Jesus Walks on Water
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 14:22–14:33
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Vacation Bible School Week 2: “God’s Wonder Lab”
July 18, 2021
“Jesus Walks on Water”
How many of you have ever listened to or watched “Jesus Christ Superstar?” This rock opera made its debut more than fifty years ago in 1970, which doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. The very memorable music, composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and lyrics, written by Tim Rice, are widely known and sung by people all over the world. At the beginning, the composers were unable to come up with funding for a stage production, so they decided the next best thing was to release a rock opera music album. Remember those things called albums? That album was so wildly popular that just one year later in 1971, “Jesus Christ Superstar” made its debut on Broadway, and it’s been with us ever since (Jesus Christ Superstar - Wikipedia). Not everyone within the Christian faith took a liking to “Jesus Christ Superstar” when it first came out. Many people believed that this was a rather blasphemous production that portrayed Jesus as all too human, and young people should not be allowed to see it. But guess what? It was those young people in the 1970s who were the biggest fans! And so it goes, then and now. One of the scenes from “Jesus Christ Superstar” involves Herod Antipas (ca. 20 B.C.- ca. 39 A.D.), who was the ruler of Galilee and Perea at the time of Jesus. This is the “King Herod” in the Gospels whom we hear about during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Having been arrested, Jesus is brought before Herod and there is a whole song and dance routine as Herod tries his best to get Jesus to perform some miracle for his entertainment (see Luke 23:6-12). As Herod sings it: “Come on, Jesus, you ain’t no fool. Walk across my swimming pool.” Needless to say, Jesus does not oblige Herod and no miracle is performed. But Herod’s wish to see Jesus “walk across my swimming pool” is based on what we hear in today’s Gospel lesson where Jesus does the impossible, and does indeed walk on water on the Sea of Galilee. Today we continue our Summer Vacation Bible School as we focus on the theme, “Jesus Walks on Water.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
It’s miracle after miracle! Before Jesus walks on water, he first fed 5000 men, plus women and children (Matthew 14:13-21). That’s what comes before the walking on water account here in Matthew’s Gospel. All the disciples could find to feed this huge crowd was five loaves of bread and two fish – not a lot of food for so many people. But little is much in the hands of Jesus, and like we learned last week when Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:1-12), there was more than enough for everyone to have as much as they wanted – and there were leftovers besides. We worship and serve a God of abundance! That’s where today’s Gospel lesson picks up. Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he himself remained behind to dismiss the people and send them off to go home. After doing all this, wouldn’t you think Jesus would just want some alone time? Some time to just decompress and put his feet up? That’s what I would want, but that’s not what Jesus did. We’re told that “he went up on the mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23). And that speaks volumes about our Lord Jesus, doesn’t it? He sought alone time with his Father, and through this, to be refreshed for the work that was ahead of him.
We’re told that the disciples were “a long way from the land” (Matthew 14:24). The original language here says they were many stadious (σταδίους). This is where we get our word “stadium.” It originally meant a unit of measure, and a stadion was about 600 feet. We’re not told how far out from the shore the disciples were, but that it was a long way. And it was the middle of the night! We’re told it was the fourth watch of the night, which would have been 3-6AM. Even if we’re night owls, this is the time of night when strength and alertness are at their lowest. Plus the wind was against the disciples; no outboard motor to speed you along. It was hard rowing. And then Jesus does the impossible. He appears “walking on the sea” (Matthew 14:25). Wouldn’t we have freaked out just like the disciples did? Absolutely! Jesus comes to his frightened disciples with these reassuring words: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). When we’re exhausted and feel like we’re at the end of our rope, Jesus comes to us with those same words of blessed comfort: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).
Jesus was near enough to talk with the disciples, but he wasn’t actually in the boat with them. From the safety of the boat, Peter calls out: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Notice Peter’s words to Jesus here: “…if it is you…” There’s some doubt there on Peter’s part about whether this really was Jesus. Jesus had clearly told Peter and all the disciples that it was he himself, and yet, Peter still isn’t sure. And that sounds a lot like us today. Jesus tells us clearly who he is, the Son of God who loves us, but we are still prone to doubt and disbelief. Nevertheless, Jesus calls Peter to come to him, and he does, and for a brief moment Peter, like Jesus, walks on the water. But Peter is flesh and blood like us, subject to doubt and uncertainty in his faith just like us. He’s overcome by what he sees all around him with the howling wind and crashing waves, and he starts to sink. And that’s how it often is with you and me in our own faith life. We, too, want to come to Jesus, to be with him, but doubts and uncertainties overtake us. We’re afraid of all the stuff swirling around us: the noise and distractions, the storms of life that threaten to take us down. And we, too, begin to sink. It is then that we, like Peter, cry out to Jesus for help: “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). Despite our failure to trust, despite our doubts, Jesus never abandons us. He stretches out his hand to rescue us; he reaches down to save us. But the ultimate rescue, the decisive saving event, which Jesus accomplished for us was not on the Sea of Galilee, but on the tree of the cross. In offering his life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, Jesus has saved us from death and hell itself. In Jesus, we are rescued and redeemed.
Jesus, through whom all things were created, walks on the sea, defying our understanding of the world and nature. Nothing is impossible for Jesus! Jesus is the Son of God who rules over all things. Even the wind and waves obey him. “The whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). Jesus’ question to Peter is one that he asks each one of us today when our faith and trust give way to doubt and uncertainty: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).When we feel like we are sinking, never to rise again, Jesus reaches out with mercy and amazing grace. He loves us with an everlasting love that makes all things new. Jesus’ saving work in rescuing Peter led the disciples to worship him: “Truly, you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). May the Holy Spirit work in our hearts and minds that we may do the same. May God make it so for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Join us next Sunday for our third Summer Vacation Bible School Sunday as we learn about Jesus who does the impossible in healing a sick woman and raising a young girl from the dead (Mark 5:21-43).