The Great I AM: On the Water

The Great I AM: On the Water

The Great I AM: On the Water.

“Jesus called out to them, ‘Don’t be afraid! The I AM is here!’” (John 6:20).


a. Jesus and His disciples had just crossed the Sea of Galilee, or the Lake, and found themselves on a hill where they could sit down and relax. A huge throng of people was trying to find them because He had just finished a healing session with many sick folks. There was even a larger group of people than usual because of all the pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Estimates were in the 5,000 range, and that was just the men in the multitude. There could easily have been twice that if you counted all the women and children.

b. Since they were in the middle of nowhere, with the closest village being miles away, the question of food was raised. Jesus, upon seeing this vast sea of humanity and their obvious hunger for sustenance, accepts the fact that nothing but a spectacular miracle would be sufficient. So He has everybody sit down on the grassy slopes of the hill, and He accepts a little boy’s meager lunch of five little barley loaves of bread and two fish. Everybody is wondering, what good will that do with this gigantic crowd?

c. Jesus then provides a dramatic preview of the Eucharist sacrament. He took the bread and broke it; He gave thanks to God for the food; He distributed the bread to all those gathered together; the multitude partook of the broken bread. Somehow, the bread in Jesus’ hands just kept appearing. He’d break a little loaf, and more would appear. He kept multiplying fresh bread to the gathered thousands until all had eaten and were satisfied. Jesus then had the disciples gather all the remnants, all the leftover bread and fish, and put it all in baskets… twelve baskets, one for each disciple. There miraculously was an abundance of bread left over, much more than was originally given by that little boy. Jesus created a lot from a little, as He can do with whatever we offer to Him in our meagerness. Fresh bread from the Bread of life, from the hidden manna that comes down from heaven.

d. The multitude was electrified by this dramatic, unexpected miracle. In their messianic enthusiasm, though, they became misguided, and exclaimed that Jesus is indeed the Prophet foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. They were convinced Jesus was the man prophesied by Moses, the Great Teacher that they all have been expecting. But their vision of the role this Prophet took was different than that of Jesus. They mistakenly thought that Jesus had arrived on the scene to overturn Roman rule, that He would bring the much needed political change in Israel through His messages from God. They were expecting a heavenly prophet for an earthly revolution. They wanted a free nation, and not a personal transformation. Their Teacher, in their mind, was to be a king. Jesus picked up on the fervor to make him a different kind of king than what He wanted, and this was unsettling for Him. So He slipped away from the crowd to a nearby mountain to be alone. In that mass of people, it was easy for him to escape the confusion and be by Himself.


a. While Jesus was on the mountain, no doubt praying and thinking and decompressing, the disciples grew impatient to row to the other side of the Lake. So they hopped into a boat and they began rowing across. The evening was falling, they wanted to get to the other side before it was totally dark, and Jesus seemed to be taking His time on the mountain.

b. The Sea of Galilee is 150 feet deep and surrounded by hills. So it is often subjected to sudden severe windstorms that would cause huge waves. These storms were frightening even to veteran fishermen, since the boats could easily be overcome in the turbulence. The disciples found themselves in just such a storm when they were only halfway across the Lake, about three or four miles from shore. The waves were tremendous, and they were understandably feeling vulnerable in their boat.

c. What seemed to terrify the disciples even more was that they thought they saw a ghost walking on the water towards them. Between the strong winds and the apparition walking on the storm-tossed water, they were out of their minds with fear. After watching the multiplication of the wonder bread for thousands of people, maybe it shouldn’t have been so unexpected to see Jesus walk on the water as well. But it’s easy for us to say that, since we already know what happens.


a. It is at this dramatic point, with powerful winds blowing and a ghost standing on the rough waters, that Jesus identified Himself as I AM. Jesus decided to use the divine name that He loves to use in reference to Himself. He appropriates this term when He wants to point to His co-equal status with God, the Great I AM, from Exodus 3:14. As He balances Himself on the choppy waves near the boat so the disciples could hear Him, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid! The I AM is here!” One translation put it, “Fear not! I AM!” He is telling them right then and there that He is the unique Son of God, and that He has control of nature, of all of creation.

b. Jesus loves to claim kinship with Yahweh, I AM What I AM, I Will Be What I Will Be, at all kinds of moments… with the frightened disciples, and with the high priest; with a mob ready to arrest Him, and with a Samaritan woman at a well; when He is teaching a crowd, and when He is arguing with the Pharisees; before the Resurrection, and after the Resurrection. In fact, there are, in the gospel of John alone, 23 different times Jesus claimed to be I AM, assuming the personal name of God. I AM was an important part of His identity, and so it was a verbal name tag He liked to wear. “Have no fear! The I AM is here!”

c. The disciples in the boat were satisfied with Jesus’ self-identification, and so they were eager to let Jesus climb into the boat with them. They were greatly relieved, so they welcomed Him to join the group. A strange thing happened once Jesus accepted the invitation to climb in. Scripture says that they instantly, immediately arrived at their destination across the Lake! They were somehow transported in the blinking of an eye. What happened here? Did Jesus use the powerful wind to hydroplane three or four miles in an instant? This is one of those whimsical events that have no explanation. This miracle gets little press, and was probably mentioned for our enjoyment.

d. It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t calm the storm! He would say things like “Peace, be still!” in other storm stories, but in this case He didn’t calm those surging waves. He instead walked on those waves and let the storm continue. Sometimes Jesus doesn’t calm our storms. Sometimes He provides His presence, enables us to survive the storm and then helps us make the best of it instead. Perhaps this dramatic scene is an echo, a confirmation for us of the truth of Isaiah 43:1-5“But now, thus says Yahweh, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name. You are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; Do not fear, for I am with you.”

d. Perhaps this is the perfect time to sing that classic children’s gospel chorus:

With Jesus in the boat, I can smile in a storm, smile in a storm, smile in a storm

With Jesus in the boat I can smile in a storm, as we go sailing home.