And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.  And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them,  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.”  And 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. (Mark 6:47-52 ESV)
The above passage was one that was the subject of intense debate in 20th century quest for the historical Jesus. Some considered this story an optical illusion caused by Jesus walking on the shore, or perhaps a deception—in that he was really only walking on a sandbar. It was impossible in the minds of many of these scholars that the laws of nature could be broken by a man walking on the water.
But I think they missed something. Verse 48 really is not the most astonishing verse in this passage. The most astonishing verse in this entire passage is verse 51, “And he got in the boat with them…” THAT is what is mind-boggling about this passage.
Let me explain.
The Deity of Christ is all over this passage. His intent to “pass them by” is more than likely a reference to Exodus 33 (the glory of God “passing by” Moses) or more likely even a reference to Job 9. As James Edwards has pointed out, “The Job quotation summarizes a passage that begins in 9:1ff by recounting the awesome separation between God and humanity”.
The astonishing thing in this passage is that the transcendent God, the wholly Other, the eternal I AM, has now become Emmanuel. The majestic God that had to cover Moses’ eyes is now getting in a boat with His ragtag band of followers at 4 in the morning. THAT is what is unbelievable about this text.
God walking on water is not so hard for me to grasp. After all He is God. What is hard for me to grasp, though, is that this transcendent God bridged the gap of separation and could be found in a boat. The I AM has become Emmanuel that is astonishing!