The Sea of Galilee is an inland, freshwater lake, fed by the Jordan River. It lies almost 700 feet below sea level. The surrounding hills rise about 2000 feet above sea level, with the peaks beyond rising even higher. After nightfall when the air at higher elevations cools, this cooler air races down the slopes to the warmth of the low-lying lake. Strong winds are common and often stir up storms unexpectedly. Because the lake is relatively shallow, when storms strike, the wind whips up high waves that can easily swamp a small boat. This is the situation the disciples found themselves in. The men rowed until almost dawn. (the fourth watch of the night). The fishermen in the group would know how dangerous their situation was. They were afraid and struggling.
This story is in 3 of the Gospels, so it’s an important story. And there’s a reason it comes right after feeding the 5000 which is in all 4 of the Gospels. These 2 miracles are nature miracles. People were given more miracles back then to show that Jesus was God’s Son. He only had 3 years for his mission. He had to grab people’s attention. Plus, they didn’t have CNN or in-depth interviews like we do today.
Nature miracles reveal the character of God. Nobody could do either of these, but God Himself. You might be able to explain away healing, but it’s impossible for anyone else to calm a storm or feed 5000 from the little He started with.
The story is a little different in each Gospel. John doesn’t mention Peter walking on water out to Christ. And there’s a whole lesson in Peter’s part of the story – how he took his eyes off Jesus and started to sink, but he still had a flicker of faith and called out to the Lord to save him and Jesus did. But I’m only going to talk about the John story.
And to understand it we have to go back to John 6:15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
They wanted to make Him king because He miraculously fed them. There are a couple things we can say about this. One is they were caught up in the excitement – like crowds, especially big crowds often are. But also these people were ruled by Rome and they didn’t like that. They were Jews who only wanted God as their ruler. So there was kind of a resistance group at this time always looking for ways to overthrow the Roman’s hold over them. If they could have unlimited food, that would be a help, it would be one less thing they would have to depend on Rome for.
And I already mentioned that they may have remembered how Moses wrote in the Torah about the prophet (or Messiah) coming who would feed them manna. Well, Jesus just fed them manna. So maybe Jesus was the Messiah.
But again. God’s plan was never an earthly king. And Jesus is already the king over every believer’s life. Remember Satan tried to tempt Him with this very same thing. “I’ll give you the kingdoms of the earth.” Now the people were trying to tempt Him and He resists by going off to pray.
Jesus didn’t come to earth to be popular or even to make people’s lives easier. He came to be Savior of the World!
One mistake people often still make is seeking Jesus for the wrong reasons. To get them out of a fix or to give them something they thing they need, instead of having a relationship with Him, believing he is who He says He is.
We should praise and worship Him, yes! But we should also just talk to Him. And listen to Him. And try to be more like Him.
Verses 16 and 17 again - 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.
So Jesus sends the disciples away. He didn’t want them to get any ideas about making Him king too! We know from other places in the Bible they didn’t always understand His mission either and at least one time the mother of James and John came to Jesus asking if her sons would have prominent places when Jesus came into His kingdom. They could have easily gotten caught up in the crowd.
So he sends them in the boat back to where they came from and He goes up the mountain to pray. Jesus often went somewhere to be alone in prayer and because it’s written about in the Bible it’s an important lesson for us. We need to get away and be still with God at times. We need to pray – just God and us.
Then the storm kicks in. And the disciples were 3 and a half miles out which would have been about dead center in the lake. There was no going back. They were rowing with all their might.
The disciples straining against the oars can represent Christians today trying to do what is right. They were out there because Jesus had sent them. Yet, they still ran into trouble. A couple things to learn from this – Christians are not promised a life with no trials. And we can almost always expect them after a mountain top experience.
The disciples had just witnessed a huge miracle. They were probably ecstatic! They had chosen the fight guy to follow! They were doing exactly what Christ told them to do. And then…Boom! Big trial!
It will happen! Sometimes because Satan will go after you if he sees you victorious, sometimes it might be God humbling you, “Hey, don’t let all that go to your heard!” “let me bring you down to earth where you belong!” And sometimes you’re just on a spiritual high and you let your guard down. Maybe even sometimes God is doing a little test on your faith. Not that He needs to know how much you have, but to show you how much you have!
So Jesus comes out walking on the water. And the disciples thought they saw a ghost! It’s amazing that some people are more ready to believe in ghosts then the Creator!
The disciples were in the dark…very symbolic because they were without Christ right then! And when they were without Him, first they were afraid of the winds and waves, and then they thought they had a ghost to deal with! At least the storm was natural! One thing you can take from this is, our real distresses are often increased by our imaginary ones.
So Jesus had been up on the mountain praying. For a long time. From sundown til between 3 and 6 a.m. Anyone in here ever prayed that long? And He saw the disciples. One thing about being God – He can see in the dark! Not sure if you knew that!
We can use this picture for today. In the story, Jesus is on the mountain praying. Today He is in heaven praying. In the story, He sees the disciples struggling and needing help. Today He sees us struggling and needing help. In the story did he come right away? No, they managed to get half way across the lake before He came (after 8 hours). But, we know He came at exactly the right minute! He is the on-time God. Many times when people have gone through bad times you’ll hear them say, “You know, I just don’t think I would have lasted one second longer! God showed up in the nick of time!”
God watches us. When we’re alone, when we struggle, when we run out of support, when we don’t know what to do. When we row and row and row and just don’t seem to be getting anywhere. He has His eyes on us! We may not be paying attention to Him, but He’s paying attention to us!
Later in John you’ll see Jesus considers us His love gifts from God! Don’t you think He’s going to take care of those gifts? We are never out of His thoughts and He is going to bring every one of those gifts home to His Father.
Jesus tells the disciples “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Sometimes people will tell you not to worry, but you still do because there’s always the chance they don’t what what they’re talking about! Or they have no control and there are certainly a lot of things to fear in life! Whether someday some doctor will tell us we have a terminal illness or someone we love and needs does, or we lost our job, or terrorism, tornados, so many things,, but Jesus is more powerful than anything on earth or in the universe! We have no reason to fear when we rely on Him. And He will come to us even when our faith is imperfect. When we have doubt. All we need is just enough faith to call out to God to save us. And He will.
In the Bible there are 2 stories about Jesus and storms. One time He calmed the storm and another He calmed His children. That’s the same with our trials. Occasionally He might resolve our problem for us. More often than not though He’ll just be with us through it. Because our trials have a purpose.
It might be to teach us patience. Or to trust in God. To be humble. It might be to teach us about His priorities, to focus on Him instead of worldly things. To be more compassionate, how to help others in their troubles. How to be grateful for what we do have. Or to stop us from doing something we shouldn’t be doing.
This story is teaching us the only thing that calms our fears is faith. Faith in the Lord who comes to us in the midst of the winds and waves of life. Who speaks to us and says, “Take heart, it is I: do not be afraid.”
He said it to the disciples then and says it to us now. Earthquakes, Aids, Mindless senseless killings, fears that wake you up in the middle of the night and weigh you down during the day – it may not look like He’s in control, but He is. And you know how we know that? Because all of these things were prophesied in the Bible. He foretold them since before the beginning of time. So there is a purpose in them. And He can and will make good things come from bad. Faith overcomes fear. Faith that Jesus is the Son of God sent for our salvation. He has overcome death. When He says be not afraid it is I – He’s saying “it is I, JESUS! THE SON OF GOD! Able to do all these things!!
Whenever we have any kind of trial, particularly those into which we know God directed us, we can remember 3 things promised in 1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempte] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1. Trials are common to all people. We think no one has it as bad as we do – no one has suffered as much as we have – that no one understands what we’re going through, but we have to face our trials with courage. Even as Christians, maybe especially as Christians, we can’t avoid trials. In this situation Jesus actually sent them into the storm.
2. God is faithful. He will never let us be tempted or tried beyond what we can bear. Jesus stands by God’s throne in constant intercessory prayer for us and remember the story of the 3 men thrown into the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel? How the king looked in and saw 4 men – and one like an angel? And no one ended up being hurt? That was Jesus. The worse times we are going through – the closer He is.
3. In every trial God will provide a way out. Just as Jesus didn’t let the disciples struggle on the sea indefinitely. He will come to us – but like this example of Him walking on water, it may not be as we would expect Him to. The way out may be a helpful friend God sends us. A promise we read in the Bible, an offer of a job, a good book to read that ends up inspiring us or giving us hope or even a solution. It could be a sense of His presence when you’re praying, or the knowledge that, hey this thing I’ve been going through has actually helped me! It’s made me stronger or opened doors to me in ways I would never have thought of myself. Like kids going through cancer and deciding to become a doctor after.
We should never just wallow in self-pity. OR try to get others to pity us. We should never become bitter or resentful. We shouldn’t even choose to feel we’re alone because it’s not true. We always have Christ. When He sends his help, like the disciples we need to reach out and pull Him into the boat with us. The saying, “Jesus never promised it would be a smooth ride, just that He would get you to your destination and that it would be worth it” may have come from this story!
Jesus is greater than anything that happens to us. Whatever His purpose for us, whatever He’s told us to do – even if it takes us into a storm at sea – He is responsible for us – we are His love gifts from His Father.
Look at verse 21 again: Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
Did you notice? They had struggled for 8 hours to get half way. But, once Jesus was with them they got immediately to the other side!