• 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. • 22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.John 6:18-22
A. [John 6:20] Advance, Friend, and be recognised
A greeting can be more or less welcome depending on who says it, what is said and the circumstances into which it is said. The Disciples were understandably frightened when they saw someone coming through the gloom towards them, walking on the rough sea:-
20 But [Jesus] said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”John 6:20
An appropriate exchange of greetings is very useful in a crisis but if communication is neglected before the crisis it is much less likely to stand up to the test when the crisis comes. Being greeted by Jesus Christ was a peculiarly powerful thing — e.g. Judas and the mob came to arrest him: John 18:6 … Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. — so conversely when he says, “… do not be afraid.” it is hard to disobey.
However routine and perfunctory words of greeting might appear, they are, as signs of fellowship, important maintenance tools for the establishment and preservation of church unity. We are urged by Paul to be:-
… eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:3
and we can all reinforce that bond, one meaningful greeting at a time.
B. [John 6:21f.] Putting two and two together
At best the Disciples were only half way across the Sea of Galilee when Jesus came to them. If there had not been a contrary wind and they had been able to use a sail, they would have been at the other side in the time. Given how quickly they proceeded after they had received Jesus aboard:-
21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.John 6:21
we have to conclude that they were delayed so that Jesus would come alongside the boat in the middle of the lake and the middle of the night. Once again the Disciples were being tested and the gladness with which they received Jesus into the boat signals their success.
Also being tested were the would-be army of five thousand who had wanted to make Jesus their king. Their mistake was to watch the Disciples until they were gone out onto the lake, believing that Jesus could not leave without them:-
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.John 6:22
They perceived the Disciples as rivals who controlled access to Jesus but had no idea what could be achieved by an army with a miracle-worker as a figurehead. History is littered with the failed causes of those who tried to invoke Jesus as the originator of their own particular agenda. If we ever learned from history anything other than that we don’t learn from history, we would learn from this account that it’s no use trying to make Christ king on our terms. How could we control the agenda when we can’t even track God’s movements? William Cowper had it right when he he wrote that God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.
Our test is: do we have the nous to take Jesus on board when he draws near to us in our troubled seas?
C. [John 6:18f.] Making heavy weather of it
Sometimes the going gets tough and we face our contrary circumstances by knuckling down to do what needs to be done to survive. Those of the Disciples who weren’t sailors will have been content to row at the direction of those who were and the experienced fishermen were well used to working together. When all our experience is being called upon just to stay afloat, anything outwith our previous experience can push us over the edge:-
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.John 6:18f.
It may occur to some of us that this was rather a cruel trick to play but the Disciples did not think so. In the moment that Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” they knew as they had not known before the gladness of the true follower of Jesus. Faith is not something to be mollycoddled and kept from being put to the test but, on the other hand, nor is danger to be courted for its own sake. The Gospel venture has often been pictured as a ship and here is Biblical precedent for such thinking.
It is speculation of course for we are not told but I doubt if Judas Iscariot shared the joy of the other Disciples as they brought Jesus into the boat. We sometimes need to learn the lesson that passing the test does not mean to be just not found out. On the other hand the involuntary surge of gladness when Jesus is received into the heart, into the house or, so to speak, into the boat dispels impostor syndrome and all other fears. Truly, with Christ in the vessel we smile at the storm.
Begone, unbelief, | my Saviour is near, | And for my relief | will surely appear; | by prayer let me wrestle, | and he will perform; | with Christ in the vessel, | I smile at the storm.John Newton