by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung
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We have already reflected on the first four miracles in the Gospel of John. The first is the miracle of water turned into wine. This miracle proves that Jesus is the Lord of creation. The second miracle is the healing of the royal official’s son. It revealed that Jesus is sovereign over time and space. The third miracle is the healing of the 38-year invalid, this miracles gives hope to those who are hopeless. The fourth miracle is the miracle of the five loaves and two fish. It was a miracle that resolved the problem of food. Jesus is the expert on solving difficult problems.
Today, we continue and examine the fifth miracle in the Gospel of John, how Jesus walked on water. The Gospel of John’s narration of this miracle is relatively simple. So, let us examine also Matthew 14:22-32. In this passage, we will see that Jesus appeared in three places: first, he was on the mountain, second, he was on the sea, and thirdly, he was on the boat. Jesus was praying on the mountain. He is our intercessor. Jesus saved the disciples at sea, he is our deliverer. Jesus was worshipped on the boat, he is our creator.
1. Jesus on the Mountain – He is our Intercessor John 6:15/Matthew 14:22-23
After Jesus had performed the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, the crowd intended to make him king by force, why? Because Jesus solved one of the greatest problem of mankind – food scarcity. This is the most basic problem of mankind. Our generation is very fortunate; our problem is not having enough to eat, quite the opposite, we are afraid to eat. We are afraid that if we eat, many things will increase- our blood pressure, our cholesterol, our uric acid, our blood sugar… because the foods we consume are too rich. But when a man experiences a lack in his basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, livelihood), he can commit the worst crime and even the most shameful things.
In Thailand and Vietnam, a girl is willing to sell her body in exchange for a piece of bread. During World War II, inside a camp in Japan, a British military officer, once a gentleman, betrayed his friend for a piece of bread. We begin thus to understand how important man’s basic needs are. Jesus solved one basic need of man with five loaves and two fish, as a result, all the people wanted to make him king. However, Jesus withdrew by himself to the mountains.
With this, two questions emerge:
First, didn’t Jesus come to be king? Now that people wanted to make him king, why didn’t he grab the chance? Why did the Lord reject it?
Second, what did Jesus do alone up on the mountain?
The answer to the first question is: Jesus came to be king, but Jesus rejected any method that was not of God. Before Jesus began his ministry, Satan tempted him thrice. Once, Satan told Him, “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour, if you worship me, it will all be yours.” What Satan meant was, “You don’t need to be crucified on the cross, you don’t need to be flogged, you don’t need to be shamed. In other words, you can have glory without having to go to the cross. Do you want it?” Praise the Lord, the Lord Jesus immediately replied: “Away from me, Satan!” But in this passage we are studying, it is not Satan who is trying to make Jesus king, it is the crowd demanding him to become king. Jesus’ response was the same. He dismissed the crowd. Jesus rejected the glory that both Satan and men wanted to offer.
The answer to the second question is: he went up to the mountainside by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23). Why did Jesus go alone? Why didn’t he bring along his disciples? He could have at least brought along Peter, James, and John. At the Transfiguration, at Gethsemane, he took along Peter, James and John, why didn’t he take any of them along this time? Personally, I believe, his 12 disciples were among the crowd wanting to make Jesus king. Because if Jesus was willing to be king, the 12 disciples would be raised up to exalted positions- Peter might be made general, Judas the finance minister, John most probably would be minister of internal affairs, and all the other disciples would be head of different departments. So, Jesus not only dismissed the crowd, but also made his disciples get on a boat ahead of him to the other side. Then, Jesus went up the mountainside alone to pray.
What did Jesus pray about? I believe he must have prayed for himself, and he must have also prayed for his disciples. Jesus had kept a low profile before this miracle. He often told those he healed to refrain from telling people about their healing. But now a ten thousand-large crowd saw him perform this miracle. If only by word of mouth, in a few days’ time, the whole nation would have heard about his miracle.
The Chinese say: “Men fear popularity as pigs fear being fat.” I often say it is best to be an ordinary person, neither too beautiful nor too unattractive; because ordinary-looking people will not attract attention. We, pastors, often stand before crowds. Do you think it is easy? After a worship service, the members go home and have “steamed pastors’ attire”, “fried pastor’s sermon”, and “fried pastor” for lunch. It is already difficult to be standing before a crowd, the pressure of being popular is even greater. Jesus became more and more well-known, the pressure he faced kept increasing. Could he go without prayers then? Hebrews 7:25 tells us “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 8:1 also tells us “…(he is) at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” What is he doing there? Romans 8:34 tells us “(He) is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Even now, Jesus, our Great High Priest, is interceding for us, he is praying for us.
II. Jesus on the Sea – He is our Deliverer (John 6:18-20/Matthew 14:24-31)
When he had finished praying, Jesus stood up. We must understand the circumstances then- Jesus was on the mountain while his disciples were on the boat. The disciples couldn’t see Jesus because it was dark. But Jesus could see his disciples because there was light on the boat. Jesus saw their boat buffeted by the wind out on the sea. Shortly before dawn, at the darkest time of night, Jesus walked on the water towards the disciples. The Lord wanted to save them from their difficulty.
We must note three things as the Lord sought to deliver them from their predicament:
1. The Lord Knows – Jesus had made his disciples go on the boat and ahead of him to the other side. But the disciples encountered the wind and the waves; and Jesus was not with them. What were the 12 disciples to do? Where was Jesus? They must have thought, “Don’t you know we are about to die!” But actually, Jesus knew all about it, even from the start. Jesus was praying for them on the mountain. Jesus saw how they were being buffeted by the wind, how they were struggling against the wind. But Jesus didn’t immediately appear to help them, why? There is a term called “overprotectiveness”. Sometimes as parents, we are not willing to see our children suffer, so we pamper them like princes and princesses. But praise the Lord, our Lord knows when we need a bit of trial, he knows when to come and help us. The Lord knew that the disciples were being buffeted by the wind, but he also knew that this was necessary for them. The Lord knows that trials are valuable in life.
In Revelation 2-3, the Lord wrote to the seven churches. To every church, the Lord said, “I know” – I know the strength and I know the weaknesses of each church. The Lord knows. Brothers and sisters, human knowledge is limited. But the Lord knows everything. He knows every side of every issue. A pastor often told his members: “I know.” He would tell everyone who came to him with their problem: “I know.” But he didn’t actually know everything. One time a sister who suspected that her husband had a mistress came to the pastor. She told the pastor her problems. The pastor told her `I know.’ The sister went home and fought with her husband. She told her husband, “You have a mistress, even the pastor knows about it. Would you still deny it!” Actually, the pastor doesn’t know. But our Lord knows, he knows and he understands everything.
2. The Lord Acts – That, the Lord knows, is one thing; but it is another thing when the Lord acts on what he knows. In Exodus 3, the Lord told Moses, “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.” The Lord sees, the Lord hears, the Lord came down. Jesus sees, Jesus hears and now Jesus had also come down to his disciples, but because there wasn’t a road, Jesus walked on water. No one had ever walked on water, so the disciples couldn’t have thought it was Jesus walking on water. Many times, the Lord helps us in ways beyond what we envision. Our God is very amazing.
The Bible says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” O Church, do not limit God’s work. God works in ways beyond what we can imagine and ask for. CBCP is one example: In 1987, when the church met for the first time there were only 81 people including children and adults. Later on, we bought this lot and three years after, we had a church building. Our co-workers tell me that at that time, they planned only to build a sanctuary with a seating capacity of 200; also, they felt that this place was too big for them. Did you notice that there is a stand-by for a balcony there; but because they found the church too big then, they didn’t push through with its construction. Yet now, we find this place too small, thus we have to build a bigger church building. Truly, God’s works in ways over and above what we can imagine.
3. The Lord Saves – When the Lord walked on water towards the disciples, the disciples thought it was a ghost. Jesus told them, “It is I, do not be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And the Lord told him, “Come.” Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. Step by step, he walked toward Jesus, but when he saw the wind, he became afraid. Beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. Our Lord saves.
Let us look at this interaction between the Lord and Peter. Peter was a very impulsive person, he speaks as he thinks, sometimes, he didn’t even know what he was saying. When he saw Jesus walking on water, he immediately said, “Lord, tell me to come to you on the water.” And in the end, Jesus had to save him.
However, we can learn two things from Peter:
a. He dared step out of the boat. This is the path of faith. A man without faith wouldn’t have been able to step out of the boat. Thus, aside from Jesus, Peter is the only other person to have walked on water. This is Peter’s most unique experience in life.
b. He walked on water with Jesus in the midst of the wind and the waves. After Jesus rescued him, I believe Peter didn’t dare let go of Jesus’ hand, and so he walked with Jesus hand in hand on water in the midst of the wind and waves. This is an amazing experience. What about the other disciples? They remained on the boat. They felt safer, but they failed to have such a precious experience. O Church, the path of faith is risky, yes; yet we are not telling you to take foolish risks. If Jesus didn’t tell Peter to come, and Peter stepped out of the boat on his own, that would be foolish. Peter stepped out because of Jesus’ command, as a result, even though he almost drowned, he experienced the Lord’s deliverance. O Church! We need to walk in the Lord’s will although it is difficult, for the Lord is our deliverer.
III. Jesus on the Boat – He is Our Creator (John 6:1/Matthew 14:32-33)
When we connect these two passages, we find that two amazing things happened proving that Jesus is the creator of the universe:
1. The Wind Died Down – This is a very amazing thing. The wind and the waves didn’t stop while Jesus was walking on water, but the moment Jesus stepped into the boat, the wind and waves died down. It is a frightening thing to see the wind and waves dying down so suddenly! In the Old Testament, a similar thing happened. When Jonah fled from the Lord toward Tarshish, a storm suddenly came up and the ship was about to sink, later on, when they threw Jonah overboard, the Bible says, “…the raging sea grew calm.” Just like that, the sea grew calm. The Bible says, “At this the men greatly feared the LORD.” I believe that at this point, the disciples also felt the same thing. Only a moment ago, the wind and the waves were raging, their boat had been about to sink, but when Jesus stepped into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” That is what the Gospel of John meant to show us – that Jesus is the Son of God. The God that the Jews believe in is the God who created the world and everything in it, the whole universe is under his control. The God who is in sovereign control of the whole universe is the only true God. During Elijah’s time, Elijah challenged 400 prophets of Baal. He said, “The god who answers by fire, he is God.” Baal wasn’t able to send down fire, but the Lord sent fire down from heaven, because the Lord is the creator of all things. The disciples saw Jesus calmed the storm, the wind and the waves obeyed him, they knelt down and worshipped him, saying, “You are truly the Son of God.”
2. The Boat Reached Shore – John 6:21 “Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” Matthew 14:22 says Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side. The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake. It is only about 21 kilometers long, and 12 kilometers wide. I had been to the Holy Land with my wife, and we had taken a boat across the Sea of Galilee. It was only about an hour long trip. In the olden days, with row boats, it might probably have taken them one to three hours to reach their destination. But John 6:19 says `when they had rowed about ten miles …’ meaning the boat seemed to be stuck in the same place, it didn’t move forward. Of course, it was because they were being buffeted by the wind and waves. But when Jesus stepped into the boat, the boat immediately reached shore.
What does immediately mean? It may mean it quickly reached its destination or that all obstacles disappeared. I feel that both of these happened. It must have been a truly amazing thing for the boat to have immediately reached shore. But however it happened, this shows us an important truth – how wonderful it is to have the Lord with us! When the Lord was on the mountain, the disciples struggled against the wind and waves, the whole night they were only able to move 10 miles. Relying on their own human strength, they fought against the wind and waves in vain. But when the Lord stepped into the boat, they didn’t even have to lift a finger and the boat immediately reached its destination. We have two sayings that sound similar, but are actually in complete contrast of each other. One is “get half the results with twice the effort” and the other is “yield twice the result with half the effort”. We can say: With the Lord, we yield twice the result with half the effort. Without the Lord, we get half the result with twice the effort. How important it is to have the Lord with us!
In the Great Commission, the Lord told his disciples: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Provided we go, the Lord will be with us, not only as we labor for the gospel, but in our homes, in our companies, in our businesses, He will be with us. With Christ in our vessel, we can truly smile at the storm!