Okay, I admit it: ever since COVID and writing my book Tossed in Time, I’ve been partial to Matthew’s story of Jesus walking on the stormy water – and Peter’s crazy request to walk on the wild waves with him! (Matthew 14: 22-33) A fisherman by trade, Peter clearly knew those nighttime storms could mean death to a person out in them without a boat.
But it turns out that may be the point: death. Or rather from death to a new life. Hold that thought.
It’s phenomenal what a difference some Bible study can make. Philip Jenkins is a Bible scholar1 whom I’ve come to trust through his frequent articles in The Christian Century. In a recent piece,2 he’s made a connection between Jesus’ Resurrection and that perilous walk on the waves, with what may be the original order of stories about Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples after his death.
The problem is there are two seemingly conflicting accounts of Christ’s first appearance as the Risen Christ: his meeting Mary Magdalene in the Jerusalem garden (John 20:11-18), and the discovery of the empty tomb by Peter and the man Jesus loved (John 20:1-10). How could there be two “first” appearances?
Jenkins says key clues come in the earliest Bible sources that Jesus’ first appearance would be to Peter – that is, to Peter’s earlier, Jewish name, Simon, known then in Aramaic as Cephas. (See Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5) But what about the “three days later” business of meeting Mary Magdalene in the garden?
Add to that the fact that the original Gospel of Mark – known to be the very first Gospel written – is missing its ending and lacks a Resurrection story altogether. But Jesus’ Resurrection is the core reason for each of the Gospels!
If one follows Jenkins’ research, here is the order to which it all boils down:
Mark 16:1-8 – The women hear that Jesus is raised from the dead, and in that moment are too afraid to go tell the male disciples.
John 20:1-10 – Peter and the man Jesus loved ran to the empty tomb and “believed” that Jesus had risen from the dead.
And then (Remember where we started?) comes Matthew 14:22-33, when the Risen Christ walks on the wild waters and Peter recognizes him with familiar language: “It is I,” or “I AM” – the Sacred Name for God which only Jesus dared to use. And the disciples’ immediate worship of him and affirmation, “Truly, you are the Son of God!” Both these phrases mirror the language used at Jesus’ crucifixion.
Ah, now it makes sense! When Jesus let Peter come out to him on the water, it was a Resurrection appearance, not merely one more miracle. It also fits with Jesus’ loving challenge to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jenkins says what Peter probably had doubted up until then was the Resurrection itself, not Jesus’ ability to walk on water. Through that event in the storm, the disciples realized the full fact of Jesus’ Resurrection. The result was no mere acceptance of Jesus, but true worship of him – right there in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, wild waves and all.
This sequence brings us back to the disciples’ harrowing night on the Sea of Galilee, seeing Jesus walking on the waves. At first they called him a ghost. Then Peter recognized him as the great I AM, the name of God known since way back in the time of Moses (Exodus 3:1-12). Then came Jesus’ challenge to the man we now know as Peter: the “Rock” upon whom the first Christians would rely.
So Mark doesn’t end without an appearance of the Risen Christ. The original Gospel of Mark is at last fulfilled by the worshiping community of the disciples now in Matthew 14.
From studying that passage for Tossed in Time, I knew I had a lot in common with Peter and those disciples that night in the Galilee storm. But there’s more significance than our common ground. For all of us, this is where true Resurrection takes place: on the wild waves of death, bringing us up to new life.
Thank You, God, that our life in You doesn’t end with death at all. It ends with a grace-filled new beginning.
Yours in faith,
1 – The guiding Scripture in Tossed in Time: Steering by the Christian Seasons is Matthew’s story about Jesus walking on the water during a terrifying night storm on the Sea of Galilee. Peter dared to step out of the boat to walk to him, with surprising consequences for all.
2 – Philip Jenkins, “When and where did the resurrected Jesus first appear?” The Christian Century, April 2023, pp. 35-36.