(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 20, 2000
The Man Who Could Walk on Water
St. Augustine is recorded as saying, "While the best men are well guided by love, most men are still goaded by fear." Fear is an emotion that can easily lead us into responding in ways that we wished we had not.
For example, take the case of Mr. Monroe who lived in Darlington, Maryland. This mother of eight children came home afternoon from the grocery story to find things a bit quieter than usual. She looked into the living room and saw five of her darlings sitting around in a circle, very quiet, but doing something in the middle of the circle. She put down her sacks of groceries and walked over to where they were playing to get a closer look only to find that her children were playing with five of the cutest skunks you can imagine.
She was instantly terrified and yelled, "Run, children, run!" Each child grabbed a skunk and ran in different directions. She was beside herself and screamed louder. It so scared the children that each one squeezed their skunk – And as we all know, skunks don’t like to be squeezed.
I suppose this mom had a reason to fear, but her reaction to it did not get the hoped for results. There are certainly things for which we should have a healthy fear for it can make us cautious, careful and respectful. There is a proper fear for things wild animals, dangerous situations, breaking the law and God. However, often our fear is of what is unknown to us.
The story is told that when Theodore Roosevelt was a small child he was afraid to go into a church alone. His mother tried to discover what was making him so terrified and learned that it had something to do with what he called "the zeal" that the minister had talked about. She used a concordance and began read to him passages that contained the word until he told her very suddenly and excitedly to stop. She had just read John 2:17 (KJV) – "And his disciples remembered that it was written, ‘The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up."
It is common to fear of what you do not know or understand, but when either the ignorance is removed or your trust can be placed in someone that does understand and control what you fear, the fear diminishes or disappears. This morning we are going to see Jesus’ disciples display both types of fear. They have a healthy fear of a situation that arises that could kill them. Then they have a fear of something they do not understand. The solution to both of these fears was the same solution to our fears. They found peace in Jesus.
THE HISTORICAL SETTING: Let me briefly set the historical setting for you so that you will understand a bit better what may have been going through the minds of the disciples. men.
They were a small band of men who had committed themselves to following Jesus, but things were not really going as well as they might have wanted. The religious leaders had become very antagonistic toward Jesus and even accused Him of doing His work by the power of Satan. It is becoming more difficult for the people to follow what they have been taught about being a good Jew and also follow Jesus’ teachings. When Jesus returned to His home town of Nazareth He was rejected by them again with their unbelief being of such a nature that Jesus did not even do many miracles there. There were still many people who were curious about Jesus and followed Him about so that they might see Him perform a miracle, but the crowds were fickle.
The political scene was also more hostile. Cruel Herod Antipas the Tetrach has just killed John the Baptist, and if John was supposed to be the forerunner of the Messiah as he had claimed, then what does that mean about Jesus? Are He and those who follow Him also now in danger?
Jesus had retreated with His disciples to a lonely place on a mountain near the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Part of the reason was to get away from Herod, part of the reason was to rest, and part of the reason was for the disciples to give their reports about the mission assignments they had just returned from and for Jesus to personally minister to the. However, as we learned last week, a multitude of people has followed Him there. Jesus has had compassion on them and healed their sick, and then He performed the miracle of feeding well over 5,000 people with just five small loaves of barley bread and two small fish.
For the disciples, things were beginning to look up, for we find in John 6:14 that as a result of this miracle the people said, "This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world," and they sought to make Jesus king. This could have been the beginning of the culmination of why they were following Jesus. They were waiting for the day when Jesus would assert His authority over the rulership of Israel and retake David’s throne. What better time could there be than now. It was just before Passover when many people would travel to Jerusalem, and the enthusiasm of this crowd could easily be transferred to those in Jerusalem. But then Jesus did a strange thing.
In Matthew 14:22 we find, "And immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side while He sent the multitudes away." What were the disciples to make of this? This was not what they were expecting. Remember several of the disciples were also zealots. They were looking for the Messiah to deliver them from Roman bondage and bring about the glory of Israel once again.
John 6:15 says, "Jesus therefore perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone." Matthew 14:23 adds that Jesus had sent the crowds away and that by evening He was alone. Jesus had originally come to this lonely place to get away from the crowds. The crowds had followed Him and in His compassion He had both healed their sick and fed them, but now it was time to be alone and to pray. It was now dark and Jesus would spend uninterrupted time with His Father in prayer.
As I pointed out last week, Jesus was never a victim of circumstances. He was always in control of what He was going to do and what was going to be done to Him. The crowd may have wanted to crown Him king, but they could not force what He did not want.
THE DISCIPLES FIRST FEAR
The disciples were not aware of what was going on. Jesus had sent them ahead and that is what they had done. They did not understand all that Jesus did, but they had learned to trust Him and follow His directions. The Scriptures do not say whether they knew that Jesus was praying, but even if they did, they may not have thought much about it because they had another concern at the moment.
John 6:16 (NASB) Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 and after getting into a boat, they [started to] cross the sea to Capernaum. And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 And the sea [began] to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When therefore they had rowed about three or four miles . . .". Stop there for a moment.
They had left in a boat in the early evening to go back to Capernaum (John 6:17) which was only about 5 miles away by boat. It should have been an easy journey, especially since several of the disciples were experienced fishermen and were well acquainted with traveling that area by boat at night, but the have run into a storm. Matthew 14:24 describes them as being "already many stadia away from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary." Mark 6:47 describes them as "straining at the oars." Matthew and Mark also mark the time as being the fourth watch of the night, which would be between 3-6 a.m., and yet they have only traveled 25-30 stadia or 3 – 4 miles. The waves are "battering" the boat. The Greek word here is also used to describe "torment," "distress" and "torture." These are sizeable waves crashing against the boat.
So you now get the picture of what these 12 men were going through. How would you feel if you were in their situation? It is late at night and you are tired. You are perplexed by the events of the day. Things had been going so well earlier, but now you have been sent away and they find yourself rowing very hard, but not going much of anywhere. The waves are crashing against your boat making it creak and groan with the strain – almost as loudly as you do as you strain in pulling on the oars trying to reach shore and safety. Safety is an issue because you also know that these storms can be very dangerous and you could capsize and drown. You are wet & cold and it seemed along time ago that you ate of the bread and the fish. You are also alone, for your leader has sent you ahead without Him. Now add another element of fear.
THE DISCIPLES SECOND FEAR
The disciples are straining at the oars trying to head West. They are facing East, the direction they have come from. It is near Passover, so the moon would have been nearly full, so it would have illuminated the surrounding hills and the whitecaps of the waves in its silvery sheen. Then they saw something they never expected.
John 6:19 (NASB) When therefore they had rowed about three or four miles, they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.
It would have been frightening enough just being in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a storm, yet now there is also something that they simply can not comprehend. John says they were efobhqhsan /ephobathasan – frightened, fearful, terrorized – from a word with a root meaning – "to put to flight." The word used in Matthew for being fearful is a stronger word with a literal meaning of being "shaken" and a figurative meaning of being "upset," "thrown into confusion and alarm." The men saw something that was beyond their ability to understand. Something was coming to them in a manner they could not have expected in their wildest dreams.
They had been sent ahead. They did not expect to see Jesus until sometime later after they had reached Capernaum. They did not expect Jesus to meet them in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in any case by any means and even more so on such a stormy night. What would you think and how would you react if you had been in their situation? John’s comment in verse 17 that "Jesus had not yet come to them," is not in reference to an expectation they had while in the boat, but one from the writers’ historical perspective and assumption his readers would have read the other accounts. It is given in the sense of, "this is what was happening before Jesus met us in the midst of the Sea of Galilee as you have read in the other accounts."
Put yourself in their position. You are already scared to at least some degree because of the storm, and then through the shadowy light given off by the silvery moon, a moon that would have been nearly full as Passover approached and a light that may or may not have been broken up by the clouds passing overhead, you see the figure of a man apparently walking on top of the water. You can not be sure of what you are seeing for you are being tossed about the boat with each wave and the figure you see is going up and down too. You can not see any sort of boat and men do not walk on water so it can not be a man. Therefore it must be something else. But what? All that is left is something from the supernatural – a Greek – "phantasma" – a phantom of some sort. Wouldn’t you be afraid? Of course you would regardless of how much you might say you would not. The hair on the back of your head would be standing straight out, the adrenalin would be pumping, and your heart would be pounding just like theirs did.
But isn’t this whole scenario similar to the way it often is in our lives? We think things are starting to go pretty well when God does something we do not understand. We submit and do what He says and then find ourselves is the midst of a situation beyond our control, though we are trying our best to handle it. Then, in the middle of that, something else comes at us which we do not even comprehend and so we become afraid of what the future might hold.
Life is going pretty well, then comes along to make our lives more complex. Your car breaks down but before you can get it fix, the roof starts leaking, the furnace gives up and you get a notice from a collection agency for a bill you were sure you paid. You cry out in frustration, "God this isn’t fair." Or perhaps it is more serious. Your job is threatened or you lose it and in the middle of that there is a health crises or a friend rejects you or a loved one dies. You start questioning if God knows what He is doing and wondering why He has left us alone.
Most of us do fine as long as everything is going well, but when troubles and trials start and things happen which we do not understand, then we find our faith is tested and it not large as we thought. We become fearful and may even start questioning God. How does God respond to us and how should we respond to God at those times?
Our text, John 6:20, simply says, But He said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." That is so comforting. God reminds us He is there. We do not understand, but He does, and He is now with us. But there is something more beautiful than just that. Mark 6:48 records that Jesus was alone on the mountain praying, "And seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night, He came to them, walking on the sea." We may have felt alone, but we never were.
Jesus had been praying the whole time that the storm had been raging. And from the various prayers of Jesus that are recorded we know that a frequent element in His prayers was intercession for His followers. In fact, one of His continuing ministries now is making intercession to the Father for us (Heb. 7:25). What better position could they or we be in that having Jesus Christ praying for us? If the disciples had known this their fears may have been significantly calmed. Certainly they, and we, face frightening situations, but knowing that Jesus is interceding for us bring reassurance and peace.
But Jesus did not just pray, He also responded to the need for which He was praying, and He went to be with the disciples. Jesus is still the same. Jesus promise to the apostles in Matthew 28 is still true for us. He is still with those of us that have placed our faith in Him and have believed in His name. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us. We may not understand all that is going on or why it is happening, but we do not need to know when we have the Lord Jesus Christ with us. It is enough to be entrusted to His care.
Some have tried to discount Jesus walking on the water saying it was either the hallucination of the disciples or Jesus only appeared to be walking on the water but was actually walking on a sandbar or along the shore. First, 12 men do not all hallucinate the same thing at the same time. Second, every text indicates that the storm was still raging while Jesus was walking on the sea. That means that Jesus was rising and falling with each wave. Sandbars and the shoreline do not do that. Third, we have the account of what happened to Peter to attest to the depth of the water.
Matthew 14:28. "And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped."
Notice first that the wind did not stop until they got into the boat. Jesus & Peter both were walking on top of the waves. Second, notice that Peter began to sink. The word her literally means to "plunge down into the sea." Peter did not step off a sandbar, he began to sink into the water. The boat is 3-4 miles out and there are no sandbars there. The miracle is a real one, and what is more astounding by it is that not just Jesus but Peter as well that walked on the water.
Peter has received a lot of criticism for this episode in his life. Some say he did what he did because he was a show off. Other say he was rash and careless. Many spend a lot of time detailing how small his faith was. I think all those criticism are unfounded. True, Jesus mildly rebuked Peter for having little faith, but Peter was the only one of the disciples to get out of the boat.? How much faith did the other disciples have? And who among us would have gotten out?
Peter loved the Lord and we often see him as close as he can get to the Lord. Even when Peter denied the Lord at His trial, Peter was in the courtyard as close as he could get. John was also present, but the rest of the disciples had run away. Imperfect and weak as it was, Peter’s love for Jesus was real. We can well imagine Peter staying so close to Jesus as they walked from place to place that when Jesus stopped, Peter would stumble into Him. That is what we see here in Peter’s desire to get out of the boat and go to Jesus.
Peter was an experienced fisherman. He knew the danger of getting out of a boat in the middle of a storm. It was not bravado or rashness that prompted him but simply his desire to be with Jesus. The "If" in Peter’s request is not a questioning that it was Jesus. The last thing Peter would want to do is join an unidentified ghost in the middle of the sea during a storm. The Greek grammar here is the condition of reality – i.e. "since you are Jesus." Peter understood something of what Jesus had been teaching. His thought here in his request would be, "If Jesus can walk on water, then with the power He can give me I can walk on water and join Him."
Jesus invites him to come and Peter does great until He takes his eyes off Jesus and notices his circumstances. Possibly he finds that even though he is walking on top of the water, it is hard to keep his balance with the waves going up and down under his feet. Then he notices the wind again. The text says he "seeing the wind." You do not see the wind itself, but rather its effect on other things. Peter feels it against his face and he sees the big waves. That is the point when doubt enters, faith departs, and he begins to sink.
Is that not the way it is with us? We understand something of the nature of Christ and step out in faith to obey him and we do great until we start examining our circumstances and begin doubting.
Your doing great at witnessing until you notice they are not responding as favorably as you had hoped, maybe they are frowning or asking tough questions and soon you doubt your life is pure enough and your speaking ability is good enough to convince them. Fear comes in and faith departs. Witness is now about your ability rather than God using you in your weakness.
Your spiritual life is going great. You really are learning to seek the Lord and His righteousness first. Then a financial crises looms. How do you respond? Will the Lord really provide for your needs or do you need to compromise your ethics to increase your income? Do you take on so much extra work that you compromise your family? Do you justify cheating on your taxes or get involved in an insurance fraud? Do you decide that giving to the Lord can wait until you can "afford it." Giving to God is about worship, not finances. God does not need your money, but you need to worship Him.
Your devotional life was just getting on track. You are taking time to not only read your Bible, but to really study it too and you are entering into earnest prayer. Then something happens that changes your schedule of activities so you have less free time. Now if your devotional life is to continue it must come out of the time you had set aside for entertainment and leisure or maybe even sleep. What do you do then? Are your eyes fixed on Jesus or on the things you think you deserve? Has doubt about the purpose and meaning of life entered so that your faith is compromised or do you keep walking on top of the water to meet Jesus?
You see we are no different than Peter in the smallness of our faith except that it is probably less than his. But take note, it is not our faith that is important, but rather the one in whom we have placed that faith. Notice that when Peter starts sinking He calls out for help which is the same thing we should do. And we find the Lord graciously reaching out to him, lifting him up and taking him to safety. We can and should do the same thing when we find ourselves in trouble with our faith failing and our lives sinking. Jesus is there and He will help.
But there is one problem we encounter here that keeps many people from calling for help. They do not want to be rebuked. They do not want to be told that they failed. People let their pride get in the way. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, so humble yourselves under His mighty hand and He will exalt you at the proper time (1 Peter 5:5,6). God will lift you up and restore you. Jesus did that with Peter on several occasions. He will do so for you as well.
Peter and Jesus got back in the boat. John 6:21 simply states, They were willing therefore to receive Him into the boat; and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. Matthew 14:33 adds, "And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son.’"
The point is made again. Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God. John concludes the story with a final miracle. Once Jesus was in the boat, they immediately arrive at their destination. They had labored hard for many hours to get their on their own, but they were unable to reach their destination. Once Jesus was with them, they quickly arrived. Isn’t that true about life too. You can not make it on your own regardless of how hard you work at it. You need the savior with you.
Was 1999 a tough year? For many it was. It was for my family. But having a lot of troubles and trials is no reason to become a cynic and despair of the future. It is not even a reason to complain. Cynicism, despair and complaint come when we take our eyes off Jesus and place them on the circumstances around us that we can not control. We start doubting the Lord’s promises, our faith departs, and we try to work things out in our own power. That is when we start to sink into the gloom of depression. The sooner we learn that we can not control our circumstances and that the key to overcoming them is keeping our eyes on Jesus the better off we will be. It is only when we remember that the goal of our lives is to draw close to Him and to do His will can we hope to live a joyful lives in the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Many have gone before us and set the example to follow in the life of faith. You can read about some of them in Hebrews 11, the great cloud of witness that surround us. So "let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Let us learn a lesson from Peter. Jesus is the one that can walk on water, and we can too if we keep our eyes on Him. And if we fail to do that, then be sure to quickly cry out for His help, and He will save you.
Sermon Study Sheets
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the disciples are referred to. 2) Discuss with your parents the how you can overcome fear by keeping your eyes on Jesus.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in understanding and applying the sermon. What are two of the most common sources of fear? What is the historical setting for the passage, John 6:15-21? What had happened prior to this event? What had happened on that same day? Why did Jesus send the people away? What was the situation the disciples found themselves in late that night? Do you think they were afraid? Would you have been afraid? What was the second source of the disciples fear? Would you have been afraid? What situations have you been in that have made you afraid? How did Jesus comfort the disciples? What was Peter’s response? Would you have responded like Peter or the rest of the disciples? Be Honest. What can you learn from Peter’s initial response? What can you learn from his failure and response to it? How did Jesus respond to Peter? How can you trust Jesus in your current situation? Do you need to call out to Him for help? What is/are Jesus’ promise(s) to you? Can you apply those to your life right now? What does complaining and cynicism indicate? What example in Hebrews 11 encourages you? How can you walk on water? What should you do if you start sinking?
Sermon Notes – 2/20/2000 a.m.
The Man Who Can Walk on Water – John 6:15-21
THE HISTORICAL SETTING (John 6:1-15)
THE DISCIPLES’ FIRST FEAR (John 6:15-18; Matthew 14:24)
THE DISCIPLES’ SECOND FEAR (John 6:19; Matthew 14:25-26)
JESUS ARRIVES (John 6:20; Matthew 14: 27-33)
A FINAL MIRACLE (John 6:21)
For comments, please e-mail Church office