September 19, 2017

Walking On Water

Wally Morris

I recently finished a Sunday night preaching series on the miracles of Christ. We focused primarily on the miracles found in only one Gospel (eighteen) and a few of the more well-known miracles. Only one miracle is recorded in all four Gospels (feeding 5,000 men plus the women and children).

The variety of miracles and variety of ways Christ healed people are fascinating. Theologians often arrange miracles into four different categories: Death, Disease, Demons, and Nature. The miracles which Christ and the apostles did reveal the supernatural basis of what Christianity is: The work of God to redeem people. Redemption cannot happen naturally; It must happen supernaturally. Paul said that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). Christ’s words reveal the wisdom of God (Matt. 5-7), and Christ’s works/actions reveal the power of God (Matt. 8-9). Those who deny the reality of the miracles recorded in the Bible are denying the supernatural basis of redemption as well.

Something may be unusual, special, exciting, or life-changing but not necessarily be a miracle. People use the word “miracle” too casually which diminishes the unique nature of true miracles. Biblical miracles have some special characteristics. Miracles are caused by God directly (healing leprosy by touch) or indirectly (healing blindness by applying clay). Miracles do not have a natural explanation and cannot be the result of human effort, such as raising someone from the dead or instantly calming a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee. Miracles are visible and undeniable. People had to physically see the miracle occur or see the results of the miracle and could not rationally deny that a miracle had happened, such as the man blind from birth (John 9) or the man crippled from birth (Acts 3). Miracles always had a purpose. Each miracle provided its own reason, such as compassion for those suffering, to highlight hypocrisy (healing on the Sabbath), or to demonstrate the power and glory of God (the man born blind, raising Lazarus from the dead).

Several of Christ’s miracles occur in, near, or associated with water. Several of the disciples knew water very well, having spent their adult life using boats to catch large quantities of fish for their business. They knew water, They knew boats, They knew fish, They knew storms. They also knew that no one walks on water. People don’t walk on water – They either swim or sink and drown. They had seen people drown. It’s not a pleasant way to die nor pleasant to see. So the disciples would have a respect for the Sea of Galilee, respect for what it could offer, and respect for its dangers.

The miracle of walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee has some fascinating characteristics and questions. This miracle occurs soon after Christ fed several thousand people. Darkness is quickly approaching, so Christ sends the disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He attempts to disperse the crowds so He can go to a higher elevation to pray. He knows a storm is coming, and apparently no one else does. Jesus often went by Himself to pray, yet the Bible usually does not tell us what He said.

A few hours later, the sky is completely dark and stormy. The disciples are in a boat headed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but they are not making much progress. The wind is strong and not blowing in the direction they need. Rowing against the wind is useless, and they are in the middle of the Sea, far from any shore.

From his location, Christ can see that the disciples are in trouble. The Bible doesn’t tell us how He can see them through the darkness of the night and the storm. He has previously demonstrated that He can instantly calm a storm, but the Lord chooses not to do so just yet. Instead, He chooses to come down from the higher elevation and come to the disciples by walking on the water, through the wind, waves, and storm.

In the darkness of the early hours of the morning, scared and tired, the disciples see someone coming to them through the storm who appears to be walking on the water. Having never seen anyone walk on water, they assume they are seeing some type of spirit or ghost. Christ calls out to them but does not identify Himself since even in the storm they will recognize His voice. Once they realize this person is Christ, Peter wants to walk on water too. But Peter at least has the sense to ask permission first. Meanwhile the storm is still raging.

Christ tells Peter to get out and walk on water, and Peter does so. Peter probably is very careful since the boat is moving and he has never done this before. In the past, whenever he has jumped into the water, he has sunk. He puts one leg and foot out onto the water – His foot stays on top of the water. He puts out his other leg and foot – It too stays on top of the water. He stands upright – He stays on top of the water. Then, in the storm, wind, and waves, he starts walking toward Christ. This is pretty neat! He takes a few steps and is not too far from Christ when he realizes that He is all alone on the water. Christ is ahead of him, and the boat is behind him. The magnitude of the situation begins to create fear, and he starts to sink. Knowing what happens to people in a stormy sea, Peter cries out for help, and Christ grabs his arm. Christ challenges Peter about not trusting Him, and they both walk together to the boat. Peter didn’t sink as long as Christ had his hand, and Christ still has not calmed this storm.

After they get into the boat, the wind instantly stops, and the disciples are amazed at what has happened. None of the Gospels tell us that Christ said anything to stop the wind. He may have waved His arm or done something else. So far, this event actually has two miracles: walking on water and instantly calming the wind. John 6:21 tells us that the boat then immediately came to the shore, which would be a third miracle.

Although Peter does receive criticism from Christ for lack of faith, we don’t know if Christ criticized the others for not even trying to do what Peter did. At least Peter did walk on water for a few minutes. The others stayed in the boat and watched.

How did they actually walk on water? We don’t know. Of course the event is a miracle, and God’s power somehow prevented them from sinking. But how that may have happened is fascinating to consider. Why do boats float and people sink? Archimedes discovered the reason why. Boats actually do sink to some extent in the water. Boats just don’t sink completely. Any object will sink until it displaces an amount of water equal to its weight. If the boat moves an amount of water equal to its weight, and if the water hasn’t started coming over the sides of the boat, then the boat will float. Boats have a lot of air and empty space. Water is dense. The air in the boat makes the boat less dense than the water. People, however, are solid and denser than the water. So even a person who weighs very little will sink. People float in the Dead Sea because the salt in the Dead Sea changes its density.

Christ could have counteracted these laws of buoyancy, or He could have changed the density of the water under their feet so that the water became dense enough to hold their weight. Or the Lord could have made Himself and Peter so light that they did not displace any water, similar to how an insect can sit on top of the water. But basically we don’t know how He did it; We just know that He did it. We can assume that Peter didn’t know either because the Bible never records him talking about it or explaining it.

It’s interesting that Christ let this storm last as long as He did. He could have stopped this storm at any time but waited until the last minute to do so. Taking a step of faith and trusting the Lord is easier when circumstances are comfortable. Taking that step of faith is much harder when not very much is working the way you want.

The fact that the Lord often put the disciples in difficult situations is important to remember. Sending them to unfriendly towns and into storms, challenging them to figure out how to feed thousands of people, telling them parables they cannot understand – all are designed to bring personal growth in order to make them the people they need to be. To love them is to force their transformation. To protect them all the time is not to love them.

Of course, the obvious application is that taking our eyes/trust off of Jesus Christ guarantees that we will “sink”. Fear was not really Peter’s problem. Not focusing on Christ was the problem. Focus on Christ. Your problems won’t go away. But you won’t sink either.


Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.


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