Sermon: Jesus Walks On Water: Jesus Is Sovereign Over The Storms of Life.
Introduction: My high school made a very unusual choice when selecting a theme song to close out our football pep rallies. They chose the 1969 Simon and Garfunkel song, “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
When you're weary
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon and garfunkel/#share
I suppose it was the student body’s way of assuring our football team that we would be there for them if the game got tough.
The biblical scene we have before us today is one of troubled waters. It is the scene of the Lord Jesus coming to His disciples and becoming like a bridge over troubled waters. It follows the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry after he fed 5000. When you include the women and children present the crowd probably totaled over 20,000 people. The Bible says that after the miracle of the bread and fish the people wanted to take Jesus by force and make him their king. They wanted a political ruler who would set them free from Rome and who would feed their fleshly appetites. Jesus came, however, to be a spiritual ruler, not a political one. Jesus was more interested in souls than in stomachs. He would rule in the hearts and lives of all who would place their trust in Him as Lord and Savior. His throne would be a cross. His crown would be a crown of thorns. Knowing their intent and the subtle satanic suggestion to by-pass the cross, he emphatically dispersed the crowd. After that He dismissed his 12 disciples, making them get into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Jesus knew that his own 12 were susceptible to the idea of making Him a King. They had already argued among themselves as to who would be the greatest in his Kingdom, James and John even jockeying for the best seats at his right and left hand. So He sent them away. Jesus then retreated to the mountain to pray (Matthew 14:23).
We will never know the intimate details of the Son’s prayerful communion with the Father. Perhaps His prayer was one of refreshment seeking a renewal of strength for the tasks ahead. Perhaps His prayer was one of recommitment as He focused His heart anew on the Father’s will, including the cross.
One thing we can know for certain is that while our Lord was talking to the Father on the mountain above the disciples were in trouble on the lake below. His disciples on the lake beneath Him suddenly found themselves in a massive storm that threatened to destroy them. Amazingly and miraculously the Lord above saw the struggling disciples below. He did more than see them; He went to them walking on the very troubles that threatened them. Like the lyrics of the song, Jesus revealed the truth to His disciples that:
I'm on your side When times get rough And friends just can't be found Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down
There is a profound principle in this passage. Jesus is sovereign over the storms of life. When disaster, difficulties, rejection, affliction, or troubles threaten to overwhelm us our Lord comes to us like a bridge over troubled waters in order to calm the storm. Jesus walks over the very troubles that threaten to do us in and He calms the storm.
Would you join me this morning as we take a fresh look at this miracle so we can discover and apply its message to our lives? Notice first that…
I hope you do not have the mistaken notion that following Jesus as your Lord and Savior insulates you from the problems and difficulties of life. In fact, obedience to Christ often invites difficulties. It was certainly true of these disciples and it will be true of us. When you read the three Gospel of accounts of this incident you discover that Jesus made His disciples get into the boat with the instructions to go ahead of Him to the other side. Both Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus “made” the disciples get into the boat. Matthew writes, “Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home” Matthew 14:22 (NLT). You get the picture of Jesus shoving the boat away from shore. The disciples had made it 3 ½ miles from shore to the middle point of the Sea of Galilee when suddenly and unexpectedly a storm arose. The wind was against them. The waves were buffeting them. Mark in his account tells us that they were straining at the oars, but making little headway. These seasoned fishermen were doing all they could to prevent the boat from capsizing. And for the second time in their careers as followers of Jesus they found themselves in peril on the sea. They were in the place of peril simply because they had obeyed Jesus Christ. This storm represents every difficulty that came into the disciple’s lives from the moment they began following him to the end of their days. Dear church, may this serve as a reminder that we too are in the place of peril as we follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
When did the disciples find themselves in peril? When they obeyed the Lord and began to cross the lake. One way to get yourself in trouble is by disobeying God. Take Jonah for an example. He was sent by God to Ninevah with the message of repentance, but he disobeyed God and went down to Tarshish and boarded a boat. He sailed in the exact opposite direction God had sent him. As a result he ended up going down to Tarshish, down to a boat, down into the sea, and eventually down in the belly of a great fish! Down, down, down. That is one way to get in trouble. But it might surprise you to know that a second way to get in trouble in this life is through obedience to the Word of God. John writes in verses 17-18, “Darkness had already set in, but Jesus had not yet come to them. Then a high wind arose, and the sea began to churn.” John 6:17-18 (HCSB)
The disciples found themselves in the place of peril because they obeyed the Lord! Following the Lord does not grant us immunity from the trials of life. It may be relatively easy for you to trust Christ initially at salvation. When I was a twelve year old boy and trusted Christ as my Savior and Lord it was relatively easy. The pastor was thrilled that I came forward. The congregation wept with joy when I trusted Christ. My family was happy when I trusted Christ. But it has not always been easy to trust and obey the Lord since then. Sometimes living for the Lord has led me right into the path of difficulty. Have you learned this lesson?
Obedience to Christ does not give us immunity from difficulties. Obedience to God’s will might place you in the middle of a storm, but obey God anyway, knowing that Christ is sovereign over our dilemmas! The disciples had to learn this. During the storms of life we may lose sight of Him, but He never loses sight of us! The disciples were in the place of peril. Where was Jesus?
“Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.” John 6:15 (NKJV)
Mathew and Mark both tell us in their Gospels that Jesus went up to the mountain for the explicit purpose of prayer (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46). While the disciples are in the place of peril He was in the place of prayer. While the Lord is on the mountain above He watches the disciples in their struggle on the lake below.
This was the first time the disciples encountered a difficulty alone. They had always had Jesus by their side in times past. Do you remember that there was an earlier time the disciples were in a storm on this same lake? You can read about it in Matthew 8:23-27. It was the same lake but a different storm. And on that occasion Jesus was physically with His disciples in the boat. During this second storm Jesus is not with them. It is dark and they are alone. They cannot see Jesus, but He can see them. Jesus sent them out into the lake that night knowing full well that the storm would come. Why? He wanted to teach them to trust Him by faith.
Jesus was teaching his disciples to trust that He is sovereign over the storms of life. He was preparing them for the day when He would ascend, not to a mountain to pray, but back to the Father’s side in Heaven. He was preparing them for the day when they would see Him no more. They would have to face the difficulties of life by faith.
The lesson they learned on the lake that night served them well later in life. Jesus is sovereign over our dilemmas.
Dear Christian, hear me well. This ancient scene on the lake is a microcosm of the Christian life here and now. Our Lord has not ascended a mountain. He ascended to the heights of Heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. He has been there for over 2,000 years. He is hidden from our sight. Meanwhile, we struggle down here on the storm-tossed sea of life. We face wave after wave of difficulty, affliction, rejection, struggle, and danger. But the lesson of this passage is that the same Lord who looked down from the mountain and saw His disciples in the storm is the same Lord who looks down from the Father’s side and sees you as you go through your storm. And what is He doing in Heaven? He is in the place of prayer. He is praying for you! The Bible says of our exalted Lord, “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” Hebrews 7:25 (NLT) Dear child, you have One who always sees and who always cares as you are tossed about by the winds of adversity. You are in the place of peril but He is in the place of prayer. Let it comfort you that He is praying for you at this very moment! He is sovereign over our dilemmas. The second lesson we learn from this episode is that…
“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. But He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” John 6:19-20 (NKJV)
[The Sea of Galilee is] a freshwater lake nestled in the hills of northern Palestine. Its surface is nearly 700 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, some 30 miles to the west. [It is surrounded by mountains.] Because of its location, it is subject to sudden and violent storms... [Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 617.]
The disciples had rowed about three or four miles which placed them in the center of the lake. That meant that they could not turn back. They were at the point of no return. If the boat capsized they would more than likely drown in the storm before reaching shore. They had been on the lake for eight or nine hours surrounded by darkness and danger. I believe Jesus was fully aware of their dilemma. I believe He saw them in their struggle for survival. Then, when the night was its blackest, Jesus came to them walking on the water. This teaches us three lessons about the one who is sovereign over our dilemmas.
“About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water.” Matthew 14:25 (NLT)
I ask myself, “Why did Jesus wait so long to rescue His disciples? Why the delay? Does Jesus really care?” I ask that question of this passage and I ask it of my life when I am going through difficulties. The answer is, “Yes Jesus cares.” But He initiates the moment of deliverance in a way that gives God the maximum glory and in a way that is consistent with His own timing in our lives. He will deliver us, but not in a way that gives us the glory; nor at our accusation that He must deliver in the next twenty minutes or He doesn’t really care. He delivers in such a way as to give God the glory and to reveal His perfect timing in my life.
Follow that concept throughout the Scriptures.
There is a point at which He must intervene—and it is always the right moment. Divine delays do not mean divine indifference. God often waits until just the last moment to deliver us from the adverse winds of life so that we are left with no hope but Him! Could it be that God intervenes at just the right moment so we will know, and all who see it will know, that if it had not been for God we would have been doomed? Have you ever experienced God’s divine moment of deliverance?
“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” John 6:19 (NKJV)
How wonderful it is to see Jesus walking on the very difficulties that threatens to sink the disciples. As the old songs says, “Remember that when the waves are over your head, they are under His feet.” He is sovereign over our dilemmas and over our deliverance.
Jesus walking on the waves is the picture of perfect poise. The disciples are being tossed about; He is not. The disciples are afraid; He is not. The disciples are on storm-tossed seas; He is on solid footing.
Many liberal theologians have tried to explain this miracle away. Some have said Jesus was merely walking on the shoreline but the disciples thought He was walking on the water. Barth said Jesus floated out to them on a wooden plank. (I suppose then Jesus was the first surfer.) Some liberals have said Jesus was stepping on stones that were just under the surface of the water. I am amazed at the absurd explanations liberals try to conjure up instead of believing the Word of God! If Jesus could walk out of a tomb alive after three days then walking on water was not a problem for Him! And this same Jesus wants to walk into any difficulty or storm of life you encounter. You may not see Him with your eyes of flesh but you can see Him with your eyes of faith if you will just believe and trust Him! Your problem is His pathway into your life.
When we look up and all we see are the angry storm clouds above our heads, when we look around and all we see are the boisterous waves crashing in on us from every side, and when we look down and can only see the black depths that threaten to swallow us up, it is then that Jesus marches into our lives to deliver. He does not send an angel. He does not send a preacher. He comes to us Himself. He is our means of deliverance. Place your faith in Him!
As the one who is sovereign over our deliverance he initiates the moment of deliverance, He illustrates the means of deliverance, and He issues the message of deliverance.
“But He said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’” John 6:20 (NKJV)
Jesus had to utter those words because when the disciples first saw Him they were afraid. They did not recognize Him. They thought they were seeing a phantasm, a spirit, or a ghost. They had the wind in their face and the rain and waves in their eyes. Now they look up and see a figure steadily and decisively approaching them and it causes them to scream out like frightened school children (Matthew 14:26). They did not recognize that deliverance had come. They thought matters had just gone from bad to worse.
How much like the disciples are we? So often in our moments of terror, rejection, affliction, tribulation we do not recognize our own deliverance. They didn’t. They shrieked with fear. So Jesus speaks into our storms and trials. “It is I. Do Not be afraid.” And in speaking He accomplishes two works in our lives.
1. He builds our faith. “It is I.”
2. He banishes our fear. “Do not be afraid.”
The safest place in all the world is in the center of God’s will! He is always with us.
“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. ” (Psalm 139:7–10, ESV)
Jesus is Sovereign Over Our Dilemmas, Jesus is Sovereign Over Our Deliverance, and…
“Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” John 6:21 (NKJV)
I believe this is still part of the miracle. After Jesus got into the boat with the disciples, the stormed ended as suddenly as it began. Matthew puts it this way in his gospel account, “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” Matthew 14:32 (NKJV)
Immediately the boat was at the shore where they were heading, illustrating that Jesus is sovereign over our destination.
Nine hours they had been rowing and had only gone three miles. What a picture this is of our lives without the power of Christ. Like the disciples in the storm we are going around and around in circles, getting nowhere. So many people try to live without Christ in their lives. They face the storms of marriage without Him. They face the storms of sickness without Him. They face the storms of depression without Him. And without Him they are getting nowhere fast.
Our American history proves that you cannot build a godly nation without God’s help. Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation to form a new union. The Constitutional Convention had been meeting for five weeks, and had hit a perilous deadlock. The entire effort to create a stronger union was in jeopardy. Eighty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin, quiet during most of the deliberations, then addressed the group. [Adapted from, http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/21/Benjamin_Franklins_Request_for_Prayers_at_the_Constitutional__1.html]
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this… I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.
Just as our nation’s founders had to acknowledge dependence upon God, so must you. Only when you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and put your faith in Him do you realize a true sense of destiny. When the disciples welcomed Jesus into the boat they finally made miraculous progress. Have you welcomed the Lord Jesus Christ into the boat of your soul, your life? Is He welcomed in every area of your life?
He empowers our progress, and…
It was at Jesus' command that they had set out to reach Capernaum. Their destination was set by Him. They did not get to choose where they wanted to go. It is the job of followers to follow. And as followers of Jesus Christ it is our job, our duty to follow Him wherever He leads. Life is not about getting Jesus to save my skin so I can then live like I want. It is about trusting and obeying Him in every area of my life.
And God has a plan for every life. He does not leave you adrift on the sea of life. But you will never achieve His purpose for your life until you receive Christ into your life. “The moment the Master was received into the ship there was progress, and soon after, the purpose of the voyage was realized.” Stephen Olford
Paul sets forth the purpose of life when he writes: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 (NLT). As Christians, we are not here by accident or chance. God has foreordained the path that we should walk. It is our privilege to find, follow and finish the course that is laid out before us. God delivers you to give you a destiny!
“Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” ” (Matthew 14:33, NKJV)
Prayer: Dear Lord, I know that following You will certainly bring me into contrary winds. It is inevitable. It is a promise. I will face the storms of life. But it is comforting to know that You see all. You understand what I am going through and You care for me! I confess that You see me. I rejoice that help is on the way.
Even when I am surrounded with darkness and my heart is gripped with fear; it is then that You come to me. Teach me to be aware of your presence in my life. Help me to focus the gaze of faith upon You.
Jesus, I invite you into the boat of my life, my dilemmas, my decisions, my choices. Lead me to the destiny you have for me. I want to do your will.
[Prayer Adapted from R. Kent Hughes, John : That You May Believe, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1999), 199.]