As well as being a metaphor for trouble and difficulty, water is also often associated with opportunities to step out in faith. This should not surprise us because these things often go hand in hand. There are quite a few examples of this in the Bible, but in this post, I am going to focus on the account of Jesus walking on water, and then secondly, on the account of the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea in the Exodus. Both present as opportunities to step out in faith.
1. Walking on Water (Matthew 14:22-34):
When Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist, He withdrew by boat to a solitary place. In Mark’s account Jesus invited His disciples to take some time out to rest. Jesus said: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). But the crowds became aware of his plans and followed on foot. Jesus had compassion on them and healed those of them who were sick. Later that evening the disciples asked Jesus to send them away so that they could eat, but Jesus instead told the disciples to feed the people themselves. There were 5,000 men and likely at least as many women and children. It was an impossible task but Jesus showed them that He could do the impossible. After that crazy encounter, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him while He dismissed the crowds. It seems that both Jesus and the disciples were going to finally get some much needed downtime!
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Notice here that Jesus, as is often the case, heads up a mountainside to pray. He deliberately created space to go and spend time with His Father while the disciples were travelling in the boat away from all the crowds. It was not however, the calmest of nights on the lake, and we read that the boat was buffeted by the waves because the wind was blowing against them. Mark’s account records that Jesus “…saw the disciples straining at the oars…” (Mark 6:48). As we saw previously, sudden storms were not unusual on the Sea of Galilee, but this time Jesus was not even in the boat with them. Just before dawn, somewhere between 3-6pm, Jesus walked out to them on the lake and the sight of Him leaves them feeling terrified.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
Putting ourselves in the disciples shoes, I think that most of us would be terrified to see someone walking on water. It seems that they didn’t seem to recognise Jesus, and thought that He was a ghost. Their response was to cry out with fear, but Jesus is quick to reassure them and encourage them not to be afraid. Peter clearly gets the message and makes an intriguing request:
28 ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ 29 ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ 34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.
Peter’s statement is quite extraordinary and the words “if it’s you” are quite profound. They almost have the sense of “since it’s you.” I’ve no idea what motivates Peter’s request, but it is certainly bold, and he is definitely up for stepping out. The water becomes the stage for Peter to take an audacious step of faith. This scene is an incredible lesson in faith.
Jesus responds to Peter’s request with the invitation to come. Initially all is well and Peter walks on the water towards Jesus. But then his focus shifts back towards the wind and he becomes afraid. On so many occasions we do exactly the same thing – we fail to keep our eyes on Jesus and shift our focus towards the scale of the challenges around us. For Peter it soon becomes a crisis as he begins to sink and cries out to Jesus to save him.
But Jesus is right there and reaches out His hand to catch him. Jesus’ words to him are brief but poignant: ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ The issue here was not about the wind or the waves. No Jesus pin-points Peter’s lack of faith and is literally addressing him by the name little-faith. I am sure that there is not one of us who cannot relate to Peter in this. Little faith is heavily impacted by all that is going on around us. But it is still faith and Peter really did walk on the water.
Jesus then asks Peter why he doubted. Evidently there was reason for great confidence – the same Jesus who he knew and loved was right there with him. The people in the boat worshipped Jesus saying that truly He was the Son of God. We will always have endless reasons to have little faith and be filled with doubts. But we also have endless opportunities to believe Jesus, trust Him and take Him at His Word.
2. Crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 13:17-15:21):
In this second example, there is again much to learn about how God uses water to teach His people about faith. We are talking about the truly incredible story of the Exodus which comes following the 10 plagues God sent against Egypt to convince Pharoah to let His people go. I find it very interesting that God doesn’t lead them along the coastal route towards the land He had Promised them. This was definitely the shortest route, but it was also where Egypt had its military outposts and God foresaw that they would change their minds and return to Egypt. Instead, God led them through the desert towards the Red Sea.
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ 18 So God led the people around by the desert road towards the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.Exodus 13:17-18
Soon into chapter 14, Pharoah and his officials declare “What have we done?” and they change their minds about letting God’s people go. Pharoah musters the army and heads off in pursuit of the people of Israel. They quickly catch up with them and we read that “Israel were terrified and cried out to the Lord” (14:10). Oh how quickly they lose heart! We even find them lamenting that God had brought them out into the desert to die. How bleak things must have looked when they found themselves cornered by the Red Sea and the Egyptians who were pursuing them.
13 Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’Exodus 14:13-14
Moses however remained strong and urged them to stand firm and not to be afraid. He promised them a great deliverance. God then told Moses to send them on and asked Him to raise up his staff and stretch out his hand to divide the water. It must have been quite the spectacle as the water stacked up on either side of the Red Sea and dry ground stretched out before them. Israel was to pass through on this dry ground towards safety on the other side. God however, was going to harden Pharoah’s heart so that his army would follow them through. This is exactly what happened but soon God was throwing the army into confusion. The Egyptians decided to flee for they realised that: “The Lord is fighting for them” (v25). But it was too late and as Moses stretched out his hand once more, the waters engulfed the entirety of the Egyptian army. Listen to these verses from Moses & Miriam’s song:
1 ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. 5 The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone….8 By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood up like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea…10 But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters.Exodus 15:1, 4-5, 8 & 10
There are many references throughout the Bible to what happened at the Exodus, but perhaps none more poignant than Hebrews 11:29 which makes the point that the people passed through did so by faith, while the Egyptians tried to do the same thing they drowned. It takes much faith to step out with the waters perilously piled up on either side. They were initially filled with fear, but this experience taught them to fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.
31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.Exodus 14:31
To wrap up this post, here are some concluding thoughts! Both of these examples have water right at the centre of God’s people’s experience of Him. In both they are facing very real dangers. In both these dangers however become opportunities to learn to grow in faith. If we want that to be our experience as well then we need to be willing to get our feet wet. Peter stepping out onto the water was a significant moment for him. Israel setting into the newly apparent dry ground in the Red Sea was their opportunity to see what God can do. In both of these examples, God came through for them, and there was a deepening of faith. I wonder in what ways God is calling us to step out in faith amidst the pressures and challenges that we are facing each day. The lesson from Peter is that if we want to walk on water then we need to not only get out of the boat, but we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. The lesson from the Exodus is that God can do more than we could ever imagine and He therefore deserves our worship.
See other posts in this series: