“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them he went up on a mountainside to pray.
When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
This lesson from the Bible illustrates how we can learn from the experiences of others. You will notice that this lesson uses the Bible to explain and interpret the Bible.
Just as Jesus gave an assignment to his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee, He gives each one of us an assignment. In the process of fulfilling that assignment we often encounter opposition that is similar to the storm the disciples met on Galilee. Jesus is the One who has given us the assignment. He stands committed to us when he sends us. He assures us of certain completion of the mission regardless of the difficulty in the circumstances that arise or the opposition we meet. The story of the disciples’ trip across Galilee illustrates several spiritual principles we ought to remember when we encounter a storm.
I. STORMS ARE DELIBERATELY PLANNED
“When evening came . . . he saw the disciples straining at the oars . . . about the fourth watch of the night he went . . . .”
God is more concerned with our development than with our comfort. If this were not true, every instance of our discomfort would illustrate that either God was weak and could not help us or didn’t care and would not. Neither is true; He is not weak and He does care. And what He cares about includes our development. Storms develop us. True, Jesus did say, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” (Mt. 11:28) but He also wants us to grow—and bear much fruit—and that takes pruning.
The disciples were going exactly where Jesus told them to go when they encountered this storm. And Jesus knew there would be a storm on Galilee that night. He sent them into it. He knew about the storm and planned to use it. Furthermore, he also controlled its duration and its severity. Jesus saw them rowing against the storm in the evening but didn’t go to them until the fourth watch—3:00 a.m. At an earlier time He had accompanied them through a storm. At that time He was asleep in the boat, but at least He was there in the boat with them. At that time the disciples leaned that Jesus could calm storms. This time Jesus was not with them in the boat so it probably seemed to them like a greater difficulty.
A storm doesn’t necessarily indicate that we are out of the will of god. These disciples were in the will of God and still were in a storm. Jonah, however, was out of the will of God and God used a storm at sea to arrest his attention and redirect him back into God’s plan for his life. God can use storms to redirect or change our course, but storms do not automatically mean that we’re going in the wrong direction. A storm is, therefore, an occasion for reappraisal, prayer, development and recommitment. A storm is not a time to quit. The devil wants to undermine our faith and steal our courage by making us think that when we have a storm we must be out of the will of God. We must be aware of this tactic of his. God plans to use storms for our development and improvement. They are opportunities for toughening our faith and improving our character. God wants us to be strong and that is why He plans storms for our development.
II. STORMS ARE PRAYERFULLY OVERCOME
“After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”
When the disciples went to sea, Jesus went to prayer. As then, so now there is a close relationship between mountain praying and sea-crossing. Our success depends on Jesus.
Jesus said, “To into all the world . . . .” He also said, “. . . surely I am with you always.” Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
When we encounter storms we are to keep our eyes on the savior who is praying for us and through whose name we are privileged to bring every need before the Father. The success of our assignment often depends upon our ability to see the relationship that exists between Jesus’ commitment to us and our journey. He does not send us and then abandon us. The successful completion of our assignment is entailed in His command to go. If we will go He will see to it that we succeed.
III. STORMS ARE BEAUTIFULLY CALMED
There were two storms on Galilee that night: one on the sea and one in the hearts of men. God wants to develop people who know how to experience inner peace in the midst of external storms. We can handle an enormous among of difficulty if we maintain inner peace. It is when our external storms whirl into our hearts and we experience an internal storm that our boat is in real trouble.
First, Jesus calmed their hearts. Persons on assignment are privileged to experience inner peace even though they may not experience calm circumstances. We may rest assured that God is watching us and our circumstances, even at what seems to be unlikely times. It was noted, above, that the fourth watch of the night is 3:00 a.m. Psalm 121:4 says “Indeed, he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
When Israel was escaping from Egypt she was stopped at the Red Sea. It was three o’clock in the morning, when, “During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion.” With God’s help, let’s determine not to allow exterior circumstantial storms to produce interior storms in our hearts.
IV. GOD WORKS IN THE DIFFICULTY—HE USES IT
“. . . he went out to them walking on the lake.""
In the darkness of the storm on the Sea of Galilee the life-threatening nature of the problems the disciples were experiencing was related essentially to water. If it was raining the rainwater made them wet and cold. More serious than that, some of the water, in the form of waves, was tossing them in their boat more than they wanted. The danger was further intensified by the water that was gathering in their boat that would have weighed it down. Some of that would have been from the rain and some of it from the waves crashing into their vessel. If they capsized, it would be because of the water that they would drown. Their problem was with water. There was too much of it and it was out of their control.?
Notice, however, that the same thing that was a problem to the disciples was a mode of transportation for Jesus. The very waters that tossed with high waves brought Jesus to the disciples. The water was out of the disciples’ control, but not out of Jesus’ control. Nature seems to forget its nature when the Creator uses it. It carried, not covered Jesus.
No difficulty can obstruct the gracious appearing of Jesus, for whose sake we are on the sea. “The seas have lifted up, Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the Lord on high is mighty” (Psalm 93:3, 4).
God is bigger than the storm. He uses it to His ends. We must learn to focus our attention on Him, not on the storm. Psychologists tell us that we become like the focus of our attention. If we focus our attention on the storm our character may become stormy. If we, by faith, can focus our attention on the Sender our hearts will remain peaceful, calm and strong.
V. WE MUST CALL ON HIM WHEN HE MAKES HIMSELF AVAILABLE.
Scripture is clear to say that Jesus acted like He was going to pass by. We may assume that this was pretence—for the sake of the test. Why was Jesus on that particular part of Galilee if it were not that He intended to help His disciples? He appeared to have been going to pass by so that they must call. The reason for Jesus being there at that time was to help them, but He does not force His way into their circumstances. He makes Himself available, but He does not presume or take it upon Himself to intervene in our circumstances unless we invite Him.
When I was a child we used to sing a song, “Jesus is passing this way, this way, today, Jesus is passing this way today, is passing this way today.” It is wonderful for Jesus to pass our way, but it will do us no good if He passes by. There was another song, “Reach out and touch the Lord as He passes by. You’ll find He’s not too busy to hear your heart’s cry. He’s passing by this moment your needs to supply. Reach out and touch the Lord as He goes by.”
Today, Jesus may be passing our way, but we must learn to reach out and touch the Lord as He walks by. He comes to us, but we must call on Him. Prayer enables us to utilize an available resource.
VI. SOMETIMES WE DON’T RECOGNIZE HIS HANDIWORK
“. . . they thought he was a ghost.”
When the disciples saw the Christ whom they needed in that hour, they were disquieted. They mistook Him for a ghost and instead of being immediately comforted were the more alarmed because they did not recognize Him.
We live at the level of our perceptions. The disciples reacted to Jesus as though He were a ghost. The disciples would not have been any more afraid if Jesus had really been a ghost because as far as they were concerned He was a ghost. In our storms, we too react according to what we perceive is occurring. That is precisely the problem. Our perceptions are sometimes incorrect.
There are occasions, when God works in our behalf, that we don’t recognize His handiwork. Perhaps this is because He is working in a way quite different from what we expected. The disciples knew Jesus could arise from a nap and command the storm to be at peace. They had seen Him do that. However, they didn’t know He could or would do it differently this time and they certainly weren’t expecting to see Him walking to them over the rising and falling waves. How like these disciples we are! We often think things are getting worse when in fact the new development that we think is making our situation worse is really God beginning to work. The very person they needed and wanted was coming. Things were about to get much better. Help was on the way. Jesus was coming to them. They just didn’t recognize Him.
What is the “ghost” in your storm? When your situation is already tough what is that extra thing that seems to be making it even worse? Perhaps it is God beginning to work differently than you expected. Let’s try to learn to release God to help as He knows best no matter how different from our expectations that better way may be.
VII. OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM IS THE BASIS OF OUR PEACE
Jesus said, “It is I.” This communication had a lot of meaning in the disciples because Jesus was their friend. As a matter of fact, the comfort of, “It is I,” presupposes a right relationship between the hearers and the Speaker. This may be contrasted with Jesus saying, “I am He” to the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. The soldiers were enemies of Jesus. When they heard Him identify Himself to them they were terrified, falling backwards to the ground in fear. If our relationship with Jesus is right, just knowing He is near is enough to settle our fears and bring peace to our inner storms.
Since the disciples had a good relationship with Jesus, just knowing He was there brought joy to them. When He said, “It is I,” they heard something like: ‘It is I, your master, I, your friend, I, your redeemer, I, your Savior. I who came to this troublesome earth and now to this tempestuous sea to look after you; I, who sent you here and whose work you are doing; I am committed to you; I have come to you; It is I.’
May we so order our lives that at any time Jesus may walk into our activities and we would be glad to welcome Him. If we are doing what is right and have a right relationship with Him, we will not be embarrassed or sorry that He came our way without notice. If ours is the right kind of activity, He will never interrupt it; He will enhance it.
VIII. WE MUST LEARN TO RECOGNIZE HIS ANSWERS TO OUR PRAYERS
“. . . He climbed into the boat with them and the wind died down.”
Earlier we noted our need to recognize His handiwork. Now we notice that we must learn to recognize that it is He when He calms our storms.
When Jesus arrived at the boat the sea calmed. He didn’t speak to the wind as He had on the previous occasion. It was not announced by Jesus that He was the One who calmed this storm. Just as the storms He uses for our development get rougher as we mature in the Lord, so the answers to prayer sometimes become less obvious. The disciples could have said, “Hum! A moment ago we needed you.”
Once there was a young boy lost in the woods. He prayed, “Lord, get me out of these woods, I’m lost!” Soon he met a guide and received direction. He again addressed God, “Never mind, Lord, a guide just came by, so I don’t need you now.”
Another young boy was sliding off a slanted roof where he had been playing. He cried out, “Lord, help me, I’m sliding off this roof.” Then he added, “Never mind, Lord, I just caught myself on a nail. I don’t need you after all.” These two young boys failed to recognize that God sent the guide and God arranged the nail in advance.
Let us learn to give Him the glory when He delivers us. His answers sometimes seem so smooth and natural that we fail to recognize them as answers that He has sent our way. What were you worried about yesterday? Last week? Last year? You say, “Oh, yes, I had some problems, but they got worked out.” No they didn’t! God worked them out and He did it so naturally that you missed His miracle. We sometimes miss opportunities to thank God for His answers because we expect Him to stand up in the boat and shout with a loud voice, “Peace be still,” and make the storm cease in an obvious way.
When Jesus and His disciples arrive on the other shore some unbelievers asked Jesus to show them a sign so they could believe (see John 6), Jesus did not stoop to the level of their request. He refused to purposely give dramatic demonstrations of His power to those who were inclined not to believe. Jesus would not show needless miracles to unbelievers. Yet, His perceptive disciples on Galilee that night discerned even this subtle miracle. They recognized it even though there was no dramatic announcement. Jesus simply arrived at the boat and the storm calmed and the disciples got the message. Jesus was faithful to them. He came to them. They arrived at their destination in safety. For us today, Jesus can still calm storms, and in a number of ways; some of them are just less obvious than others.
IX. REMEMBER THE FORMER MIRACLE
“They were amazed for they had not understood about the loaves . . . .”
Our walk with the Lord is a series of difficulties and answers to prayer. It seems as though one difficulty is no sooner overcome than another appears. The day before calming the storm this night on the Galilee Jesus had fed 5,000 men plus women and children. Jesus had solved that difficulty by an amazing miracle of creation and provision, but the disciples seemed to have already forgotten about it.
It is because we forget the miracle God did for us in the past that we worry under our present distresses. If we fail to remember the miraculous nature of the help we received last time we had difficulty, we are more likely to lose our sense of peace in the storm we are now facing. Let us try to understand the loaves. What storm or storms has God already brought you through? What miracles has God already done for you? Has God changed? No. He is still the same. He can calm your present storm just as surely as He fed loaves and fishes to your hungry crowd yesterday.
X. GOD IS IN CHARGE
The last lesson for us to draw from this text is that throughout the incident God has power over the situation. We worry when we forget the Sender and that the Sender controls our circumstances. Jesus wants to teach us how to have internal peace in the midst of external storms, though He also calms external storms. He controls even nature, people, circumstances and situations far beyond our jurisdiction.
To illustrate this point let’s notice the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. How did Jesus walk on the water? There are three stories in the Bible that give us a clue as to how Jesus may have accomplished this miracle in order to get help to the disciples’ boat. The first one is the story of Israel’s escape from Egypt through the Red Sea. The Scripture says that water was heaped upon either side of the Israelites as they marched through the Red Sea on dry ground. In poetry Scripture explains that “the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea” (Exodus 15:8). This means that water, which is a liquid, took on the property of a solid. Water normally seeks its own level, but this time it became solid and was piled up. If God could make the water of the Red Sea temporarily solid in order to save the Israelites, He could also make the water of the Sea of Galilee solid under the feet of Jesus so that He could walk to His disciples and save them. We don’t know that this is the way Jesus walked on the water, but this could be the way He did.
“A second way Jesus may have walked on the water would be for Him to duplicate the miracle that occurred during the time of Elisha recorded in 2 Kings 6:1-7. At that time one of the sons of the prophets borrowed an ax to help build an extension for their quarters. As the man was using the ax, the ax-head flew off the handle and landed in the Jordan River. The Scripture says that Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the river where the ax-head had disappeared. This miraculously caused the ax-head to float. An ax-head is heavier than water and usually does not float, but God made that one float because He needed it to float. If God can make an ax-head “float” when He wants, He could also make the feet of Jesus “float” over the surface of the Galilee in order to get help to His disciples. We don’t know that this is the way God did it, but this is another way God could have done it.
The third scriptural way God could have miraculously brought Jesus over the waters of the Galilee to the disciples relates to the miracle of His ascension. On that occasion God turned down the power of gravity so that Jesus’ body was no longer held to the earth but was able to ascend above the clouds into heaven. This night on the Galilee God may have turned the power of gravity down about halfway; not so much that Jesus ascended into the storm clouds above the Galilee, but just enough that Jesus’ body did not sink into the sea. If God turned the power of gravity down, then Jesus could “walk” on the water. Is this the way God did the miracle? We don’t know.
Actually, it does not matter. How God did this miracle is not so important. What is important is that the disciples could not think of one way out of their problem and Jesus had at least three. There may be times when we cannot think of one possible solution to our problems, but God has several at His disposal. We don’t have one way out, but God is reviewing His possibilities. He is considering which of the numerous ways He could work that He will use this time. We sometimes have the notion that God is looking over the banister of heaven down toward earth and saying to Himself, “What in the world am I going to do?” God is neither wringing His hands in despair nor scratching His head in puzzlement! He has many ways he can work and He will do whatever he needs to do to get His help to where His obedient disciples are in need. This includes your present circumstances even though you see no possible remedy.
These three stories, each showing us a possible way God may have worked to enable Jesus to walk on the water, also suggest another lesson: God performs miracles.
Working a miracle to accomplish His purposes on the Sea of Galilee was not an isolated incident. Not only did Jesus walk on water then, but throughout Scripture there are many incidents demonstrating God’s power to perform supernatural acts—and His willingness to exercise that power in behalf of His own.
Conclusion: The ten observations we have made encourage us to be successful in adversity. The same Jesus who walks triumphantly through the Gospels walks with us. He who sends us, comes to us and helps us complete our tasks. He will take us victoriously through whatever experience He has planned for our development. He brings us through, not just barely, but triumphantly! Anyone who intends to complete his or her assignment had better know that.