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Why Does Jesus Walk on Water in the Bible?

Two summers ago, my family drove out to a little lake just Southeast of Seattle for our annual All Church Retreat. We pulled in shortly before check-in, so my husband took our three-year-old out to the water. A few minutes behind them, I meandered over towards the dock full of people I knew. I heard a splash, and immediately there was a commotion among the many adults and kids. I couldn’t tell what had happened until I got to the end of the long fishing dock and found my daughter drenched and in tears. Without looking, she had walked directly off the dock and into the water. One of our friends heard the splash and very quickly dove in after her. Needless to say, she could not walk on the water. One step off, and she began to drown.

Jesus, on the other hand, walked on the water. He didn’t swim out and stand on a sand bar. He wasn’t being pulled on skis by a boat. He walked on top of the water in the middle of a raging storm. My daughter stepped off into a still lake and immediately began to sink, but Jesus took off from the shore into high waves and gusting winds. I can’t tell you His exact intent or purpose for this strange encounter, but the three New Testament accounts point to the confirmation of His deity and the deepening of our faith.

Jesus Walks on Water to Confirm His Deity

Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, and John 6:16-21 all record an eyewitness testimony of this miracle. The details presented differ slightly, but the cornerstone of each is the declaration of who Jesus is. In Matthew 14:26-27, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea and were terrified. They said, “‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I.’”

The New Testament translation of “it is I” in Matthew 14:27, is the same form of the Old Testament name for God, I AM. In the book of Exodus, “I AM” was the name God revealed to His people just before He rescued them from slavery. In Matthew, Jesus isn’t just calling out to them to bring their attention to the fact that He is present. Jesus is saying “I AM. I am the One who forms the wind and waves, who rules and reigns over every living thing.” Jesus is seeking to assure His disciples in their fear, but He is primarily proclaiming and confirming the nature of who He is. Jesus is not a ghost hovering over the water to wow people. He walks across the water on sandals while claiming to be the very creator of the sea that He is standing on.

His claim is further confirmed by the disciples in Matthew 14:33 where Jesus steps into their boat, and immediately the wind ceased. The text doesn’t say it died down a bit. It says it ceased. I imagine that moment going from white caps, strong wind, and seasickness to the water looking like glass. It was such a remarkable difference that the disciples exclaimed “Truly you are the Son of God.” The only fitting response to what they had just witnessed was to acknowledge and glorify Jesus as the incarnate I AM.

Jesus Walks on Water to Reveal His Care for Us

By walking on water in the middle of a furious storm, Jesus demonstrates His power and compassion for His people. Sandwiched around Jesus’ claim as the great I AM, is His feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21) and specific salvation of His disciple, Peter (Matthew 14:28-33). Before the disciples got on the boat, Jesus provided bread and fish for 5,000 plus people in the middle of a desert. Jesus then sends them across the sea and reveals Himself as the sovereign

Lord. Wanting to believe, Peter steps out in faith to walk on the water with Jesus. When his fear hits, he begins to sink, but Jesus immediately saves Him. These three instances reveal Jesus’ care for His people by supplying their every need.

Jesus could have just fed the 5,000, but instead, He supplied more than they needed by providing one basket of leftover food for each disciple. Jesus could have left the disciples in fear, wondering who He was, but instead, Jesus revealed Himself calmed the wind. He cared for their spiritual need of salvation as He showed Himself as the great I AM, and cared for their physical need to be saved from a tumultuous storm. When Peter called out to Jesus to save him, Matthew 14:31 says “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him”. This is not a God who is unaware of our fears, failures, and faults. Jesus is not oblivious to the spiritual or physical needs of His people. Jesus is compassionate towards those under His care as He reaches out His powerful hand of salvation.

Jesus Walks on Water to Deliver and Develop

As Jesus performs these miracles, He is giving the disciples just a snippet of who He really is. They may intellectually begin to understand that He is the prophesied messiah, but they do not yet know that Jesus will lay aside His divine power in order to die on their behalf (Matthew 27:32-56). This sovereign King goes from whipping the wind into shape, to being crucified on a cross in order to bring about the redemption of His people. Peter showed the boldness of his faith as he followed Jesus out of the boat. However, He still could not keep his fear at bay in order to stay afloat. Like us, Peter is plagued with the depravity of human nature. Peter exposes man’s inability to command the natural elements of the world, while Jesus shows Himself victorious over fear, death, and the created world.

Jesus delights to deliver us as we call upon Him for salvation. He does not let us drown for a little while until we get our act together. Salvation in Jesus does not come from working hard or being righteous. Jesus didn’t come as King in order that we could have everything we want on earth. He did not come to make us rich, famous, or comfortable. Rather, He entered into our humanity to show Himself as the true bread of life (John 6:35). He walked on water so that we may know Him as the incarnate God and glorify Him as so.

Belief in Jesus does not leave us unfazed or unchanged. Belief in Jesus develops us into disciples who proclaim and glorify His name. The same Peter that sunk in fear, and later denied Jesus three times (Matthew 26:31-35), is the same Peter that started the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-42). Jesus both saved Peter from his sins and moved him to share His faith with others.

All of us face the same reality that Peter was in. In our sin and shame, we are all sinking into the darkness. But as we call out to Jesus as Lord and Savior, He is quick to reach out His hand. Jesus walked on water in order to call us as His own. As Peter later writes to the persecuted church in 1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/KristiLinton 

Stephanie Englehart is a Seattle native, church planter’s wife, mama, and lover of all things coffee, the great outdoors, and fine (easy to make) food. Stephanie is passionate about allowing God to use her honest thoughts and confessions to bring gospel application to life. You can read more of what she writes on the Ever Sing blog at stephaniemenglehart.com or follow her on Instagram: @stephaniemenglehart.

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