When we find ourselves stuck in difficult circumstances, our first instinct is to call upon God to get us out. But sometimes, God has us right where He wants us—directly in the middle of it.
There are a number of scenarios in the New Testament where Jesus is developing the disciples. And a lot of them happen to take place in, or around water. An environment which most of them were quite familiar with given their backgrounds.
Dr. Tony Evans has a great analysis of two of these scenarios at sea in his sermon series “Believe.” Let’s focus in on one of the scenarios for today. The second “storm at sea” event that takes place right after the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-15)…
Developing Us Like the Disciples
Following the miracle with the bread and fish, Jesus told His disciples to take a boat to the other side of the sea where He would meet up with them afterwards. In the meantime, He would dismiss the crowd then head up to the mountain to pray. The disciples did as they are instructed and got in their boat. But they soon ran into a bit of a problem…
By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles,
and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.
So from these three accounts in the New Testament we notice that the disciples had hit a rather unpleasant circumstance. It was windy, stormy and dark. The men could not see clearly. They were also in the middle of the sea. Not to mention that Jesus was watching them from land, four miles away. He could see that the disciples were having a tough time in this storm and yet does not help them out, even though the disciples were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. They were exhibiting their obedience and yet it seemed like Jesus was just a spectator observing how they were to handle it on their own.
How many times have you been in that same type of situation…where you find RESISTANCE in the face of your obedience?
The wind was pushing the disciples in the opposite direction to the will of God and they were stuck in the middle as a result. They might have been thinking, “if we go forward in His will, we won’t get there because we’re being blocked…and if we go backwards where the winds are supporting us, we’re disobeying His will.”
It’s a catch-22 that we have all been in…which way do we go?
jesus’ prayer for us
Meanwhile, Jesus was praying by Himself. But what could He have been praying? Dr. Evans says that Jesus was praying that the disciples faith would not falter in spite of their circumstances, like He did for Peter (Simon) in Luke 22:31-32. That our circumstances don’t overrule our faith…
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
walking on Top of the Problem
The water was their obstacle and now here comes Jesus walking ON TOP of their problem in verses 48-50 of Mark 6…
He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn 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.
So again, the disciples’ problem was the water. And Jesus came to them on the very thing that was the problem. When we are in a catch-22 we are usually looking for Jesus to take us OUT of the situation. But often Jesus wants to join us IN the situation. When the disciples saw Him they thought He was a ghost. They did not expect a visitation like that. They didn’t recognize Him—because they did not expect Him.
If Jesus was praying for their faith to not fail, then this would make sense why He would be watching them strain to obey in a contradictory situation. Dr. Evans puts it another way by saying…
“You really don’t know how much faith you have until your faith is tested. it’s easy to talk about being full of faith, until the winds are contrary, it’s dark and you’re stuck in the middle not knowing which way to go. That is the testing or the proving of our faith.”
Calming the inside before the Outside
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Before Jesus entered the boat to join the disciples, He told them to take courage. He calmed their INSIDE before ever changing what was happening to their OUTSIDE. Keep in mind, He hadn’t done anything with the storm yet. He spoke to the storm inside their hearts and minds first, because they were very much afraid.
How many times have you gone to a sermon in complete turmoil in your personal situation, and just hearing the Word calms you down? Even though it didn’t change the situation you were facing it still brought you a sense of inner peace for some reason. Well, this is precisely what was happening to the disciples in this account.
Joining Us IN the Boat
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.
After Jesus calmed them down on the inside with His Word “take courage,” and joined them in their situation, the external circumstances stopped. The disciples were utterly shocked and astonished. Why were they astonished? Because they had not gained any insight from the event prior to this—the feeding of the five thousand (hence the reference to the loaves).
So it’s easy to think the story is over at this point, according to Dr. Evans who says, “If you don’t learn to trust Him more, you learn to trust Him less.” But the story is not quite over. This account is also in the book of John (John 6:20-21), which provides some interesting insight…
But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
The Gospel of Mark says He got into the boat. But John says that the disciples RECEIVED Him into the boat. When they received Him, IMMEDIATELY the boat reached the shore where they were headed.
Wait a minute…last time we checked, they were in the middle of the sea, four miles away from the shore, and now they reached the shore in a mere instant?? A miraculous thing just happened. Dr. Evans further explains…
“The distance between where they were and where they needed to be was supernaturally closed, simply because Jesus was in the boat. When Jesus shows up in your messed up situation…in your jacked up scenario…not simply because you’ve heard His Word, but because you’ve received Him as a person, He can close the gap of time, close the gap of situation…scenarios, and immediately turn what looked like a sure disaster into a supernatural miracle.”
Whoa. So the key here is receiving Him—not just hearing what He has to say, but truly welcoming His presence into our lives. Inviting Him to get into the boat with us, so that He not just take us out of the situation, but bring us peace within the situation. The next blog post will look at a second sea scenario that takes peace to a whole different level. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, remember this event the next time you are in a stormy situation. Draw near to Jesus in your crisis, your catch-22, your darkness in the middle of the ocean, invite Him into the boat, so that He can close up some gaps that would otherwise make it seem like there’s no hope in sight.