Bill McFarland

May 25, 2003

The story of the Lord's walking on the water has been perhaps best known and least thought over and studied of any of the Lord's mighty works. I know that in the world of entertainment this episode is often used as almost a joke. It has been the source of a good bit of humor. I also know that in the world of personal discourse that sometimes this event has been used to put someone in his place. If it is said, for example, "he thinks he can walk on the water," then we know that is a statement about someone's arrogance and someone's pride. But we don't think about what it really means if Jesus walked on the water as this story says.

It seems to me that that line from Alton Howard's song that Kerry has just led us in singing makes the point of this passage as well as any phrase that I can think of. The song said, "I believe that he walked on the water and I believe that he is the answer for me." The Lord's miracles are sometimes as if they are parables that are acted out and this is one of the miracles which teaches a great lesson. It is saying to all of those who are involved in doing what Jesus said for us to do that we need not be afraid, but that our Lord is able to be with us and to help us.

Please think with us this morning as we look through this passage "I believe that he's the answer for me."

Clues To Understanding

There are really three kind of milestones in the paragraph that Gene read to help us to understand to start with some of the framework for what happens here. Start by noticing in verse 45 that the passage says that Jesus made his disciples get into the boat. In other words, he compelled them or he constrained them to immediately get into the boat and to go ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The word that he used for "he made them" is a strong word in the original language. There is a note of urgency to it. It is saying that he insisted that they get into the boat right then and head on to the other side of the sea. That makes us wonder, why is there this note of urgency to this, and why was Jesus insisting that right then they get into the boat and make that journey?

Well, we look over the situation and we notice as Gene mentioned a moment ago, that this does follow upon the feeding of the 5,000 and it does come in the evening of what has been an exhausting day. The disciples had already come in from their journey of preaching through the region and reported in to Jesus, according to Mark 6:30. It also happens right on the heels of word having been brought to Jesus of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. So this is a tense time. Jesus had said to the disciples, "Come apart with me and rest for awhile." But when they got to the secluded region where he took them, they found a crowd already waiting for them. And Jesus was so moved by compassion for the crowd that he then spent the whole day teaching them and instructing them. Then, when the need became apparent, there was the feeding of the 5,000. And after all of this, John makes clear in his record of this in John 6, that the people were so impressed by Jesus' ability that they were ready right then and to take him by force and to make him king. It was a serious misunderstanding of Jesus' real purposes. They misunderstood not only the nature of the kingdom that the Lord would establish, but also how it would be done. And if some of that attitude began to invade his closest disciples, then his whole ministry could have been placed in a very difficult situation that could have led to disaster.

So, the framework of it is that these disciples needed to learn to trust Jesus when it got time for him to tell them some things about what he would do which were opposite of what they always thought. They were going to need to learn to trust him enough to submit to what he said. You bear that in mind as we study.

Notice the second guidepost comes along a little bit later down in the story in verse 48. When Jesus does come to them walking on the face of the sea, the Bible says that he would have passed them by. He meant to pass them by. He meant to walk on by. Now that says that there is something at work here other than his just making their journey easier as they rode along. There is some higher purpose and some deeper meaning to this than just getting in the boat quickly so he could travel with them. Jesus' purposes are going to be to have these men recognize their dependence on him enough that they will call out to him for his help. His purposes are going to be that they be able to recognize that he is present with them, that he knows what they are going through, even when difficulties are present. The idea is going to be that when the Lord sends you to do something and you are involved in obeying his will, and the way grows difficult for you, then be assured then that the Lord will be there if you will call out to him and if you will humble yourself before him.

Then the third guidepost in understanding this episode comes in the last verse that Gene read, verse 52. Notice there that their astonishment was due to the fact that they had not understood about the loaves because their hearts were hardened. In other words, when Jesus had fed the 5,000, there was a lesson there that again was deeper than just feeding folks. And if you remember what took place that day, as the day wasted away and the big crowd was present out in the desert place, the disciples had come and said to Jesus, "Send them away into the surrounding countryside and villages so they can buy themselves something to eat." But Jesus had said to them in Mark 6:37, "You give them something to eat." In other words, he is going to say something here about the disciples' ability under his guidance to meet the needs of people. They said to him, "Why, we can't do that. Should we go buy 200 days' wages worth of food to be able to feed these people?" Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." In other words, don't be complaining about what you can't do until you have done something with what you do have. Well they went, if you remember, and found that there were five loaves and 2 fish. He commands them all to sit down. They sat down in companies on the green grass, Mark says. It must have been quite a site. Jesus raises his eyes to heaven and gives thanks for what they have and he begins to break those loaves and to divide the fishes among them. He gives to the disciples for the disciples to give to the people. Everybody eats and are satisfied - 5,000 men - and there are twelve baskets left over from all of that. (And they still hadn't gotten it later on - see Mk. 8:14-21.)

Jesus was saying to these men, if they had their antennas out and if they were paying attention, "I am able to supply your needs so that you can help people when I want you to help people." But they hadn't stopped to meditate on what that meant. They hadn't in their minds made the connections. They had not thought over the application of what Jesus was doing. They had learned the fact; they had seen the deed, but they had not considered what it meant. Now their hardness of heart was different from the hatred of the Pharisees, but it was hardness of heart, none the less, because they were not seeing the spiritual truth that was there.

Alright, now there are three guideposts to show us the way through this story. With those three factors in mind, that Jesus was concerned about the situation in his ministry, that he wanted to teach the disciples something, and it had to do with their ability to do what he called them to do. Now, look at the story as it unfolds.

The Lord At Work

While they got in the boat and went on, the Bible says that Jesus dismissed the crowd, he sent them away, and then he went up on the mountain alone to pray. What was he praying about? Because of the crisis that we have just mentioned. Here is a situation where you have the political animosity of Herod, his suspicion; you have the religious confusion of the religious leaders who are already upset with Jesus and looking for something to criticize him about; you have the confusion of his disciples who are misunderstanding his purposes. Jesus is praying to his Father's will about his Father's work. But notice that while he prays, the disciples in their boat are facing a contrary wind out on the sea. Jesus sees them. While he is on the mountain praying, he is aware of what his disciples are going through. A parallel would be that while our Lord is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, he ever lives to make intercession for his people, Hebrews 7:25 says.

Here it is now. Jesus sees these men straining at the oars. The Bible says they are making painful headway as they struggle against the wind. Have any of you ever tried to row a boat upstream? We were fishing one time in Kay's dad's flat bottom boat on the river and there was a hole just up above this little shoal where it looked like the fishing would be good. So I decided I would row the boat up over that. To make a long story short, I ended up wading on the bank and dragging the boat. It is hard to make way when it seems like things are going against you. With a baseball in the wind, someone can hit a fly ball and the wind can hold even a little baseball up. A boat with men in it trying to go against the wind. When the wind and the waves are pushing against it in the wrong way can be difficult going. But Jesus has sent them to the other side and these men are trying to make that journey. You have to admire them for that. But after the hours have passed and when it is now the fourth watch of the night, which is about 3 to 6 a.m., they still have gone only about half way, only about three miles. And they are not just struggling. Now it is painful as the waves beat against the boat and as the wind is steady and strong. Jesus sees all of that, the discouragement, the struggle, the pain, the frustration of what they are going through. Here is our Lord. He leaves his praying to come to the aid of his people.

Look at the unselfishness of it. When the rest of us would have been tending to our own business, he leaves what he has been doing alone on the land and "seeing their need, he comes to them," the Bible says. Walking on the water. Why not? He is the Lord of heaven and earth and of land and sea. He will walk on water to come to the aid of his people. And as he does so, he would have passed them by. He wanted to go before them to lead the way. He wanted them to know that he was with them. But the Bible says, "when they saw him walking on the sea." You think about this - they all saw him - it was a real event and if you can imagine the boat trying to head to the southwest in the face of the wind across the sea and the men sitting with their backs to the wind, rowing and they are facing back to the northeast and in the darkness, finally they see him approaching. They think it is a ghost. The Jews have the idea that a spirit coming at night meant disaster. These men, with their superstitions still, thought that was what it was. "And they cried out." In our language, it would be they screamed because of the fear that had gripped them at that point. "They all saw him and were terrified," verse 50 says. I can image that must be an understatement.

Jesus at that point, the Bible says, spoke to them. And what he says is, "Be of good courage." That phrase has been translated in different ways. "Take heart" is one. "Be of good cheer." That idea is present in the word. "It is I." He identifies himself and then he gives the application. The application is "do not be afraid." Jesus in making that statement teaches them the truth that they need to know. Do not be afraid. Can he be believed? Well, then he does something to show them that they need not be afraid. He got into the boat with them, and without his saying anything, the wind ceased. Do you think that you would have gotten the lesson if you had been in the boat? Would you have connected the dots? Would you have seen what it was that caused the wind to cease? There is another story earlier in the Lord's ministry where he was with them in the boat and the storm hit while he was asleep. You remember that. In that case, he said, "Peace, be still." But in this one, he wasn't with them in the boat. And when he got into the boat, the wind ceased. John adds that the boat was immediately at the land. Whether that was meant to say that there was another miracle, or whether it was just to say the rest of the trip went quickly and easily, I do not know. But I know it was because of the Lord's presence in either case. They were utterly astounded at what had taken place. I would think so.

Lessons For Us

Now, what are the applications of that passage? First, this event reminds us in such a vivid way that Jesus Christ is Lord. We cannot say that enough. Jesus is Lord of heaven above and earth beneath. The Lord's miracles, his mighty works, and his ministry, are meant to be the evidence by which the God of heaven proclaims "this is my Son." In John 5, Jesus said, "The works that I do bear witness." In Acts 2:22, when the apostles preached on the day of Pentecost, they said, "Jesus is a man approved of God by the mighty works and the miracles and the signs which he did." Islam, for example, has a founder who did no miracles. The book that supposedly was revealed to him in a cave over a twenty-year period with no one but him knowing, that is the miracle. Our Lord, though, has the Father bear witness of him by all kinds of signs and miracles and wonders done in all kinds of situations over a period where there were many witnesses to what took place. All of it is trying to say to us that Jesus has authority that can be trusted. If his authority extends to all creation, there is no reason why it should not extend to Bill's life. And why I should not, in how I worship and how I become a Christian, and how I serve God, ask before I ask anything else, "Do I have any authority for this from the Lord?" Authority from the Lord like this is not a problem. It is a blessing. We want to see that from this passage.

Secondly, this passage teaches us that when the Lord's people are involved in obeying the Lord and doing the Lord's work, he will be with them. This is such a beautiful point. When Jesus sent his disciples after his resurrection to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, he said the very last verse in Matthew, "And lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world." That a necessary conviction if people are going to keep on serving, because doing what the Lord sent you to do doesn't mean it won't be difficult. These men made headway painfully when they were doing what Jesus sent them to do. Sometimes that happens. What Jesus wants them to know is that he is with them. In Hebrews 13, verses 5 and 6, there is that good courage of saying the Lord won't fail us or forsake us. When Jesus writes to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2:3, in each case he says, "I know your works. I know your labors." There is the comfort of the Lord's presence, his knowing presence of what his people are going through. Even when it seems like you are out in the middle of the sea and he is off on the mountain somewhere, he still sees. He may not come right then. He may, as he did in this case, delay for some time, but he still sees and will be with you.

The third application is "he is the answer for me." He is the answer for me when I am confused by what I go through in my life. Over in John 6, all of this led to a discussion where Jesus had to try to teach them that he is the bread of life and that they ought to be seeking for what will last eternally and not just for now, that they ought to be so committed to him, that they would eat his flesh and drink his blood. Those were hard sayings and people began to murmur and grumble and drift away. Jesus finally turned to the twelve and said, "would you also go away?" They said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? We believe and know that you are the holy one of God. You have the words of eternal life." They were confused about things. They knew Jesus was the answer for them.

Jesus is the answer for me when I am struggling, when I strain against the oars, and when I am tired and exhausted and about ready to give up. The Lord still is the answer for me.

Jesus is the answer for me when I am afraid. Do you ever get afraid of the future? Afraid of some circumstance in your life? Afraid to act on some instruction that the Lord in his word has given? Afraid of what is going to happen in the world? Afraid of what will happen to the church? Jesus is the answer for us. That is what this passage is all about. I believe that he walked on the water. I believe that he is the answer for me.

In Matthew's account of this great episode, it ends by saying that those who were in the boat said, "truly you are the Son of God." The gospel says that when you and I arrive at that conviction where we are ready to base our eternal destiny on that conviction, when we believe it to the depth of our being, that we are to repent of our rebellion against the Lord's authority over us and that we are to confess that faith that we have come to and that we are to be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Have you done that? The Lord is the answer for us.

And then we are to involve ourselves in doing what he has sent us to do, keeping on doing what he has sent us to do even if it is not easy. Are you continuing in that way? If you are, then I want to remind all of us that as surely as the Lord saw what his disciples were going through in the boat, he sees and is with us. Let's do him honor by humbling ourselves before him so that he may exalt us in due season. If you are here today and need to become a Christian, won't you do it this very hour while we stand and sing.