Our Only Deliverer

(Sermon preached at Wyoming Ave. Baptist Church, April 3, 2011)

Introduction

A. The story

John 6:16-21

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.

B. Immediate context – it’s a sandwich!

The text we are considering is a relatively short passage, just 6 verses.  Whenever we begin a study, we examine where a section fits in the narrative, in the larger study of the particular book, and in the Bible, in God’s story as a whole.

Right before this passage is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  Right after this passage is the sermon that explains that particular miracle.  Jesus explains how he is the true bread from heaven – not just the new provider of manna, but the manna itself.  So the story of Jesus walking on water fits between the miracle of bread and the sermon on bread.  In effect, it’s a sandwich!

So how does this particular “meat” speaks to the “bread” that surrounds it.  I’ll tell you right up front.  In the miracle of the new manna, Jesus demonstrates to the crowd that he is indeed the prophet like Moses that God had promised.  But what he reveals to his disciples is that he is more than a bigger Moses – he is almighty God.

This is a huge thing.  What was veiled prior is veiled no more.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  When the crowds disperse at the end of John 6 because Jesus’ teaching is too difficult, it is these 12 disciples who remain with him.  They have seen and they know who he is and they know that only he has the words of life.

C. Context of the “seven signs” given by John

John, who wrote this gospel, also wants us to see who Jesus is.

The three other gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – record many different miracles performed by Jesus.  But in selecting the material for his book, John focuses specifically on just seven miracles.  More than miracles, these are signs that have deep meaning for Jesus’ identity, his work, and our salvation.

Walking on water is the fifth of the seven signs.  To put things in context, here are the seven, with what we can learn from each:

1. Water into wine
Jesus is the True Vine who gives us life and joy in abundance.

2. Healing of the nobleman’s son
God saves us through faith in his Son.

3. Healing of the paralytic
God saves us by his grace alone.  Salvation is Jesus’ prerogative, and by his work and word alone.  Our work cannot accomplish it.

4. Feeding of the 5,000
Jesus is the Bread of Life who satisfies our hunger.

5. Walking on water, stilling the storm
Jesus is the divine Son of God who delivers us by his mighty power.

6. Healing the blind man
Jesus is the Light of the World who overcomes the darkness.

7. Raising Lazarus from the dead
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life who overcomes death.

D. Themes

There are a few themes that we’ve been seeing in John that intertwine with our passage today.  There is a hint of the theme of darkness and light.  There is certainly the continued revealing of the identity of Jesus as the eternal Word become flesh.

In a larger sense there is the theme of Exodus, as Jesus is revealed as the Prophet like Moses who was promised by God.

One cool theme that I want to point out but not spend too much time on, because we’ll see it in later messages, is the connection here to Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Did you notice that before he fed the 5,000, he made them sit down in the grass?  And now Jesus calms the storm and brings the disciples safely to their destination.  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me besides the still waters.  He restores my soul.”

E. The overall theme of John

All of this comes under one overall theme.  The recording of the seven distinct signs, of the distinct “I am” discourses, of the whole of John is for a purpose.  The apostle John tells us that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”

 

I. God sends us into storms

A. The Lord sends us out

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. (v. 16-17)

Last week we left off as Jesus was just finishing feeding the many thousands who had gathered.  He did this miraculously with only five loaves of bread and two fish – and there were leftovers!  The people recognized Jesus as a great prophet, and were ready to make him king.  But Jesus would have nothing of it.

John’s retelling of this event is short; Matthew tells us a few more details.  While Jesus was dismissing the crowds, he told his disciples to get in the boat and start across the lake.  And then Jesus went by himself up to the mountain to pray.

Soon after they are sent out by Jesus, they find themselves in the midst of a storm.   A strong wind was blowing from the west, making the sea rough and their sails useless.

B. God raises the storms

The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. (v. 18)

Storms, particularly powerful storms, cry out the power and sovereignty of God.

God is the lord of all creation.  We talked in our catechism a few weeks back about the providence of God, how he oversees and rules over all things.  God is the sovereign King, and nothing occurs that is not directly caused or permitted by his will.  Despite our scientific knowledge and our work to subdue the earth, the weather is one thing that is yet clearly beyond our control.

Psalm 107 paints a useful picture for us, and we’ll be returning to it at the end of our message:

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.

1. God often raises storms in response to our disobedience

God often sends storms because we have disobeyed.  He turns life into chaos to awaken us to our need to turn to him.  You remember Jonah, who was called to deliver God’s message to Nineveh.  He refused to go, boarding a ship that would take him as far as he could go in the opposite direction.  God sent a storm to that ship that threatened all who were aboard.  Jonah confessed his guilt to the sailors, who agreed to throw him overboard to save themselves.

Sure we see God’s active weather-making in Jonah, but how about the difficulties that seem to be consequences of our own actions, as apposed to God’s testing us.  What about the hell of going through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, for instance?  What about the difficulties brought on by our financial disobedience?  Or the chaos of a family whose husband and father is in jail for crimes he committed?  Or the relational nightmares of adultery and pornography?

We did these crimes, surely we brought the storms, did we not?  But if we think fully through our declaration that all things are under God’s authority and control, even these storms have to be according to his will.  The storms that seem to be the natural consequences of our actions are in fact God’s work in our lives.  This is particularly difficult to accept when the storms that God raises in response to our sin are the cause of pain and even death for other people, people we love.

This is not the point or direction of this text, but it is worth making known.  It is God’s grace when our disobedience has consequences! How horrible would it be to remain in our sin with an easy path ahead of us, unaware of the mortal danger that lies ahead?  We enjoy this life in our rebellion, only to face judgment and eternal condemnation.  The storms are warnings for us to turn from our wicked ways for the saving of our souls.  Heed God’s correction.  Turn to Jesus.

2. God sometimes raises storms when we obey

But not all storms are because of our disobedience.  Indeed, God will sometimes raise up storms in our lives because of our obedience. This was the case here.  After Jesus had fed the multitudes, the disciples obeyed his instruction to set out across the sea.  They obeyed, and yet God raised up a storm to frustrate their task.

Job was a man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”  Yet it is Job who suffered the blistering attacks of the devil, not absent God’s protection, but indeed with God’s permission and oversight.  In quick succession he lost all of his servants, all of his possessions, and all of his children.  He was left only with a nagging wife (seems Satan thought it a good idea to keep her around!) and three misguided friends, convinced they could fix Job if he would only repent of his evil.

3. For the perfecting of our faith

So if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, why are the disciples surrounded by the storm?  If Job was a blameless man, why would God permit him to be persecuted to these great extremes?  Understanding the love of God the Father, we know that these trials have to be for our good.  The question is, what purpose do they serve?

The passage that Dave taught on Wednesday night was from 1 Peter, and it told us that we need to have humble minds.  Humility is not thinking more of ourselves than we ought. In light of our sin and God’s grace, humility means to be fully depending on God.  The opposite of humility is pride.  I think the difficulties that God gives us protect us from perhaps the greatest danger and the greatest temptation we face: PRIDE.

Pride has many dimensions, one of which is the idea that we are smart enough or strong enough to handle the situation all by ourselves.  We don’t need – or we don’t want – help.  When looking at 1 Peter on Wednesday night, Dave told us that “pride says, ‘I’ll call you when I need you, Lord.’”  The storm is God’s way of saying, “you need me always!”  With Dave, my prayer for this church is also “that we would look more and more to the Lord of glory, and humbly depend on him.”

So how were the disciples tempted by pride?  They had experienced great excitement as they took part in a thrilling miracle – the feeding of the multitudes.  (They might even still have the leftovers in the boat.)  Their adrenaline was pumping, the crowds were excited, and their humble leader was about to be made king!  Peter was in line to be the right-hand man of the greatest empire ever formed; the other disciples surely would have formed his cabinet of leaders and governors.

The crowd’s move to make Jesus king was not just about Jesus, but was a powerful narcotic that fed the disciples’ desire for greatness.  Jesus sent them away from this temptation, and God reminded them through the storm of their weakness and inability.  He reminded them through the storm of their need for a Savior.  Indeed, the Lord has to balance our lives, otherwise we become proud and then fall.

There was one man in the story of Job who spoke some measure of wisdom.  Elihu rebuked both his friends’ misguided condemnation, but also Job’s pride.  Here’s what Elihu said:

11 God loads the thick cloud with moisture;
the clouds scatter his lightning.
12 They turn around and around by his guidance,
to accomplish all that he commands them
on the face of the habitable world.
13 Whether for correction or for his land
or for love, he causes it to happen.

Every storm, even Job’s storm, comes from the hand of God – the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!  Each accomplishes all that he commands.  Whether for correction, for the earth, or for the sake of love for us, he causes them to happen.

I listened to a new song last night, and some of the words struck me:

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful you are.
Oh how he loves us so
Oh how he loves, how he loves us so.

God uses times of difficulty to remind us of our weakness – and to reveal in ever greater measure his glory and the greatness of his saving work.  The storms are eclipsed by the greater glory of the Savior, and we suddenly realize how beautiful he is, and how much he loves us.

C. All is darkness without Christ

It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. (v. 17)

Notice two things about the disciples’ situation.  It was dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.  At first glance, this verse seems just to be a description of the situation.  It sets the scene.  From the disciples’ perspective, they were used to Jesus going off alone, and were probably comfortable on the sea.  Some of the disciples were fisherman, and would have been accustomed to fishing on this very lake during the night.

But particularly in John, with the recurring theme of darkness and light, and of the coming of the Son of God into the world, we need to take a closer look.  I think there are a few things we can tease out of this verse.

First, for those who do not know Jesus, everything is darkness. By God’s grace there is joy and sorrow in this life. But there is no hope, and no comfort in the midst of the storms, without Jesus in our lives.  This is the greatest darkness of all, and the very definition of hell.  Jesus, the Son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us, so that we may behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  Jesus comes into the darkness of this world and brings the light of life.

A second thought here related to the concept of darkness.  For we who are his disciples, sometimes we are surrounded by clouds and darkness.  This makes the storms all the more difficult, for we cannot see our way out.  We have trouble seeing God’s hand in the design and the purpose of the storm.  In the first storm recorded in Matthew, Jesus was in the back of the boat.  Sure, he was sleeping, but he was there to save them.  In this storm, Jesus asks them to trust his unseen care for them.

There are times when Jesus seems to withdraw himself from us.  We feel distant, we miss his touch, his voice.  For reasons that only he knows, these “dark nights of the soul” are his work to test and refine us.  Surely Jesus, by his Spirit, is never absent from us.  He never abandons us, and is always watching over us.  Mark tells us that as the disciples rowed across the lake, Jesus was watching them.  His concern was for his disciples, and in due time, at just the right time, he came to them.

 

II. Jesus comes to us

A. He comes “at just the right time”

When they had rowed about three or four miles. (v. 19)

[His time, the fullness of time, God’s sense of patience.  “At just the right time, when we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.”]

So in the fourth watch of the night, maybe 4 o’clock in the morning, after the disciples had been rowing for much of the night, and had only gotten about three or four miles across the sea, about halfway, Jesus came to them.

B. He comes with power and glory

They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. (v. 19)

This was no ordinary arrival.  You might think Jesus would hop in another boat and follow after the disciples.  You might expect in the midst of a contrary wind for him to walk around the lake and meet them at the other side – in fact, this is what the multitudes did the very next day.  But an ordinary arrival would not suffice, because Jesus is no ordinary man.

He walks on the sea, the sea that is tossed with great waves due to a strong wind, to come to his disciples.   So what is this miracle of walking on water?  It may seem like a minor miracle in the grand scheme of things.  But when you realize that miracles are signs that are meant to signify, to teach us something.  So what is this sign supposed to teach us?

To figure this out in the gospel of John, I think we have to look back at the book of Exodus and consider the miracles that God performed through Moses.  God had promised that he would raise another great prophet, like Moses, to deliver Israel.  The people made this connection, as we see a little earlier in John 6, when they decide that he’s the very Prophet that God had promised, and they were ready to make him king.  So what are the connections?

Looking at Jesus’ first sign in John 2, turning water into wine, you see he has surpassed the sign of the water that was turned into blood.  Blood signifies the judgment of the Law.  Wine, on the other hand, signifies the abundant new life that comes to us through grace. The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth have come to us through Jesus.

When Jesus was talking with the Samaritan woman in John 4, they had a little conversation about water.  Jacob had provided his descendants with water in the desert by digging a well.  God, through Moses, provided water to the Israelites in the desert from the rock that Moses spoke to, and the second one which he struck in anger.  Jesus offered the Samaritan woman water that would not just preserve this current life, but give eternal life.  Jesus himself is God’s spring of living water!

When Jesus provided bread for the multitudes, the people saw a parallel with the provision of manna in the desert.  As we’ll see in later messages, though, the true bread that Jesus offers is himself.  He is the Bread of Heaven.  Eat of him and live!

Now that we’ve moved on to consider Jesus’ power over the waves, we remember that Moses parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could walk across on dry ground.  In like fashion, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha parted the Jordan River.

Moses and the Israelites went through the waters, but Jesus walked on the waters.  The question is what does this tell us about Jesus?  I can tell you what the disciples thought it told them – Matthew says that those in the boat worshiped him and declared that, “truly, you are the Son of God.”

John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  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.”

Job: “God is wise in heart and mighty in strength.  He tears up mountains, and they know it not; he shakes the very pillars of the earth; he commands the sun not to rise, and it does not rise.  He stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.”

Psalm 89: “O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.”

The disciples have seen glimpses of Christ’s glory before. They have marveled and wondered at the identity of this man who is obviously anointed by God.  But here, perhaps for the first time, Jesus reveals, by a raw display of his superiority over all creation, his identity as God incarnate.

C. He comes with words of peace

But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (v. 20)

What is our natural reaction to such a raw display of power?  Fear.

This is not just the promised Prophet, who happens to do better miracles than Moses.  This is not just the promised King, who will reestablish the throne of David, and free Israel from its oppressors.  Jesus Christ is the eternal Lord of glory, the Son of the Most High God.

Isaiah saw the Lord, seated on his throne, descend into the Temple and train of his robe – just his robe! – filled the Temple with glory.  “Woe is me, I am undone!”  Why? “Because I am a man of unclean lips.”  Our very nature as sinners makes us afraid of the approach of God’s glory and his majesty.  We know it in our bones that we stand condemned.

The disciples weren’t even sure it was Jesus they were seeing.  Matthew tells us that they thought they saw a ghost, a spirit, an apparition.  Perhaps they thought this was a demon come to finish their destruction.  The reactions are the same: “Woe is me, I am undone!”

But how sweet then to hear the Savior’s words of peace.  “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Matthew Henry: “Nothing is more powerful to convince sinners than that word, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest;’ nothing more powerful to comfort saints than this, ‘I am Jesus whom thou lovest;’ it is I that love thee, and seek thy good; be not afraid of me, nor of the storm.”

When trouble is near, Christ is near.

 

III. Jesus delivers us safely

Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. (v. 21)

The disciples gladly received Jesus into the boat, and “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going,” verse 21.

This is perhaps another miracle that the boat suddenly arrived at the shore.  Perhaps it is comparative – they arrived at their destination “in no time at all.”  The truth we need to see, however, is that it is Jesus who brought them safely there.

The storms of God’s mercy are certainly difficult and frustrating.  The disciples had rowed for much of the night, and were stuck in the middle of the sea.

But the greatest storm from which our Savior delivers us is the storm of God’s wrath.  The fury of the wind and the waves is but a taste of the fury of God’s anger poured out in judgment. No amount of struggling can deliver us safe to “that other shore” in the face of that storm.  The Son of God is the one who stood in the face of that wrath, who walked through the fury and violence of that storm victorious over sin and death.  Only Christ’s accomplished work on our behalf, and the power of his resurrection, can bring us finally “home.”

Let’s look back to Psalm 107, which we considered at the beginning of our time.

28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

What is the necessary response for the redeemed?

31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

We looked at only a small portion of Psalm 107, but the entire psalm is about how the Lord redeems us from our trouble.  Those who are hungry and thirsty in the wilderness are led to a gleaming city where their longing souls are satisfied.  Those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death are set free from their prisons, as he shatters the doors that hold them and cuts in two the bars of their cells.  Those who are foolish, who have suffered because of their sin, cry out to the Lord and are healed by the very Word that is sent out by the Father.

For those who have not yet experienced divine rescue, cry out to the Lord!  He will hear your cry and will have mercy upon you.  No sin or guilt, no suffering, no demon, no personal hell is too great for God’s power.  By the blood of Jesus redemption is accomplished and salvation is won.  Our Father will move Heaven and Earth, and bring to bear the armies of his angels, to bring deliverance to his children.

(Isaiah 43:1-3)

But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

 

Conclusion

If I had to sum this passage up in one sentence, here it is again: “Jesus is the divine Son of God who delivers us by his mighty power.”

Let those who have been redeemed give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love.  Let us marvel at the miraculous deliverance of Jesus.  Who are we that he should know our names?  God’s faithful, pursuing love, and his mighty power which he displayed when he raised Christ from the dead, has rescued us, and will yet rescue us, from all our troubles.

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble.

One thing that struck me very deeply as I prepared for this sermon is what this passage says to Wyoming Avenue Baptist Church.  As we seek a pastor and struggle for the very life of the church, let us be encouraged.  Know that the road we are on is not by accident – we walk the very path that God has set before us.  This storm is of his making, and it is for our good.  We must, as the disciples, keep rowing.  But in due time, Jesus will come to us, and will reveal his glory in greater measure.  And I believe that he will deliver each and every one of us, and his church, safely through this storm.

Matthew Henry: “The ship of the church, in which the disciples of Christ have embarked themselves and their all, may be much shattered and distressed, yet is shall come safe to the harbor at last; tossed at sea, but not lost; cast down, but not destroyed; the bush burning, but not consumed.  The power and presence of the church’s King shall expedite and facilitate her deliverance, and conquer the difficulties which have baffled the skill and industry of her friends. The disciples had rowed hard, but could not make their point till they had got Christ in the ship, and then the work was done suddenly.”

Though the night be dark and the wind strong, let us be comforted by this, that we will be at the shore shortly, and are nearer than we think.

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