The Miracle of Walking on Water
Of all the miracles, for me, the miracle of Jesus walking on water is probably the most unbelievable. How is it if I can believe Jesus multiplied bread and healed sicknesses, why can't I believe that Jesus can interrupt the law of gravity?
There's a hierarchy to the natural laws in the universe, why wouldn't there be the same with the supernatural laws? The laws of physics supersedes the laws of chemistry. The laws of chemistry drive the laws of biology. The laws of biology control the laws of animal behavior. If there are laws outside of the natural realm, in the supernatural realm, those should supersede the laws of nature. This is why Jesus says:
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
The supernatural laws are above the laws of nature. Like obedience and love, faith is supernatural law and operates overarching the natural laws. Without obedience, the planets would not stay in orbit. Without love, for lack of purpose, nothing would even exist. All would be void. The poet has always discovered these characteristics without instrumentation in the natural world. Since they emanate from outside of nature, these laws are unquantifiable. But they exist no less than the ones we can measure.
How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn't care about careers,
And exigencies never fears;
Whose coat of elemental brown
A passing universe put on;
And independent as the sun,
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute decree
In casual simplicity.
― Emily Dickinson
'Tis a short sight to limit our faith in laws to those of gravity, of chemistry, of botany, and so forth. Those laws do not stop where our eyes lose them, but push the same geometry and chemistry up into the invisible plane of social and rational life, so that, look where we will, in a boy's game, or in the strifes of races, a perfect reaction, a perpetual judgment keeps watch and ward.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
The miracle of Jesus walking on water (and Peter for a brief moment) comes right after the Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus had just ministered to hungry people. He had sent his closest disciples across the lake in a boat. Jesus had gone off by himself up the mountainside to pray. Just like the power he lost from the woman he healed, he must have been drained from feeding the 5,000. His food was doing the will of his Father, yet it seems like praying was the way he was rejuvenated. So, while he retreated on the mountainside with his Father, his disciples were already in trouble again. A storm blew up on the lake as they were rowing across. Mark adds, "He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them." John adds similar details, "A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough."
Now let's read Matthew's version of the miracle. It contains the most detail and includes Peter's attempt to walk on water as well, showing that defying gravity isn't only something that Jesus could do.
Walking on Water
|Material:||A person, water|
|Formal:||Jesus walking on water; the wind calmed|
|Efficient:||“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Faith)|
|Final:||Jesus' disciples "Worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'" (Glory of God)|
|Aristotle's Four Causes|
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
One fascinating thing to note here is why did the wind begin to blow and make rowing difficult for the disciples? As one pastor explained to me in a sermon, "Jesus prayed for the storm." But I doubt that interpretation. Jesus is about salvation. Would Jesus really say to himself, "Let me cause you boys to suffer and be afraid, then I'll come save you"? Not the Jesus that I know.
If Jesus didn't bring about the storm, then who did? One might say God himself, but I hold to the Trinity: "Whatever the Father does the Son also does." So if I don't think Jesus would be so cavalier and imperious, neither do I think the Father would have such motives. Another logical option may be 'the forces of nature' or Satan himself. And that may very well be correct. But I think there's more to it.
The answer may be found by what Jesus says to the disciples when he approaches them on foot across the water: "Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid." He says similar things when he calms the storm another time, "He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?'"
Why are we so afraid? Why do we have no faith? Take notice that Jesus rebuked the wind. The wind was taking advantage of the disciple's fear. Satan has temporary jurisdiction over the earth and so he uses the forces of nature to take advantage of our weakened state. We are weakened by our lack of faith. In the Parable of the Unworthy Servant, Jesus teaches us how to increase our faith. And it's really very simple: to be thankful to God.
But getting back to my nagging question, could Jesus really have walked across the lake? Surely it's a myth or at least there was a sandbar that day. But as we learned from Matthew, Peter tried walking as well and succeeded for only a brief moment. Fear overtook him and he began to sink. Jesus said to Peter, our rock—and on that day he sank like one, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Fear is paralyzing to our faith. Fear renders the supernatural law of faith inoperable in us. When Jesus told Peter to "Come." Initially, Peter obeyed. Obedience, as we are learning, is a supernatural law which is a response to faith and love. When we love and we are faithful, we obey. Obedience may also be enacted out of a respectful fear and awe. God calls us to this type of obedience as well. But God does not call us to acquiescence, capitulation or selling-out for power or lust. Satan tempts us with these types of easy obedience.
Peter began with a Godly obedience, but when he took his eyes off Jesus, he ended in doubt and paralyzing fear. But Jesus reached out and saved him. This teaches us that even if we take the easy way out and are paralyzed by fear, we can still be saved by Jesus. Fear is a form of acquiescence. We say to God, "Faith is just to hard. I can't do it. I just won't. I'll stay here. It's easier than being faithful even if it means I'll drown." Most of us will say these words in some form or other throughout our lives, but if we do, we must also remember to repeat what Peter says as he sinks, "Lord, Save me." Then Jesus will stretch out his hand and say, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?” And he will place us on dry land.
Faith is common to so many of the miracles of Jesus. It's really just a fundamental force. It's a fundamental force beyond nature, so it does not leave a normal trace like the fundamental forces within nature do. All the other natural forces, gravity, weak, electromagnetic, biological behavior, etc., are all in some way measurable. But the fundamental force of faith is immeasurable and is beyond the human horizon, but only just beyond. So we can feel it or intuit it. Some call it by other names—coincidence, synchronicity—but it's actually the force in which humans are designed to operate. When we operate without faith in God, we end up existing in the realm of death. This is the problem when we no longer know how to live by faith. We don't work properly. It's like trying to run a car on sugar. A car runs on petroleum products. The human engine doesn't run on lust, power or fear. We run on faith. If we run on the wrong fuel, we become only fit for the garbage dump.
Jesus is teaching us how to live in the realm of the Life. He's showing us that these forces are more powerful than biological processes, even gravity. He's teaching us about the supernatural laws that operate in the Kingdom of Heaven: Faith, hope and love.
By faith, we will walk. By hope, we will see the Father's will. By love, we will be a child of God.
So, if I had enough faith, could I walk on water? For an answer we need to remember Aristotle's four causes. In regards to the formal cause, can I see the Father having me walk on water? Call me faithless, but I just can't see why he'd have me do that today. Which brings us to the final cause, would me walking on water be for the glory of God or for my newspaper clippings collection? We also need to consider what Jesus says in Mark.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
We live in a deeply faithless and secular world, not unlike Jesus' hometown. Although the world loves to hear sound-bites and to see wow-spectacles, all we really desire is eye-candy events. If an event gives the glory to God, rather than man, the world would rather be unbelieving, turn a blind eye and just look the other way.