• Joshua D McVey

The Tension of Walking on Water

Walking on water is reserved for the divine. According to Scripture only God walks on the sea. Only God has power over the sea.

He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea (Job 9:8).

“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep (Job 38:16)?”

Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen (Psalms 77:19).

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters (Isaiah 43:16), . . .

Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over (Isaiah 51:10)?

There is significance in the breaking of bread and crossing the sea. Matthew, Mark and John tell the story of Jesus walking on water. Each story is preceded by the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (Mark 6:30, Matthew 14:13, John 6:16).

John explains that Jesus must leave due to the crowds wanting to forcefully make him king. So, Jesus withdraws and orders the disciples to sail across the sea without him. The word “order” is important. It’s not a suggestion. The disciples may have had reservations due to the weather, or they aligned themselves with the desires of the crowd. We don’t know. What we do know, is that they were ordered to cross the sea.

They are crossing from the Jewish side to the Gentile side. Mark is more precise in his description of where they were ordered to go. They are to land in Bethsaida. They end up in Gennesaret. Gennesaret is the area they landed, while John is more precise, in his account, naming the exact location Capernaum.

Later, in Mark’s account (Chapter 8), Jesus feeds four thousand with bread. So, Jesus has fed five thousand with five loaves of bread and now feeds four thousand with seven loaves of bread also. Now, Jesus warns his disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. The disciples think he’s talking about bread because they only have one loaf in the boat.

“It’s because we have no bread.” The disciples concluded (Mark 8:16).

“Why are you talking about bread?” Jesus asks. “Are your heats hardened? Do you still not see or understand?”

Jesus refers to the disciples as having “Little Faith” on several occasions. Specifically, out of the six times “Little Faith” is found together (in the Greek) in the New Testament, five are in reference to the disciples.

After Jesus saves Peter from the waves he says, “Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt (Matthew 14:31)?”

Mark’s rendition says the disciples had hardened hearts (6:52). Earlier when Jesus calmed the storm, he accuses the disciples of having no faith. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith (Mark 4:40)?”

The disciples are living in tension. They believe but don’t yet understand. Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water, is the only one who tells the story of Peter. Peter calls out to Jesus, “If it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus replies, “Come.”

He began walking on the water toward Jesus but was overcome by the wind and the waves. He sank. Peter looked at the chaos around him, logic told him what he was doing was impossible. He became afraid in the tension he was feeling and called out to Jesus.

An interesting twist. Often, we have heard the story taught that Peter did not have enough faith and so he sank. I challenge you to see that if Peter had faith, he would not have challenged Jesus to prove himself.

His skepticism is what drove him from the boat. It’s not faith that held him above the water, it was the power of God. This is an important difference. We are NOT to believe in faith. We are to believe in the one who has authority over all creation and chaos.

How many times have you asked God to prove himself? Like Peter, we see the waves and feel the wind of chaos in life. Believing is feeling it but confident in the one who has power over it.

It’s tension.

“For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:52).”

I believe this event coupled with the bread used to feed the multitudes, plus Jesus’ confession “I am the bread of life (John 6:35).” Is so important to the disciples’ understanding of who Jesus is. It emphasizes the importance of the breaking of bread at their last meal together. It also connects Jesus’ statement in John chapter six, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life (vs.54).”

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat (John 6:52)?”

Many of Jesus’ disciples left at this point. He turned to the twelve disciples and asked if they wished to leave also.

Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68,69).”

Do you hear the tension? Peter asks, ‘where else will we go?’ I haven’t seen anything better. There is a tension between skepticism and belief.

Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven (Matthew 16:17).”

Peter declares Him the Son of God.

In Matthew’s account of walking on water the disciples worship Jesus as the Son of God. This is novel. According to Jesus it was revealed by God.

Understanding is coming.

Matthew’s account of Peter walking on water is not a story about what Jesus alone can do. It’s about us living in the tension. It’s about what courageous disciples can do through Christ. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12).”

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:18).”

Logic, biology, disease, and life tell us we are doomed. The waves are an image of chaos. In Genesis chapter one it describes the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. “Darkness was over the surface of the deep (Genesis 1:2).” In that chaos the Spirit of God brought order and life.

The tension is bringing order into chaos. It’s trusting in Christ, while logic tells us there’s no hope. It’s believing the word He has spoken. It’s loosing love, mercy, justice, and peace on earth while binding violence, hatred, and injustice. It’s suffering while trusting in Jesus. It’s believing in the face of chaos, death, and decay.

After Christ rose, he met his disciples on the shore and share bread and fish with them. He broke bread with them and reconciled Peter. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted at the last supper.

Now Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord.” He replies.

“Feed my sheep.”

We live in tension. We know there is more to life. We are starving for more. Jesus is the bread. Chaos rages around us, but through the Holy Spirit we have been given authority over it. God has revealed to us the depth of his love and the vast expanse of His grace.

Will you test God by stepping into the storm, or will you believe and calm the seas with a word (Mark 4:39)?

“Surely he was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54)!”

May you speak peace into the chaos

May you feast on the bread of life

May you see and understand

In His service and yours


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