John 6:16-21 (ESV)
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 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. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
When last we left Jesus and the Apostles, Jesus had just fed the 5000 and told His disciples to go on ahead of Him to Capernaum to pray.
This episode here in John is recorded in Matthew and Mark and I’ll be filling in some other details that John does not record.
It’s not that the event described is different but this passage gives John’s perspective on the event.
Where John is telescoping the event and providing fewer details, I want to widen out the lens and provide a birds-eye view and then make some broader theological observations to strengthen and encourage you.
The Sea of Galilee is about 600 feet below sea level and is prone to very violent storms.
I think we’re all accustomed to the weather on a warm day in Virginia when cool air comes in and a violent storm rushes through.
Some of you here have had your roofs replaced recently.
Magnify that power by the fact that the disciples are on the sea.
They had left at nightfall for what amounted to a five-mile journey.
Jesus had ascended to a high hill to pray and, from His vantage, would have been able to look down at the Sea of Galilee.
John records that they set out at dark for a five-mile journey when it grew dark and then they were slammed by a violent storm.
They were about 3-4 miles into their journey, about halfway, and they were rowing in the midst of a violent tempest.
Another writer records it was about 3 am in the morning so they’ve been fighting this storm for hours in the midst of a violent storm.
John records “…they were frightened.”
That, my friends, is an understatement.
I’ve spent all night in a foxhole in the dark and that’s frightening.
Rowing in a boat in the pitch dark at three in the morning when you are in danger of capsizing and drowning is terrifying.
We might ask: Where is Jesus in the midst of the storm?
Beloved, He was interceding on a mountain overlooking the disciples.
Even as they were fearful of death, their Lord was watching over them and interceding.
As they considered their survival from their perspective, they had every reason to fear death.
From the vantage of their Lord, they would be fine because the Lord does not lose those for whom He prays.
So, again, we find the disciples rowing at 3 am.
Scared out of their mind.
The bow (front) of the ship was pointing toward Capernaum.
But the disciples are rowing so what direction are they facing?
That’s right, in the direction of Bethsaida where Christ had sent them off.
They’re rowing and frightened and, in the dark, they see something.
Now think about this.
You’re rowing and scared out of your mind and you suddenly see something coming toward you.
“Ummm…Peter, am I seeing things…it looks like something is walking on the water toward us.”
“Uhhh…I see it too John.”
“Ahhhhhh!!!!! A Ghost!!!!!”
But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
It wasn’t a ghost, it was Jesus walking atop the violent waves.
And they were glad to take Him into the boat.
Isn’t it awesome to have Jesus on your side?
You know, I was reflecting on this passage this week and thought: How embarrassing it is to so many people who call themselves Christians that Jesus did this.
How thoughtless it was for Jesus to walk on water for we who live in a modern age and know that people don’t walk on water.
Imagine your coworkers. They use aspirin and mobile phones and the internet. We can fly on planes across the world and send probes to Mars.
Then you tell them that you believe the report of some 1st Century believers that Jesus walked on water.
Beloved, we either believe this or we do not.
You might even wonder: What is the deal with this sign?
What difference does this make for a believer whether Jesus actually walked on water?
He might have just as well calmed their fears by being in the boat with them. Why did He need to walk on water and then calm the storm once He got in the boat?
Let me give you the first reason: Jesus walked on water because His disciples were in the midst of a raging sea going to Capernaum and they needed Him and so He walked to them because that was the fastest way to get to them.
Jesus was a man with a human mind. Yes, the Son of God was also divine but Jesus the Man had a human mind and we are not told that He knew ahead of time they would be stuck in a raging storm.
And so, by the power of the Spirit, Jesus went after His disciples and walked on water because that’s the kind of thing that God can do.
Walking on water is not really a big deal if you believe that God created everything.
But there’s more to this sign.
There’s more that I want you to consider as to why this sign is, well, so significant.
Bear with me as I read to you a bunch of Scripture beginning in Genesis about water and the sea.
Don’t get bored by this but pay attention and see if you can detect a pattern.
I’m not going to quote every passage dealing with water and the sea or we would be here all day but, again, watch for the pattern.
Genesis 1:2 (ESV)
2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Genesis 6:17 (ESV)
17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.
Genesis 9:11 (ESV)
11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Exodus 2:10 (ESV)
10 When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
Exodus 14:22 (ESV)
22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Exodus 15:19 (ESV)
19 For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea.
Psalm 46:2 (ESV)
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
Psalm 65:7 (ESV)
7 who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples,
Psalm 106:9 (ESV)
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
Isaiah 51:10 (ESV)
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?
Isaiah 57:20 (ESV)
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
Jeremiah 5:22 (ESV)
22 Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
Daniel 7:3 (ESV)
3 And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
Jonah 2:1-4 (ESV)
1 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’
Mark 4:41 (ESV)
41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Mark 5:13 (ESV)
13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 (ESV)
1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
Hebrews 11:29 (ESV)
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.
Revelation 13:1 (ESV)
1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.
Revelation 18:21 (ESV)
21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more;
Revelation 21:1 (ESV)
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
Now, here’s the part where I would bribe my kids with $5 during family devotion if they can answer the question I’m about to pose to you.
I’m not giving $5 to anyone today so forget about it…
What do the sea and the roiling waters represent in the Scriptures?
The wrath of God.
Have you ever considered why it is we are baptized with water?
When John and James came to Jesus in Mark 10 and asked Him to let them sit at His right and left in the Kingdom what does He ask them?
Are you able to be baptized with the baptism I’m about to receive?
What was Christ’s baptism?
It was the deluge of God’s wrath?
1 Peter 3 says that baptism can be compared to what happened to Noah. The whole earth was judged by a flood.
The wrath of God was poured out on all flesh and yet the people in the ark were safe in the midst of God’s wrath.
I just read to you a portion of 1 Cor 10 where Paul points out that all the Israelites were baptized into Moses in the crossing of the Red Sea.
The waters were in a heap all around them and they crossed over on dry ground.
As the chariots of the power of darkness pursued them, God let go and drowned the army of Pharaoh.
Hell and wrath were held back by God for His people but the flood was released on God’s enemies.
Our baptism, in effect, is the reality that the deluge, the flood of God’s wrath has been borne by the Son for us. The waters of baptism wash away our sins because the wrath has been borne by our great Captain.
So what’s going on here in this passage?
Beloved, Jesus is walking on top of the Sea.
He’s walking on top of Hell and Judgment.
He has power over it.
Yes, staring at it and considering it is extremely frightening.
But then we hear our Savior say: “It is I, do not be afraid.”
I have power over it.
Peace. Be still.
And the raging waters cease.
Hell is bound to shut its ugly mouth.
It may not have us because we belong to Him.
Four years ago, death took Sonya’s mother.
It started out by taking away her voice.
We’re still looking for some videos so we can hear the sound of her laughter again but we’ll have to wait until heaven to hear it anew.
I was honored with eulogizing Lydia and I had to wrestle with how hard it is to lose someone you love.
How hard it was to lose the woman who was there for the birth of all five of your children and provided so much love and encouragement during that first terribly difficult week when a child is born.
We knew Lydia believed in Christ and so we were comforted.
But we were grieved and, even today, we’re still sad she isn’t with us.
Death had taken her.
That hater of God had taken her.
I don’t know what Lydia was thinking when she died.
I do know the last hours were very hard.
The storm was raging.
Death and judgment had its ugly mouth agape for her as it wanted to swallow her up and leave us destitute.
But that was not her fate
As the storm raged and had nearly swallowed her up a voice came to her: “It is I Lydia. Do not be afraid.”
Death may have taken her but Hell and Judgment did not belong to her.
She was with Christ and He took her to Himself.
And that’s why we are happy for Lydia even as we still mourn her death.
John says to you even now: “I write these things that you may believe and, by believing, you might have life in His Name.”
The waters of hell and judgment are real.
Do not be content to be the captain of your own ship or you will be swallowed up by hell.
Today is the day of salvation.
Today, the Gospel commands you to believe on His Name.
Fear not the waters but reach out to Christ.
Believe upon His Name and You will be brought safely home.
Let us pray.