Today I'd like to share with you a train of thought I had while we were away on vacation. We were traveling the seas on a ship called the miracle. As we traveled I began to notice the present similarities between our experiences and the miracles that Jesus performed in the gospel of John. This in itself seemed very ironic to me, due to the fact that on Palm Sunday I had preached about those same miracles. Now I'm not saying that we experienced miracles, rather we experienced situations which reminded me of those miracles. Of course, being on a ship called the miracle probably helped.
We set sail from the New York City harbor on Thursday, April 28. Late that night we began to experience high winds and a turbulent sea. These conditions lasted till about midmorning on Saturday. In our state room we had a TV channel which showed us how fast the ship was moving, where we were on a map, and the wind speed. At one point in time the wind had gusted up to 54 mph, on average it was about 40 mph. Now you may recall that huge line of thunderstorms that cut across the country bringing all that damage and rain? Well that storm system was following us down. Most of the passengers on that ship stayed in their rooms during that time. They were too queasy, or sea sick to venture out. At first I started to think of the Gilligan Island’s theme song "the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed…" Fortunately we were not on the SS Minow. Since we were some of those people that stayed in our rooms, I decided to take some time to just reflect. I went out on our balcony and just sat and watched the water. I listened to a song that the Campbells did; actually it's an old hymn written by Mosie Lister-till the storm passes by. "In the dark of the midnight have I oft hid my face, while the storm howls above me, and there’s no hiding place. ’Mid the crash of the thunder, precious lord, hear my cry, keep me safe till the storm passes by." As I thought on that song, it reminded me that all this that was going on outside the ship was under God's authority and God's power. It made me wish that I could just see Jesus walking across the waters to calm the storm. It made me think of Jesus walking on the water. This miracle is recorded in John chapter 6 and so that is what I'm going to be talking about today. How "Jesus is the master of nature in answer to man's despair".
Now as a backdrop we begin with another miracle where Jesus feeds the 5000 with five loaves and two fishes. The people are so amazed at what Jesus has done that they want to take him by force and make him King. So according to John 6:15 "when Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." According to Matthew 14:23 Jesus went to the mountain to pray alone. Before he left though he "… Constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away." Jesus has told his disciples to go across the sea of Galilee to the other side somewhere between Capernaum and Gennesaret[gay*nae*sa*ret]. The disciples are sent. We begin verse 16 "and when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, and entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them." The disciples had just witnessed a worldly impossibility. They saw Jesus take the little bit that a boy had and make it enough to feed all the men all the woman all the children. Even so the disciples were partakers in this miracle not as receivers, for who the miracle is done, but rather as distributors of Christ's abundance. They took from Jesus's very hands, the loaves and fishes as he multiplied them. And then they took what the master had given and distributed it to all who were there. They were an intermediary between the hands of Christ and the mouths of his followers. They were helping Jesus provide for the multitudes. Wow! Do you think they got a little full of themselves? Do you think they felt really important? I mean, they just helped Jesus perform a miracle! Didn't they? They had so much to be proud of wouldn’t that give them a place of higher favor in the coming kingdom of God?
The disciples, being obedient to Jesus get in their boat and leave. They leave on a 10 mile journey, and Jesus is not with them. With all the great things they had witnessed during the day why should they think that anything can go wrong? We continue to read in verse 18 that "… The sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew." Have you ever had cup of coffee or a bowl of soup that's really hot? So what do you do? You blow on it. Have you ever noticed the ripples that cut across top of that hot liquid when you blow? Sometimes, you might blow just a little too hard and that coffee spills over? That is kind of what's happening here. It's not just a little breeze. It's strong wind coming down out of the mountains into this open sea. It is blowing hard, and causing some really big ripples that are rolling over the top of the boat. The boat is going up and down, side to side. Everyone, is probably soaking wet as this tiny boat bobs up and down crashing through some waves. I've seen what a strong wind can do to a big ship; I can just imagine what it would do to Peter's fishing boat that is only 7 1/2 feet wide and about 27 feet long compared to our ship which was 105 feet wide by 963 feet long and had 12 decks.
In verse 19 we read "so when they had rowed about five and 20 or 30 furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid." The disciples are close to halfway through their 10 mile journey. They have been struggling, trying to keep afloat and trying to get where Jesus has sent them, but they probably haven't made much progress. Experiences like this have a way of humbling a person. Without Jesus there I don't think the disciples are so impressed with themselves. I think that any greatness they possibly thought they might have has quickly turned into the realization that without Jesus they can do nothing.
Then they see Jesus walking towards them. I often wonder what that must've looked like. Do you think the waves just leveled out under every footfall of Jesus? Did the wind blow around him? Did he stay dry? Or did he merely glide over the waves? So here comes Jesus in an amazing way. But there are things that aren't said here that are important to notice. First, Jesus knows their predicament in Mark 6:48 we read "… He saw been toiling in rowing, for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea…" Jesus knows what's going on. He was still on land seeing their struggle, and came to them. Jesus was in the right place at the right time to meet the disciples in their moment of need. There are some interesting things to notice here as well, just in his walking. He doesn't run, he walks. If we are in a hurry to help someone we move as quick as possible, but Jesus walks. Why? Have you noticed yet, what Jesus is walking on? He's walking on the sea. He's walking on the storm laden sea. The storm is under his feet. That which troubled the disciples was no trouble for Jesus.
Now another thing which I've noticed here and now I'm not sure about how accurate this is so this is one of my "I thinks" Jesus had to know when to leave the mountain to get to that point in the sea where the boat would intersect his path. I don't think that there is a GPS unit out there that could calculate that rendezvous that precisely. Jesus didn't have to go looking for them-he knew where they would be, and how to get there.
And they were afraid. The people on this little boat were afraid. When nature rises up against you: you realize that between the two of you, nature has the upper hand. No matter how great you may think you are nature can and sometimes will knock you down. We have some experienced fisherman here the spent a lot of time on their boats, they know what the sea is capable of and even they are afraid.
In verse 20 we read "but he saith unto them, it is I; be not afraid." Jesus identifies himself to the fearful disciples. In Mark six the disciples think they are seeing a ghost. If it's early in the morning and you've been struggling all through the night trying to row some 10 miles and you see a person walking towards you on the waters, what would you think? Would we expect to see Jesus coming out to meet us at our point of despair or would we be like the disciples and think that were seeing a ghost or maybe even an hallucination? Why is it at times, that we don't expect to see Jesus when we are in such dire circumstances? Jesus tells the disciples I am here, I am present. Some scholars equate this as Jesus using the name of Jehovah the great I am.
Jesus assures the disciples and tells them to be not afraid. Is this a two ply request? Is Jesus saying it's all right I'm not a ghost, or is he saying don't fear the storm, don't fear the position that you're in? When we're fighting life's battles it is then that we can look forward to seeing Jesus face-to-face and know that we don't have to choose to be afraid. We can instead trust in him to save us from our troubles.
Matthew chapter 14 adds to the account found in John. Beginning in verse 28 we read "and Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto the on the water. And he said, come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me." Peter often times shows us an interesting side of both our humanity and our faith. Peter is in a boat, in the middle of the sea, in the middle of the storm. This boat is the only thing that is keeping him from drowning. He sees Jesus and he wants to get out of the boat! Now I'm not trying to build a whole new theology out of this, but where is the safest place to be? In a song written by the Whisnants is the following line "get out of the boat and start walking on the sea, for out of the boat is the safest place to be." I think Peter had some different ideas! Could you look upon the face of Jesus and want to come out of what has kept you afloat in your sea of troubles? I think what's happened here can best be explained through a hymn that we sing- "turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace." You see, that's actually what Peter did. He looked full into the face Jesus and all the troubles that were around him completely melted away. His only focus was his Savior, and he wanted to draw near to him. When Peter got out of the boat, he was obeying a command from Jesus to come. This put his troubles under his feet just like the troubles were under Jesus his feet. This is something that all of us strive for-to rise up above our sea of troubles: to stand at the master’s side. But, our humanity-our worldly perspective gets in the way sometimes, as is the case of Peter. He began to pay more attention to the troubled waters then to his calm Savior. Peter wasn't looking full in his wonderful face. He was distracted by the wind and the waves and he began to sink a little. And as he began to sink, he began to think about the waves and the winds which caused him to sink more which caused him to think more about the waves and the winds. That's how we loose focus. That's how we go from standing in his presence to sinking in a sea of troubles. We turn our eyes away from him, and we let the things of this world drag us down. Peter realized as he was sinking that he still had someone who could rescue him and he utters, or probably yells one of the shortest prayers ever recorded "Lord, save me." You know folks, sometimes it's the shortest prayer that can have the most meaning, and the most impact. I don't think Peter had much time to put together an elaborate prayer. I think that this prayer might've been a little longer. It might have originally been Lord save me glug, glug but I don't know if there was a Greek word for glug back them so I'm assuming they just shortened it down to Lord save me.
In verse 31 we read "And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" Peter was walking toward Jesus, but when Peter cried out for his help-Jesus was right there only an arms length away. Sometimes, that's how we feel our relationship is. We feel like he's across the sea far away from us when in fact, he is just an arms length away. It the next line of that song by the Whisnants is "when you're walking towards the master he will keep you afloat, don't be afraid of the winds and the waves-come on and get out of the boat."
In verse 32 we read "And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased." And back in John 6:21 "then they willingly received him into the ship. And immediately the ship was at the land whither they went." With Jesus on board the storm submits to his authority. The winds die down and the seas are calm. The disciples who despaired, thinking that their end was at hand realize who Jesus is. They realize that he is the master of nature in answer to not only the disciples despair, but all mankind's despair. With Jesus on board they immediately land at their destination safe and sound, and a whole lot of humbled. To quote from another Campbells song "everything's all right since Jesus stepped on board. The land is in sight, at the helm is the Lord. I know my ship will land safe forevermore, since the master of the sea stepped on board…" So the question I feel I have to ask is when the winds begin to blow, and cause your calm seas to roll, do you yell out in pain, struggling against the strain; or do to Jesus you go, so that no wind may blow, that no terror nor strife will mess with your life?, will you give him control, Will on your ship he go, Will you let him take command. so that you can get safely to dry land?