As you’re being seated, if you would take a copy of God’s Word, we’ll be in John chapter 6. You’ll find it on page 891 if you’re using a pew Bible; 891, continuing our studies in this marvelous chapter of God’s Word. And we’ll be looking at verses 16 through 21 tonight; John 6:16-21. Before we hear God’s Word, let’s ask His blessing on it. Let’s pray.
Father, we’ve been bought by a precious blood, and so what we need so desperately tonight and all of the fear and confusion that assaults us day by day, is to be reminded that the One who spilled His precious blood for us gets in the boat with us. Would You show us Jesus tonight? Make Him more beautiful and more believable than anything else in this world, by the power of Your Holy Spirit we pray, in Jesus’ name, amen.
John 6, beginning at verse 16. This is God’s Word:
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”
The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever.
When four-year-old Sidney Fahrenbruch moved to Colorado, she did what any sensible new homeowner would do. She found the nearest police officer and asked him promptly to check the home for monsters. She'd done her own spade work but wanted to make sure there were no monsters. So Officer Bonday of the Colorado Police Department showed up at her house and walked through with little Sidney to make sure there were no monsters and at the end of the day was happy to report that the home was monster-free. But her mom said something. Her mom said, “It’s amazing the confidence that Officer Bonday gave my little Sidney as he checked the house for monsters.”
Our fears start when we’re young, don’t they? And as we grow older, we trade monsters for mortgages and children and circumstances around us and world politics, but the point remains, there’s so much around us that can make us afraid and we’re always facing fears in our lives. And maybe the biggest fear that will haunt us from time to time is the thought that we try to push out as fast as we can, and that’s this – “Maybe God isn’t there. Maybe this isn’t true.” Have you ever thought that? Have you ever thought it and thought to yourself, “If I tell anybody I know that, they’re going to look at me like I’m crazy. They’re not going to talk to me anymore. They’re going to think I’ve left the faith.” Whatever. That’s a big fear we all have. And we’re in good company, because Martin Luther wrote a lot about this, about the God who seemed absent. And here tonight in this passage, Jesus wants to talk to us and calm our fears about whether or not God is there. Whether or not He cares.
And here we are in John 6, as we talked a little bit about last week, it’s a turning point. And John has been concerned up to this point, and will be for the next few chapters, to really drive home who this is. John is raising and answering questions of identity about Jesus. “Who is this?” He told us at the outset – “The Word was God.” And now he’s filling in that picture for us. And so he's giving us these snapshots, as it were, of Jesus’ ministry to tell us who He is. And we come to this section here tonight after the feeding of the five thousand last week. Here’s the main thing John is up to tonight in 16 through 21. When we’re afraid God is absent, Jesus comforts us by His presence. That’s the main point. When we are afraid that God is absent, Jesus comforts us by His presence. And those will be our headings this evening. In verses 16 to 18 – God’s absence. And then in verses 19 to 21 – God’s presence. God’s absence and God’s presence.
Look there again at verse 16. “When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.” So right before this in verse 15, the crowds want to make Jesus a king and He departs from them. And the disciples, you’ll see this over and over again – this is so encouraging to me as I read the Gospels – the disciples are a whole lot more like the crowds than they are like Jesus when you read through the New Testament. In other words, they miss the point. In fact, when you get to Jesus’ ministry, basically the only people who recognize who He is, the only beings who recognize who He is are the demons, not the disciples, not anybody else. So they’re missing the point massively and they were going to miss it again here after the feeding of the five thousand. They would have been right with the crowds thinking, “This is the King! This is who we’ve been waiting for and He is going to conquer the Romans and it is going to be awesome in Jerusalem once again!” And so Jesus leaves and says to them implicitly, “I am not that kind of king. I am not here to serve at the whim of worldly power and for worldly ends. But I am not the king you expected; I am, however, the King you need.” That’s what He’s going to show them as He comes to them on the sea.
John gives us some interesting details. It’s nighttime. Whenever that happens in this gospel, it’s highly symbolic. It’s true, it’s factual, it really was nighttime 2,000 something years ago on the Sea of Galilee, but there’s also a metaphorical aspect to that. John is saying something sinister is going to happen; something bad is going to happen. And they’re by themselves on the sea and the wind comes up. Now you’ve probably heard this before, but the Sea of Galilee sits, I think, roughly about 8,000 feet below sea level. So literally, storms can come up with very, very high winds, a lot of rain, a lot of wind, in under fifteen minutes. It can change drastically. Kind of like the weather in Mississippi but a little bit more extreme! And they’re out there – these are experienced fishermen most of them, right? James and Peter and John. But then you’ve got somebody like Simon the Zealot. What was a zealot? Kind of a revolutionary; kind of a radical, maybe left-wing kind of person who’s in the boat with them who would have been no help to them at all rowing. Okay? So you’ve got this beleaguered band of folks, some of whom are understanding what’s going on, others of whom have no idea. And I guarantee you one thing they’re united in, as John tells us here is, they’re afraid, they’re frightened, they’re terrified. Why? Because they say to themselves, “Where is He?” Jesus had not yet come to them. They’re by themselves, in the night. And remember, just put yourself in this scene. No light pollution around them. No electricity. Absolutely dark. No lights shining from the other side of the shore. By themselves in the middle of a storm, everything going wrong, no sign of Jesus.
Now that paints a picture for us, doesn't it? Where do we see God absent in our lives? Where are we tempted to think He is absent? Well, I think the most natural place to go is unanswered prayer. That's a painful reality in our lives, isn't it? At least answered according to the way we want it. We may pray for years for something and get discouraged and give up. "Where's God? Why isn't He answering this prayer? It seems like a perfectly legitimate desire. It's according to His Word!" It's all the stuff we preachers say prayers should be and it doesn't get answered. And you say, "Where are You, God? Why won't my child come back? Why does he or she keep running from You? Why isn't the cancer healed? I have other people who prayed and they're okay, and yet this isn't working in my life." What about all the evil in this world? Doesn't that tempt us to question whether or not God is here and good and everything we say He is? We see all the rampant evil from Charlottesville to the murder of 3,000 babies again today, just like yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that, back to 1973 to the modern holocaust going on right down on North State Street. All that kind of evil. To the evil of a woman being senselessly shot, as Richard mentioned, about four blocks from here. Where's God? Why does ISIS exist? Why do we have all kinds of diseases we can't cure? All the evil – natural evil, physical evil, evil all around us. Why? "Where are you, God?"
Bored With God
And then, think about this – maybe even closer to home. What about when you’re just bored with God. You show up and go through the motions, you smile, you look nice; nobody knows anything is wrong. And you just don’t feel close to Him. And you say, “Where are You, God? I mean I’m trying to do what I know I’m supposed to do but I read Your Bible and nothing happens. I pray and nothing happens. I don’t feel anything in worship. Where are You?” And those questions can become acute. Can they not? They can begin to haunt us. And when this happens, here’s the question before all of us – “What are we going to do when these questions bother us?” Let’s keep reading.
Look what Jesus says there; look what He does, rather, in verse 19. In the second place here we’ll look at God’s presence. “When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” So they’re about three-and-a-half miles out to the Sea of Galilee, still a long way from where they wanted to be, and then Jesus comes. Why then? Because this would have been the moment when they were tempted to give up all hope. This would have been the breaking point. This would have been the time when you may have had in your life and said, “If You don’t show up, God, I’m going to be done.” That’s when Jesus shows up. And they’re frightened when they see Him.
And this is interesting. John is a guy who uses very simple Greek. Seminarians here know that when you start translating and learning the Greek language, you begin with 1 John mostly because it’s very simple vocabulary. But he has some really interesting word choices here. This word for “frightened” is a fear not just of what’s happening; they’re not afraid because they see Jesus walking. They’re afraid in the sense of a deity coming to them. It’s a word that’s used elsewhere in this gospel and around the New Testament for fear when somebody is in the presence of God! And John says, “walking.” And again, a very interesting word here that means “walking effortlessly.” It’s not a big deal for Him to be walking on the waves in the storm.
Jesus Masters Creation
Jesus is telling us something about Himself here. What is He telling us? If you were to flip back to Psalm 107 – you don’t have to turn there; I’ll read it for us. Psalm 107 says this in verses 29 and 30, “He made the storm be still,” speaking of Yahweh, “and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet and he brought them to their desired haven.” Remember we talked about last week, John is your New Testament writer who always has the Old Testament in the background. So what is he telling us? If you read through the Psalms, again and again and again, you’ll read these kinds of verses. God stilling the sea, God mastering creation, Yahweh, the covenant Creator of heaven and earth, the God of the Jews, the absolutely unique idea of God in the ancient world – this God is the One who is acting on behalf of His people. And John says, “Yes, and He just showed up in the flesh and fulfilled Psalm 107:29-30 as He walks on the water.” He can walk on the sea effortlessly because He made it effortlessly. Just as it was no effort for Jesus to speak the sea into existence, the waves recognized the footsteps of Him who made feet to sink in water naturally. That’s who this is. That’s what John’s anxious for us to see.
God is Always on Time
And the second thing He’s doing by coming to them here is telling them, “My timing can be trusted. My timing can be trusted.” That’s really what we’re asking when God seems absent, isn’t it? Isn’t the question, when we’re asking, “Why hasn’t prayer been answered? Why is there so much evil?” isn’t that a question of timing? “Why haven’t You stopped it yet, God? Why haven’t You answered me yet, God?” It’s a timing question. That’s what it boils down to. And Jesus is saying, “My timing is perfect.” “Why did You send us into the storm, Jesus?” “Trust Me,” He’s saying. “I’ll come at the exact right moment.” As an extended family member of mine likes to say, “God’s deliverances are seldom early, but they are always on time.” They’re seldom early, but they’re always on time.
And then the other thing He’s doing here as He walks to them on the sea is, He’s saying, “I’m going to give you a preview of what I came to do.” How does that work? If you read through the Old Testament, the sea symbolizes opposition to God; chaos, disorder, sin in some senses. Very symbolic for the Jewish people in the Old Testament. And when Jesus comes on the water, He is saying to them, “Do you see all this that you would have known, being raised in the synagogue like you disciples were that this seems opposed to Me? I am going to stop all that. And the way that that is going to show up in your life, disciples,” and in ours today “is, the storm of God’s wrath that you deserve” and I deserve, “I’m going to still that as well.” That’s the good news in this passage. It’s not just the comfort Jesus brings by getting to our fears; we’ll talk about that in a moment. It’s that this is the God who comes to us to remove His wrath and opposition to Himself in this world. That’s the good news of this passage.
“It is I”
And then look what he says to them as they’re frightened. “It is I.” He identifies Himself first. Why does He do that? Because you and I will never stop fearing until we have a good reason to stop fearing. Jesus doesn’t lead with, “Don’t fear; it’s Me.” He leads with, “It is I. Do not fear.” And on some translations, it’s the “I AM,” the covenant name of God from the Old Testament; Jesus claiming divinity. It doesn’t demand to be translated like that, but any way we translate it the picture is clear John is giving us. The reason why the disciples don’t need to be afraid is because who is walking towards them and getting in the boat with them. In other words, Jesus identifies Himself to us because He loves us, because He says, “There’s a superior being here which needs and demands the right kind of fear from you frightened disciples.”
“Do Not Fear”
And then He says His favorite, "Thou shalt not." Jesus is going to tell us don't do this over and over again in the New Testament. He's going to say, "Don't steal. Don't commit adultery. Don't murder." But do you know without exception what His favorite "Thou shalt not," His favorite, "Do not" is? "Do not fear." That's what He tells us not to do more than anything else. "Do not fear." Why? Why does He say that to us? Because, I think what John is doing here is giving us such a marvelous picture of Jesus' full deity, His full God-ness, and His full humanity. Because He is God and controls all that comes to pass, He can say, "Do not fear." And because He's fully human, because He was tempted in every way as we are, He can say, "Do not fear." He's God enough to still the storm and He's human enough to know why we would be afraid of the storm in the first place. Isn't that marvelous? He's the one who can stop the storm, but He knows why we're afraid of these storms in our lives. Fully God and fully man. We are not alone. As the author of Hebrews said, "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with us." He knows everything we go through. He's been there.
Jesus Sends Us Into the Storm
And so what do we do with this? What difference does this make for your life and mine tomorrow? The first thing to recognize from this passage I think, at least one of many things, it’s this. Jesus sends us into the storm. Did you know that? He sent the disciples into the storm. Remember John, last time, was concerned for us to know that Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen, but He asks Philip anyway to test his faith. He knows exactly when the storm is going to come. He knows exactly what’s going to happen to those disciples when He sends them into the storm and He sends them anyway. The storms are under His sovereign care. Whatever you’re going through tonight, you were sent there by Jesus. Doesn’t that change how we look at our circumstances? We were sent there by Him. He put us in those circumstances for His glory and our good.
And this is why it doesn’t make a lot of sense to say, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” The Bible is the story of God giving people more than they can handle! That’s what it’s about. That’s one storyline. Again and again and again God says, “I am going to give you more than you can handle.” And that would be cruel, except that He says, “I’m going to be with you in the midst of what you can’t handle” so that you and I will learn to stop depending on our own wisdom, on our own resources, our own cunning, our own plans, our own strength, our personalities, our money, our upbringing. Whatever! God says, “I’m going to bring an end to all of that by what I send your way so that there’s nothing left for your faith to hold onto but Me. Because I’m a jealous God,” He says. “I don’t want you to have a divided heart because a divided heart is not good for you. I love you too much,” He says, “to let your trust be like a diversified bank folder. It’s going to be Me and Me alone,” Jesus says. “I will send you into storms.”
Jesus Gets Into the Boat with Us
And the best news about this passage is, He may send us into the storms but He always gets into the boat with us. He may send us into those storms, but He always gets into the boat with us. Do you know any other god like this? Could we not scour the pages of every world religion and you don’t find god getting into a boat? Because He loves His disciples enough to be with them in the midst of what He sent them into. And He’ll do the same today. Nothing has changed in 2,000 years. He will always be in the boat with us.
But He also gives us here the only way to stop being afraid. Think about what motivated you this past week and how much fear played a part in that. Think about if you went into a room where you didn’t know a lot of people. What’s your first thought? “What do these people think of me?” It won’t take much for that to be in any social setting where we find ourselves. Even with our friends, we’re always wondering, “What do these people think about me?” “And why do we care so much?” That’s another question, right? But fear motivates so much of what we do – how we raise our children, how we look at relationships, what Monday morning’s going to look like at Prep or MRA or Madison Central. Fear – all over the place there, isn’t it? And it never goes away in our lives – fear of other people’s opinions, fear of our circumstances.
Trade Your Fears
And here’s what Jesus is saying to us tonight. He’s saying, “I want you to trade your fears.” He knew why the disciples were afraid. If you’re in a boat, on the sea in ancient Israel with none of the comforts or modern shipbuilding techniques, there’s a good chance you could die! He knows why they’re afraid, but He says, “I want you to trade your fears.” And the kind of fear that He wants us to have of Him is the fear of reverence and awe. Think about it this way. The kind of fear that Jesus wants you to have for Him is the fear that comes when we’re afraid to hurt someone we love. I’m terrified of hurting Callie or my girls. I don’t ever want to do that. I’m afraid of that. I hope that’s a healthy fear. Why? Because I love them. And when it comes to God, the fear He is saying we need to have of Him is not this fear like, “Oh, He’s going to drop the hammer on me at any moment!” It’s the fear of, “He loves me so much and so well I want to love Him better and I’m afraid to do anything that would hurt the one who loves me so well.” That’s the kind of fear Jesus says He wants us to have.
And the way we get there is a strange path. The way we get there is by renewing our sense of awe for Jesus. Because whatever you are in awe of, is what you are serving. And do you want to find out what you are in awe of? What are you stressed about? What is weighing on your mind? Whatever that thing is, that’s what you’re holding in awe. And Jesus walks on the water, still the storm, brings the boat safely to land. Why? To shout at them and us, “Be in awe of Me! It’s so much better! You don’t have to worry anymore. I’ve got this.” That’s what He’s saying to us. How do we become more in awe of Jesus? We need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us awe-stealers in our lives. What’s stealing your attention from holding Jesus in awe? Is it food? Is that the way you self-medicate? You kind of take in food and that’s how you calm your fears? Is it spending? That Prime membership comes up for renewal and you do it because it’s so much easier and that’s the way you feel like you’re in control or in power? Is it comfort? Whatever it is, whatever is stealing your awe from Jesus, He says, “I promise you it’s better with Me. I promise you that when you hold Me in awe, I’ll let you enjoy all the good things in this life as I give them to you, as I deem fit. But you have to trust Me on this.” And that’s the hard part of walking with Him, isn’t it?
Seek and Wait
So we need to ask the Lord what’s stealing our awe of Him, and then we need to do something we do not do well in modern life. We need to seek the Lord and wait for Him. How do we do that? We cry out to Him – daily, when we don’t feel like it, when He still feels absent, we keep crying out. “Seek the Lord,” the Bible says. “I sought the Lord and afterwards he answered me,” David wrote. So we’ve got these things in the Bible – “Seek the Lord” – and then you’ve got – “Behold, I’m with you always until the end of the age.” How do we balance those two – seeking and waiting? That’s, in one sense, what faith is, isn’t it? Seeking God and waiting for Him to show up. And here’s what church history and the Bible combine to teach us about this. When you seek Him, when we cry out, when we seek His face in His Word and by prayer, He will show up. It will likely be in an unexpected way, it will be just on time, seldom early, but He will show up. It may take a long time. He will show up. You may feel like you’re on the middle of the lake – no light, nothing but waves and storms. He will come when we need Him.
It reminds me of something I read about Teddy Roosevelt not too long ago. Great president of the United States; of course, the teddy bear is named after his ill-fated hunting trip in the delta in 1902 when he refused to kill a black bear. He was always an outdoorsman and if you read some of his writings and journals and whatnot, he talked about how much he loved to look at the sky. And so when he would have visitors to the White House – this was of course back before electricity was widespread through our cities – at the end of each meal, as the sun was setting, he would take the visitors outside and simply stare at the sunset with them until it got dark and the stars came out. Sometimes guests would be uncomfortable because the president would just be sitting there looking at the sky and the stars. And eventually he would say to the men with him, “Gentlemen, I believe we are small enough now. Let’s go to bed.”
And that’s what happens when we see Jesus the way John wants us to see Him in this passage. We will feel how small we truly are. But it’s only when we are small and our awe of Jesus grows, that our fears will begin to be conquered. That’s the pattern. The smaller we are, the smaller our false fears are because the greater our fear of God is. So when we get done with this passage, what do we see? Our fears were misplaced. God says tonight, “Trade your fears. Have the right fear of Me and you’ll never be alone again.” Let’s pray.
Our God, it is so easy to stand up here and mouth words about not being afraid, but we are going to leave this place tonight and be assaulted by fear and unbelief. So we pray for each other tonight, Lord. Our great hope, our great prayer is that as we leave this place that words would become reality, that Your presence would be real, that Your deliverances would be right when we need them, and that we would know that we have never been nor ever will be alone, in Christ. We pray in His name, amen.
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