Text: John 6:16-21 Theme: When the waters of life grow rough Jesus reassures us: It is I; don’t be afraid.
He was one of Jesus’ disciples. He was there when the boy made available his small loaves and fish. He was there when Jesus multiplied the loaves to feed 5,000. He was there when the crowd wanted to make Jesus king- by force. After all, someone who will feed you for free is always popular.
But Jesus had slipped away. He didn’t want to be crowned based on filling their bellies. What to do? The disciples decoded to head back to their home base in Capernaum.
Notice the change of scene. Instead of sunlight, now it was dark. Instead of Jesus right there with them, now he was away. Instead of plenty of grass that was soft, now the waters grew rough.
Here we need a backgrounder on the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is on the northwest side. There the sea is over four miles across. The disciples were headed back home. So, they were headed directly into the prevailing west wind. It was rough.
Rowing into the wind on rough waters was no picnic. But they stuck with it. After a long stretch of hard pulling, they managed to cover three or four miles. Now, on top of the darkness, the absence of Jesus + the rough water, they were bone tired.
This scene represents the rough waters we all face at times. You see, sin stirs things up. Waves of sin and strife create danger. And, of course, danger triggers fear. Danger and fear are a prominent part of the human experience.
Now for most of us, danger and fear don’t dominate our days. We aren’t immigrants living in the shadow of deportation. We don’t live on a high-crime street where you never know when a teen will be shot. We don’t live in Afghanistan or Syria where a bomb might go off at any time. Most of us have grown up in safe homes, safe schools and safe neighborhoods.
But even for relatively safe people in Nashville there are dangers that can rock our boat. There are dangers on our crowded highways. Or there is a bully at your school. Or your finances may be shaky. Or you have a check-up and something’s not quite right. A further test shows a suspicious spot. What if that spot is cancer? Fear rolls in. Then there are dangers on the international stage: Terrorists plot their next bloody attack. North Korea threatens to send nuclear weapons flying across the world. Tariffs threaten jobs. Drugs make their way through borders. Super viruses kill. It’s always something. Like the disciples, rough waters can leave us feeling tired + afraid.
Then the disciples saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water. Life is never dull with Jesus! He has just fed five thousand from a few small loaves. Now he comes to them- walking on water!
But Jesus’ approach is so unexpected, the disciples don’t recognize him. In Matthew’s account they cry: It’s a ghost! It reminds me of the old Scooby Doo cartoons. Shaggy and Scooby are always getting scared by some sinister figure. Now, the disciples felt threatened by two dangers: rough water + this other-worldly specter.
In this dramatic moment we learn a lesson: we need to recognize Jesus’ presence and power. We need to recognize him with us. If we don’t see that Jesus is with us, then we’ll be left frightened. Like the disciples on the sea, many people don’t recognize Jesus as a source of help+ hope.
Take secularists: they see belief in Jesus as primitive superstition- like Scooby Doo. Take humanists: they see Jesus as a crutch- quite unneeded by capable human beings. Take Muslim belief: they see Jesus as usurping the place of the true prophet- Mohammed. None of them recognize Jesus as the source of love and hope and salvation.
What about you? Do you see Jesus for who he is- the Son of God who can walk on water? Do you see Jesus who comes- to be with you and reassure you?
Now, in their confusion and terror Jesus speaks: It is I; don’t be afraid. Later in John 10 Jesus says: I am the good shepherd. And the sheep know his voice. Sure enough, when the disciples heard his voice, they knew it was Jesus. What a relief!
It is I; don’t be afraid. This is part of the gospel: Jesus doesn’t just save us from sin. He also comes to free us from fear.
You know, fear is a result of sin- part of the curse on human existence. Fear creeps into our lives in so many ways. Fear has a way of taking the shine off of life. Fear is like an annoying mosquito buzzing around your tent at night. Let me ask: how much do anxieties and fears buzz around in your mind?
Jesus came to set us free from fear. Imagine life without any fears to harass you! No fear of ridicule at school. No fear of racism on the street. No fear of financial failure. No fear of demonic addiction. No fear of cancer. No fear of death. No fear at all! Life without fear is sweet. It’s the peace that only Jesus can give.
Now this fascinating line in vs 21: Thenthey were willing to take him into the boat. They were willing to take him into the boat. This is an act of receiving Jesus. Every person on the planet faces this precise decision. Will you take Jesus into your boat?
Amazing Grace is perhaps the most popular song in the Christian hymn book. The author is John Newton. John was from a sea-faring family. At one point Newton got involved in the lucrative slave trade.
Then on a run from Africa to England his ship ran into a terrible storm. Cargo came loose and bashed a hole in the side of the ship; water started pouring in. Newton thought they were going down. In terror for his life, he cried out to God for help.
Then a piece of cargo plugged the hole; the storm passed; the ship drifted to safety. John felt intense relief! God had spared him. Then and there he took Jesus into his boat. Afterwards he wrote: Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
You know, many people won’t face this crucial decision. Some think certain people are just religious and others, like them, aren’t. Some think it’s how you were raised. Raised Jewish or Christian or Muslim? That settles it. But, the truth is: like the disciples we all face a pivotal decision- whether to receive Jesus. The question here is not: do we believe Jesus exists? The question is: will we receive him?
Sadly, some people choose not to let Jesus in. Why? They fear he may swamp their fun. They fear Jesus will steer their boat in a direction they don’t want to go. They fear he may force them to row too hard. So they keep rowing- on their own.
Will you take Jesus into your boat? And you can’t go half-way on this. You can’t invite Jesus to have one leg in the boat and one leg out. That’s won’t work.
I think that’s sometimes an issue with teens. You believe in Jesus. You know deep down he’s the real deal. But, you also want to do your own thing. You want to be cool. Like Eve, you may want to taste some forbidden pleasures. One leg in; one leg out. That won’t work. Will you take Jesus into your boat- all the way?
The disciples were willing to take him into the boat. Then notice how things clear up: immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. Like Noah in his day, the boat reached solid ground. Some commentators think this was another miracle: to immediately reach the shore.
In any case, what a change! Instead of rough waters, there was solid ground. Instead of rowing, they could rest. The danger was past. Imagine the disciple’s relief!
This is the gospel: Jesus brings us to safety; to rest; to peace. If Jesus’ is in your boat, you’ll get to the other side. So don’t be afraid!
One steep cost of transitional ministry is not knowing where you’ll serve next. While serving up in New Brunswick, Canada Ruth and I felt far removed from things. For a few months no church door was opening. Then some anxiety started creeping in. What if no door opens? What if I’m unemployed? No medical insurance. No place to live.
Then who should contact me? Bart Spain. Soon we sensed God’s call to Faith Church. If Jesus’ is in your boat, you’ll get to the other side.
As long as this sin-plagued planet continues to spin, we will face rough waters. At times we will face danger. But what a difference when Jesus is with us! In every scene of life Jesus says to us: It is I; don’t be afraid. If Jesus is in your boat, you’ll get to the other side.
Are you trying out for a team and not sure if you’ll make it? It is I; don’t be afraid. Are you anxious about a big exam? Hear his words: It is I; don’t be afraid. Are you dreading a root canal? Hear his words: It is I; don’t be afraid.
Looking for a job, but worried that your age is against you? It is I; don’t be afraid. Have you done something bad and you fear God’s wrath? It is I; don’t be afraid. Worried about the future of Faith Church? Remember Jesus words: It is I; don’t be afraid.
Later today I urge you to take time to reflect on your life. Be honest with yourself. Are there things that cause you to feel anxious or afraid? What are they? How are they affecting you: your emotions, your outlook on life?
Whatever the danger may be, let Jesus’ words ring in your mind and heart. It is I; don’t be afraid. If Jesus is in your boat, you’ll get to the other side.
Text: John 5:1-15 Theme: With the disabled man Jesus shows grace which seeks and heals.
The man was disabled. We don’t know his exact disability. He may have been paralyzed or lame or withered by some disease. We do know that his disability wasn’t anything new. He had it for 38 years.
The man lay by the pool of Bethesda. Back in 1888 archeologists uncovered the pool. The pool was near the Sheep Gate, which was about 200 yards north of the temple. This was probably the gate used to bring sheep to serve as sacrifices in the temple.
In Jesus’ day, a great number of disabled people gathered by the pool of Bethesda. There were two reasons why they hung out there. First, the pool was surrounded by five covered colonnades. That covering provided them protection from sun and rain.
Second and more importantly, they hoped to be healed there. Some manuscripts of John’s gospel include another verse: From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had. Today we have Olympic races in the pool. Then they had races to the pool.
One day Jesus came to this pool. Jesus saw him lying there. Here again we see that Jesus notices people. Jesus takes an interest in people. He inquired about the man. Jesus learned that he had been in this condition a long time.
Then Jesus posed a question: Do you want to get well? Do you want to get well? Now, that question might appear silly, because the answer seems so obvious. The man has a serious disability. Of course he wants to get well!
But sometimes a disability can be like a vine intertwining with a fence. Over time a disability becomes part of one’s identity. It shapes activities and lifestyle. A disability may even attract attention and special sympathy. Is that why the man never gets in the pool first? So, rather than presume, Jesus probes: he asks if healing is what the man truly wants.
The disabled man proves eager to explain his situation; he’s eager to tell his story. Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me. I have no one to help me. Here is a cry from the heart. In these few words are wrapped a lifetime of loneliness + disappointed hopes + misery.
For a long time this man has been disabled. For a long time he’s had no one to help him- no wife, no family, no friends. No one. For a long time he’s laid by the pool and it’s hope of healing, but never quite makes it. For a long time he’s finished runner up in every race to the pool. He feels like a loser.
Here is a picture of loneliness + despair. The disabled man isn’t the only one to feel that. There are lonely children: parents preoccupied or divorced; lonely; without a close friend. There are lonely adults: living far from family; neighbors busy with their own lives; no friend to have a heart to heart talk with; going to a bar for desperate friendship. There are lonely seniors: many friends have died; unable to get out much; long days to fill.
One growing alarm in our society is the high rate of suicides among teenagers. In recent years suicide has become one of the leading causes of teen death. Suicide is the ultimate sign of emotional loneliness and despair.
Despair over a lousy home situation. Despair over how you look. Despair over not having many friends. Despair over not feeling understood or liked. When the man cried: I have no one to help me, he speaks for millions of people.
But here’s good news: Jesus is a friend to the lonely. He is the one who can help. Jesus said to the man: Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
John says nothing about the man’s reaction. But you can imagine his astonishment + joy! After 38 years of dealing with his disability, he could walk!
In our generation there has been a growing sensitivity to people with disabilities. Joni Earickson was a teen when a diving accident left her a quadriplegic. She became a great advocate for people, like her, with disabilities. The CRC has been a pioneer in establishing an office of Disability Concerns. Churches have been urged to make their space receptive to those with disabilities.
All of this flows from the ministry of Jesus. The disabled man had no one to help him. Then Jesus came and helped him. Do you have some limitation- a disability of any kind? Here is a sparkling reminder: Jesus is able and willing to help.
Now, if John’s account ended there, there would be plenty to ponder- plenty to marvel at. But it turns out there’s an Act II. Vs 9: The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, so the Jews said to the man: It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.
Wow! Talk about being a killjoy. After 38 years this man could walk! But all they could think about was a Sabbath technicality. This is the epitome of legalism. Legalism: an excessive concern for the letter of the law while neglecting the purpose of the law: to love our neighbor and promote their wellbeing.
Take this example: speed limits are set to protect and save life. It’s not good to have people driving through neighborhoods at 50 miles per hour. It’s dangerous.
But suppose at midnight, with little warning, a woman is about to give birth. Her husband is hustling her to the hospital and hits 45 mph in their neighborhood. A police officer pulls them over for speeding. The husband explains the emergency. For the mother and baby’s well-being they must get to the hospital as soon as possible!
But the officer pays no attention. They have exceeded the limit. It’s against the law. They will wait while he writes out a ticket. That’s legalism: an excessive concern for the letter of the law, while neglecting the purpose of the law: to promote our well-being.
Now think about the sabbath. God designed the sabbath to promote our well-being. God didn’t intend us to become mere beasts of burden. The sabbath limits endless work that might snuff out time with God, time for rest, time for play, time to be fully human. Healing the disabled man fit the spirit of the Sabbath- restoring his well-being.
But the Jews showed no interest in the man’s healing. They were too hung up on the law. It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat. That’s so sad!
I hope we will take a lesson from this. Let’s respect the law. But let’s always remember its true purpose-to protect + promote the well-being of people. Let’s avoid legalism: as parents, as teachers, as a church community.
Now, when the Jews rebuked the healed man, he pleads innocent. He passes the buck. The man who made me well said to me: Pick up your mat and walk. So now the Jews want to track down the man who would ignore the Sabbath law. Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up + walk? Their legalism is almost comical!
And now this key detail: The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd. The man had no idea who it was. Notice the contrast between the encounter with the royal official and the disabled man. The official knew who Jesus was; the disabled man didn’t. The official came to Jesus; Jesus came to the disabled man. The official asked Jesus to heal his son; the disabled man made no request for healing.
Here we see God’s grace isn’t limited by our knowledge or our initiative or our faith. The man didn’t know it was Jesus; he didn’t come to Jesus; he didn’t ask for help. Yet in his goodness and mercy, Jesus healed him.
Faith is a channel through which God’s power and grace flows to us. No question. Faith is like a big irrigation ditch through which God’s living water flows to us. But the point here is: God’s grace isn’t limited to our faith!
That’s a great relief, isn’t it? I think of times in my life when I’ve been discouraged. I think of times when I’ve gone through some rejection or failure or disappointment. In moments like that it can be hard to trust God for what lies ahead.
Can you relate? Just when we need God’s help the most, our faith may be at its lowest ebb. If God’s grace solely depended on our faith, we’d be in bad shape. What a comfort that God’s grace isn’t limited by our puny faith!
We find this same dynamic at work in our salvation. Romans 5 says: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It’s not faith first, then God helps us. It’s God’s saving help first; then faith follows. Praise God that his grace transcends our knowledge and initiative and faith.
Finally our text includes an Act III. Later Jesus found the man at the temple and said: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. Here Jesus shows a tender concern not just for him physically, but also spiritually- not just for the body but also for the soul.
Jesus’ point is this: living with a disability is rough. But not nearly as rough as facing the wrath of God at the Judgment Day. Stop sinning. Jesus’ words are valid for you and me: stop sinning. The consequence of sin are worse than any physical disability. Let’s never forget that!
What an encounter with Jesus! It changed the man’s life. He found that Jesus seeks out disabled people. Jesus takes an interest in disabled people. Jesus heals disabled people with a power that isn’t limited to our faith. Jesus is amazing! I hope that you will admire him and believe in him and receive his help- for body + soul.
Text: John 4:46-54 Theme: In coming to Jesus, the royal official receives healing for his son and eternal life for his entire household.
An astonishing assortment of people encountered Jesus during his ministry. There was Nathanael, a Galilean without guile. There Mary, the mother of Jesus. There was the profiteer in the temple courts. Nicodemus, part of the Jewish council. A Samaritan woman. Each had an up close and personal encounter with Jesus. Don’t you wish you could have been one of them?
Now we come to a royal official. Likely he served under King Herod, the regional ruler for the Roman Empire. The official’s position gave him power. With position/power you can dictate a lot of things: your housing, the food on your table, various comforts, servants to do your bidding.
But position and power can never dictate everything. They cannot guarantee good health. The official had a son who became sick. His condition grew so bad, he was close to death. Local doctors could do nothing more. Few things are worse for a parent.
In the middle of this crisis the royal official heard that Jesus arrived in Cana. Cana was about twenty miles from Capernaum as the crow flies. With winding roads a trip there took the better part of a day. Could Jesus help his boy?
Now, the royal official could have sent a servant to summon Jesus. But he didn’t. He trekked to Cana himself. Maybe he thought a father’s plea would be more persuasive. But one thing is clear: he loved his son so much that he went to any lengths to seek help.
Note: the royal official went to Jesus because he had an urgent need; he was desperate. What if he didn’t have that need? What if his son remained a picture of health? Would the official have come to Jesus? Probably not. Here is a profound spiritual principle: pressing needs often spur people to come to Jesus.
If people urgently need healing, they will come to Jesus. If people urgently feel the need for love and acceptance, they will come to Jesus. If people urgently feel the need to be saved from their sins, they will come to Jesus. As the Heidelberg Catechism notes: we must first know how great our sin and misery are. Obviously this father felt miserable- miserable over his son’s grim condition. So he came.
It seems this is precisely the pitfall for so many around us today. We live in a pleasant, prosperous, relatively privileged country. Many people around us are sitting pretty and feeling fine. They enjoy the Nashville vibe. They don’t feel any urgent need- for body or soul. So, why go and seek Jesus?
But the royal official had a need. So, he made a long day’s journey to come to Jesus. And when he found him, he begged Jesus to come and heal his son. Oh, that people in need would come to Jesus and beg for his help!
How did Jesus respond? Well, his first reaction doesn’t seem too promising. Instead of respond to the father, Jesus speaks to the crowd: Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.
What’s this all about? Well, Jesus certainly isn’t giving the people a pat on the back. And it doesn’t seem to be a neutral observation. Likely this is a lament- or a rebuke. Jesus detected a skepticism in them that would only yield to dazzling, divine fireworks.
But, Jesus’ doesn’t want his followers to depend on signs and wonders right and left. The perpetual need to be wowed by some divine display is a mark of immaturity. He wanted them to develop a rock-solid faith that simply takes him at his word- period.
Remember Gideon? One day the angel of the Lord came to him and said: Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.
Did Gideon take God at his word? Hardly. But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.
Instead of obeying he asked for a sign. So the angel gave him a sign. Fire flared from a rock and consumed his meat + bread. So Gideon knew it was an angel.
But he still wasn’t ready to trust and obey God. He asked God for another sign + wonder. He asked God to cause the fleece to be wet with dew while the ground around stayed dry. Gideon’s need for all these signs wasn’t a badge of faith. It reflected a lack of trust.
What a contrast to the official! He doesn’t say to Jesus: prove yourself; then I’ll trust you. Unlike Gideon and the crowds in Cana, he doesn’t require a sign or wonder first. He simply says: Sir, come down before my child dies. In response to this faith Jesus says: You may go. Your son will live.
That was hopeful. But its also a surprise! It wasn’t exactly what the father expected. His plan was for Jesus to go with him to attend to his son in person. In person. He thought any healer would need to be there to help his boy.
What was the father’s reaction? Would he protest or plead for Jesus to come along? John records the pivotal reaction: The man took Jesus at his word and departed. What an example of trust in Jesus! Let me ask: Do you simply take Jesus at his word?
When Jesus says: Love your enemies, do you take him at his word and aim to love them? When Jesus says: Flee from sexual immorality, do you take him at his word and flee? When Jesus says: Forgive one another, do you take him at his word and work to forgive? When Jesus says: Don’t neglect to tithe, do you take him at his word and tithe- period? Like the royal official, do you simply take Jesus at his word?
Now, imagine the thoughts of the official as he retraced his steps back home. What was happening with his son? Was he still alive? Had he improved?
Then, at some point, his servants met him along the road. They brought good news! His son’s deadly fever had left him! He was better! Imagine the father’s relief and joy!
Friends: here is a demonstration of Jesus’ great promise in the Sermon on the Mount: Ask + you will receive; seek + you will find; knock + the door will be opened to you. The father sought Jesus out and asked that his son be healed. And Jesus healed him.
But there’s more. The official inquired what time his son got better. The servants said: The fever left him yesterday at one in the afternoon. The official realized that was the exact time Jesus said to him: Your son will live.
The official sought out Jesus as some healer. But now he knew Jesus was more than that. Healers can only help those they can touch. Healers are limited to their own space. Jesus’ power was not bounded by space. He could heal a son twenty miles away!
So the official and all his household believed. In John’s gospel believe is a big word. The background is John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
In this sense the official and his household believed. They believed that Jesus was the divine Son of God, the Savior of the world. The official set out to save his son’s physical life. They all ended up receiving eternal life.
Think Ephesians 3: God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. The official asked Jesus to come on a long journey to heal his son. Jesus did better than that: he healed the son instantly. Better yet, in God’s mercy the entire household was saved and received eternal life. In Jesus we find a God of amazing grace. Let’s never stop looking for his grace.
One more point about this encounter. John concludes with this statement: This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. Again, Jesus wanted his followers to develop a faith that simply takes him at his word. A sturdy faith that doesn’t have to be propped up with signs and wonders right and left.
And yet- and yet: Jesus goes right ahead and provides this miraculous sign for the people! Gideon had his doubts. The crowd had its doubts. We also may have our doubts. Our faith and obedience isn’t always as brisk as that royal official. Yet God graciously stoops to our weakness; he proves his power in the face of our doubts.
He gave signs to Gideon. He gave this great sign and wonder to the crowd. Through Jesus God reaches out to us as we are- even if we are doubting or demanding. Jesus reveals a God who bends over backwards to reach us. God bends over backwards to reach you and me. Let’s never forget that.
When we look around the world, we see many barriers to the gospel. Take the entrenched Jewish culture and beliefs and the wariness about anything Christian. More than a million Jews live in New York City. Not many are coming to believe in Jesus.
But let’s not despair. Here is hope: God bends over backwards to reach skeptical people. God will bend over backwards to reach Jewish people. God will bend over backwards to reach bitter or angry people. God will bend over backwards to reach thoroughly secular people. Amazing grace!
In his desperation, the royal official came to Jesus. What a dramatic encounter! Here we find Jesus is compassionate and powerful and surprising and accommodating. There is simply no-one like him!
In light of this encounter I hope that you are impressed and admire Jesus. I hope that you come to trust him and simply take him at his word. Like the royal official, I hope that you believe in him, in the full sense of the word. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,