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October 21, 2007
by Ted Schroder

How do you overcome despair, when you are in the dark and cannot see ahead, and you are making no headway, because everything seems to be against you? How do you rise above that which threatens to overwhelm you? This was the experience of the disciples when they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them.

If you visit Ohinemutu, in New Zealand, you will find St. Faith’s Anglican Church on the shores of Lake Rotorua. On the left side of the church is a window in which is etched the figure of Jesus clothed in the robe of a Maori chief. When you kneel at the communion rail, the figure of Jesus appears to be walking on the surface of the lake. It is a startling image.

To grasp the full symbolic significance of this miracle you need to appreciate the Old Testament background to it.

Every year, at Passover, the people of Israel remember their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The climax of that story is the crossing of the Red Sea. “The Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians…And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” (Exodus 14:29-31)

Prior to this deliverance the Israelites were being pursued by Pharoah’s army, and were trapped at the edge of the water. They despaired of escaping with their lives. Yet Moses reassured them: “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” The LORD said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exodus 14:13-16)

Walking through the water as on dry ground is a symbol of the glory of God being revealed over the deadly forces of nature and humans. God says to Moses: “I will gain glory through Pharoah and all his army, through his chariots and horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD, when I gain glory through Pharoah, his chariots and horsemen.” (Exodus 14:17,18) God in his glory brings order out of chaos just as he created life out of nothing at the beginning of time: “darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)

This climactic revelation of God’s glory is reproduced in miniature in Jesus walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-51; John 6:15-21). The disciples are in trouble. The wind and the waves are against them. Jesus walks out to them, walking on the water as on dry ground. In their terror they see only a ghostly apparition because they are not used to seeing the Lord come to them in this way. Jesus reassures them: “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” In these words, the God of creation and redemption, the God who brings order out of chaos, and life out of nothing, reassures us that he is present to save us.

He reveals his glory: the glory of the only begotten of the Father, as he walks through the water as on dry ground. He discloses his mastery over gravity, over matter, over nature, over the storms of life. He gives his followers a glimpse of his divinity as he does what no human can do. Voluntarily, he shows them the truth that the devil tempted him to display, when he took him to the pinnacle of the temple, and urged him to throw himself down, by quoting the 91st psalm: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” If the angels could overcome gravity then, they could also on the water. No wonder the disciples worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

C.S. Lewis opined that “In the Walking on the Water we see the relations of spirit and Nature so altered that Nature can be made to do whatever spirit pleases.” (Miracles, p.245) Since Christ was more truly and purely spirit than any other human being, he had the ability, if he chose, to command Nature. Walking on water is not contrary to Nature. We use physical means to overcome the porous nature of water: boats, water skis, and surfboards. We have learned to conquer gravity, and fly, by the application of aerodynamics, that the ancients would never have dreamed possible.

Peter wanted to emulate what he saw Jesus doing. Jesus invited him to try it. He got out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus – how far we don’t know. But when he took his eyes off Jesus, and saw the wind, he was afraid, and began to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Jesus invited Peter to walk on the water as on dry land – to experience the deliverance of God that he brought to earth – to escape from the deadly forces of nature and humans – to share in his glory. Peter finds that he can do it – as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus. When he looks away, and takes his eyes off Jesus, and sees only the storms of life, he begins to sink. It is then that he cries out to be saved. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.” (Psalm 69:1,2) Immediately Jesus is there for him. “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:16,19)

We are like Peter. We are a mixture of belief and unbelief, of faith and doubt. We want to walk in faith, but the storms of life scare us, and we become preoccupied with what threatens us. For a while we succeed in overcoming our circumstances – we walk on water – nothing seems to phase us. The Spirit of Christ in us, overcomes our fleshly weakness, our lower nature, and the temptation of the devil, that would drag us down. As long as we dwell in that Spirit, we can walk on water. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We can rise above that which threatens to overwhelm us. But after a while, we can be worn down by the elements, by the wind and the waves, and we begin to sink. We panic, and we cry out to the Lord for help. That is all we can do. It is enough. Jesus is there to save. He will catch us from falling. “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

This miracle draws parallels between Moses and Jesus, and the LORD of Moses and Jesus. Like the people of Israel at the Red Sea, we can walk through the water as on dry ground. When God calls us to move on, we can experience the deliverance of the Lord. In Jesus, God is seen rescuing his people. Even followers with little faith, followers who doubt, can rely upon the Lord to save them.

Fear not I am with thee; O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.


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