Walking on Water Redux: Darkness and Water

I’ve been writing about Jesus walking on the water at the Easter before Easter – the Passover before the Crucifixion. So let me just wrap this up today (and then I promise I'll change the subject). At that second Passover of His earthly ministry Jesus fed 5000 people, then He walked on water,and then He told everyone that He is the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35) and that ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you’ (Jn 6:53). So, we’ve got 2 of Jesus’ most famous miracles and one of His most difficult sermons. But what on earth does that have to do with the ultimate fulfilment of the Passover the next year on Good Friday?

Lots. For example the Passover Sacrifice is connected to His flesh given for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). But what I want to focus on is the walking on water. So how does that fit in with Passover and Good Friday?

John 6:17 tells us that ‘it was already dark’ (Jn 6:17). Now, we’ve just been told that it was ‘evening’ (v.16), and at Passover time in Israel sunset is at about 6pm, so it’s basically dark all evening. Then why does John mention that it was dark? Well, John likes to point out details of what happened that remind us of the spiritual reality. Yes, it was dark physically, but by highlighting it, John wants to point out something more.

You see, throughout his Gospel John uses light and dark to talk about spiritual realities.
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (Jn. 1:5)
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12)
Why does John want to highlight spiritual darkness here? Well, verse 17 says ‘And Jesus had not come to them.’ Without Jesus we are in spiritual darkness. Only Jesus can bring us into the light.

And not only was it dark, but it was wet! And in the Bible, water very often speaks of judgement. Seeing as this is Passover time we’re talking about, just think of what happened right after the first Passover: the Parting of the Red Sea. The children of Israel passed safely through on dry ground, but Pharaoh’s armies were destroyed & drowned in the sea! So the waters were life for the Israelites, and death for the Egyptians. The Israelites sang for joy on the other side, in praise of God and His great salvation, for Jesus had brought them safely through the waters and out on the other side. But the Egyptians sang a very different type of song – dirges and funeral laments. It was one event, but with two very different outcomes: Judgment and Salvation.

And that wasn’t the only time water had this double outcome of salvation and judgement. In Gen. 7:6-24 the flood water was sent as judgement, bringing death to a sinful world. But Noah & his family ‘were saved through water’ (1 Pet. 3:20). In Exodus 1-2, Pharaoh ordered that the waters of the Nile should be the waters of death for the Israelite boys. But those waters of death became waters of life for Moses, as through them he was saved. In Jonah 1:7-16, Jonah was thrown into the sea water in judgement to die. But it was through the sea water that Jonah was saved. The waters of death became the waters of life.

You see, in all these cases, the water speaks to us of judgement. But Jesus saves through the waters of judgement. And that’s what’s happening when Jesus walks on the water! The disciples are in the midst of the darkness and the waters – in the midst of death and judgement – but Jesus comes to save!

And that’s exactly what Jesus would do at the same time the next year, on Good Friday at the Cross. For the Cross, like the waters, is a place of judgement. But like the waters were for the children of Israel, the Cross is the place of our salvation. For Christ has borne the judgement of God for us. And in Him we pass safely through the judgement of death, and come out safely on the other side into abundance of life. The Cross of death has become for us the Cross of life.

So, Jesus walking on the water, points to the reality of who He is: Our great Saviour who has come to save us through taking the judgement we deserve. Jesus’ walking on water to rescue His disciples from being overcome by the darkness and the waters and perishing in the storm, points us to what Jesus has accomplished for us through His death in our place on the Cross.

Jesus walks safely through the darkness and on top of the water. The darkness and the water can’t stop Jesus. And yet, neither does He simply zap them out of the way. Look at John 6:21 – ‘and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.’ Jesus did simply zap them to far side of the lake at the end, so why didn’t He just do that at the beginning and have it over with? Why not save them from having to face the storm, the darkness and the sea at all?

Because Jesus doesn’t simply save FROM suffering, judgment and death. He saves THROUGH suffering, judgment and death! The darkness and the waters can’t stop Jesus, but He enters into the darkness and the waters to save His people. And when He enters into the darkness and the waters, He defeats them.

Jesus doesn’t swim across the sea. He’s not overcome by the waters. He walks on the water, for He is victorious in and over the waters of judgement.

And He’s victorious over the darkness too. How far can you see in the dark? In the pitch black, without any streetlights, in the middle of the sea on a stormy night? And yet he disciples ‘saw Jesus walking on the sea’ (v.19). The darkness can’t hide swallow up Jesus! The Light of the World defeats the darkness. Jesus, the Light of the World, triumphs over all the powers of darkness. Jesus is victorious!

A year later, Jesus would face the darkness again, but in quite a different way. While on the Sea of Galilee He walked through the darkness in the night. Yet on the Hill of Calvary the darkness surrounded Him in the middle of the day.
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”. (Matt. 27:45-46)
It’s not just a coincidence! The Physical darkness is pointing to spiritual darkness. Those words from Jesus towards the end of that time of darkness help us to understand what the darkness is showing us. During those hours of darkness on the Cross, Jesus was undergoing the Outer Darkness for us, in our place, as our sin-bearer. Outer Darkness: where there’s ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Outer darkness: the place of judgement on sin – the wrath of God. Hell.

That’s what it means when we say in the Creed, ‘He descended into Hell.’ It’s not about something after the Cross, but the true meaning of the Cross. On the Cross, Jesus plunged into the Outer Darkness for us. He took our sin, and He took our punishment. So that means he took our hell. He bore the full wrath of God which we deserved for our sin, and He bore it in our place to set us free. To save us!

Jesus has gone through the darkness for us. Just as He went through the darkness to rescue His disciples from the storm on the Sea of Galilee, so too He has gone through the true darkness, the outer darkness, to rescue us from the waters of judgement. He has gone through the darkness, so we don’t have to. He has gone through the darkness for us, in our place.

And Jesus has conquered the darkness for us. The darkness at Golgotha didn’t last! Before He died, Jesus cried out It is finished! For the Light triumphs over darkness. Jesus doesn’t only go through the darkness for us, but in going through it, He blots it out. Jesus doesn’t only die our death, but through that death He destroys death.

On the Cross, it IS finished. Jesus has accomplished our salvation; He has done all that’s needed. There’s nothing for us to add, nothing for us to bring, no challenges for us to meet. Only a gracious Saviour to embrace by faith!

Don’t be like Peter seeking for more signs, more miracles, and more stuff for you to do. Don’t be like Peter, looking for another challenge. Instead, look to Jesus and see your salvation. Look to Him as the Light who has defeated the darkness, and He’ll embrace you in His kingdom of light. Look to Him as Peter finally did at the end of his ordeal in the waters, and cry out: Lord, save me! And He will.