Scripture: John 6:16-21, Psalm 77, Exodus 14 (NIV, The Message, Living Bible)
Have any of you ever travelled interstate 95, to the southern states on the east coast for a vacation? Well, for the past twenty plus years I have followed that route every summer to get to my mother’s beach home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for our family vacation. Somewhere around the mid point of the state of Virginia you will find a billboard sign that announces that you are 175 miles from the South of the Border. This is a tourist attraction set between the North Carolina and South Carolina state lines. This sign encourages you to plan on stopping in and visiting with its mascot, Pedro, as a part of your journey. Now you may think that having a sign like that might be a little foolish, so far away from the destination. Well for those of you who have travelled this route you know for a fact that the sign in Virginia is just the first of many. There are hundreds (according to the internet) of these signs scattered along Rt. 95 exclaiming that you should not miss their attraction. These signs are designed with witty statements and bright colors.
In all the years that I have travelled that road, I think we have only stopped once to visit Pedro and that was only briefly for a pit stop. For me seeing those signs have nothing to do with the attraction up ahead, but it is a count down to our journey’s end. After we pass Pedro, towering over his domain, I know that in two more hours (if we are lucky) I will have reached the beach house, my destination.
Throughout the Bible there are many stories of journeys. Journeys that didn’t have their destinations clearly marked. Noah probably was wishing when he peeked out of the ark the first time that it would have been nice to see a sign that said, dry land just around the corner. Jacob might have appreciated a sign along the desert road that stated, forgiving brother in 100 yards.
Then there is Moses. God called him to this pretty big job, which took him completely by surprise. He even states “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” I am sure that even though God gave him lots of signs along the way he probably would have felt a lot better if somewhere on that dusty road out of Egypt there would have been a billboard sign saying, “Promised land forty years away”.
The thing that strikes me about Moses is his determination. No, the road certainly was not marked with the specifics about the trip, but this man that God had called was going to do everything he could to get the job done. Continually he follows the command of God to carry out the many tasks to get the Israelites free. Of course his job doesn’t end in Egypt. Once they are free he now has to lead them out into the desert. Constantly, he tells God I am not your man, and yet he still obeys the charge he is given.
One challenge follows another and now they are standing before this massive body of water with no where to go and an army of Egyptians behind them. Still determined he reminds the Israelites to not be afraid and stand firm, God will deliver them. Sure enough Moses stretches out his hand, the sea pulls back and hundreds and thousands of God’s people walk across dry land to the destination on the other side. Still the people are confused, for this army of Egyptians is still in pursuit and following right behind. Once again Moses raises his hand the waters fall back to their normal state and Israel is delivered from the hand that had enslaved them for so long. Determination to deliver God’s people to their destination.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years later and in the book of John we find another story about water. This story that John tells sort of drops out of no where right into the middle of this amazing miracle of feeding five thousand people and Jesus explaining that He is the bread of life.
Why is this passage here? Another miracle showing God’s almighty power to be able to call His son to walk right across the top of the water? For those on the shore possibly. For the men in the boat there’s more to the story.
Let’s back up for a minute. As the chapter in John begins Jesus is retreating to a mountainside and once again He is being pursued by mobs of people that want to see more miracles and the biggest problem is it is time to eat. Mobs of people and food. I know when there is a celebration at my house and a meal is involved it can be exhausting. I am sure that Khris, Bob, Jim, Josie, Sharon and the youth would all agree feeding a lot of people takes a lot of energy out of you. For Jesus and the disciples it must have been a very strenuous day. It is really not surprising that Jesus retreats by himself to the mountain, not only to escape the mob that wants to make him king, but probably to rest, recover and prepare for the next event. But what about those disciples? Were they supposed to go down to the shore and wait for Jesus? Did they decide to get into the boat and retreat to a place where they found comfort and familiarity to wash away the stress of the day? How did they expect Jesus to join them? Surely they must have been in awe of the events that had just occurred. Were they discussing the miracle among themselves? More questions.
John does give us a few details. It was dark. Jesus hadn’t shown up. The disciples had rowed three to three and a half miles away from the shore. They were heading to Capernaum. There had only been one boat and only the disciples got into that boat. After they had rowed that distance the wind started to blow and the water became rough. All of these things were pretty reasonable occurrences… until they see Jesus approaching. They know it is Jesus and yet they are still terrified. How many times have I known that Jesus is right there beside me and yet I am still terrified? Somehow Jesus is determined to make these men He has called, understand. He has to! The people on the shore only want to see more of the show. They want their bellies to be filled and the leaders that rule over them put in their place. The twelve on that boat, they have to understand more. Jesus knows the whole picture. Three years to do what God has called him to do is only a short time and that time is passing quickly. He will be leaving behind those men to carry on in his name and it looks like they still don’t get it. Just hours before didn’t they ask him “How are we going to feed all of these people?”.
Yes, walking on water is a pretty amazing feat. There are a few bugs that can do it. We have sports equipment and activities that we use to attempt to accomplish this, but a human walking across a body of water. Most of us learned, at a pretty early age, sitting in a bathtub full of water, playing with a few objects, what will float and what will sink. When we step into the water at the beach or on a lakeside, we know that our feet will break the surface of the water and meet with the ground below.
Couldn’t Jesus have waited until morning and found another boat? Couldn’t he have called the wind to blow the disciples boat back to the shore? Couldn’t He? Fortunately, Jesus didn’t.
What were the disciples thinking when they saw this figure? Are we dreaming? Is this a ghost of Jesus? What in the world has happened since we last saw him head for the mountain?
Their eyes could not trust his physical form. It sure looks like Jesus. He is moving as Jesus does. But… It was His voice that brought them complete recognition and calm. Jesus says; “It is I; don’t be afraid.” The deliverer, Jesus, calling out in the darkness to bring light, the disciples offer an invitation for him to enter the boat, which brings them to their destination, immediately.
In the darkness of sin and sorrow, Jesus is determined to reach out and rescue us. Only He can deliver us from the fear which grips us. It only takes an invitation to enter our lives and we too will be delivered to that destination which is like none we have ever experienced, eternal life.
Can you see him, just past the darkness and fear? Can you hear his voice saying, “It is I, do not be afraid… come home”.
Resources:Surprised by Hope N.T. Wright
The Gospel According to John Raymond E. Brown