16When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
I will welcome again into our pages of meditation on John’s Gospel, the comments and insight of Eugene Peterson:
“This sign is unique among the seven, the only sign, as it turns out to be free of ambiguity. The sign reveals Jesus as sovereign in creation, gladly received and welcomed as such by the disciples. And, most significantly, there is this: the narration of the sign is centered in the ego eimi expression in verse 20: ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ As we have observed, this is the form of the divine name with which Jesus identifies himself and that John skilfully and continuously weaves in and out of the fabric of his Gospel storying. This sign, set in the context of the sign that was beset by inadequate responses, counters the wrongheaded ‘make him a king (of Galilee)!’ with the assertion of uncluttered sovereignty over all creation, doing for his disciples what they, for all their strenuous rowing, could not do for themselves, and taking them where they were unable to get by themselves.” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 96)
Jesus is not merely the king of Galilee and he cannot be made king by our hard work or our force. Jesus is King of all. He is Sovereign over the entire created order. His path is through the mighty waters. Nothing will stand in his way of accomplishing His objective. Raging seas: He walks on them as walking on solid rock. Raging storms: He walks through them as walking through a calm, summer day. Distance: He covers it in mere moments. What can get in the way of Jesus’ goal? Nothing.
But who wouldn’t be afraid to take him into the boat? Who wouldn’t be somewhat fearful of someone who is powerful enough to walk on water, in the dark, for two or three miles? I suspect I would be rather frightened too. I know I would be frightened. But something about Jesus’ response to them reassured the disciples. Why do you suppose that all Jesus had to say to the frightened disciples was: It is I. Is the identity of Jesus enough to quell even the greatest of fears? Then he said: Don’t be afraid. Is the command of Jesus enough to put down our greatest anxiety?
What I want to know is this: Why is the identity and command of Jesus enough to cause the disciples to go from fearful cowards to relieved welcomers? And just how did they plan to keep Jesus out of the boat? Don’t you find it strange that it was only after Jesus identified himself and gave the command that the disciples ‘were willing to take him into the boat’? Seriously: How were they going to keep a man who was walking on the water (in a storm that prevented twelve men from rowing more than 3 or 3 ½ miles) out of the boat? Can you picture this scene? Twelve men straining at the oars while Jesus stands in the middle of a storm. And they were threatened enough to not invite him into the boat straightaway. Isn’t that ironic?
I’m not sure we have that same sense of fear of God. Or, if you prefer, that same sense of fear of Jesus. Popular conceptions are that Jesus is our friend, our brother, our forgiver, our counselor, our partner along the path. Rarely are the conceptions of Jesus that He is the Awesome and Mighty God who treads across the water. Rarely is Jesus the One who commands the whirlwinds and thunderheads and lightning. Rarely is He conceived of as the One who causes the earth to tremble and quake. When this story of Jesus walking on the water is told and retold and taught in churches it is a story about how we need to have faith to get out of the boat (as in John Ortberg’s popular book If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat). Where are those who will look at this story and see a picture of the Great and Mighty Conqueror? Where are those who will read this story, preach this story, and tell of the Awesome Greatness of our King Jesus?
Perhaps it would do the church, and Christianity in general, if we got out of the mode of telling people that Jesus will make all our boo-boos feel better and start telling them that He is the Great King, The Mighty God, The Great and Terrible God of the Storm? Which Jesus do you think will evoke a proper attitude of worship: A Jesus who is our buddy? Or a Jesus who walks on Water? It’s a matter of perception, but truth be told, perception must be based on the Scriptural Revelation. In my estimation, a Sovereign Jesus commands our attention whereas a buddy Jesus commands our contempt and disdain. One exacts a certain level of discipleship the other not so. One commands our attention; the other our applause. Which Jesus are you associated with each day?
“The waters saw you,
O God, the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the skies resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.”
I pray that your 23rd Day of This 90 with Jesus is a Blessed Day in the Lord!
Soli Deo Gloria!