Mark Twain and his wife once visited the Holy Land. Among other places, they stayed in Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a moonlit night, and the weather was perfect, so Twain got the romantic idea of taking his wife for a boat ride on the lake.
They walked down to the shoreline, and Twain inquired of a man sitting in a rowboat how much he would charge to row them out on the water. Twain was dressed in his usual white suit, white shoes, and white Texas hat. The oarsman, presuming him to be a wealthy rancher from the USA, said, “Well, I guess about twenty-five dollars.” Mark Twain thanked him, and, as he turned away with his wife on his arm, he was heard to exclaim, “Now I know why Jesus walked on the water!”
Well, that is Mark Twain’s perspective on the story about Jesus we are going to read today. I would like to look with you at three more perspectives on this same story: that of Jesus, that of the disciples, and that of the crowd.
Listen to Mark’s account of this story from chapter 6, verses 45 through 56….
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 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.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
First, what was Jesus’ perspective? Another way to put the question is to ask: What can we learn from Jesus in this story?
I think we learn from Jesus that we all need time alone to pray. Jesus had just fed over five thousand people. His disciples had helped with the distribution. I imagine they were all quite tired. That, I think, is why Jesus made his disciples immediately get in the boat, so that they could get away from the crowd and have some physical rest. However, Jesus knew that he needed, not only physical rest, but spiritual rest as well. He knew he needed time alone with his heavenly Father to replenish the spiritual resources that had been depleted in his life.
If Jesus needed time alone with his heavenly Father, how much more do we? Apparently some people in our society are realizing how much they need quiet time, so much so that they are willing to pay for it.
A church in England has recorded “the sound of silence” on to a CD that has become a surprise hit with its congregation. Members of St Peter’s Church in Sussex, England recorded “a little bit of the silence” of the building’s atmosphere. The recording features the ambient sound of footsteps, voices, background traffic noise—but mostly just silence.
Robin Yarnton, a church technician at St Peter’s, said: “It does what it says on the tin. Silence is all you get. Mostly people have said it’s nice and they like it, and that it’s quiet and peaceful.”
The full CD features a 30-minute track, with a spoken introduction, closing words, and 28 minutes of silence. An article in a Taiwanese newspaper called the CD a “half-hour of absolutely nothing.” However, it’s more accurate to say that it’s a recording of something valuable that we’ve lost in our frantic lives—silence. According to the church, customers from across the world have been snatching up the recording.
We desperately need quiet in our lives, and connection with our heavenly Father for spiritual refueling. However, it is important to notice the purpose of it all. I do not think that God intends prayer to be an end in itself. I think God wants our prayer life to be the vehicle of re-energizing us so that we can go back into the world and minister in the power of his name.
Notice in this passage that Jesus prayed with his eyes open. While Jesus was alone on the mountaintop praying, he saw his disciples out on the Sea of Galilee, straining at the oars of their little boat.
This brings us to the disciples’ perspective. What can we learn from the disciples in this story?
The disciples had just come through a tiring time, helping Jesus feed over five thousand people. They must have been glad to get into the boat and away from the crowd.
However, no sooner do they get in the boat and try to return home, but they find that the wind is against them. Before long, they are straining at the oars.
While we were on vacation on Cape Cod a few years ago, we rented a tandem kayak so that James and I could go out on the bay together. We started out wonderfully. The tide was on its way out and so it seemed very easy to paddle as we pointed our kayak out to sea. James and I were in sync, and it seemed like we were carried almost supernaturally one mile to the other side of our little inlet. Once we arrived at our destination on Sandy Neck, James wanted to explore further, so we got back in the kayak and headed around Sandy Neck, even further away from home. Still, it was no problem, because we were going with the tide and the wind. We explored the other side of Sandy Neck. We enjoyed finding seashells and seeing a flock of sea gulls. Then, on the way back, we started to run into problems. We tipped the kayak for the first time. Then we had to carry the kayak over a sand bar because the tide was still going out. To top it all off, the tide and the wind were against us on the return trip. James was complaining because I was not doing my part. He was right. I was tired, so I was paddling only half the time. I can relate, in a tiny way, to what the disciples must have been going through.
The disciples were already tired, now they had to face another challenge. They must have wondered, “When is following Jesus ever going to get easy?”
We all face difficult situations where we are straining at the oars against an adverse wind. Job loss, divorce, the death of someone close to us, all these things and more can make us feel like the disciples must have felt that night in the boat.
We also face things in life that we do not understand, things that make us afraid. When Jesus came walking on the water to his disciples in the boat, they “thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified.” The disciples had seen Jesus do many strange and miraculous deeds, but this one went far beyond their comprehension, so much so that they did not recognize Jesus at first.
However, immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then Jesus hopped into the boat with them and the wind that had made their rowing so hard immediately ceased.
Sometimes we are frightened by Jesus’ approach in our lives because it is so far beyond our comprehension. Jesus, in his person and works, does not fit any of the normal categories we have for human beings.
However, Jesus does not come to us walking on the water with a purpose of frightening us. Rather, Jesus comes to help and to comfort. As St. Augustine once wrote, “He came treading the waves; and so he puts all the swelling tumults of life under his feet. Christians—why afraid?”
Some time ago I read this piece about Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel….
For the past 25 years, Jim Cantore, The Weather Channel’s “Storm-tracker,” has tracked, chased, run into, and then reported on some of the most extreme storms on the planet. A 2011 USA Today article on Cantore noted, “Whether he is leaning into the ferocious winds of a hurricane or shivering as a blast of polar air drops down from the Arctic, Cantore, 47, is often on the scene to help viewers appreciate how weather tests us.”
In the spring of 2011, Cantore provided coverage in the midst of the severe tornado outbreaks in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Joplin, Missouri. Both towns suffered extensive damage. “It was as unthinkable as you would think,” Cantore says. “Houses were piled up into corners, and the streets looked more like movie sets.”
But according to Cantore, these kinds of storms pale in comparison to the personal storms of life that some people experience on a daily basis. In particular, Cantore thinks of his two children, both of whom were born with Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that can lead to autism-like symptoms. Cantore says that his children have the real storms of life, or what he calls the “storms that hurt the most and never go away.”
Cantore says, “What my children have to deal with on a daily basis is by far more difficult than anything I will ever come in contact with.”
We all face storms in life, of one kind or another. The good news is that, always when we ask him and sometimes even unbidden, Jesus can and will come to us in the midst of our storms. He will speak words of comfort to us. He will get into our boat and calm the winds.
A third perspective we see in this passage is that of the crowd. What can we learn from the crowd in this story?
The crowd recognized in Jesus someone who could meet their need for healing, so they unashamedly came to him to meet their need. Notice that Jesus rebuffs no one who comes to him for healing. As he says in John 6:37, “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”
I think we can learn from the crowd that we should come to Jesus with all of our needs, whether they be physical, emotional, spiritual, or whatever. Jesus is not bothered by our coming to him with our problems. He longs to meet all of our needs by his gracious power.
I am especially struck, in reading this story, by those who begged Jesus that they might simply touch the fringe of his garment. They must have heard about the woman with the issue of blood who merely touched Jesus’ garment and was healed.
Perhaps these people in the crowd did not feel worthy of drawing any closer to Jesus than that. We may feel like that sometimes, like we are on the fringes of a relationship with Jesus, that all we have a right to do, if even that, is to touch the fringe of his garment. However, this story teaches us that if even we do that, simply touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment in prayer, we will be healed.
Pastor Mark Batterson has this important comment about accessing Jesus’ power. He writes…
In my experience, signs follow decisions. The way you overcome spiritual inertia and produce spiritual momentum is by making tough decisions. And the tougher the decision, the more potential momentum it will produce. The primary reason most of us don’t see God moving is simply because we aren’t moving. If you want to see God move, you need to make a move!
I learned this lesson in dramatic fashion during the first year at National Community Church. We had been praying for a drummer to join our worship team for months, but I felt like I needed to put some feet on my faith, so I went out and bought a four-hundred-dollar drum set. It was a Field of Dreams moment: if you buy it, they will come. I bought the drum set on a Thursday. Our first drummer showed up the next Sunday. And he was good. He was actually part of the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps….
I cannot promise that signs will follow your faith in three minutes or three hours or three days. But when you take a step of faith, signs will follow. God will sanctify your expectations, and you will begin to live your life with holy anticipation. You won’t be able to wait to see what God is going to do next.
I believe that we can discern an overall movement of faith in this passage. I believe Jesus wants us to move from being the walking wounded, like the people in the crowd, to becoming like the disciples in the boat, who are going out under Jesus’ command to do his work. However, that is not the only move I think Jesus wants us to make. Once we get in the boat as his disciples, I do not think he wants us to labor under our own power, straining at the oars against a contrary wind. I believe Jesus wants us to welcome him into our boat so that he can calm the waters for us. I believe Jesus wants us to become wounded healers, who heal and labor under his power.
William Alexander asks,
If you were doomed to live the same life over and over again for eternity, would you choose the life you are living now? The question is interesting enough, but I’ve always thought the point of asking it is really the unspoken, potentially devastating follow-up question. That is, if the answer is no, then why are you living the life you are living now? Stop making excuses, and do something about it.
I wonder: what is the move that Jesus wants us to make today? Is it the move to come to him with our needs and our problems so that he can meet those needs and solve our problems? Is it the move from being the walking wounded to becoming disciples in the boat? Or is it the move from being disciples straining to serve under our own power to becoming disciples who welcome Jesus into our boat? Whatever the move of faith is that Jesus wants us to make today, let’s pray that he would give us the grace just to take the first step….
 Ward Williams, “Walking on Water,” SermonNotes.com
 Chris Parsons, “St. Peter’s Church Records CD of ‘the Sound of Silence,’” Yahoo News (10-18-12); submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky, preachingtoday.com
 Jonathan Lebowitz, “Jim Cantore Has Weathered 25 Years of Chasing Big Storms,” USA Today (8-10-11); submitted by Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky, preachingtoday.com
 Mark Batterson, Wild Goose Chase (Multnomah, 2008), pp. 32-33
 William Alexander, The $64 Tomato (Algonquin Books, 2007), p. 245