(A) Introduction. Read John6v16to24 and Mark6v45to53

This short action packed passage contains little dialogue and so is easier to deal with than most of John's gospel. It is helpful once again to compare the accounts of Mark and John.

(B) The disciples' predicament.

The feeding of the five thousand took place near the time of the Passover. The Jewish Passover Feast was near. John6v4. So it was probably some time in April when there was about 11.5 hours of darkness and 12.5 hours of light. The disciples set off on the 4.5 miles journey to Capernaum in the evening at about sunset (6.30pm). They may have wanted to make use of the fading light before the moon rose. (The moon is full at Passover.) Under normal conditions it would not take much more than 2 hours to complete their trip. So by 7.30pm, late evening, in the gathering dusk, they had travelled 2 miles well out into the lake. Jesus was still just able to see them from the mountainside. The wind suddenly strengthened. For the next 8 or 9 hours the disciples only travelled another 1.5 miles. By the time Jesus reached them in the fourth and last watch of the night they had rowed three or three and a half miles. John6v19.

Let us consider the disciples predicament:

    (1) The strong head wind slowed their progress and blew them off course. They disembarked somewhere south of Capernaum on the plains of Gennesaret.

    (2) The gale whipped up waves on the lake. The boat shipped water in these conditions and that would necessitate continuous bailing.

    (3) The disciples were battling against the elements in moonlight. This must have contributed to the eerie and terrifying sight of a figure approaching them across the waves.

    (4) The ordeal of the twelve was prolonged. They strained at the oars and bailed out water for something like 10 hours.

The condition of the disciples was abject. They were frustrated, weary, uncomfortable and fearful. They were profoundly fed up!

There are times like this for us - when we don't seem to be getting anywhere in Christian service or the pursuit of holiness notwithstanding all our efforts.

(C) The cause of the disciples' predicament.

(1) The disciples were doing what they did so often. They were in a familiar environment undertaking a task at which they were experts. But conditions changed and they were caught unprepared in the middle of the lake. When the wind raged the disciples needed all their expertise and experience just to stay afloat.

(2) Jesus was not in the boat. This was the disciples' fault. Jesus had sent them away prematurely because they egged on the excited crowd who wanted to take the Master and make him king. The twelve were eager for the kingdom to come their way. They were happy to be part of a popular movement that swept Jesus to power. Most of them looked forward to ruling in the kingdom with Jesus. Judas had designs on the exchequer, James and John wanted to sit one on Jesus' left and the other on his right while Peter fully expected a prominent role.

(3) There are one or two hints in the story that the disciples were rather disaffected. Jesus leaves them to struggle on their own for a very long time. When he does come to the disciples across the sea Mark records: He was about to pass by them. Mk6v48.

(4) The disciples had to learn to trust Jesus - to depend upon him - to believe in him - to go his way.

(D) Jesus was not unconcerned for his disciples.

(1) Jesus was aware of the trouble his disciples were in. Mark tells us: He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Mk6v48. Jesus knows all about our circumstances. He carefully monitors our situation.

(2) Jesus spent his time in the hills consulting the Father about the work ahead and this inevitably included prayer for his disciples and the people of Israel. Jesus has not stopped praying for his followers. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Heb7v25.

(3) Jesus went to the disciples before it was too late. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. Mk6v48. Between 3am and 6am, in the darkness before the dawn, when the twelve were almost at the end of their tether, Jesus went to the rescue. He often makes himself known to a fearful, frustrated and despairing Christian in the fourth watch of the night.

(4) Even though the disciples were in a lot of trouble Jesus was not going to impose him self on them. He was about to pass them by. Mk6v48. If the disciples thought they could manage without him all well and good - he would leave them to it. The more self-sufficient we are the less help we can expect from Jesus.

(5) When the disciples cried out in fear Jesus took mercy on them. Their fear was very real. I would be unnerved by a moonlit figure gliding through the waves towards me. The apostles were terrified because they thought Jesus was a ghost. Any loving father would be quick to reassure a child who cried out in fear. Matthew informs us: But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Mt14v27.

(6) What a difference it made when Jesus climbed into the boat with his twelve followers. The wind ceased and the journey was completed in no time at all. Then those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." Mt14v32. It was during the euphoria of the moment that the boat glided quickly on and came safe to land. Mark says that the disciples were completely amazed because their bad mood had stopped them fully appreciating the power Christ demonstrated at the feeding of the five thousand. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. Mk6v52. It is sad when a miracle fails to impress because our hearts are cold. The older brother was left unmoved by the miracle of the prodigal's return. He would not go in to the feast to celebrate with his brother. His heart did not respond to his father's words: "But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke15v31.

(E) Applications.

We have to ask ourselves on what occasions we have striven hard and got nowhere because Jesus was not with us. They should be situations where Jesus eventually puts in an appearance and the winds cease. I don't think you can say this of small churches that are witnessing for Christ to people who are indifferent, apathetic or vaguely hostile to the gospel. When the sower went forth to sow there was no criticism of the sower or the seed. The reason some seed bore no fruit was the fault of the soil.

I would suggest the following situations can find us rowing into the teeth of a gale:

(1) When we try hard to satisfy God in our own way.
Paul did his best to please God by keeping the law. It resulted in him kicking against the goads. His spiritual turmoil subsided when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. See exposition on Acts9v1to19. I also deal in that exposition with the experience of John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon. It was only when they invited Jesus into the boat that the wind ceased. Leo Tolstoy fought the wind all his adult life - trying without success to acquire grace through obedience to the ethical teaching of Jesus. He never quite understood that salvation is a gift as well as a prize. It is something the German monk, Martin Luther, finally realised after years of confession and penance as he studied the Psalms and Paul's epistles to the Romans and Galatians.

(2) When we attempt to obey God's call to service in our own time and in our own strength.
Paul, who was appointed God's apostle to the Gentiles, had to wait 10 years after his conversion before he started his ministry. See exposition on Acts9v19to31 There was much for him to learn before he was properly equipped for the work God wanted him to do. By the age of 40 Moses was prepared to act as the spokesman of his people but God made him spend 40 years in the wilderness of Midian before he was ready to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

So it is that sometimes we want to get on with God's work before we are ready or before God is ready. If we are impatient and set off without Christ in the boat we shall row into the wind and get nowhere. We may need to learn to rely on Jesus rather than upon ourselves. Eddy trained to be a pastor for many years. He put himself forward for the pastorate of several different churches but was turned down. Eventually he got a job driving a London bus. Eddy was very depressed - hauling away at the oars, making no progress and unsure whether he would ever get to his destination. However, Jesus came to him eventually, and the wind ceased. Only last month he received the call to pastor a fellowship in Kentish Town. He is so glad.

(3) As we battle against our feelings.
There are times Christians battle unsuccessfully against their feelings. Their emotions storm and rage and the believer is in serious danger of being blown off course. Some feelings are very powerful - romantic love, jealousy, envy, low self-esteem, anger, fear and bitterness.

I am prone to resentment if I am treated unfairly or fail to get the recognition that I deserve. In such circumstances a storm rages in my heart. There are hot gusts of anger and wave upon wave of bitterness. I harbour thoughts of revenge. I experience no peace. I often cry out for peace. I ask God to take away my resentful feelings. It is only when I take Christ into the boat by agreeing to act according to his teaching that the wind ceases and calm is restored. Usually this involves turning the other cheek or going the extra mile or foregoing my rights. (Let him have your cloak as well. Mt5v40) Some times I need to meditate on the first Beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mt5v3. This saying highlights the satisfaction of belonging and taking part. I may only be a small and insignificant member of the Divine Orchestra but none the less I have my contribution to make. A motorcar is made up of some very impressive components but one day I discovered the importance of a small plastic tube. It became detached and no petrol fed into the carburettor so the car would not start. The humble tube can rejoice in being an essential part of the whole. If we take Jesus seriously he will climb into the boat and the storm subsides. Such has been my experience.

(4) As we combat our fears.
Paul was a brave Christian but when he went to Corinth he did so in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 1Cor2v3. Luke tells us in Acts: One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no-one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city. Acts18v9and10. Paul's fears threatened to overwhelm him until Jesus got into the boat and brought him peace. See exposition on Acts18v1to11.

Dr Samuel Johnson, like so many before and since, feared death. For years he struggled with this fear. He hardly liked to talk about the subject for he found it profoundly disturbing. In the presence of death he entered into stormy waters. However, his physician, Dr Brocklesby testified:
For some time before his death, all his fears were calmed and absorbed by the prevalence of his faith, and his trust in the merits and propitiation of JESUS CHRIST.
He talked often to me about the necessity of faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, as necessary, beyond all good works whatever, for the salvation of mankind.

In the end Jesus climbed into Dr Johnson's boat and the winds ceased. He came to him in the fourth watch of the night but before it was too late.

(5) When controversy rages in the church.
We can be doing what we have always done in the familiar environment of our church when a storm blows up out of nowhere. If we have been drifting along without Christ in the boat we soon get into trouble. Many Christians have been overwhelmed by the surges of ill will that accompany violent disagreements within the fellowship. If the wind picks up and storms are forecast be very sure to have Christ in the boat. He will keep you afloat until the wind drops and peace is restored.