For the past two weeks I’ve been reading, studying, and praying over these verses that we are going to take a look at this morning. John 6:15-21 follows one of the most amazing miracles of Jesus, the feeding of the 5,000 with five little barley loaves and two small pickled fish. Equally amazing is the fact that all of the people, far more than 5,000 if you will remember that women and children were not counted, all of the people were stuffed, they ate until they were full. Another astounding fact is that after everyone ate until they were full, the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers! You and I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through the minds of the disciples as they went around with their baskets and gathered up the leftovers!
Following the miracle feeding we read that Jesus withdrew to a mountain to pray when the people began to talk about forcing Jesus to be their King. In verse 16, John tells us that the disciples went down to the lake, the Sea of Galilee, and got into the boat to go to Capernaum. Let’s read our Scripture and see what we can learn.
15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. (John 6:15-21 NIV)
Jesus walking on the water is the fifth miracle of Jesus that John records in his Gospel. We can also read Matthew and Mark’s description of the same event in their Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and John all agree that the miracle of Jesus walking on the water took place right after Jesus fed 5,000. It’s important for us to read all three accounts because they complement one another. We can learn some additional information from reading Matthew and Mark alongside of John’s story of Jesus walking on the water. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I’m talking about.
If we did not have the Gospel of Matthew and Mark we would be led to believe that the disciples got tired of waiting for Jesus to come down from the mountain. Eventually one of the disciples said, “Let’s get out of here!” and they got in the boat and left. Matthew and Mark both tell us, “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side…” (Matthew 14:22; Mark 6:45) According to Matthew and Mark it was after Jesus made the disciples get into the boat that He went up on the mountainside to pray.
Matthew gives us even more information. In Matthew 14:28, after the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Most of you know what happened after Peter stepped out of the boat. Peter was striding across the waves, walking towards Jesus, until we get to Matthew 14:30. Matthew tells us,
30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30 NIV)
Now, I want us to recognize something. The waves were beating against the boat before the disciples ever recognized Jesus walking on the water. Matthew, Mark, and John are all in agreement: the wind was against them, the waters were rough, and they were rowing and rowing and not getting anywhere. The waves were still crashing over the sides of the boat when Jesus arrived and Peter asked the Lord to call him out to Him. The waves were still churning the waters of the Sea of Galilee and the winds were still howling even as Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking towards Jesus. It was when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and focused them on the waves and wind that he became afraid and began to sink.
I don’t know how that strikes you, but recognizing this reality this past week has caused me to think about my own life. Jesus invites me to come, He invites you to come. He doesn’t always quiet the storm before the invitation—the invitation comes in the midst of the storms of life. We just don’t like that at all do we? We want Jesus to quiet the storms of our lives and give us smooth sailing for the rest of our days. If you are looking for that kind of Bible teaching then let me assure you that you can definitely find it right here in Oklahoma City. You can find those preachers and teachers who will tell you that once you come to Jesus that everything changes—sickness, sorrow, troubles, and trials no longer have to be part of your life ever again. I will assure you that you can pick and choose various Scriptures from God’s Word to build your case for that kind of teaching, but you can’t begin in Genesis and read through to the end of Revelation and ever reconcile that kind of teaching with biblical truth. Let me take this even a step further.
Have you considered that it was Jesus who sent them into the storm? Let me explain to you what I’m talking about. I mentioned to you that Matthew and Mark give us additional information that we don’t find in John. They tell us that Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat and head out to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They got into the boat in the evening, not too long afterwards the winds began to blow against them. John tells us that they had only rowed about 3-4 miles because of the strong winds. Matthew and Mark tell us the disciples’ boat was out in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. They were off course, way off course if they were headed to Bethsaida and then on to Capernaum. Matthew and Mark also tell us that Jesus finally came to them “shortly before dawn.” This English phrase translates the Greek phrase, “???????? ??????? ??? ??????…” (tetarten phulaken tes nuktos), which literally reads, “fourth watch the night.” We talk about daylight and dark, night and day, but in the ancient world they had different divisions of the day and night. The Jews traditionally had three divisions, or “watches” of the night, but when the Romans came to power a fourth watch was added. The watches of the night served for military purposes for the Romans. When Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus came to the disciples during the fourth watch of the night, they mean to let us know that it was sometime between 3-6 am. I’m sharing this with you so that you will know that Jesus’ disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee for hours, from about dark until early the next morning rowing, straining, and making very little progress.
Where was Jesus while the disciples were being tossed by the waves? Jesus had gone up on a mountainside to pray. He wasn’t unaware of the predicament of His disciples. Mark tells us that Jesus “saw the disciples straining at the oars…” We might ask, “Why didn’t Jesus do something about their predicament?” He did, in His time. He didn’t show up when they would have liked for Him to come. The disciples were no different than you and me. They would have liked for Jesus to come and quiet the wind before the waves ever started tossing their boat.
We have to remember something very important—it was Jesus who sent them out into the Sea of Galilee. Jesus knew the winds were coming before they ever came—He was God Incarnate. Jesus saw them while they were out on the Sea of Galilee while the waves were crashing. He could have calmed the winds at any time, but He didn’t. You may question that last statement of mine about Jesus having the power to quiet the winds, but let me remind that this is not the first time the disciples found themselves out on the Sea of Galilee being tossed by the wind and the waves. In Mark 4:35-41we read,
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41 NIV)
Jesus was worn out from ministering to the people when He got into the boat. The disciples were still awake when a bad storm suddenly came up on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus’ head never left the cushion. The disciples were all sure they were going to die when they woke Jesus up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up and said, “Quiet! Be still!” In an instant the surface of the Sea of Galilee became like glass! Jesus is the Lord of the storm my friends. He can stir it up and He can quiet it with nothing more than a command.
Jesus could have quieted the wind and the waves while He was sitting on the mountainside in prayer, but He didn’t. I have to share something with you that I’ve learned this past week as I was reading and praying about the story we are studying this morning. As I was reading the Scripture from John the question popped into my mind, “What was Jesus praying about while He was on the mountainside?” I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about that before this past week. There’s no way to know definitively what Jesus was praying, but could He have been praying for the disciples who were in the storm? Was Jesus praying for the faith of His followers? Was Jesus asking the Father to strengthen their faith so that the storm wouldn’t shake them? Was Jesus interceding for them? I think it makes perfect sense when you consider the rest of Scripture. Let me give you a couple of examples.
First of all, let’s take a look at Luke 22:31-34. After Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples He was teaching them important lessons they needed to know when all of a sudden Jesus said,
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NIV)
There’s a couple of important insights that we need to pay close attention to in this section of God’s Word because they pertain to us as well as Simon Peter and the other disciples. First of all, Jesus says, “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” Most every other translation of the Bible, other than the New International Version, translates this phrase, “sift you (singular) as wheat.” In the Greek New Testament, “you” is plural; Jesus is saying that Satan has asked to sift all of the disciples as wheat. Secondly, Jesus tells Peter that He has prayed for him, singular, specifically for Peter. How did Jesus pray for Peter? That’s a great and very important question. Please pay attention to this—Jesus prayed that Peter’s “faith may not fail.” Jesus didn’t tell Peter, “I told Satan, ‘absolutely not! Hands off, you can’t touch him.’” Jesus did say to Peter, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” “Turned back from what?” you may be wondering? We can find out if we will keep reading. Peter declared his allegiance to the Lord when he said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus responded to Peter, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Peter is going to recover from his denial of Jesus, from his sifting, and he will most definitely strengthen his brothers, the followers of Jesus, when he stands to preach the most powerful of sermons at Pentecost!
Jesus prayed for Peter, but He didn’t prevent Satan from “sifting” him. Reminds you and me of the story of Job doesn’t it? Satan went to God again and again about Job and each time God drew boundaries to what Satan could and couldn’t do. Satan can’t do one thing in my life or your life without the permission of God my friends. When we come under attack, when we are going through our own “sifting,” we need to remember that Jesus is praying for us just as He was praying for Peter. We also need to remember that any and all “sifting” we go through serves a purpose in our lives because our God is a God of purpose.
I want to share a second example for you this morning if you will turn to John 17. We won’t read the entire chapter, but I do want to point out to us that when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was praying for His followers, including you and me. In vss. 1-19, Jesus prayed about and for His disciples, but when we come to verse 20, Jesus expanded His prayer. Read along with me.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 NIV)
Jesus was praying for you and me before we were ever aware of His constant presence and prayers. Paul wrote in Romans,
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 NIV)
I want those of you who feel like you are being sifted this very morning to stop thinking about the trial you are in at this moment and redirect your thoughts to the fact that Jesus is interceding for you. Just as He was praying for the disciples in the boat on the stormy Sea of Galilee, He is praying for you. Just as He was praying for Peter so is He praying for you. I’ve got to show you just one more example. In the book of Hebrews we learn that Jesus’ priesthood far exceeds the priests of the temple because they would eventually die and Jesus lives forever. Listen to this:
24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:24-26 NIV)
“…He always lives to intercede for them.” Regardless of the storms that you are facing, or will face in life, if you will remember and know that Jesus knows where you are, He sees you just as He saw His disciples in the storm, and He is praying for you, then your storm will not overwhelm you.
Let’s not forget, Jesus did make His way across the waters, through the waves, and He came to the disciples. Do you remember what He said when He arrived? He said, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” These guys were seasoned fisherman. They were use to the winds that would come up on the Sea of Galilee, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a scary situation for them. We already read where they were afraid they were going to drown when the waves were tossing the boat while Jesus was in the boat with them. There’s no doubt that whatever fear they were feeling about the wind and waves was suddenly interrupted by the sight of Jesus walking on the water. Matthew tells us that they thought they were seeing a ghost and they shrieked in fear! Jesus said, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid.
That’s easier said than done isn’t it? It seems to me that fear is like an involuntary reflex for me at times. Unsettling situations can arise in my life or in the lives of those that I care about and love and my heart just starts jumping out of my chest, I can feel the surge of adrenaline, and fear can dominate my thoughts. I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this—it’s part of the human condition. Have you ever read all of the places where God encourages His people not to fear? The Bible is thick with references.
I’ve been reading through the Bible again this year and just a couple of weeks ago I was reading Joshua. I lost track of the number of times God told Joshua, “Do not be afraid.” We have to remember the situation Joshua was facing in his life. He was called by God to fill the shoes of the great leader Moses. That would be terrifying wouldn’t it? Who can move into Moses’ office and feel confident? With Moses shadow hanging over him in the minds of the people and the enemies who were still in the Promised Land before him, God says,
9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NIV)
And time after time God repeated His encouragement to Joshua, “Don’t be afraid.” In Matthew’s Gospel we read about Joseph when he got the news that Mary was pregnant. The Angel of the Lord told him, “Don’t be afraid!” (Matthew 1:20) In Luke 5, after Peter had experienced the miraculous catch of fish, he begged Jesus to go away from him because he was a sinful man. Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you’ll be fishing for people.” In Luke 8:50, Jairus, the synagogue leader was worried sick over his daughter’s health. He was making his way to Jesus when someone said, “She’s dead.” Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe, and she will be healed.” In Acts 27:24, Paul was on a ship that was being brutalized by the waves. The men on the ship thought they were going to die when an Angel of the Lord spoke to Paul and said, “Don’t be afraid, Paul. You are on your way to stand trial before Caesar.” And on and on the list goes. I hope you noticed that people in all kinds of situations were encouraged, even commanded, “Do not be afraid.”
You are in a situation this morning that lends itself to making you afraid, but Jesus is here to say to you just what He said to those disciples in the boat—“It is I. Do not be afraid.”
A few years ago there was a group here at Britton Christian Church that met on Sunday nights called, “Peace in the Storm.” Connie started the group and prepared our Bible study each time we met. The group was for parents with kids who were struggling with addiction issues. Those were painful, but precious times we spent together on Sunday evenings. We read God’s Word, prayed for one another, talked about our fears, sorrow, hopes and dreams, and we encouraged one another through God’s Word to experience His peace in the midst of the storm.
I knew every parent in the group. Some attended and still attend BCC. Others have never attended BCC, but heard about the group and wanted to come. Years have passed since our last meeting together. Some of the kids are clean and sober and doing great in life. There are other kids who are still struggling with life and addiction. For some of the parents who were in the group other storms have come their way. Problems at work, health issues, other family problems, relationships that have fallen apart, and the list goes on. I was on the phone this week talking to one of the men who was in the group with his wife. While we were talking he said, “You know, I know it sounds strange, but my son’s addiction has blessed me in ways I would have never imagined.” I asked, “How’s that?” He said, “I spend more time with God in prayer than I ever did before.” I want you to know that’s a remarkable statement. I know folks in the same situation as my friend who are simply paralyzed by fear and worry, their health is failing because they can’t find peace in the storm. Some of you who are here this morning know exactly what I’m talking about because I’m describing you.
Jesus sent me your way this morning to say, “Do not be afraid.” You can trust Him. He may not quiet the storm in your life right now, but He can quiet you, He can give you His peace, and you can know that He is your peace. Won’t you cry out to Him this morning? Won’t you confess that you are being sifted and you feel like you are coming apart at the seams? Won’t you fall into His arms of mercy and grace? If you have never accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior then that is your first order of business this morning my friend. Won’t you ask Jesus to come into your life and be your Lord and Savior this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 1, 2014
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2 NIV)