Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is Episode 76 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last two episodes I looked at the all important scene that’s narrated in all four Gospels, the feeding of the 5,000. I talked about how Jesus miraculously fed perhaps 15,000 people, and how He used His divine power to create bread that had been baked and fish that had been cooked. I talked about some of the parallels between the feeding of the 5,000 and Moses and the manna in the wilderness, and how the people recognized that parallel and sought to make Jesus the ruler by force. But Jesus sent the disciples away and withdrew to a mountain by Himself. Let’s rewind for a second before we read the text and let’s look at a simple timeline. All of the events we’ve been looking at in these past few episodes happen in the span of only a few days.
So first, Jesus sends out the disciples, and they go out to preach and to heal and to proclaim the message of repentance - though we don’t know for exactly how long, it probably wasn’t a long time. And at some point while they’re out, Jesus hears about John the Baptist’s death. Then the disciples return and the crowds are huge, where they can’t even find time to eat a meal. Perhaps it’s mid-morning or so, though we can’t be sure of the exact time. Jesus then calls them away for some solitude and to hear how things went after He had sent them out, and they head off in a boat to the other side of the sea of Galilee. But the crowds see Jesus leaving and anticipate where He’s going, running to the other side. Just as things settle down on the boat and they are enjoying company with one another, they near the shore and see huge crowds gathered there, waiting for Jesus. And Jesus then spends the entire rest of the day ministering to them. Then, instead of sending them away after a long day, He creates bread and fish and feeds them all. And then, like we saw in the last episode, He withdraws to the mountain by Himself after sending the disciples back to the other side on the boat.
It’s from here that we pick up the narrative. Let’s read today from Mark 6:
"And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”"
(Mark 6:46–50 ESV)
Now I’d imagine the disciples were a little confused at this point - "why would Jesus send us away? Didn’t He just want to spend time with us? And what was the deal with the crowds? They wanted to make Him our ruler after everything they had just experienced. Moses even talked about it! So why in the world would Jesus walk away from that?! I mean, we know who He is!"
So it’s late in the night. And Jesus has been on the mountain praying for hours now, and the disciples left a long while ago. We’re going to look at the text again, and you’ll see that there are four miracles bundled together here that I’ll point out as we go along. The first one is in verse 48: "And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them."
Think about it - Jesus is on the land, He rises from prayer, it’s way past midnight, probably pretty dark out, and He sees the disciples rowing with much difficulty. Look at the way John narrates this:
"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."
(John 6:16–19 ESV)
See what John says? They had rowed about 3 or 4 miles. And that’s when they see Jesus. Now if these experienced fishermen had been rowing for hours already and Jesus comes to them when they were 3 or 4 miles out from shore, how far out were they when Jesus saw them straining at rowing? Surely it must not have been 50 meters or something… So here’s my question - how did Jesus, from atop a mountain somewhere near the shore of the Sea of Galilee look out and see the disciples straining at rowing from perhaps a couple of miles away in the middle of the night?! I think that’s miracle #1 - Jesus saw their effort from such a far distance away. I really think it obscures the text to make this some sort of spiritual seeing or spiritual perception because it says that Jesus sees them straining against the wind. Oh, don’t try to explain it away - just marvel at how awesome Jesus is here.
Well, Mark goes on and says that at the fourth watch of the night, Jesus starts walking on the sea and comes to them. In the first century, the fourth watch of the night took place between 3am and dawn around 6am. So here it is, the darkest part of the night, and Jesus just starts walking on the water like it’s nothing. Now I’m sure he HAD to be smiling as He started out into the deep. This is the most joyful man alive we’re talking about here! And there’s absolutely no rest for the disciples’ amazement. Just a few hours before, they had their minds blown by the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, and now they are just about to have their circuits fried again here. In the middle of the storm, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the sea, as they struggle to get to the other side, they turn and see a man walking on the surface of the turbulent water.
Look what Mark says here. He says "He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified.” Now what does it say about the heart of Jesus that He would have just walked right by them on the sea if they hadn’t cried out? Oh, Jesus so playful here, playful in such a holy way. Think about this. Fishermen who had fished on this same lake probably for many years now are there struggling and straining, and Jesus is just walking, looking at them and is like “hey guys, I’m going to the other side!” And so they are all screaming and freaking out because they are terrified, and that’s what causes Jesus to stop. Unbelievable! And what was Jesus’ response? “Hey guys, don’t worry, it’s me!"
Now the words here in the Greek mean much more than “it is I”. The words “ego eimi” are much more powerful and significant than we may realize. Jesus is saying “I am” here, which is a direct assertion of His divinity. “I am” is the way that the LORD described Himself to Moses in Exodus 3. There’s so much more that could be said about this - check out a book I’ve linked in the description below if you’re interested.
Now put yourself in the disciples’ shoes here. This is the same Jesus that they were so familiar with - they ate and drank with Him, they walked with Him everywhere, they had so many great conversations with Him, they’ve watched Him sleeping - they’ve experienced Him in all the rhythms of normal life, and that has lulled them to sleep in so many ways. And then all of a sudden He just shatters all of that and blows their minds by doing something that they never expected. I mean, it’s not like the disciples were expecting to meet Jesus on the water, right? I’m sure they thought “we’ll just meet up with Him at some other point, I guess.” Again, this must just have been odd to them because they had just come back from their mission to the cities of Galilee and the whole point of getting away was to spend time together and rest, and then Jesus just says “get in the boat, I’ll see you later”. Well, there’s more to this beautiful scene. Let’s read from Matthew 14:
"But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”"
(Matthew 14:27–33 ESV)
Matthew alone records Peter walking on the water. And along with Matthew, Mark and Luke record the third miracle that took place here - as soon as Jesus got into the boat, the wind ceased, just like what happened in Luke 8 when Jesus calmed the storm. So that’s miracle number 3. If the disciples aren’t freaking out already, they will be soon, because there’s one more miracle in this scene. Check out John 6:
"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 6:20–21 ESV)
Did you see that?! John just said that immediately the boat as at the place they wanted to go to.
So let’s recap all of the crazy miracles we see in this scene:
- First, miracle #1, Jesus sees the disciples straining at rowing from several miles away.
- Miracle #2, Jesus walks on the water and then calls Peter out there with Him. That’s crazy...
- Miracle #3, as soon as Jesus gets into the boat, the windstorm stops.
- And then Miracle #4, the boat is immediately at the land where they were going.
And how does this scene end? Matthew 14:33 says:
"And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”"
(Matthew 14:33 ESV)
Matthew’s Gospel has these series of instances where people are seen worshipping Jesus. At every stage it gets closer and closer to the worship that God alone is due, and that’s what we end up seeing at the close of Matthew’s Gospel. This scene here is a critical step forward toward that. And what do they call Him? They say “Jesus, truly you are the son of God”. They affirm once again His identity as the Messiah, the king of Israel that they had hoped for. As I mentioned back in Episode 42, this phrase “son of God” is so deeply linked to the word “Messiah” and “Christ”, so go back and watch that episode for more. You can find that episode plus all the others on my website at www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Spend some time pondering and meditating on this scene. There is so much here that reveals to us what Jesus is like. In the next episode we’ll see more dramatic things Jesus does. I hope you come back next time. God bless!