Sermon on John 6:16-21 – “It is I; do not be afraid”

September 15, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church of Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text:

[Jhn 6:16-21 ESV] 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.

[Mat 14:22-33 ESV] 22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

INTRODUCTION

Continuing in our series on the Gospel of John we now come to the apostle’s account of Jesus walking on the water. We find this account also in the Gospels of Matthew and of Mark, but not in Luke. While the account in John tells us some new details it is not as complete as the other accounts. So we’re going to use Matthew 14:22-33 to supplement our text today. And it is Matthew’s account that we have read as our New Testament reading.

OUTLINE

A good way to look at this story of Jesus walking on water is to use a three part outline as composed by William Hendriksen. He summarizes the account of Jesus walking on the water in these 3 points:

I. The disciples without Jesus. [REPEAT]

II. The disciples and the unknown Jesus [REPEAT]

III. The disciples and the Lord whom they know and who speaks peace to them [REPEAT]

I. THE DISCIPLES WITHOUT JESUS (vs 16-18)

First we have the disciples without Jesus.

John writes,

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

But we learn more from Matthew. There we find that Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” And then “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” So Jesus got that “personal time” he was looking for in our text last week. Remember, he was seeking time alone to pray but the crowd began to follow him. Now he sets his disciples out upon the sea and dismisses the crowds and goes up to the mountain by himself to pray. So the disciples have not intentionally left without him. It is not as if they decided to row across the lake because they were tired of waiting for Jesus. Rather, they were following his instructions.

But evening had come and then darkness. Recall in the story of the feeding of the five thousand how evening had come and that was a threat because there was no food. Well now evening had come and it had gotten late and dark and a storm was a-brewin’. “18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.”

The Sea of Galilee is like a bowl, surrounded by mountains, and winds can whip down suddenly from those heights and cause severe weather on the sea. And the disciples, it is said, were three or four miles out to sea when the storm came in. And this time they didn’t have Jesus with them. In a previous account of a storm threatening the disciples and their boat on the same sea Jesus had been with them and sleeping in the boat. The disciples woke him and said “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And Jesus rose and rebuked with winds and the sea and there was a great calm.

But this time the disciples didn’t have Jesus with them, or so they thought. He wasn’t present to their eyes, but Jesus was fully aware of the situation nonetheless. And he comes out to them, but they do not at first know it is him.

That’s where we come to the second of our three headings:

II. THE DISCIPLES AND THE UNKNOWN JESUS

The disciples and the unknown Jesus.

We read:

“19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.”

And to supplement from Matthew:

25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.

Now, it is said that in the ancient world people were afraid of ghosts because they believed them to be omens of their own approaching deaths. In that case it was not so much a ghost the disciples were afraid of, but what seeing a ghost meant – and it meant death.

The accounts actually don’t mention any fear of the storm this time. They had been afraid of the storm in the previous account when Jesus was in the boat, but here there is no fear of the storm mentioned. The first fear mentioned is that of seeing Jesus walking on the water and thinking he to be a ghost.

But they soon come to realize it is Jesus. And that is our third section:

III. THE DISCIPLES AND THE LORD WHOM THEY KNOW AND WHO SPEAKS PEACE TO THEM

This is a rather long title, I admit. [REPEAT: The disciples and the Lord whom they know and who speaks peace to them.]

The disciples are afraid, but Jesus quickly says to “It is I; do not be afraid.” [REPEAT: “It is I; do not be afraid.”]

Here we now have what will become a them in John’s Gospel. An “I am” statement. When Jesus says “It is I” he uses those Greek words – ego eimi – that he will 7 times use later to declare his divinity.

We’ll see each of these, God willing, in later sections of John’s Gospel.

The seven “I AM” statements:

Jesus declares:

I am the bread of life.

I am the light of the world.

I am the door of the sheep.

I am the resurrection and the life.

I am the good shepherd.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

And

I am the true vine.

In each of these statements in John’s Gospel Jesus uses the exact words that God himself used in the Old Testament to identify himself. When Moses asked God saying “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God responded to Moses saying “I AM WHO I AM.” The Greek is the same – ego eimi – that Jesus uses in John’s Gospel. Every time Jesus uses these words he is declaring himself to be God.

And this is not like english where we casually use the words “I am.” In Greek there were others ways in which Jesus could simply say “I am” without using that divine declaration. But Jesus’s answer is always a definitive ego eimi – I am. So he says “It is me—I AM—do not be afraid.” God himself is here and he has all things under control. Do not be afraid.

The situation was one of real danger from a human point of view. The disciples were, nevertheless, perfectly safe because the Lord was interceding for them.

In Matthew’s account we also have an added story about Peter:

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Then, we have a couple more miracles. Matthew writes, “32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” And John writes, “21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.”

So there are at least four miracles in this story. Do you know what they are? Four miracles. Not just one.

Miracle 1. Jesus walks on the water.

Miracle 2. Peter walks on the water for a time.

Miracle 3. Jesus calms the storm.

Miracle 4. The boat immediately arrives at its destination.

Finally, we find in Matthew’s account that after the miracles those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This seems like it would fit so well in John’s Gospel. John often ends his accounts in saying that so-and-so believed Jesus was the Son of God. But his account is abbreviated this time, and we find this statement in Matthew.

Like in each of Jesus’s miracles the purpose is to point back to Jesus that He is the Son of God and to demand faith in Him. It is as if it is here saying “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who has power of the waters and the winds and the waves and all things.”

APPLICATIONS

Now, for applications, this is a story from the Scriptures that one must be careful with. Lots of “spiritualizing” or reading into the text could be done. We must be careful not to do this, but to let the text itself speak. And ultimately we see in the text that this is a story about Jesus. Yes, the disciples are featured as well, but the story is about Jesus and who He is.

So we see about Jesus that:

1. Jesus is God even through the storm.

Even through the storms of our lives—and they are many—Jesus is our rock. We don’t come to him only in times of joy, but also in times of sorrow. He calms the seas in our lives and puts us at ease when he declares “It is I, be not afraid.”

This is like when someone knocks on your door at your house and you ask “who’s there?” and the answer comes back “Its me.” Now someone would only say “Its me” if you really knew them and could recognize their voice. Jesus says “It is I, be not afraid.” In praying and reading the Scriptures we learn to recognize his voice so that when he says “It is I, be not afraid” we know it is Jesus.

2. Jesus’s provision for us is all-sufficient.

The disciples probably thought Jesus was on the mountain, too far away to help them. Perhaps you feel like that also? You know God sees all things and is in all places, but maybe you think you are too distant from him because of your sin. Maybe you think God will not come to you because you have done something to keep him away. But this is not the case. No matter how you have sinned, no matter what you have done, Jesus’s death on the cross is sufficient for all who believe. And he can come and bring you peace from up on high at any moment.

And so we know these things about Jesus from the text. Jesus is God even in through the storm and his provision for us is all-sufficient.

Then too we can apply something here from Jesus’s actions. That is:

3. It is important to set aside time for personal devotions.

Jesus went up on the mountain to pray to God. This gives us a good example. This, and other occurrences in the Scriptures. Jesus often found prayer time and alone time — on mountains, on the shore of a lake, in a house, on the Mount of Olives, at the Garden of Gethsemane, and in the desert for forty days.

So it is right to make it a priority to have devotional prayer time. And you should do so. Where? Maybe you have a particular place. But it can be anywhere, and it should be frequent.

CONCLUSION

I want to conclude then with a brief summary of this story and its relation to us; and considering our three outline points.

Without Jesus life is merely a storm, a tempest uncontrollable. Seeing Jesus, but not knowing who is he, is of no benefit. The wrath of God should strike terror in our hearts and minds. But knowing Jesus and his love for his people brings us peace. It is He who speaks into our lives saying “It is I, do not be afraid.” The great I AM, God himself, says “I AM, do not be afraid.”

Fix your eyes upon Jesus. [REPEAT]

Amen

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