Jesus Walks on the Water

While reading the Gospel of Mark I got to the phrase in 6:48  where Jesus was walking on water it says, “He was about to pass them by.”  That phrase bothered me as it does not “fit” the mental image of Jesus and what I thought He would/should do.  More on that phrase later because I am starting with Mark and his version of the Gospel and the Sea of Galilee.

In the Holman Study Bible the introduction to Mark makes the point that most all of the Gospel of Mark happens around the Sea of Galilee.  It seems that Jesus would go to the “other side” to get away from a crowd or to get rest and usually the “other side” Galilee - Sunrise - Sept. 09, 2012offered its own version of busy.  If you read much about the New Testament Mark’s Gospel was the first gospel to be written.  Mark and Matthew are structured and worded the same and some scholars think both writers used another source that has been labeled Q for their inspiration.  Peter is frequently mentioned as helping Mark with the details and some even say that Mark just wrote Peter’s gospel and it was mentioned in some literature that Matthew just copied Mark’s writing while adding his own details.

The Sea of Galilee is a harp-shaped lake that is 13 miles by 7miles and is roughly 150 to 200 feet deep.  The mountains that surround the lake run east-west an can create extreme winds and waves (  Waves in the middle of a lake are not usually breakers like you see along the shore but given the size of the boats that they had a strong wind and 3 or 4 foot waves would have been a serious problem.  It is feasible that on a clear night from up on a mountain that Jesus could have seen the boat since they were only three to four miles out from the shore.

Joyce Meyer made an observation about the two seas in Israel that are connected to the same river.  The Sea of Galilee has water that comes in and goes out while the Dead Sea only has in coming water and no channel for any to leave.  The point was to check your life and see how you are using the talents and gifts you have.

Story Comparison

Mark, Matthew, and John are the three gospels that have the story of Jesus’ walk on the water.  The basic story is the same but there are variations in the accounts.  I think each writer recorded what affected him the most.  To say that for Matthew and John is no big deal because they should have been on the boat but I would like to make the case that Mark may also have been on the boat that night.  In fact I would like to think that Mark was an eye witness to every thing in his gospel and that is why it is centered around Galilee and the Sea, he was allowed to go with Peter, Andrew, James, and John when they were in the “neighborhood.”  I say that because he was probably their nephew – see Acts 12:12.  So the phrase “He was about to pass them by” would be something a young teenager might think instead of a man who was about to try water walking (Peter).

This story really starts with Jesus sending out the Twelve to do ministry.  When they came back Jesus knew they would need time to reflect and rest so He got them into the boat and set off for some quite time.  But since the Sea of Galilee is only seven miles wide the crowd that followed them would have been able to see the sail on the boat from shore (Mark 6:32).  The feeding of the 5000 men, which means it was probably a larger crowd than that, is recorded in three Gospels.  Jesus felt they needed to feed them and wanted the “successful” ministers to continue using the anointing they had just been walking in.  (I will add to the story again and say that the five loaves and two fish were Mark’s lunch that had been packed by a doting mother or aunt; what an impact on the second generation of leadership.  No, that cannot be proved but it makes a nice twist to the story.)

In John the feeding of the 5000 is considered one of the Seven Miracles that confirmed Jesus as Messiah and it was probably the most public one as far as people who saw it firsthand.  After this miracle Jesus had concerns that the crowd may try forcing Him to be king (John 6: 14,15).  Jesus walking on the water is also considered one of the Seven Miracles and it would have been the most private of those miracles and was only intended for the disciples in the boat to witness.  This story does not end once Jesus is in the boat; each of the three Gospels has a slightly different version to finish the story.  They all end up on the other side but it seems they are different places.  Mark and Matthew put them at Gennesaret while John ends the story in a synagogue at Capernaum (Jn. 6:59).  The people at Gennesaret wanted healing, the crowd that was fed wanted more bread and a better sign (miracle) than feeding them.  I think the crowd is why Jesus got the Disciples in the boat he did not want them caught up in the hysteria about a physical kingdom. (see the Problem with the Miraculous)

The word “immediately” jumped out of the stories while I was studying this out (in the NIV).  There really are four uses of the word as Mark and Matthew duplicate two – Jesus getting them in the boat and Him speaking to them while He was on the water.  The other two are in Matthew and John – Matthew, Jesus immediately grabs Peter and in John the boat was immediately at the shore.  The reference in John is the only mention of this and in it self would be a great miracle.  For some reason I really had to separate “immediately” from the thought of “suddenly” in this story.  “Suddenly” would be a surprise while “immediately” shows thought with a quick action.

A Sinking Peter

Peter was possibly older than most of the other disciples and certainly could run a business so him being a “leader” within the group may have come naturally.  So if he had continued to walk on the water, instead of sinking, my guess is that everyone on the boat that night would have been out walking on the water.  Faith is contagious and if Peter could do it all of them would have braved it up and asked but since fear is also contagious when he sunk no one else dared to ask!

Why a Ghost

Mark and Matthew both use the term for ghost when describing how the disciples saw Jesus as He was walking. That word phantasma (Strong’s 5326) is only used twice in the New Testament, here in this story.  You have to wonder why a ghost and not an angel?  They had just been living in the miraculous on their mission trip and had just seen a great miracle with the loaves and fish.  Did they slip back to superstitions because of the storm and being tired?  Why not an angel coming to help them?  Maybe this was a problem that Jesus had to work out of them and get them to start thinking Heavenly minded. Pastor Joel Osteen noted in a sermon how they were used to seeing Jesus in the day walking on dry land but could not recognize Him in a storm at night walking on water.  I just wonder if Jesus was in a “transformed” state allowing Him to walk on the water so He may have actually been shining while He came to them.

Walk on By

Back to the phrase that started this study, “He was about to pass them by.”  Even if this was a boy’s impression it was recorded but with no explanation as to why.  We know Jesus saw them having trouble and purposely walked to them.  He did not have to go that close if He really just intended to meet them on the other side.  So why would He get close but not that close to His men as they were having troubles?  I have no clue!  Maybe He wanted them to call out or it could have been a lesson in believing for the miraculous.  How about He wanted them all to get out and follow Him on the water.  Since it was just for the disciples it may have just been a display of power so they would shift their thinking back to “God matters” instead of physical kingdoms.

The picture is courtesy of  If you like photos of the Holy Land and other places that connect with the Christian/Bible story you need to see his blog.

The Problem with the Miraculous

The problem with the miraculous is people will only accept/believe for what their minds can grasp.  R. W. Schambach told a story of a man who gave the money he was saving for a new truck in a meeting one night.  Later that week he came back with a testimony of how he was working on his old truck when he noticed something he had missed for years.  It was a can that was stuck to the side of the engine and when he opened it there was a wad of 100 dollars bills in the can, more than enough to buy the truck he had been saving for.  On hearing this several people got up an ran out to check their cars.  They were sure that God would bless them in the exact same way.  They could only conceive a miracle for them because it had already happened to someone else that way.  Now testimonies are to build up your faith and your belief that God can and will do miraculous things but we get stuck on how God will do these things.  How many people are always willing to give God instructions on how their miracle is supposed to look and happen?  You wonder how many miracles have been missed because the person could not perceive that it could possibly happen that way.

While studying Jesus walking on the water the side story of Peter getting out of the boat is added in Matthew’s telling of the story.  I have heard many sermons on this over the years and most of the teachers have no problem with the fact that Jesus was actually walking on water.  But when it comes to Peter “seeing the wind” they will dismiss this as a natural occurrence of water blowing off the waves, etc. (NOTE to READER: This is a strange idea and I would not make it a doctrine but I will present this in the context of how far are you willing to believe God can do anything!)storm on Galilee

The reason this idea hit me was a preacher did just that the last time I heard a message on this topic.  He was building the faith of the people to be willing to see Jesus differently in our times of need.  But when it came to the wind that was impossible for Peter to have actually seen.  Duh! It is impossible to walk on liquid water but Jesus was doing that.  (People walk on water all the time and even drive trucks on it, it just happens to be frozen.)  Ok, since I am being weird let me throw out some other strange ideas: 1. Was Jesus wet from walking on the water?  2.  Did He walk up and down the waves or did they divide in front of Him?  Please do add these to “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

To say that something different was happening is an understatement.  The disciples saw Jesus as a “ghost”, Peter actually walked on water, Peter saw wind, and the boat was transported to shore “immediately” (John 6:21).  If you were looking for a physical reason for Jesus to walk on water the only logical one would be He changed how the molecules were acting toward each other.  So why could that have not extended to what was making the waves.  Maybe Peter had a good reason for sinking, he truly saw something he never expected, air molecules whirling around him.  I will still agree he should have kept his eyes on Jesus but was he distracted by the miraculous.  To add to this strange possibility, why did they use the term “ghost?”  That word phantasma (Strong’s 5326) is only used twice in the Bible and that is in connection with this story.  Jesus may have actually looked different because once again had He done something beyond what our minds can grasp!

Taking this back to Jesus and the whole story of feeding 5000 men and walking on the water.  The people in Gennesaret (where they landed) knew if they just touched His garment they could be healed (it had been done before) and the crowd from the miraculous feeding that finally found Him teaching in Capernaum just wanted a free meal ticket.  The crowd even though they had seen 5000 people fed needed more proof that He was the Messiah because in their mind Moses had done the same miracle before (Jesus tried to correct their thinking in John).  Many people will not believe in Christianity because of the miraculous things that are done by God in the Bible.  Painfully some Christians can only believe that God did those things in the Bible and not in modern times and so they must condemn the “crazies” that hold to the fact that God does not change.  “After all science knows more now than they did back then.”  As Christians I believe we need to understand that our faith demands a belief in miracles – past, present, and future.

How about you, how far will you let God be God.  Who knows maybe you will see wind and still keep walking on water?

Both “Feeding the 5000” and “Walking on Water” are part of the Seven Miracles of Jesus in the Book of John.