identifies that the thing walking on the water is Jesus, not a ghost.
What Jesus actually says is “Take courage! I am. Don’t be afraid”. Jesus says, “I am”. That is how God identifies himself to Moses. In Exodus 3, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush. God calls Moses to lead his people out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. When Moses asks who has sent him, God responds “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”
Jesus is not just saying “what you are seeing walking on the water is not a ghost but me”, he’s also saying “I am who I am is here. I am who I am has come to you”. He is making a claim that he is God.
Mark’s first readers would have immediately understood Jesus’ words as a claim to divinity. They would have caught that Jesus said “I am” and they would have known that was how God identified himself to Moses. They would have understood Jesus as the full embodiment of the God who revealed his glory and majesty to Moses.
And that is what we are to see. We are not to see Jesus as some lesser being to God as Jehovah Witnesses do. Mark is saying Jesus is God. He can do what God does. He walks on water and calms storms. He speaks as God speaks. He is “I am”. He is eternal and everlasting.
A Failure to Understand Jesus
Even though Jesus is showing his divinity, the disciples don’t understand. “They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Mark says that they didn’t understand because their hearts were hardened. What he means is that their hearts hadn’t been renewed yet.
The disciples have been with Jesus for about a year at this point. They have heard him preach and teach. They have seen him do miracles beyond miracles. Demons have been cast out people. The sick have been made well. The lame have been healed. They have seen a little girl come back to life. And they have seen Jesus miraculously feed 15,000-20,000 with five little loaves and two fish. And yet they don’t understand. They don’t understand that Jesus is God.
Mark is telling us that just because someone is around Jesus and his teaching doesn’t mean they will automatically understand who he is and what he has done. People can grow up in the Church, hear the gospel, and not understand who Jesus is.
I was listening a sermon by Bryan Chapell this past week. He told a story about being part of the ministerial committee for a presbytery. If you don’t know, one of the main jobs of the ministerial committee is to examine candidates for ministry. Members of this committee hear dozens of testimonies. Chapell said that regularly candidates say, “I grew up in the church but it wasn’t until college that I heard the gospel”.
At one ministerial committee meeting, someone asked, “How is it that so many kids who grew up in the church never heard the gospel?” The members of the committee began wondering about the state of the churches in the presbytery. Then one of the older members spoke up. He reminded them that they were just like those candidates. Many of the members of the ministerial committee had grown up in the church but came to faith later. He reminded them that just because someone grows up in the church doesn’t mean that they understand who Jesus is.
I know it’s true. I’ve seen it. Growing up, one of my best friends grew up in the church. His parents took him to worship every week. He went through confirmation. He was around the gospel. But as we grew up, he made clear he didn’t believe the gospel. He doesn’t believe Jesus is who he says he is. He doesn’t understand who Jesus is.
People can grow up in the church. They can learn all of the right things to say. And still not understand who Jesus is. Unless the Spirit renews and regenerates the hearts of believers, we will not understand who Jesus is; our hearts will be hard. Unless he reveals our need for a savior and that savior is Jesus, God incarnate, our hearts would remain hard.
But the Holy Spirit does that. He did that with eleven of the twelve men in the boat. Those eleven went on to become the Apostles, the ones on whose testimony the Church was built. The Holy Spirit he renewed and regenerated the hearts and minds of the eleven so that they came to understand who Jesus; that he is the Son of God and through his death his people are redeemed from sin and shame.
The Holy Spirit is often pleased to work through believing families. So often he works through moms and dads who believe. They may not always have the right words and at times they fail. But he is still pleased to work through imperfect parents to reveal who Jesus is.
He is pleased to work through imperfect pastors and elders. Each and every week as we worship, we proclaim the gospel in the service. We teach the rhythms of the Christian life and disciple people. And the Holy Spirit is pleased to work in and through our services. He is pleased to reveal who Jesus is; that Jesus is God. He is pleased to reveal what Jesus has done; that he has redeemed his Church through his death on the cross and that he makes intercession for them. And he is pleased to make those who don’t understand who Jesus is understand.
Let us not just assume that because someone comes in to worship that they understand who Jesus is. Let us proclaim the gospel in all things and in all ways and pray that the Spirit will help people to understanding. Let us proclaim who Jesus; that he is God incarnate. Let us proclaim Jesus’ work of interceding for his people.