Friday, April 8, 2011

Signs (5): Way on the Water

The message in the series by Chris at our 11:15 service, on John 6:16-24. Thanks Chris!
We’ve been looking at the signs in John’s Gospel for the past five weeks and seeing the miracles described by John, not only as a witness to God’s amazing power, but also as signs that point us or lead us to something about Jesus.

Last week, the feeding of the five thousand (MEN) and the teaching afterward of the bread of heaven was a sign pointing to or refering to the Passover deliverance and that Jesus was not just a prophet who has come, but the prophet who has fulfilled the hope of our deliverance from death itself. If you remember the scripture from last week, the story of the loaves and fish and the question and answer period about the bread of life was separated by a passage of scripture.

That passage in John’s Gospel is what we are to examine today. Thank you, JP. I say that because at first read, like so many other passages that I have read, I didn’t have a clue about what this passage was other than it was a great story of Jesus walking on the water. For those of us fair skinned people who need SPF 10,000 just to spend a little time on the beach and having to re-apply every time that you come out of the water, being able to walk on water might come in handy to be able to enjoy the beach fully clothed and protected from the sun.

However, I don’t think that is the reason why this miracle appears in the Gospels.

There have been many comparisons made between the Gospel accounts over the years. And by using these comparisons, there are some interesting differences that only lead me to more questions. That is another aspect of John’s Gospel that we have been exploring as well. It is full of questions, by Jesus, by the disciples, by the crowds and by the authorities.

Back in the early seventies, there was a simple seemingly insignificant event that triggered a massive scandal that forever changed how we look at our government and pretty much opened up the scrutiny of the private lives of public figures to a higher level than ever before. Of course, I’m talking about the Watergate scandal, and the bungled burglary attempt that turned into one of the biggest scandals of all time and disgraced a sitting President, forcing Richard Nixon to resign his office.

No longer would government be viewed in the same way as before and the media, for better or worse, gained a new strategy and forcefulness in investigating, watchdogging, and covering the underneath layers of the political system. One of the things that stood out was a set of questions that seemed to drive the investigation that eventually reached the Senate chambers.

Who knew what? What did they know? And when did they know it?

Applying these questions to a re-reading of the stories gave me some perspective on John’s account, but also RAISED MORE QUESTIONS.

Generally accepted is the order in which the Gospels were written. Mark was first of the four, followed by Luke. Matthew may have been written about the same time as Luke’s, but slightly later. John’s Gospel was written much later, as much a 15 to 25 years. Of course, no one knows for sure but these are accepted as accurate as possible.

Accordingly, the writers of Matthew and John are believed to have been the witnesses of active participants in Jesus ministry and while Mark and Luke may have been around to observe Jesus, they are not mentioned as part of the band.

Matthew’s account includes Peter climbing out of the boat and walking toward Jesus. Mark and John’s do not.

Both Matthew and Mark include Jesus instructing the disciples to get in the boat to go to the other side. John simply says they got in the boat and left.

Once on the other side, Matthew and Mark have people coming from all over to be healed by Jesus. John’s account has the more intimate Bread of Life connection to the feeding that occurred the day before.

Most of the differences are a matter of perspective, like Matthew and John may have been in different parts of the crowd. Matthew heard Jesus say get in the boat, while John, being younger, may have been distracted by other things, but saw the disciples leaving. Maybe they even had to call after John.

As for the other side, John, being the last to be written continues with his theme of signs and references to the “I AM” aspect of Jesus to include the “I AM” the bread of life. Matthew and Mark may have thought more emphasis on the healing of the crowd was more significant to their themes than another teaching by Jesus.

The story that I am most familiar with includes Peter getting out of the boat. It is so familiar that I did not realize that it isn’t in the other accounts until I read the story with purpose. Lesson there, too, huh? From John’s perspective, though, I think that he didn’t include it because it puts the focus of the miracle on Peter’s lack of faith rather than on the sign that John sees in the miracle itself.

Because the miracle in John’s telling is not the lack of faith that Jesus is able to overcome, but the sign of the miracle that points to Jesus on top of the water, saying, Do not be afraid, IT IS I. The thinking of some scholars is that the expression “IT IS I” is the same form of the expression of the divine “I AM” that God said to Moses at the burning bush and references that John uses in the I am descriptions of Jesus. The divine name of God. “I AM”

Although there aren’t any direct questions in the story, a few do come to mind.

First, it was dark. How were they able to even see Jesus on the water? They didn’t have spotlights.

And, how did they arrive at the shore so suddenly?

We have seen in the past few weeks the terrible destructive power of water. We know that once water begins to move through a crack or an opening, it will continue until it either completely breaks through or is plugged somehow.

Water is a common thread through which or by which we are redeemed or saved. From the Exodus, to the baptism, to being born again by water and Spirit, the power of water can deny passage, destroy or deliver us.

Jesus on top of the water, conquering it, overcoming it and overpowering it, and suddenly whisking them to shore.

Maybe that is what the sign is pointing to. They haven’t even begun to bring him into the boat yet. They only made the decision that they wanted him in and suddenly they were delivered to safe land.

Jesus delivered them to dry land through the rough waters, leaving no footprints, remember the Psalm? But only after they decided that they wanted him in the boat.

Is that a sign for us? That in the midst of our rough water, and it seems to be rising fast some days, are we deciding to take Jesus in?

Decision, deliverance, destination. Is Jesus our destination while we are walking toward the water?

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