This morning, we continue in our study of the gospel of John. In just a bit, we’ll take a look at our text in John, chapter 6.
But first a bit of medical trivia. If you’ve ever had a broken bone that had to be set in a cast, your doctor may have told you that, after it heals, the broken bone will be stronger than it ever was before.
Some of you may have experienced a broken arm or leg. I’m sure that all of you have experienced a “break” of some other kind. For example, how about a broken a relationship? Or a broken heart? Or has anyone here ever felt like you’ve had a dream shattered?
We all go through hardships — painful experiences — but if we “treat” them correctly, we can become stronger than we were before. With God’s help, times of trial and testing can make us better — more mature — especially when it comes to being a Christ follower.
This morning, we come to a time in Jesus’ ministry when he saw that his disciples’ faith needed the strengthening that comes through hardship. But before we read those verses, let’s take a look at the context.
Jesus had just fed more than 5,000 people with what was basically a first century version of a “happy meal.” You may recall from last week’s lesson that the multitude responded to this miracle by trying to force Jesus to be their king. They decided that Jesus was the perfect guy to run the Romans out of Palestine, and they were ready to put him up on their shoulders, march him into Jerusalem, and put him in the palace.
It’s at this point that our text this morning begins. Three of the gospels tell us what happened next – Matthew, Mark and John. And by reading all three of these accounts, we learn a few more details.
For example, Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus “made his disciples” get into a boat and get away from the crowd. None of the writers tell us why he had to force them to leave, but I don’t think it’s difficult to figure it out. We know that the disciples were not immune from the temptation to see Jesus as a king like earthly kings. In fact, up until Jesus’ crucifixion, they were still fighting with each other for a top position in his kingdom.
So, Jesus sent them away. Their faith was not where it needed to be. It was a weak faith that needed to grow. And Jesus intended to use their time in the boat to strengthen their faith.
Let’s watch the video now. If you have your Bibles, we’re picking up in John 6, verse 15.
Using all three accounts of this story, let’s take a closer look. It had been a long day and with his disciples gone and the crowd finally dispersed, Jesus was able to go up on a hillside to be alone and pray.
Several hours passed and suddenly a wind storm hit, blowing the disciples’ boat southward, away from the northern shore. Matthew 14:24 says that “the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.”
You may remember a tragic accident that happened on a lake in Missouri this past summer where a duck boat was caught in bad weather and sank. Watching the video of that boat as it went under the water affected me as much as anything I’ve ever seen in my life. It was painful to watch that boat fight against the winds and the waves, only to eventually lose that battle and sink into the water.
I think something similar took place on the Sea of Galilee and it was every bit as terrifying. The Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and 7 miles wide and it’s usually a calm body of water. But it’s well-known for having wind storms that can come up very quickly and turn it into a dangerous body of water. Even today, there are frequent craft advisories warning boaters to remain docked during these wind storms.
The windstorm that night was so bad that the disciples—many of whom were professional sailors—were fighting for their lives! They rowed and rowed until 3:00 AM. They were cold, wet, exhausted, and terrified. They knew there was a very strong possibility that they wouldn’t survive the night.
When we combine all three accounts of this event, we see that there were actually four different miracles that took place that night. First of all, Jesus walked on water. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do that, but if you have, you quickly realize that it’s impossible. Jesus defied the laws of gravity that he created in the first place. Jesus walked on water.
But not only did Jesus walk on water, Matthew tells us that Jesus called Peter out of the boat to walk on the water as well. And as long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus and not on the waves, he was able to walk on the surface of that stormy sea. That was the second miracle that happened there.
Matthew and Mark both record the third miracle. When Jesus and Peter got back into the boat, the wind immediately stopped. It was such a sudden change that Mark 6:51 says, “they were utterly astounded.” This wasn’t just a slight change in the weather. It wasn’t like things just calmed down as the storm passed by. These guys had never seen a storm stop so suddenly and they had sailed the Sea of Galilee all their lives. One minute, they’re shouting at the top of their lungs so they could hear each other. And the next minute, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. This was something they had never seen before, so they were “astounded”!
But there was one more miracle that night and John is the only one who recorded this one. In verse 21. “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Verse 19 tells us that over the course of nine hours or so, they had only rowed about three or four miles, which was about halfway across the lake at its narrowest point. But as soon as Jesus got in the boat, the wind immediately stopped and they didn’t have to row anymore because they were immediately on the other shore.
That’s four miracles in a row — four unmistakable, unexplainable miracles! But the question I want to ask is, why? Why did Jesus do all of that? There wasn’t a crowd of people watching. The only people in the boat were his disciples. Why would he perform these four great signs? And I think it was because Jesus knew that his disciples were still young believers. They were newborns who needed to grow in their faith. Their behavior after the feeding of the 5,000 proved this. Their desire to make Jesus a king showed their level of immaturity.
In Mark’s account, he tells us that after they witnessed these four miracles…the disciples “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51-52). In other words, they had just witnessed Jesus feed over 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. But their faith was still weak. Their hearts were still hardened. Jesus knew that their faith needed to grow. So, he encouraged their faith to grow in the best possible way. He put them through a time of testing, a stormy time that led to these four miracles.
And God still does the same thing with us. He allows us to go through times of testing during which we can see God’s hand at work, we can see his power so that our faith will be strengthened. God puts us through times of testing so our faith will be made stronger than it was before. Rick Warren once put it this way, “God is more interested in your character than your comfort.” God wants us to grow spiritually until we are conformed to the image of his Son. And sometimes, the best way to do that is through testing, through hardship, a temporary crisis.
In Hebrews 12:6, the writer says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves.” He loves us enough to put us through hard times so as to make our faith stronger, and that’s what Jesus did here. He used this stormy time, this time of testing, as a way to help the disciples’ weak faith to grow.
With that in mind, I want to use this text to point out three ways that God works in and through the trials and tribulations of life…three ways that he uses these things for our good.
(1) God sometimes puts us in PLACES we don’t want to go.
Think for a moment about where Jesus and his disciples had just been. They had just been on a hillside next to the Sea of Galilee with thousands of people who were as full and happy as they could possibly be. They were ready to make Jesus their king.
And look at this situation from the disciples’ perspective. They were also full. They were also happy. And they were superstars. They were Jesus’ inner group and Jesus was extremely popular. They could all puff out their chest a bit and say, “I’m with Him.” And then what did Jesus do? He ran them all off. Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus “sent away the people.” Which means Jesus ran off the disciples’ fan club. And then, he ran off the disciples to boot! “Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat.”
So, Jesus took them from a place where they were happy, a place where they wanted to be, a place where they were comfortable, and he put them in a place where they didn’t want to be. He ran off their fan club and then he made them to get into a boat and head to the other side of the lake. And he made them go off by themselves. Now the text doesn’t explicitly say this, but I’m pretty sure that they didn’t want to leave without taking Jesus with them.
In any case, Jesus was putting them exactly where he wanted them. Just like a gardener puts a seed into just the right soil, Jesus was putting his weak-faith followers where they needed to be in order for their faith to grow. And after the disciples rowed their boat out of sight. I believe that as Creator of this universe, Jesus sent that storm. Jesus put them out there—alone—away from the glare of popularity. He put them in a fragile boat on a horribly stormy sea.
Jesus put his disciples in a place they didn’t want to go, to strengthen their faith. And there are times when he does the same thing for us. He puts us where we need to be in order to best grow our faith. So, if you find yourself in a storm right now — if you find yourself in a stressful, uncomfortable place — remember this story and ask yourself the question, “What is it that God trying to teach me? How does my faith need to grow?”
Because the best place for faith to grow is a place where all you have to rely on is Jesus — no cheering crowds, no comfortable mountaintop. The best place to grow spiritually is in middle of the storms of life where all you have to rely on is Jesus because in those times you finally come to understand that Jesus is enough. Corrie Ten Boom once said, “You can never learn that Christ is all you need — until Christ is all you have.”
During World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister were imprisoned in a concentration camp because their family hid Jews from the Nazis. Corrie’s father and sister died while they were in that horrible place. So, everything was taken away from Corrie: her home, her possessions, her friends. She had little food, no medical care. Even her family was taken. She had nothing—nothing but her faith in Jesus. But in that place she didn’t want to go, Corrie learned a valuable lesson — Christ is sufficient. And during that time, her faith grew so such that for the rest of her life she was never afraid of losing anything. Because when you have Jesus, you have everything — and if you’re a Christian, you can never lose Jesus.
Hudson Taylor was a missionary. He once wrote, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on his being with them.” And I can relate to that. As I look back over my life, I know that I’ve been through some pretty bad storms. And every single time, they taught me an important lesson — a lesson I don’t think I would have learned any other way. And the lesson is this — JESUS IS ENOUGH. If Jesus is all you have — that’s okay. That’s enough.
Remember Paul’s words in Romans 8? “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Sometimes the only way we can learn to fully appreciate that is by being in places we don’t want to go.
(2) A second thing God sometimes does to encourage weak faith is to give us COMMANDS we don’t always understand.
Remember that Jesus got his followers in the boat and basically told them to start rowing. There was no word as to when they would see him again or why he wasn’t going with them…no explanation as to why they had to begin their journey so late in the day. Jesus simply told them to depart.
And for all of their shortcomings, I have to give them this — they obeyed Jesus, even though it may not have completely made sense to them. They obeyed, even when it got really difficult. They obeyed, even when it would have been easier just to turn back. They obeyed even when it seemed like they were getting nowhere. They obeyed even when every fiber of their beings ached with pain and frustration. They obeyed and they kept rowing.
They rowed nearly all night long and weren’t even halfway across the lake. But Jesus told them to go, and Jesus was their Lord and Master, so they kept rowing. Jesus gave a command and they were going to obey that command—no matter how difficult it got.
This is an important faith-growing principle that we don’t want to miss because there are times when Jesus commands us to do things that don’t make sense. Times He assigns us tasks we just don’t understand. Things we don’t feel capable of. There are times when Jesus tells us to do things—without showing us the end…the destination. And maturing disciples learn to obey anyway.
For example: Jesus might command you to befriend a non-Christian neighbor or co-worker—someone you really don’t like—someone who obviously doesn’t like you. He may command you to accept a responsibility at church when you feel like there’s someone else who’s more qualified. He may convict you to give to someone in need when your checkbook says to hold back. God sometimes commands us to do things we don’t understand…things we don’t feel capable of. He did it with Abraham, he did it with Moses, he did it with Joshua. And, at times like that, we need to obey because in obedience we see things about God that we wouldn’t see otherwise….and in the process, our faith grows.
About a week ago, Sueanne introduced Josiah to one of our favorite movies: The Princess Bride, although I’m very disappointed that he didn’t appreciate it as much as I do. At the beginning of that movie, we learn about the relationship between Buttercup and the farm boy. Buttercup ordered the farm boy around all the time and no matter what she told him to do, his response was always three words. Does anybody remember what they were?
Right! He always said, “AS YOU WISH.” Later in the story, there comes a point when the farm boy said, “AS YOU WISH” and Buttercup knew what he was really saying was, “I LOVE YOU.” There’s a powerful spiritual parallel in that. Those of us who are Christians learn to obey God always — even when He commands us to do things we don’t want to do…things we don’t think we’re capable of doing…things we don’t understand. And when God commands us, we say, “AS YOU WISH” because when we say those words, we’re really saying, “I LOVE YOU” because as Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
The heart that learns to say to God, “As you wish” opens itself to God’s power. But those that don’t — those who choose to say not, “THY will be done” but “MY will be done” — those hearts will harden and cease to grow. It’s the difference between praying to God, “Leave me alone” or “As you wish!”
Which prayer would you rather have answered in your life? Do you really want God to leave you alone? Do you want to miss out on joining him in the work that he’s doing? If the answer is “no,” then we have to learn to obey God whenever He commands. We must learn to say, “As you wish” even when we don’t fully understand.
And that leads to the third thing Jesus does here to encourage his followers’ weak faith.
(3) He puts us through TRIALS to help us see things about him we can’t see otherwise.
Back to our text. The disciples are in the middle of the wind-storm of their lives. Wave after wave is crashing over their boat. It’s taking on water. They know that at any moment they will sink. And then they notice something—no SOMEONE—coming toward them across the waves. At first, they think it’s a ghost, but then they realize it’s Jesus.
Peter asks the water-walker that if it is Jesus — that he invite him to join him in walking on the waves. Jesus does that, and so Peter walks on water for a while. Of course, then his faith fails, he sinks, and Jesus gets him back in the boat. Then Jesus commands the storm to end—and instantly he transports them to the other side of the lake…because the lesson is over. The time of testing is done.
And, because of that testing…through all their time in that terrible storm, the disciples were able to see things about our Lord that they hadn’t seen before. First of all, they realized that all the time they were fighting this storm, Jesus was WATCHING. And that ought to teach us that when we have tough times in life….when storms are crashing all around us and we think we’re going down…..Jesus IS watching!
When we get that phone call in the middle of the night…..when doctors give us bad news….when our families are falling apart…when we think our world is about to come crumbling down around us….Jesus sees. He knows about the “storm” we’re going through. The lyrics to that old song are so true: “His eye IS on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”
In fact, there is nowhere that we can go to be out of God’s sight. Remember the words of the Psalmist? “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). What great comfort there is in those words!
But the disciples learned something else during that storm. They learned that Jesus does more than just watch. Because he didn’t just SEE what they were going through — he ACTED! He came down and walked to them across the surface of those stormy waters. I don’t know about you, but I have never felt closer to Jesus than during in times of crisis. He doesn’t just NOTICE my problems. He DRAWS NEAR to me and he acts to help.
And then, Peter and John and the others, learned something else in that dark, stormy classroom of faith. They learned that Jesus was God. Do you remember his words to them as he strode across the stormy sea? In verse 20, he said, “It is I, Don’t be afraid!” Those first three words, “It is I” — they come from two Greek words, “ego ami.” Those two words are used over and over and over in the next few chapters of John. “Ego ami” literally means, “I AM.”
And if that sounds familiar, it should! Do you remember way back in the Old Testament when God was speaking to Moses out of the burning bush? When God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go, Moses asked God, “Who shall I tell them sent me?”
And what did God say? He said, “Tell them that I AM sent you.” So, Jesus was saying to his disciples, “Don’t be afraid. I AM is here. GOD is here because I AM GOD. I am the one who created this wind and water. I am the One who created you. And as your Creator and Sustainer, I’m telling you – don’t be afraid.” Then he further proved his claim by calming the storm and transporting them instantly to their destination.
Sometimes, God lets us go through storms of life — because only in the “darkness” of life…only in the trials…only in the difficult times…are we able to see God for who he really is. Only in those times do we learn how much he loves us—and that he is all-powerful — and therefore bigger than any problem we face. Only then do we begin to fully appreciate who he is.