We are nearing the end of this series about Water and Spirit in the Gospel of John. So far, we’ve seen the water and spirit together at the creation of the world and at the creation of the new man. We’ve seen them together at the baptism of Christ and at the scene of his first miracle. We’ve learned about the living water and the choices a believer must make, as well as the consequences of making those choices.
Today, we are examining two stories that are really two parts of one story: the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water. John 6:1 – 21
The setting is the Sea of Galilee (the water part of our series) almost a year after the healing of the lame man on the Sabbath, and John lets the other gospels tell the events that happened since then, including:
- The selection of the Twelve
- The Sermon on the Mount
- The raising of the widow’s son
- Jesus stilling the storm
- The raising of Jairus’ daughter
- Healing the multitudes and the demoniac men* note
- Rejection of Jesus in Nazareth
- The sending out of the Twelve
- The death of John the Baptist
The prologue for the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water was the death of John, the expectations of John’s disciples about Jesus (they wanted Jesus to take action and establish his kingdom), and the return of the Twelve from their miracle tour (Matthew 10:1-15, Mark 6:30-32).
The reason so many people were free to follow Jesus around at this time was that many Jews were making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Once they heard about the prophet who performed great miracles, they were willing to make a detour to see him.
Jesus and the Twelve needed rest, and they attempted to get away for just a little while from the adoring and curious crowds by going to an unpopulated area. However, like any rock star today, Jesus couldn’t get away from his followers; Mark tells us that people ran together on foot, and John tells us that Jesus looked up and saw the great multitude and had compassion on them. Jesus’ compassion extended to taking care of their physical hunger, and all four gospels tell us of the truly spectacular feeding of the five thousand from the little boy’s lunch.
The miracle deserves examination, but today, I want to concentrate on what happened immediately afterward. When the people saw this sign, they all agreed that Jesus was the prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-22. Who could be more like Moses and his bread from heaven than Jesus who could feed so many from almost nothing? Herod was on shaky ground with his people; after all, he had killed their prophet, John the Baptist – the first prophet in four hundred years! So, what could be more natural than to make Jesus, the man who could heal people (and feed them, too), king in Herod’s place?
This is where the Spirit from our series is so evident because Jesus wasn’t interested in an earthly kingdom. He had the followers. He had the power and authority. He could have amassed the popularity and charisma to oust Herod (and eventually, the Romans). But Jesus is God, and His battle is much larger and eternally important than any number of Roman legions.
When the people would have taken Jesus by force to make him their king, he resisted them and sent them away. Yet, when the people came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to put him to death, he went with them willingly. What a contrast!
Not only did Jesus send the people away at evening, he also dismissed his disciples so that he could go back up the mountain to pray. He commanded his disciples to cross the sea to Capernaum (about seven miles away). The disciples had a really rough night; the weather turned stormy, and the wind was against them as they rowed. They were only about halfway across by the fourth watch of the night (between 3 and 6 AM).
Piecing together Matthew, Mark, and John, we get the following:
- Jesus knew they were distressed.
- Jesus walked out on the sea.
- When Jesus drew near the boat, he would have passed them by.
- His disciples saw him out on the water and thought he was a ghost.
- They started screaming in fear.
- Jesus called out to them and reassured them.
- Peter hopped out to go to Jesus, and after a few steps, he got scared and began to sink.
- Jesus saved Peter, they climbed into the boat, and Jesus calmed the storm and caused the boat to be at the shore.
- The crowds of people gathered around him all over again, especially those who wanted to be healed.
Defeat and Fear
By sending everyone away, Jesus showed his authority and his humility at the same time. Jesus stayed in the Father’s will at all times, never more so than when he defeated the wrong-headed ideas of the people he came to save. God help us accept disappointments with grace because we might be trying to act on wrong-headed ideas outside the will of God. How has Jesus defeated your plans?
When the disciples were terrified, Jesus showed his compassion by calming their fears. Even when Peter lost his nerve, Jesus was there at his elbow to save him. We can trust Jesus with our fears, too. How has Jesus calmed your fears?
Water and Spirit Introduction
1) Water and Spirit and Creation
2) Water and Spirit and the New Man
3) Water and Spirit and Wine
4) Water and Spirit and Nicodemus
5) Water and Spirit and the Jordan
6) Water and Spirit at the Well: Decision, Decisions
7) Water and Spirit at the Pool – Do You Want to Be Healed?
*demoniac men – A reader asked me whether I meant to use “men” instead of “man”. The answer is yes. In The Fourfold Gospel (also know as A Harmony of the Gospels), J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton explain that the same incident is related in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; Matthew discloses that there were two men who were possessed by demons, but Mark and Luke only mention the fiercest, most vocal man. God is not about “either this is true or the other is true”; both accounts are true, but each author concentrated on the facts that were most important to his narrative. We are blessed to have all the Gospel books in one place so that we get the wide screen view. However, if we were only able to see the full screen edition of a single Gospel account, the essential truths would be the same. Return to the top!