Over the last few months our church has had the wonderful opportunity of doing Simply Christianity with some people investigating Jesus. And throughout the course there is opportunity for people to ask questions. And a question which comes up is ‘how does this all benefit me?’. How does knowing and trusting in Jesus Christ benefit me?
And I’m going to take a guess that it’s not just the people doing Simply Christianity who ask that. No, I reckon it’s a question we hear a lot:
- Sure, from the person investigating Jesus, “How does this benefit me?”
- But even the person frustrated with Jesus, “What good is he? He’s no good!”
- Or to the person passively resisting Jesus, “Yeah I’m sure he’s good for you, but he’s just not my thing”.
- Or to the person somewhere in the middle, “Yeah, I’m just not quite sold on him.”
How does this all benefit me!?
Now as you hear about that-you might be there thinking to yourself-“well, I’m not really asking that particular question”. Now that’s fair enough, but sooner or later, I think we often do. Sure, we might not ask ‘how does Jesus benefit me?’. But we might wonder, whether Jesus is actually trustworthy? Whether he’s able to be relied upon? Whether he’s a sure thing… We might have questions about his faithfulness toward us as we face the various ups and downs of life.
I know I’ve asked that a few times this last month… I asked it when I heard about the euthanasia vote, I’ve asked in my continued frustration and fatigue from COVID19, I’ve asked it as I’ve heard about the turmoil in countries across our world… And then there’s just the everyday stuff: like facing my own disappointments, not getting what I want, and just living in the mess.
There are all sorts of things going on in life which can cause the heart and the mind to become a little bit distant, or hesitant, or reserved, or just a bit unsure about Christ. Sooner or later, we can wonder whether Jesus is a sure thing.
But that’s what I love about John’s Gospel. John writes to encourage us-to show us Christ and to reinforce our trust. At the end of his gospel, John says:
“… that these [things] are written so that you may believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life
in his name” (John 20:31 ESV).
It’s as if John writes to answer these very kinds of questions. Is he trustworthy? Will he deliver? Is he a sure thing? And, John’s answer is ‘yes’. He’s the ‘Son of God’ and you get ‘life’.
And today as we look at John 6:16-21, we get another tiny glimpse of all that. Last week we considered whether the Bible can be trusted, this week we’re considering whether the one in the Bible can be trusted. And John will show us that he can-as we see Jesus’ give life to his perishing disciples who sail in darkness.
So, what we’re going to do is this: we’re going to hear the story, reflect on why we can depend on Christ, and then we’re going to meet some people to show us what this looks like. Let’s dive in.
3. The Story
3.1. Backstory: Jesus (the life-giver) withdraws!
Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus has been giving people life. In John 6, he miraculously feeds five thousand hungry and perishing people. And after the miracle, the crowds want to seize Jesus and to make him king.
It’s like when my little nephew visits. You feed him lollies once, and he takes hold of you until you feed him again and again.
Likewise, the crowds want to take hold of Jesus. But, in v15, Jesus wants no part of their plans. So he decides to withdraw to the mountain by himself. But… where are the disciples?
3.2. Setting: Calm
Well, the story begins like any other, things seem quite normal, quite calm.
When evening came, the disciples went down to the sea, 17a
got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum.
The evening has come, it’s a perfectly good time for sailing to Capernaum. The sea was about 20km long and 11km wide, they were probably sailing across its width, so it’s about a 2hr trip.
And, based on the fact that these men were avid-fishermen, this trip was one they’d probably taken before. Things seem quite normal!
3.3. Complication 1: Darkness
But whilst there is an atmosphere of calm, things are not as they seem. John adds…
It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.
John’s note here should make us feel a bit uneasy, a bit concerned.
It’s like when you’re watching a movie at home, and you can see that somethings about to go wrong but the main characters can’t. No matter how much you scream at the T.V.-they have no idea what’s coming.
It’s the same here. The disciples are sailing without Jesus, in the dark, and all alone. Jesus is absent. Darkness is present. Somethings bound to go wrong.
3.4. Complication 2: Chaos
And then it does. Immediately, things turn to chaos. John tells…
The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.
If sailing in darkness wasn’t enough, the disciples are now faced with chaotic winds and waves. The creation is in turmoil, in disorder, in unrest-the sea is ready to swallow them up. The disciples are now faced with the possibility of death, this could be the end! But, as the sea becomes rough, the disciples get out the ores and paddle on.
3.5. Complication 3: Terror
But as they paddle for their lives… they see something, no they see someone… who stops them in their tracks. John says…
When they had rowed about three or four miles [as they’d paddled at least halfway], they saw Jesus walking on the sea
and coming near the boat, and they were terrified
Somehow, in the darkness, the disciples see Jesus. And notice what’s happened! In the darkness, the disciples sail on. In the chaos of the winds and waves, the disciples paddle on. But in the sight of Jesus, walking on the waves, the disciples are terrified.
And why wouldn’t they be? A man is walking on the sea.
Throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh the LORD was the only ‘being’ who could rise above the sea. The sea, the waters, they were a dark enemy who could only be overcome by the LORD.
As the Psalmist declares in Psalm 29:
The voice of the LORD is over the waters… 10
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” (Psalm 29:3, 10 ESV)
Or as the Psalmist declares in Psalm 89:
[The LORD] rule[s] the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. (Psalm 89:9 ESV)
And as the LORD declares to his servant Job:
Or who [was it that] shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9
when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10
and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come [sea], and no further, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” (Job 38:8-11 ESV)
The LORD was the only one who could rise above and master the sea. He hovers over it, he splits it, he stills it, he shuts it in like shutting a door, and here the disciples see Jesus walking on it. They see Jesus as he truly is: the Word, the Son of God, the heavenly man, taking a stroll on the sea. And so, of course the disciples are terrified!
3.6. Climax: Presence of Jesus
But then, in the darkness, Jesus comes near and reveals himself.
But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”
Here, Jesus’ use of ‘It is I’ could be translated as ‘I Am’, similar to the other ‘I Am’ statements in John’s Gospel. This could mean that Jesus is announcing his divinity just as Yahweh did to Moses in Exodus 3-“I Am who I Am”.
But it also simply means “It is I” “It’s me”.
It’s like when you’re home alone, but you sense that someone is coming toward the door. You can hear footsteps. You can see a shadow. You can hear the door handle turn. You’re scared, afraid, unsure who it is, but then you hear the voice of your loved one: “It’s me” “Don’t worry, don’t fear” “It’s just me”!
The focus here is on Jesus’ glorious yet comforting presence which soothes the disciples fear.
These perishing disciples are soothed by their glorious saviour’s voice.
3.7. Resolution: Peace and Safety
But notice that Jesus offers more than just words of comfort. After the disciples gladly receive Jesus into the boat, the chaotic journey comes to a peaceful yet ‘miraculous’ end. John says…
Then they were glad to receive him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
Here, John’s use of ‘immediately’ suggests that a “miracle has occurred within the miracle”.
Not only has Jesus walked on water, but he’s also miraculously brought his disciples to land. The disciples were four miles (6km) in on a 11km journey. But as soon as they receive Jesus into the boat, John notes that they ‘immediately’
arrive in the harbour at Capernaum.
Again, John helps us see who Jesus really is! He is like the LORD who brings his people to safety. In Psalm 107:30, the LORD is pictured as one who quiets the sea and brings his people to their desired haven, or harbour. The Psalmist declares:
“[The LORD] made the storm be still, and hushed the waves of the sea. Then [his people] were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:30 ESV)
Again, Jesus is pictured like the LORD. He brings his disciples to their
desired haven, to Capernaum, to ‘the land to which they were going’.
A few years ago I was sailing through the Whitsundays, and we were heading for Whitehaven Beach. But we came into some rough water, and I felt the full force of it, especially my stomach. My stomach started to churn, I felt dizzy, and then… well I threw up everywhere! But I can tell you though, that there was nothing better than arriving safely on the land. There was nothing better than being brought to my desired haven. I think slept on the sand for an hour or two. Sure, I didn’t see much of Whitehaven, but I was safe and sound!
And that’s kinda what happens here. As soon as the disciples receive Jesus into the boat, they arrive safe and sound. They move from the watery to the solid, from the agitated to the firm.
They move from danger to safety, from darkness to peace, from perishing to life. And as the Dutch theologian, Herman Ridderbos, remarks “… no darkness was too deep, waves too high, or sea too wide for [Jesus] to find them and be with them”.
4. Synthesis: Reflect on the Story
What a journey! Darkness. Chaos. Terror. Peace. Life. Jesus’ gives life to the perishing disciples who sail in darkness.
And if we step back and reflect on the story, we can see that John is continuing to show us Christ and reinforce our trust. Through this story, he gives us four reasons why Jesus is so trustworthy.
4.1. Jesus comes into our darkness
Jesus can be so trusted because he comes to people in darkness.
Throughout John’s gospel, ‘darkness’ has entirely negative associations. Darkness is associated with ‘evil’ ‘death’ ‘unbelief’ and ‘opposition to God’. And in John 6, I think we’re being subtly reminded of how Christ entered our world of darkness.
As a farm-kid, growing up in a small town, we’d have a local rodeo. And one wet and overcast night, I was travelling home with my Dad in our old white truck. Cattle in the back. Dog in the front. And one wet and muddy road. And of-course, that night we got stuck on our drive-way, 4km from the house, and we began to walk home. It was pitch black, there was no light or torch. In fact, it was so dark that my Dad suggested that we walk bare-foot so that we can better feel our way down the road. It was terrible. We had no vision, no clear sense of direction, it felt far from safe, we were away from home in the utter darkness. It was terrible
And likewise, to be in the dark is terrible.
- To be in the dark is to have no life in the face of death.
- To have no knowledge of God, in the face of his goodness and appearing.
- To be in the dark is to have no mercy in the face of sin.
- To be in the dark is to have no joy in the midst of pain and sorrow.
- It’s to have no hope of healing for the broken heart.
- It’s to have no community to serve instead of yourself.
- It’s to have no wisdom, but to have folly.
- It’s to have no peace in your misery.
- No heavenly riches in earthly poverty.
- No honour when you’ve been shamed.
- No security in the midst of turmoil.
- No warmth in the cold.
- No calm when you’ve lost control.
- No heavenly safe haven in a passing world.
- No way up when you’re down.
- Nowhere and no-one to go to when you’re lost.
- No Meaning.
- No Purpose.
- No Cleansing.
- No Victory.
- No Hope.
To be in the dark is terrible… but Christ came into the darkness to deliver us. He is trustworthy.
4.2. Jesus rules over the created order
Jesus can be so trusted because he rules over the created order.
Within John’s introduction, he makes it really clear that Jesus rules creation. He is its creator, upholder, and owner. “Through him all things were made, without nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). And here in John 6, we get another glimpse of that. John reminds us that Jesus Christ can break the laws of nature-because he made them. He can tread on the thing which causes human fear, chaos, and unrest. He can walk on that which swallows us up. He rules the created order-so he’s a sure thing.
4.3. Jesus is scary glorious
Jesus can be so trusted because he is scary glorious.
Again, throughout John’s gospel, Jesus is the one who reveals the glory of God. He is God the Son, in human flesh, come to make God the Father known. And here in John 6, we see another sign of Jesus’ glory as he comes to the disciple’s boat-he is God with them. He is scary glorious. But as Jesus reveals who he is, as he makes himself known, he brings about great relief and comfort. He is God and Man, Word and Flesh, King and Brother, Furious and Gentle. All consuming and all comforting. He is completely reliable.
4.4. Jesus brings us to safety
And finally, Jesus can be so trusted because he brings us to safety.
Throughout John’s gospel, Jesus is primarily pictured as the one who gives life. He heals, he restores, he revives, he breathes life into death. And here, Jesus’ life giving is pictured as bringing people to safety. And as Jesus brings the disciples to their desired haven, we’re reminded that Jesus will bring us to our
desired haven, to our heavenly land, a new creation. We know, that even today, Jesus Christ will not “Lose anyone that the Father has given him, but will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:39). Jesus is the one who will guard his disciples, love them to the end, and not lose one. Jesus brings people to safety-he can be depended on.
Ultimately, Jesus is so trustworthy because he is the messiah, the Son of God-our darkness-deliverer and life-giver.
“He is the bread who came down from Heaven to give life to the world.” (John 6:33 ESV)
“He came into the world… so that whoever believes in [him] may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46 ESV)
Throughout my own life, there have always been people that I’ve considered ‘dependable’ and ‘trustworthy’. For me, it’s been my spouse, my parents, my mates at Bible college, often my pastor, or simply a friend who’s been there through thick and thin.
This week it was my Father-in-law. We went down to my favourite bar, had some beers, and just talked life. I could tell him what’s been bothering me, what’s been causing me heat, and what I think I need. It was one of those moments where I thought “We need to do this more often”. You see, he is (like so many other people) on my “trustworthy list”. People I can turn to at in a moment of need, people I can be vulnerable in front of, people who I can depend on. But, for all of us (both you and I), the number one person on the “trustworthy list” is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is in pole position-because he is our darkness-deliverer and life-giver. He is our
5. What’s this look like?
And as we come to a close, I want you to meet a few people. A few people whose name’s I’ve changed, but are real people, not perfect by any means, but real people in my life at the moment. Who, I think, show us what it looks like to live knowing that Jesus is utterly dependable.
Meet Dave. Dave’s been facing tough decisions about the future of his business. It’s a lawsuit. It’s big, bad, and ugly. It’s really complicated, his house is potentially on the line. I mean, could you imagine being in that? But, this guy’s got this quiet confidence because he knows that Jesus is trustworthy.
Meet Gabriella. She’s looking for a job. There are lots of good options. But she stays up late, can’t sleep, can’t stop thinking or switching off. Deep down, she wishes someone could make the decision for her because she doesn’t want to get it wrong, or make a mistake. I mean, how do you keep going through something like that? Well, in those moments, she reminds herself that she’s safe and sound because she’s got Jesus. It’s hard, she stays up late praying for sleep, but she depends on Christ.
Meet Maryanne. She’s a senior citizen. She’s seen it all. Whilst all her friends are doubtful and pessimistic about the future-religion, politics, pandemics-she has a confident step wherever she goes. She faces every worry as if Christ were by her side. She takes courage in every moment because she’s united to her scary glorious comforting Christ. Her trust is just so contagious.
You see, Jesus is so utterly dependable and you can leave today feeling safe and secure in him. As you live in this broken world, your hearts and minds don’t need to be distant, or hesitant, or unsure about Christ. No, you can receive him like receiving him into our boat.
Full of gladness, full of joy, fully assured. As Calvin concludes about John 6, “[You’re] able to take courage as if [you’ve] been raised from death to life. [You’re] able to calmly look at the clear sky, dwell quietly on the earth, [knowing that you’re] victorious over every struggle, [because you’re able] to take him for [your] shield against all dangers”.