"They Saw Jesus Walking"
April 3, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: John 6:16-21, Job 9:4-10
Worship Service Link: "They Saw Jesus Walking"
They Saw Jesus Walking
April 3, 2022
Read John 6:15-21
This is the Word of the LORD.
Let me start off by saying that I do not know the mechanics of how Jesus did it. I do not know how Jesus walked on water. If you were hoping I was going to explain how Jesus did it so you could tell your friends how insightful and expert is your pastor; well, I am going to let you down. I do not know. Neither do any reliable commentaries, scholars, or historians know the mechanics of how Jesus did it.
As we look into the passage this morning, we realize that Jesus intentionally sent the disciples out on the sea, headed to Capernaum, without him. Because we know the story, we assume Jesus sent them on ahead in order to perform the miracle. I am sure that was one reason. In addition, though, John has given us a second, more earthly reason. At the end of the spectacular feeding of the 5,000, the crowd identified Jesus as the prophet Moses had promised and were about to “take him by force to make him king.” Jesus withdrew to the mountain by himself, knowing that the crowds would be paying attention to him. To avoid having any kind of crowd-generated Plan B – hey, there are the disciples who are closest to Jesus, let’s get them to force him to accept our making him king – Jesus sent them off to the next destination. I suspect both reasons factored in – the supernatural set up for the miracle about to happen and the perfectly pragmatic diffusing of the energy of the crowd from the last miracle.
It seems as if Jesus had instructed the disciples what to do. They left the area where Jesus was teaching and performing the miracle and went down to the boat. They were to wait until it got dark, and if he did not show, they would head out and get themselves to Capernaum – across the sea – by the next morning. They would have thought, “Well, if he does not make it to us, he will catch a ride with someone else – no big deal.” We want to criticize the disciples for leaving Jesus behind; however. However. There are plenty of opportunities throughout the gospels for the disciples to be criticized – however, this is not one of them.
What happened next is a good lesson for us; it may have been that Jesus wanted to teach them this lesson – not as punishment, but as a further illustration of what they had just experienced with the feeding of the 5,000.
They headed out to sea as Jesus had told them. The water got rough. There was a strong wind blowing. It is worth remembering that among the disciples were a number of fishermen; to them, although this was difficult, it was neither surprising nor overwhelming. We read into the text (and pull from the other gospels) to think that they were overwhelmed; yet, John (one of the fishermen) wrote that they had made it about 3 or 4 miles. It was not great, but 3 or 4 miles is not nothing. At this point they were not aware that anything was out of the ordinary or wrong. Yes, the going was slow, but it was going. It happens.
Why am I dwelling on this small detail in the narrative? There are two reasons. First, just because Jesus tells you to do something, it does not mean that the doing will be easy. It does not guarantee a smooth ride. Whether you want to see the wind and high seas as symbolic of the opposition that arises when we follow what God is leading us to do, whether you want to see it as representative of Jesus’ power over the Roman god Neptune, or whether you want to accept this as something that just happened, the point is that following Jesus leading does not mean that things will be clear sailing.
Can I get an amen? Anyone here experience that?
The second reason that I am dwelling here is because the disciples act like we often act in the church. “Jesus,” we think, “we will take care of this and you can catch up with us on the other side.” We head off, not thinking anything is out of the ordinary. We go our own way, do our own thing – things we have known and done in the past – and plow ahead. We do things the way we have always done them. We know what is supposed to happen. If we work hard enough and long enough, we will accomplish the goal.
If we look carefully at how John shared this story, we see that the disciples were not scared until they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat. Until that point, they knew things were not easy, but it does not seem like they had any idea that there were problems out of the ordinary. They were doing the work God had set before them, but what was the one thing they were not expecting?
They were not expecting Jesus to show up.
Now, to be fair, I am not sure anyone would have expected Jesus to show up. Seriously, in all the time people had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee, how many times had people walked on water to catch up? So – while to us it makes perfect sense that they would not anticipate Jesus showing up while they are 3 or 4 miles into their journey – the point is that being close to Jesus means being attuned to looking for the supernatural. It was true after the feeding of the 5,000 and it is true for us today. …If only it were that easy.
Let me use myself as a case-in-point illustration here. I have been involved in churches and church life since I was a child. I have led Bible studies, taught Sunday School and headed retreats. I have read and heard the biblical accounts of Jesus’ miracles over and over again. I have gone on mission trips where miracles were revealed. I also am fairly accustomed to the pattern and workings of the church. I have expectations about what is necessary for worship to come together, for mission and ministry to take place, and what to expect when things get tough. All that said, I can get so busy with the work of the church that I stop looking for the reason for the church: Jesus.
For example, after 9/11, I remember having conversations about anticipating greater attendance at church and a willingness for people to come to prayer meetings – BUT that we also should not anticipate that such a surge of interest would have long-lasting results.
I was right and I was wrong. On the one hand, from the macro perspective, we did see the surge in numbers and then the subsequent waning of those numbers as the months went on. On the other hand, one of the people who began to attend because of the shock of that event was an elderly – as in upper, upper 80’s year old – woman who had not ever been part of a church. For the first time in her life she was interested in spiritual things and a friend of hers had invited her to come to church. Over the next couple of years, she would attend sporadically; then, more regularly; then, she would not miss a Sunday – worship and Sunday School. Then, at age 93, she asked to be baptized. She professed her faith and she rejoiced as we baptized her in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was a profound moment of joy for the entire congregation and for me. It was a wake-up call: Jesus showed up when I was not looking.
We are not accustomed to looking for the supernatural because our culture – both secular and church culture – does not expect the supernatural, even though Jesus promised that he would send the Advocate, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would lead us to do greater things in Jesus’ name. We do not look for the supernatural because we do not accept that the supernatural can occur: we can’t reproduce it, measure it, or explain it. That’s not to say we won’t try: consider how hard the world has tried to explain away what John reported here:
- Some scholars try to explain away this miracle by arguing that John meant that Jesus was walking along the shoreline and the disciples spotted him along the way. It does not fit in context. Unless the disciples were specifically instructed to not leave without Jesus, there would have been no reason for them to fear Jesus’ appearance walking along the shoreline.
- Another suggestion that has been made in recent years is Jesus knew a secret path of stepping stones on a reef out through the water all the way to the boat so it only looked like he was walking on water.
- My favorite, though, is this one:
The New Testament story describes Jesus walking on water in the Sea of Galilee, but according to a study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Doron Nof, it's more likely that he walked on an isolated patch of floating ice.
The study points to a rare combination of optimal water and atmospheric conditions for development of a unique, localized freezing phenomenon that Nof and his co-authors call "springs ice." In what is now northern Israel, such ice could have formed on the cold freshwater surface of the Sea of Galilee—known as Lake Kinneret by modern-day Israelis—when already chilly temperatures briefly plummeted during one of the two protracted cold periods between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago. A frozen patch floating on the surface of the small lake would have been difficult to distinguish from the unfrozen water surrounding it. The unfrozen water was comprised of the plumes resulting from salty springs situated along the lake's western shore in Tabgha—an area where many archeological findings related to Jesus have been documented. "As natural scientists, we simply explain that unique freezing processes probably happened in that region only a handful of times during the last 12,000 years," Nof said. "We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account." No.
My point here is this: the world tries to dismiss the possibility of the supernatural because it does not want to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, power, and presence in the world. The church is called to look and see, and then to proclaim what we have seen.
Friends, as we continue pursuing the mission to “open the gospel to Carson City and beyond,” we need to be mindful of our approach: it is not a nose-to-the-grindstone, we’ll get ‘er done kind of thing. Instead, it is a head up, eyes open following, looking to see where God is at work in our midst, among us, through us, and around us. We need to be looking so that we can proclaim the mighty acts of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Without the supernatural, we are left to our own strength – which will never be sufficient. Even when we are going where God sent, if we do not look to see where and how God is moving, we will face the headwinds and rough seas alone.
Calm when Jesus is in the center
That brings us to Jesus’ approach. Jesus came to them on the sea. The disciples on the boat freaked out. No judgment here – I would have freaked out, too. It looked like Jesus, but at night on a turbulent seas, seeing someone walking along – are you going to trust your eyesight? I can tell you I would not.
Then he said to them, “It is I, do not be afraid.” How precious, how awesome, how relieving would it be to hear that voice they recognized. Again, here, there are a couple of things to know.
First, Jesus brought with him the peace that passes all understanding. Even though they could not – and we cannot – fully explain the mechanics of how Jesus did what he did, the point is that he did it and the entire situation was transformed. It was the relief of instantly knowing everything was going to be ok, everything was as it should be, and Jesus was in control. Let me say it again: Jesus brings with him the peace the passes all understanding.
Second, Jesus’ walk on the water was another manifestation of how much greater than Moses he was. For the Jews, the Lord parting the Red Sea through Moses allowed them to escape the Egyptians on dry ground. The Egyptians were swallowed up when the waters returned to their natural state. Unlike Moses, Jesus did not part the Sea of Galilee to jog out to the boat the disciples were rowing. Unlike the Egyptians, Jesus was not swallowed up by the turbulent sea. Moses had revealed that the Egyptian gods were powerless against the one true God; here, Jesus directly demonstrated that the Roman gods had no power over him. Just as Jesus showed how much greater than Moses he was through the providing food for the 5,000 – so clearly that the people recognized that Jesus was the prophet Moses had promised – so now he demonstrated another way he was greater than Moses.
Third, walking on water was consistent with poetic language attributed only to God. In Job 9:8, it is declared, you “alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea.” In Psalm 77: 16, “When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled,” and then in verse 19, “Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.”
Finally, Jesus’ specific words were a revelation. “It is ‘I’; do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid is comforting, but that is not why John quoted Jesus here. The “I” of “It is I” is significant. It is the name of God that Moses received at the burning bush – another supernatural event. There are a whole series of these statements throughout the gospel of John. They are each one a revelation of the nature and character of Jesus as the exegesis of God – the one who makes God known.
The Word Biblical Commentary includes this analysis:
The combinations of Ἐγώ εἰμι with various symbols (Jesus as the bread of life, light of the world, door (of the sheep), the good shepherd, the resurrection, the way, the truth and the life, the vine—seven utterances!) may be said to summarize his role in revelation and in salvation. For further discussions Isa 43:10 is particularly significant in this regard: “You are my witnesses, says the Lord . . . that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.” This last phrase, in Hebrew אני הוא (anı̂ hû), is rendered in the LXX as ἐγώ εἰμι. In this context “I am he” is an abbreviation for the expression in the next line, “I, I am the Lord”; not surprisingly אני הוא “I am he,” can appear as a substitute for אני יהוה (anı̂ Yhwh), “I am the Lord.” There is indeed evidence that the expression אני הוא came to be regarded as the name of God. Isa 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions” appears in the LXX as ἐγώ εἰμι ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ἐξαλείφων τὰς ἀνομίας σου, “I am ‘I AM,’ who blots out your transgressions.”
It would have been a lot for the disciples to have a complete appreciation of Jesus’ words in the moment, but John later related them to readers “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
John concluded this episode with another more muted reference to Jesus’ identity and authority. “Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.” Do not zip by this because it, too, is an important revelation. Commenter Rodney Whitacre wrote,
It is possible that this verse does not describe anything miraculous. Some suggest that once the sea had calmed down, the normal travel seemed as though it took no time at all, especially with Jesus present in the boat after his spectacular approach. Thus, the immediate arrival would say something about the disciples’ perception rather than about physical motion. Such an interpretation is possible, but the text focuses attention on what happened to the boat: immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. John seems to suggest that Jesus’ walk on the water was not the only unnatural mode of transportation that night.
Jesus’ authority over space, time, and matter was revealed. Friends, this is the same Jesus who calls and gathers us today. It is the same Jesus who comes to us today. It is in obedience to this same Jesus that we come around this table today.
This meal – the Lord’s supper – is more than a nutritional supplement to your breakfast this morning. It is more than a small piece of bread and a little cup. It is a supernatural event involving space, time, and matter.
- Space: in this meal, we believe the Holy Spirit supernaturally draws us – together – into the presence of the living, risen, reigning Lord Jesus Christ. Participating is a way we bear witness to the truth of his resurrection.
- Time: in this meal, we remember Christ’s coming for us in that day. We trust that Christ’s Spirit sustains us in the present. We know this meal is a foretaste of what is yet to come. Supernaturally, we participate in this meal with past, present, and future in mind.
- Matter: in this meal, the bread remains bread and the cup remains cup; even so, we believe God takes us and uses these common things for His holy purpose – that sharing in this meal supernaturally means receiving Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for us.
We can – and do – marvel that the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. More so, however, we marvel at the meaning of the eternal God loving us so much that He gave us his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Thus: believe.
- Where and how have you seen God’s supernatural hand at work in your life? In the lives of those whom you know?
- Have you experienced the peace that passes all understanding? If so, when and how?
- How can we encourage one another to keep our heads up to look for the supernatural taking place in, among, and around us?
 George R. Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary, John, vol. 36, p. 90.
 Rodney A. Whitacre, IVP NT Commentary, John, p. 147.