Christ Walking on the Water

Christ Walking on the Water

W. Ross Rainey

(John 6:15-21)

In the preceding miracle of the loaves and fishes (John 6:1-14), the Lord Jesus Christ is seen as the Source of Life, whereas in this fifth “sign” of John’s Gospel He is revealed as the Sustainer of Life. While the multitude recognized Christ as “that Prophet” (6:14; see 1:21) of whom Moses spoke (Deut. 18:5), they utterly failed to see the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour of sinners and their deep personal need of Him. Instead, Christ in His omniscience “perceived” that they would seek to take Him by force and make Him their political leader and sovereign (6:15). In view of this, He withdrew Himself from them, this not having been the first time He took such note of men’s motives (see 2:24-25).

The crowd had failed Christ as Prophet, and now they wanted to make Him King, but they failed to realize that before He could reign as King He had to be Priest, offering Himself as a sacrifice for sins (Heb. 9:28). As to the Saviour’s kingly office, it is well to remember that He was born “King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2), and needed not to be made such.

The Scene

While Christ dismissed the crowd, He in turn had sent the disciples westward across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. Thus the Lord was fulfilling His purposes in their lives as they obeyed His instructions. As the disciples sailed across the sea, darkness was upon them, even as it is in a spiritual sense upon believers today in this ever darkening age in which we live. While Christ is physically absent from this earthly scene, believers are His lights, or luminaries, in a dark world. However, some day all Christians will eternally dwell in the light of the New Jerusalem, for it is written: “And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). Meanwhile, it is the blessed responsibility of every believer to keep on shining (no whining please!) for Christ (Phil. 2:15).

The Storm

The Lord Jesus had sent His disciples into the darkness and subsequent storm for the primary purpose of testing. This experience was a real test of their faith and patience, and in like manner our loving and lovely Lord tests all His own in the storms of life which He purposes and allows, in that coming eternal day there will be no more sea to remind us of the wicked or of the storms of life (see Isa. 57:20; Rev. 21:1). Nevertheless, for the present, storms are necessary for our spiritual growth and development.

John Milton said, “Who can suffer best, best can do.” Another has rightly stated, “The worth of a man’s religion is determined by the help which it affords him in dark days.” And still another has written, “There are no great souls without great trials.”

Sometimes the Lord makes us wait midst the storms of life before He reveals Himself in order that we might see His hand at work in an unusually wonderful way and thereby appreciate Him more. This truth is readily illustrated in the record of John 11. Christ remained two days where He was instead of going immediately to Bethany to heal the sick Lazarus whom He loved, by design allowing Lazarus to die, but only that He might subsequently go and restore Lazarus’ body back to life after it had been four days in the grave, thereby revealing the glory of God in a much greater way than if He had immediately gone to Bethany and simply healed Lazarus’ sick body.

Meanwhile, until the Lord sees fit to reveal Himself to us in the storms of life, we can and always should rest completely upon such precious promises as Isaiah 30:18, Matthew 28:20 and Hebrews 13:5. If we but seek His will, all shall ultimately “work together” for His glory and for our good (Rom. 8:28).

The Saviour

The Lord Jesus Christ was by no means indifferent to the needs and circumstances of His disciples, and so with us (Matt. 6:32; 1 Pet. 5:7). All along He had been observing them, but remaining out of sight until He had tested them. It is to the credit of the disciples that midst the darkness, storm, and lack of the Lord’s physical presence they continued rowing. Mark describes them as “toiling” (Mark 6:48), conveying the idea that they were fatigued by their strenuous efforts, all serving to instruct our own hearts that we should keep pressing on even when “in the dark” and “all at sea” about our circumstances. However, about the fourth watch (Matt. 14:25; Mark 6:48), or about 3:00 A.M., the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples some three to four miles from where they started. He does not promise His own deliverance from trial, but He does promise deliverance out of it (see Dan. 3:17; 1 Cor. 10:13).

The faith of the disciples was weak in that they did not expect deliverance, while Peter’s experience of walking on the water to Christ is not recorded by John (cf. Matt. 14:28ff.). As a result of his unusual experience Peter knew what it was to be “kept by the power of God,” perhaps this very incident serving as the background of his words in 1 Peter 1:5. Just two parts of Christ’s infinitely gracious and comforting message to His disciples, spoken as He approached them walking on the stormy sea, are recorded by John. The Lord’s full statement was: “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50; this is one of the three “good cheer” statements of Christ recorded in the Gospels: see Matthew 9:2, John 16:33).

W. Graham Scroggie has aptly said, “Why should we wonder that Jesus went to His disciples walking upon the sea, or that, on His arrival the wind ceased? Christ is Lord of both the bread and the billows. He can multiply the one, and mollify the other.”

The Significance

Looked at as a whole there are many profitable lessons to be gleaned from this miracle found in Matthew, Mark and John, and these lessons may be classified in a twofold manner: parabolically and prophetically.

Parabolically. (1) Storms are God’s will and obedience to Him in the midst of life’s storms will yield fruit for His eternal glory and for our good. However, some storms may be the result of our own disobedience to His Word (e.g., Jonah). Just as Jonah was brought to the end of himself (Jonah 2:9), so the Lord may have to bring us to the end of ourselves through life’s storms, making us realize our utter helplessness apart from Him. In addition it is well to remember that sometimes Satan, “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), is behind life’s storms (e.g., Job; Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”), as was probably the case here. (2) The Lord was continually mindful of His disciples even though He did not immediately reveal Himself. (3) The Lord’s perfect will is not perceived apart from toil and continuing on with Him. (4) Midst the storm Christ keeps us safe.

Dr. Scroggie has said, “Christ has not promised His people a smooth passage, but only a safe landing. In embarking upon the Christian life we are not guaranteed a sun-lit sea, but, rather, are advised of a storm-tossed ocean; but we are promised the presence of Christ; and it is far better to be in a storm with Him than in a calm without Him. The trouble is that too often we do not recognize Him when He comes.”

Prophetically. From the details of this miracle a number of significant lessons may be gleaned which suggest the Lord’s ministry on behalf of His own in this present age. (1) In John 6:15 the Lord Jesus departed (cf. Acts 1:9). (2) While the disciples were toiling midst the darkness and storm, Christ was praying for them (cf. Heb. 7:25). (3) Midst the darkness and storm Christ is coming again for His own (John 14:1-3; Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-58).

It is noteworthy that at first the disciples did not recognize the Lord in the storm (John 6:19). It was not that their sight was dimmed, but that their minds were dulled. May we not fail to recognize our Lord’s presence in the storms of life, nor may we fail to be expecting Him when He at last comes again to take us out of the darkness and distresses of this sin-sick world (cf. 1 Thess. 1:10; Tit. 2:13). The spiritual secret of such readiness is found in 1 John 2:28.

All is well when the Lord Jesus Christ is received into the ship of life (John 6:21), and so with the “ship of state” (cf. Psa. 33:12; Prov. 14:34). In Matthew 14:33 we read at this particular point that the disciples worshipped Christ. Today the Lord is seeking worshippers. Have you gladly received Him into your boat?