1 Kings 19.9-18
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
By Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings
We use the word ‘miracle’ in many different ways, and sometimes we use it in
a way that is the opposite of what we normally mean by it.
What we normally mean when we speak about a miracle is an occurrence
that seems to defy all rational explanation, something that seems to go
against the laws of nature, like walking on water.
Yet we sometimes speak about a miracle when we mean the exact opposite.
For instance, I read the other day about a new drug that was going to cure, or
at least arrest, a rather rare type of cancer. It was called by the media a
But this new drug didn’t defy rational explanation or go against the laws of
nature. It was the exact opposite.
It had been developed by medical scientists not by defying nature but by
understanding nature better. They had discovered how the particular cancer
cells in question could be inhibited by an injection of certain chemicals, a
certain drug. And this new drug caused the cancer cells to shrink. The
miraculous drug was not against nature but working with it.
So why was it called miraculous?
Two reasons, I think. First because this had never been done before. It had
gone beyond what past medical science was capable of doing – and that
And second, because those occurrences we want to call miraculous are
things that take our breath away, things we find amazing. This new drug, that
was going to revolutionise the treatment of one form of cancer, did take your
breath away, it was amazing. It was miraculous.
So I don’t think something has to defy rational explanation or go against
nature for us to call it miraculous. It just has to bowl us over and be
astonishing – and bring us hope and cheer.
In the Bible, there is a third factor for something to be called a miracle. As
well as being out of the ordinary and awesome, it also tells us something
about God or powerfully discloses God’s presence.
So what about the gospel for today and Christ’s walking on water? Is this
something that defies rational explanation and goes against nature or not?
I don’t know.
Part of the reason I don’t know is because the gospels were written in a pre-
scientific age. Unlike us, who have the benefit of a scientific understanding of
the workings of the world, the people at the time of Christ largely didn’t. Of
course they knew that if you throw a stone in the air it will not stay up but will
fall to the ground. Of course they knew that water does not flow uphill. They
could see these things with their own eyes. But they had no understanding of
gravity and how it works. So with a more limited knowledge they might call
many occurrences miraculous if they didn’t understand why they happened,
and if they caused them to gasp in wonder and to give praise to God.
So I don’t altogether know how to answer the question is Christ’s walking on
water capable of a rational explanation or not? But I think I can see why for
the disciples this is a miracle and why St Matthew wants to record it in his
Because this is a story that contrasts Jesus and his disciples. They have
spent the day together, while Jesus talked to the crowds. The crowds have
now gone home and Jesus wants to stay behind for a while on the hillside to
pray alone. So he tells the disciples to get into their boat and go across the
lake. They do so, but they don’t get far. There is a head wind and the waves
get up. Late on, Jesus comes to them, seemingly walking on the water.
And, whatever that is, it is the contrast between Jesus and the disciples that
we are being pointed to. At first, the disciples are fearful and not sure whether
it is Jesus or not. He reassures them ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’
But when Peter tries to reach Jesus, he can make no headway against the
wind, starts to sink and is afraid. Jesus has to support him; and says he has
We can picture the scene. While the waves crash around the disciples and
their hearts are in their mouths with anxiety and they turn to jelly, Jesus is
calm and rock-like.
We can see why the first Christians wanted this story in the gospel - because
it says something to all of us who come after.
There will be times when we might not be in a boat and on a lake, but it will
seem as if the world around us is like a choppy sea, the headwinds are
against us, and everything is beyond our control. At those times we need to
hear the voice of Christ as he comes to us, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’
When we are anxious and turn to jelly, we need to be calmed by his voice,
coming to us over the waves, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.’
When we let that happen, it will be our miracle too.
Prepared by Oli