“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” John 6:16-21 ESV.
The fifth of the seven signs of Johns’s Gospel, given to us so that we can believe in Jesus in a right way and have life in His name. And yes, it was a dark and stormy night.
Jesus has fed the five thousand. They are on the eastern, more desolate, more Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus lives in Capernaum, that’s on the west side. That’s where Bethsaida is, and the towns where Jesus is doing most of his ministry. Jesus and his disciples had gone to the other side, and the multitudes had gathered to Jesus because they were hungering for his word. And, as we know, he gave them the bread of his word, but then miraculously fed the multitudes with just a few loaves and s couple of fish. He fed them until they were full, seconds and thirds, until they could eat no more, he just keeps pulling the bread and the fish, and when they were done there are twelve baskets left over.
As a result of this, the multitudes wanted to make Jesus king, by force. They wanted to forcibly make Jesus king. Of course, Jesus IS king. That’s what Messiah means. He comes to be king, he IS king. Yet Jesus declines this effort by the multitude, he slips away by himself to the mountain to pray. Why does he do this? Because Jesus does not come to be a forceful king. They were still stuck in their paradigm of scarcity. They wanted Jesus to lead their forces, maintaining their distorted view of scarcity. They wanted Jesus to lead their forces to make sure they had their slice of the pie. They couldn’t understand that what Jesus wants to show them is the beauty of the infinite, that in the Christ way there is enough for everyone.
So Jesus slips away into the mountain by himself to pray. He sends his disciples back to Capernaum, their base. He sends them by boat, because they are fishermen and they have a boat. After all, it’s only seven miles across the Sea of Galilee by boat. To walk around is much longer and takes much more time. So Jesus sends his disciples by boat across the Sea of Galilee, the quickest way. Did Jesus know what he was going to do? I would think so, he seems to be setting something up here.
So it’s a dark and stormy night, and the disciples are heading across the Sea. It’s dark, they have no modern lighting, it’s very dark, maybe they had a couple lanterns. And out in the middle of the night in the middle of the Sea in the middle of the storm, Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the water. Imagine this. There is a dramatic situation. There is a storm, people struggling against the storm. People being very aware of their own mortality at the moment. The situation could get really ugly if the storm gets any worse. They are in circumstances I imagine they don’t like, and here comes Jesus just strolling across the sea!!
Can you imagine walking on water? I think we can all imagine this. We can imagine it, we just can’t do it. But maybe, just maybe, walking on water is something we are supposed to be able to do, but we just don’t know how. Maybe this is not miraculous at all. Just like swimming, we don’t learn to swim without someone showing us how, maybe in the age to come Jesus will be there giving his free walking on water classes. C’mon, this is how you do it!! Who know???
But here comes Jesus, walking on water in the middle of the night, and the reaction is not calm or joyous. It’s not “Hey, Look, it’s Jesus, walking in the water!” The disciples are frightened, even terrified. Matthew and Mark both tell us the disciples said “It’s a ghost!!” What else would they think? What would you think? To see a human figure moving toward you, walking across the top of the water, in the middle of the sea, on a dark and stormy night. It would seem death is so close the ghosts are already here.
But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” That’s a relief. Then they were glad to take him into the boat. Wouldn’t you be glad to hear it was Jesus and receive him into your boat? In the middle of the Sea on a dark and stormy night with the winds blowing and the waves crashing, knowing you could go down at any time, so close to death the ghosts are already coming. How glad would you be to hear Jesus say It is I; do not be afraid.
In the middle of the dark and stormy night, the voice of Jesus is heard. “It’s me! Don’t be afraid.” Remember, the disciples were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, they had rowed about three or four miles, and it’s about a seven mile journey across that sea. But Jesus comes to them in the middle of the Sea, Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. Bump! They take Jesus in, and immediately they arrive st their destination on the other side. Immediately they are through the storm. They hit ground, and they are at Capernaum. What happened? They are just there. Oh, what a night indeed. Think about it. Jesus goes straight from feeding the five thousand to slipping away from the crowd wanting to make him king to going up the mountain to pray, straight to the middle of the Sea of Galilee, walking on water to deliver his disciples from the storm.
Of course, it’s not just a miracle, it’s a sign. A sign pointing us to Jesus, who is Lord, even of the Sea.
More to come.