Even if you’ve never picked up a Bible or set foot in a church, there’s a fairly large chance that you’ve heard about Jesus walking on water. Few scriptures or Bible stories are as iconic as this one, but why is it important to us as believers?
Let’s start with the context of the story. Firstly, it happens in the wake of John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:1-12). This is very upsetting for Jesus. John and Jesus were cousins, but John was also Jesus’s forerunner. He was preaching about Jesus and baptizing people before Jesus even started His ministry. John was the one who baptized Jesus, and after Jesus did start His ministry, they encouraged each other. Jesus was rightfully grieving and wanted to do so alone and in private, but when people found out where He was, they followed Him (v. 13).
Then comes the miracle of feeding over five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish (vs. 14-21). Because instead of getting mad at the followers and telling them to leave, Jesus had compassion on them. When it was time for dinner, the disciples wanted to send the people off, but Jesus wanted them to stay, and they all ate on the food that was there and blessed by Jesus. What remained was 12 baskets full of leftovers.
The prelude to our big event is a grieving Jesus who performs a miracle for thousands of people. I don’t know if He set aside His pain for a moment or if He was reminded of John and his passion for others and the kingdom of God and found this all fitting. All I know is that Jesus was needed and did what was needed of Him.
So here’s what happens next. Jesus tells the disciples to go on ahead. After He sends the people away, He retreats to a mountain, alone, and prays. Meanwhile, the disciples’s boat is in the middle of the sea being tossed around by the wind and the waves. Later, Jesus walks towards them on top of the sea. The disciples, mistaking Jesus for a ghost, are afraid. Jesus identifies Himself, and Peter responds by saying that if that was true for Jesus to command him to come to Him on the water. Jesus does, and Peter leaves the boat and walks on the water. But when he focuses on the wind around him, Peter is scared and begins to sink. He cries out to Jesus to save him. And Jesus does, asking Peter why he doubted. The winds cease when they get into the boat, and everyone on the boat worships Jesus and declares Him to be the Son of God (vs. 22-33).
It struck me as Nathan was preaching about this scripture on Sunday what this would’ve meant to the disciples and to Matthew’s original audience. Each gospel has an overarching theme, and Matthew is the most Jewish of the gospels. His audience was Jewish, as were his fellow disciples. They would’ve been very familiar with an Old Testament story involving a supernatural act and the sea when all hope seemed lost: the parting of the Red Sea. God’s power was evident there just as it was here, and I don’t think the similarities would’ve escaped them, especially since the disciples immediately called Jesus the Son of God afterward.
But what does this mean for believers today?
On a smaller note, we see that we’re still needed even when we’re going through some stuff. The world keeps spinning, and we are not relieved of our callings or roles in this life or in God’s kingdom. And when you’re in the middle of it, it’s unfortunate, but it’s because we are each so important. People need you, and God has chosen you, and if we’re being honest, there are times when that feels as much a curse as it does a blessing. But you can do it and get through it just like Jesus did.
This also demonstrates God’s love for us at all times, even when we’re in doubt. When Peter was focused on the storm instead of Jesus, when he began to drown in his circumstances and then actually began to take on water, Jesus didn’t say, “Peter, you’re the worst. How could you lose faith in someone who just performed a miracle and is currently walking on water in front of you?!” No, Jesus asked Peter why he doubted while reaching out a hand to him.
That is so comforting to me. To know that Jesus will call me out in love when I need it and never hurt me. To know that even at my worst, when I’m hurting Him, He is still filled with compassion for me. I know I’m God’s problem child, and it gives me so much peace to know that God doesn’t love me any less because of it.
Even more than that, though, this story proves Jesus’s ability to calm the storms around us and within us. The winds quit where He walked and when He entered the boat. When Peter was focused on Him, he was calm and capable and empowered. Those are just some of the effects of Jesus. He gives strength and peace. He can move mountains or help us climb them. The storm the disciples were in was literal and larger than life without Jesus. Maybe that’s how your figurative storm feels. Please know that Jesus can still work in your situation and fix it. He wants to help you and be with you just as He helped and was with the disciples.
Jesus’s walk on the water is so much more than the neat party trick we often turn it into. It is a testament to the power He has, the peace He brings, and the love He shows. The story shows how daunting and difficult life without Jesus can be and how much better off we are with Him. It reminds us that when we’re drowning, all we have to do is keep our eyes on Him and hold on to His outstretched hand.
By Carrie Prevette