After my series on the parables, I found I was drawn to look into the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. I have never studies the mighty works of Jesus as a focused effort before and am looking forward to finding nuggets of truth that we can be encouraged by.
I have provided a general introduction, with an opportunity to download two files for your reference in my initial post Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction. I found that the format I used for the parable posts were useful to keep me on track, and will continue to use them for this series, with some minor tweaks. With that said, let’s take a look at
Jesus Walks on Water
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night, he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
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.
Mark says the disciples were to go to Bethsaida? In the feeding of the five thousand, the gospels tell us they were already at Bethsaida. What is going on?
Mark 6:45 states that they were to pass over to Bethsaida, to the other side. This was a point of confusion for myself until I considered a passage in John. You see, John describes their trip as being “across the sea to Capernaum”. So, is Bethsaida located also near Capernaum?
Well, to this day, there is research being performed by archeologists on the exact location of the town of Bethsaida. Even if Bethsaida is successfully located, it was also common in ancient days to have two towns named the same.
A solution to this conundrum may exist in the naming of cities in the ancient world. John describes another Bethsaida in John 12:21, calling it “Bethsaida of Galilee” Could Bethsaida of Galilee be a settlement near Capernaum? If so, this may be the solution.
As an aside, I understand the gospel of Mark to be the gospel Peter oversaw in the writing, and that he gave direction to Mark in the recording of the the life of Jesus. If this is true, consider that Mark did not concern himself with Peter’s walking on the water, or that the Lord rescued him from his sinking.
Questions to Consider
Who were the audience?
This miracle had a limited audience, in that the only ones who witnessed this incredible happening were the disciples themselves. Mark is specific in stating in Mark 6:49 & 50 that “they saw Him walking on the sea”…”and they all saw Him and were terrified”
This miracle was provided for the disciples and spoke to their relationship with the One walking on water. It is also interesting that all other miracles performed were for the sake of the sick, infirmed or dead. This miracle was “self inflicted”, in that the Lord Himself was the object of the miracle. He did the miraculous, that is, He walked on the water!
When did the Lord perform this mighty work?
Immediately after He fed the five thousand. This is important to remember as we go through this miracle.
Where did the Lord perform this mighty work?
See Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction for downloadable reference file.
Why did the Lord perform this mighty work?
Mark 6:48 states that the Lord saw His disciples were making headway across the water “painfully”. The Greek word used here to describe the disciples situation is basanizō and has the meaning of a testing, or to question by applying torture, to torment, to vex with grievous pains, or to be harassed or distressed. The disciples were in the middle of a fight for their lives, in the very arena that many thought of themselves as experts – four of them were fishermen, after all.
Matthew 14:24 describes the progress of the disciples as being a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, with the wind against them. He also uses the same word when describing the treatment of the waves on the disciples. They were being tormented by the waves!
Even John, in his abbreviated recounting of this miracle, speaks of the sea becoming rough, with a strong wind blowing.
In all of this torment that the disciples were experiencing, Jesus acts like a Savior, saving His people from a perilous situation. He had work for them and He loved them, and this was a perfect opportunity for a teachable moment. And this moment of teaching occurred by His walking on the water.
You know, I wouldn’t have expected this. As I imagined myself in the boat struggling with surviving a storm I may have never experienced, I would never have thought my deliverance would be through One who simply walked on the very water that was trying to kill me. And on top of that, He walked on water as if He was going to pass them by!
He is truly not like us!
What was the message for the original audience?
In Matthews portrayal, Peter had stepped out on the water but took his eyes off of the Lord, concentrating on his surroundings. He “noticed” the impossibility of his actions, the potential danger surrounding him, and I think that sinking feeling he felt, as his knees, waist (and shoulders?) were going under! The sea had not calmed down yet, and Peter was walking on water in the midst of a terrible storm.
In his sinking, Peter cried out the Jesus in the proper way. “Lord, save me.” Reaching out to Peter, Jesus not only delivered him, but also addressed Peter’s fear by speaking to him of his “little faith”.
In Marks recounting of the miracle, he simply states the disciples were “utterly astounded”. They were beside themselves, completely amazed. Mark doesn’t recount any command from the Lord in stilling the sea. As a matter fact, none of the gospels recount the Lord speaking to the wind or sea as He did in a previous crossing. (See Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus #12 – Jesus Calms a Storm). No command for nature to calm down, to settle down, to quit raging!
But that doesn’t mean He didn’t address a storm. For you see, the topic of overcoming fear is a recurring theme of this miracle. Fear of the storm, fear of a ghost the disciples thought they saw, Peter’s fear of sinking. In the midst of an incredibly fierce storm, Jesus provided relief for His disciples, not by calming the storm on the sea, but by instruction to the disciples to understand who He was.
He told His disciple to not be afraid due to His presence.
Matthew 14:27 …“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Mark 6:50 …“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
John 6:20 ….“It is I; do not be afraid.”
This approach to the miracle helps me to understand the last phrase Mark adds to this miracle.
Mark 6:52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Their fear was based on not catching the message of the feeding of the five thousand. If Jesus could provide for the five thousand, could He not protect His disciples? Did the disciples still not catch who they were hanging out with? Even after the storm calmed down, the disciples were amazed, utterly astounded, because they didn’t catch the intended message of the feeding of the five thousand.
Matthew closes the description of this miracle with the disciples worshipping Him, claiming He is the Son of God!
What is the message for us today?
If you are a new believer, you will see the Lord come to your aid in many wonderful, exciting and various ways. Many times as a young believer, the Lord performed acts of mercy toward yours truly that were intended to give me understanding of who my Savior is. Too few times, I got the message. I hope I am catching the message better as I mature.
If you are a maturing believer, recount the times when the Lord fed your five thousand, when He proved Himself in your past. Translate that message into whatever situation you find yourself in presently.
There is no guarantee the situation will change, just like the storm didn’t cease immediately for the disciples, yet if we understand who He is, another storm may just quit raging!
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