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.