I really think the story of Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14) is one of my favorite passages of scripture. Every time I read it, it’s like I’m mining new truths out of it. Seriously, I could camp out at that chapter and read it (and the same story in Mark 6 and John 6) for a month and get more and more insight each day.
I love that the disciples got into the boat and started rowing because Jesus told them to. They hadn’t completely understood what Jesus had been doing earlier that day, when Jesus fed thousands of people. They weren’t having a gold-star disciple moment. Mark 6:52 straight up says their hearts were hardened at that moment. These guys were tired from a short-term mission trip. They hadn’t even had time to eat because everywhere they went, people wanted something from them. When they finally were going on a little retreat with Jesus, gobs of people followed them. And instead of sending the crowds away, Jesus healed the people and had a little church service right there in the boondocks! And when it got late, the disciples wanted Jesus to at least send the crowds away to get some food and find a place to stay. But Jesus told the disciples they should feed the people. And so they searched around for food or money or something, and then Jesus did that miracle and fed everyone. But the disciples were tired. And so they clearly didn’t fully appreciate the lesson Jesus had for them in that miracle. But even so, when Jesus told them to get in a boat and row, they did. (I love this, but this isn’t my point right now, so I won’t pitch my tent here like I’m tempted to.)
And after they got in the boat when Jesus told them to, they rowed right out to the middle of the lake and along came a windstorm. It was awful. They rowed and rowed against the wind, but the boat wasn’t making any progress. The wind howled; the waves crashed; and they were stuck. Exhausted. Frustrated. Hearts hardened. Exactly where Jesus had told them to be.
Why would Jesus have told them to row into a windstorm?
Well, I don’t know that I have all the answers for that. I surely don’t understand the mind of God. But I see some hints, some possible reasons, as I dig into this chapter of Matthew. I won’t outline all the possible reasons here and now because I want to focus on only one. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus put them on the boat, knowing full well the winds were picking up, and then waited until the disciples were extremely frustrated and the winds were awful before he came to them because the conditions had to be just right for him to demonstrate himself as God.
They needed to know Jesus was really the Son of God. These guys knew for sure he was a great prophet. They knew he was the best rabbi ever. But they needed to know he was God. And so Jesus sent them out in the boat, knowing a mighty windstorm was a-brewin’. And the winds came. And the boat rocked. And the disciples rowed and rowed and rowed, not getting anywhere. The waves crashed up against the sides of the boat. It was dark and ominous. And just in that awful moment, Jesus came walking on the water. Defying gravity. Overpowering even the laws of nature. Demonstrating his power and glory. He was God. He was truly the Son of God. And, seeing Jesus walk on top the water and help Peter walk on top the water too, hearing Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid. I Am,” — for the first time, they knew. They knew. Jesus was truly (is truly) the Son of God. And they worshipped him.
Sometimes it takes a scary windstorm – sometimes it takes ominous darkness, crashing waves, fear so gripping we think we’re seeing ghosts — sometimes it takes being stuck, rowing in circles, making no progress, feeling confused and exhausted and a little bit hardened — sometimes it takes all that in order for God to really demonstrate His power and glory in our lives. Because we miss it otherwise. Because when things are going well, we get caught up in our own expectations, our own dreams of power, our own fitting Jesus into our box. So the scary winds get our attention. The frustrating, frightening waves tossing us around are the backdrop for Him to show up and overpower everything else and encourage our faith and calm the waters and help us. The storm is so we will see and know that he truly is God.
Jesus had big plans for those disciples. They needed to understand who he was! And the temporary fear and frustration of the windstorm was so worth it because they saw God’s power. They saw Jesus for who he is.
I have seen this in my own life. I’ve been in some pretty big windstorms. My boat has rocked, and I have been afraid. But always, if I look up, Jesus is there showing his deity to me. Always, if I look up, there is God being God, wanting me to see and worship him. I’ll be honest, I’ve missed it from time to time. I’ve been so focused on rowing, so focused on keeping myself afloat, so focused on the wind and the waves that I have not looked for him. But every time I’ve looked for him, I’ve found him walking out to be with me, encouraging me to have a brave, bold faith in him, calming the winds and being God.