Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 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, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 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.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Mark 6:45-56
One ought not saunter nonchalantly into the presence of God. That quote has stuck with me for two decades. It was a vital corrective to a very lax and overly insouciant attitude toward worship. It was meant to challenge people who simply want to sing Kumbaya, without really dealing with the issues that divide us from God and from one another. There is a place and time for Kumbaya, but not without Lord have mercy! or Holy! Holy! Holy! We need to appreciate the intimate love of the Father (“Abba”), as well as the mighty power of the God who is “a consuming fire” (cf. Hebrews 12:28-29).
Any doubt as to the awesome majesty of God must be dismissed if you find yourself in the boat with the disciples and see Jesus coming on the water in the middle of the stormy night. God “alone has spread out the heavens and marches on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). And here comes Jesus…walking on the water. No wonder the disciples are terrified! No wonder they thought they were seeing a ghost. People don’t just walk on water.
Jesus’ appearance here has all the markings of a theophany. God is showing up in a visible way. He who inhabits the invisible domain of the spiritual realm has now come to earth. Most of the time he appears as a humble man (cf. Isaiah 53:2). But once in a while his majestic glory leaks out. Once in a while it becomes clear that Jesus is not merely a mortal human man.
Jesus is a mortal human man. His suffering and death will show that to be true. But he is also God. True God, begotten of the Father from eternity. And right now he is showing that to be the case.
On another occasion – 1500 years prior to Jesus – God showed up dramatically, and expressed his action toward Moses in the term “pass by” (cf. Exodus 33:21-22). Now on this occasion, Jesus intended to “pass them by.” Same term. Same thought. He wanted them to experience only a portion of his majestic glory.
But the cry of fear and faith touches Jesus’ heart, and he will come to the disciples, and join them in the boat. Perhaps in those moments we recognize the Holy God for who he really is, we will remember to call out to him in faith. He will come to us. He will calm our hearts. For God is love. And Jesus is all about manifesting the infinite love of the Holy and glorious God.