Who hasn't heard the story of Jesus walking on the water? The other day
I was talking to one of Elijah's friends and he told me the story
verbatim. This boy infrequently goes to church, but He knew that Jesus
walked on the water. I asked him, "So, why do you think Jesus walked on
the water? He said, "Because Jesus is a god." That is one way of looking
at it and how most of us interpret the story. By walking on the water,
Jesus shows himself to have power over nature, a power that only God
This perspective coincides with the view of Greek mythology. Orion was
said to have walked on water, gifted with this ability by his father,
Poseidon, who, as the god of the sea, rode on the waves in a chariot
pulled by horses. According to mythology, the sea would become smooth as
Poseidon approached and all of the monsters of the sea bowed to his
authority. Poseidon had the power to grant safe passage at sea.
This mythological perspective sheds light on this passage because it
makes it clear that people in Jesus' day feared the sea. People not only
believed that fierce storms came as a result of cosmic forces, but that
monsters inhabited the sea. The book of Job speaks of a serpent-like
creature with seven heads, called Leviathan, who had the power to
threaten a ship and its passengers. In Psalms, we read of Rahab, perhaps
another name for the same creature. Jesus' own disciples probably did
not believe that such a creature existed, but these mythological
creatures symbolized their fears. This was all part of their
No wonder the disciples freaked out when Jesus came walking to
them on the water. In their mind, the sea was an evil place-a haven of
mythological sea creatures and pagan gods. When they shoved off to sea,
they thought in terms of spiritual warfare. In their mind, it was a real
possibility that if the demons did not get you, perhaps the monsters
would. With that in mind, imagine the disciples' dismay when they saw
this figure walking out on the sea only to find out it was Jesus. This
is not how Jesus is supposed to come to His own people. We are not
supposed to find Jesus out at sea or in the midst of a storm!
Not much has changed since Jesus walked on the water over 2000 years
ago. Most of us are still looking for Jesus at church, in a sermon, or a
song-but we do not look for Jesus in a storm. As usual, Jesus challenges
all of our preconceptions and idle notions. He seeks to stretch our
minds and reframe our image of God.
Jesus is a New Moses
Just before this story of Jesus walking on the water, another story is
told-the one where Jesus feeds the multitude with bread and fish. This
order is followed in all three synoptic accounts. Jesus feeds the crowd,
then He walks on water; in each case, the disciples are mystified. In
fact, in Mark's account it says, "Their hearts were hardened."
This storyline is framed in such a way as to trigger our memory of the
Exodus when Moses gave the people "manna" from heaven. He led the people
through the sea on dry ground. Each time Moses did a miracle, Pharaoh's
heart was hardened. In Mark, Jesus feeds the masses, He walks on water,
and the disciples do not understand. Their hearts are hard. All of this
is to say that Jesus is a new and better Moses.
This is more than just a literal story. I am amused by people who
emphasize the literal interpretation of Scripture. If I read this story
literally, what does it say? Am I really supposed to believe that Jesus
walked on the water so that I, too, can do the same? Let's all just go
out to Lake Mozingo after church and walk on the water. Is that the
point of Mark's story? No.
The Church Fathers emphasized different layers of interpretation: (1)
the literal sense-(Jesus really walked on water, Moses parted the Red
sea, God fed the Israelites with Manna, all of which is true, but the
literal sense divorced from the Spirit is destructive). (2) the moral
sense, and (3) the spiritual sense (the highest).
The spiritual sense is the highest sense. When applied to the text, it
means that Jesus is the deliverer of His people. He is our salvation
from all evil, injustice, oppression, and sin. That is what Mark is
saying. He is not just recounting a miracle. Mark is saying that Jesus
is a new Moses, a better Moses. The author of Hebrews makes the same
claim: "He is able to save to the uttermost them that come to God
through Him, because He always lives to make intercession" (Hebrews
Jesus Employs a New Method
Jesus does not merely come to us through Torah and Synagogue (church).
He also comes in the storm, which is good news for people facing
persecution. It is good news for us, too, for we all face storms.
The great reformer, Martin Luther, was caught in a storm and nearly
struck by lightning. He prayed to be delivered from the storm, promising
that if God spared him he would become a monk. Luther later served as
the catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. John Wesley committed his
life to Christ after a storm at sea. Thinking he would drown on a return
trip from Georgia, he observed the peaceful repose of a group of
Moravians. Knowing that he did not have the same peace, he vowed to find
the answer. Through the ministry of Wesley, many people in England were
converted to Christ before he died.
God comes to us in storms-storms that He uses for our good. Notice from
the text, the disciples had done what they were told. They were not
being punished for their sins. To the contrary, Jesus "made the
disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him." They were doing
what they were told. What is more, Jesus knew they were struggling to
stay afloat. He saw them "straining at the oars" and was about to pass
them by. The whole thing seems a bit cruel yet Jesus is trying to teach
a lesson: He comes in the storm. Did you just get a pink slip? Jesus
comes in the storm. Have you been demoted at work? He comes in the
storm. Are you going through a nasty divorce? He comes in the storm.
Early in ministry I was suspicious of people who led stormy lives. If a
person could not keep a job, if they were sick, or if they had been
forsaken and left behind, I thought, "We need to keep an eye on them." I
no longer hold that view because now I know God comes in the midst of
storms. He does not always come to us when the sun is shining.
Oftentimes, He comes when the boat is sinking or when the rain is
falling. Are you depressed? God comes in the storm! Are you afraid? God
comes in the storm! Are you about ready bail out and swim for shore? God
comes in the storm!
The trouble is we are like Pharaoh and the disciples-too dull and too
hard to feel the impression of His Spirit. The whisper of His voice has
been eclipsed by the fear of our hearts. You know what fear is-it is
false evidence appearing real.
That's our story. Jesus walks to His disciples on the water, but they do
not see Him; they see a phantom and fear grips them. The best thing to
do when fear grips your heart is to listen for the voice of Jesus, for
there is something about His voice that calms the troubled sea in our
I once heard of a man who used to own an icehouse. One day, he lost a
very expensive watch in the sawdust on the floor. He offered a large
reward to anyone who could find it and many people went through the
sawdust trying to recover the timepiece. Sadly, not one person could
find the watch until a boy went inside. In just a few minutes, he came
out with the watch. The men asked, "How did you find the watch?" The boy
replied, "I just lay down in the sawdust and listened. Finally, I heard
the watch ticking."
Some of us have lost more than a watch, but if we will be very still and
listen, Christ will speak to us from the storm. If we listen, we will
hear Him say, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."