Our Lord’s walking on water in the middle of a storm was one of the miracles he performed while he lived among us in human form. The miracle spoke to his disciples of his power, and it says the same to us today when we are beset and besieged by life’s storms.
Before this event, Jesus had taken his disciples to a solitary place to rest from a time of strenuous ministry. But the eager multitudes followed them.
As the day drew toward evening, Jesus miraculously fed five thousand men by multiplying five loaves and two fish to provide more than enough to satisfy the hunger of the throng (Mark 6:35-44).
He then immediately directed his disciples to board their boat and leave for the other side of the lake. At the same time, he left them and went up on a mountainside to pray.
As darkness settled, the disciples were already three or more miles from shore (John 6:19). A fierce wind suddenly buffeted them, forcing them to pull at full strength on the oars. They were in disaster mode, and they understood the risk of death on this lake whenever the winds whipped it with a sudden fury.
Mark tells us that, from his place of prayer, Jesus saw the disciples straining at their oars. It appears that he let them struggle for a time, because not until about three in the morning did he go out to them walking on the water.
When they saw him walking through the thrashing waves and spray he appeared to them to be a ghost. They cried out in fear.
Jesus called out to calm their fears. “Take courage,” he said. “It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6: 50b). Then he climbed into the boat and the wind died down.
There are things about this story that could be baffling. We gain some insight by comparing the report of this same miracle in three of the four Gospel accounts.
For example, Mark tells us that while they were on land together after the feeding of the five thousand, immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat (Mark 6:45). This was not a suggestion, but a command. We wonder, therefore, if Jesus intended them to experience this dangerous windstorm.
The Apostle John may provide the answer. He notes that the miraculous feeding had prompted the crowds to say: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). And subsequently, he tells us: “Jesus, knowing that [the throng] intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (6:15).
It was apparently a dangerous moment for the disciples. They had on occasion revealed their carnal desire to be officials in an earthly kingdom. If the idea the people were pondering should succeed — to make Jesus their king — this might bring about the destruction of Israel by Roman rulers. And it didn’t fit with Jesus’ plan to lay down his life for humankind. Could it be that their peril in a storm was safer than their safety on dry land?
One wonders if there are times when, in his sovereign wisdom, God sees we would be safer facing a tempest than being in an unthreatening, comfortable place where strong temptations might overcome us.
When it comes to our Lord’s watching over us there may be a lesson in all this for every committed believer. Caught on the stormy seas of life, we are under his watchful care even when we are not aware of it.
We might say, “Our Lord always has the ability to see us, whatever the circumstance. Neither darkness, nor storm, nor passing of time, nor even the passing of two thousand years, have done anything to reduce his power.”
Jesus has told us as much in his own words: “Surely,” he says to his followers down through the ages, “I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).
What greater assurance do we need than that?
Photo credit: Ben Salter (via flickr.com)