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)
Regular people don’t walk on water. Not even exceptional people cascade over choppy waters.
And that declaration gave 20th century liberals a headache. In searching for the “historical Jesus” (read non-supernatural Jesus) they could not grasp how the laws of nature could be broken by a man walking on water.
So they did what every smarter-than-the-text theologian does, they explained it away. Perhaps it was an optical illusion. Maybe it was actually a sandbar. Whatever solution you can concoct is more plausible than a man with a beard walking upon the sea instead of sinking underneath it. That is too astonishing of a claim.
I think they missed something.
Verse 48 (the water-walking verse) is not the most astonishing verse in that passage. What is most astonishing is verse 51, “and He got in the boat with them…” THAT is what is mind-boggling about this passage.
If we really read this text for what its saying we aren’t astonished that deity is transcending the “laws” of physics and walking upon water. And the Deity of Christ is all over this passage. His intention to “pass them by” is likely a reference to Exodus 33. And it certainly is a reference to Job 9. Where, as James Edwards has pointed out, “the Job quote summarizes a passage that begins in 9:1ff by recounting the awesome separation between God and humanity”.
The text screams out to us that this isn’t just some ordinary dude that has figured out how to walk upon H2O. The text screams out that this is God Himself. And that is why verse 51 is so mind-boggling. Because it tells us 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 a few smelly fishermen 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 and that is astonishing!
Originally published here.