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March 22, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

The fifth sign in the Gospel of John involves Jesus walking on the water to meet his Disciples on their way to Capernaum from Bethsaida by boat.  The miracle is recorded in three Gospels: Matthew, Mark and John.  Each account is aimed at a slightly different objective, although the facts are the same.  Only Matthew includes the record of Peter’s attempt to walk out to meet Jesus.  Of course Matthew, like John, was there.  Mark was only a young boy at the time and living in Jerusalem.  John has another focus in mind as he tells the story.

The miracle follows immediately after the feeding of the 5000 in the area of Bethsaida.  The distance to Capernaum by boat is about five miles.  It was night and the Disciples encountered a strong west wind coming from the Mediterranean through the funnel like pass at Mount Arbel.  These Galilean fishermen were used to sailing at night.  That’s when most of their fishing was done.  The wind is a different story.  Sails are not much use against a contrary wind and the Disciples were sailing west.

It is John who gives us the clearest picture of why Jesus performed this miracle, although it may not be immediately apparent.  The story is told in six verses that stand between the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 (15 verses) and a theological discourse on Messiah as the “bread of life” (50 verses).  The connection between the sign of providing bread for the multitude and the discourse is clear.  But why the water walk?

Last week we noted that in introducing the sign of providing bread John informs us it is Passover season.  Jesus expects that the crowd on the hillside will make the connection between his sign and Moses who, by the power of God, provided manna in the wilderness.  The entire theological explanation is grounded in this connection.   Some got it.  Most did not.

The Passover episode also involved another mighty act of God.  The nation passed through the waters of the Reed Sea (Yom Suph) as if it were dry land.   Moreover the chariot army of Pharaoh was destroyed when the sea went back to its natural state after being separated by a strong wind.  If many of the crowd who tasted the bread which was miraculously multiplied did not get the message, Jesus was determined the Disciples would.  He came to them walking on the water.  Like Israel they were terrified.  For Israel the sea represented not only a barrier but a threat to their lives.  Jesus not only walked on the water, when his journey was finished and he got into the boat the wind ceased, and the water was calm.   The people on the mountainside were correct when they observed, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

Moses was God’s instrument in making the covenant with Israel as a nation.  The Messiah would make a new covenant, promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18 and reaffirmed by Jeremiah in chapter 31 of his prophecy.

As Passover and Resurrection Sunday approach we should be aware that Jesus connected the dots.  He never erased any of them.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs