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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Lord of the Storm
Text:John 6:16-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 89:3,4                                                                                        

Ps 42:4,5                                                                                                        

Reading – Psalm 77

Ps 107:9,10,11

Sermon – John 6:16-21

Ps 124:1,2,3

Hy 77:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, it’s humbling to stand at the edge of the ocean. Looking out over the water, seeing the pounding surf and hearing the noise of the breakers, you realize your smallness. This is creation’s awe-inspiring power. And it’s not only impressive, it can also be dangerous. Sometimes the surfers have to stay on the shore, and even the ships don’t dare to venture out. And on so many occasions the ocean has swallowed up hundreds of lives at a time.

Then how amazing to think that the power of God’s sovereign rule extends even here! He governs the world of the ocean and all created things. Mankind can never tame the sea, but God is Lord of it all. This is what the Psalmist sings in Psalm 93. He first marvels at the power of the ocean: “The floods have lifted up, O LORD; the floods have lifted up their voice.” And then the Psalmist praises God for his sovereign rule over all, even the waves, “But the LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, He is mightier than the mighty waves of the seas” (vv 3-4). As their Maker and Lord, God is greater than the greatest display of creation’s might.

It’s good to remember this, because it means there is nothing outside of God’s control. There is nothing that can get in the way of God’s purpose, nothing that will prevent him from taking good care of his people. Even the so-called laws of nature have to bend at the command of the Lord our God. We get a glimpse of these things in our text from John 6:16-21,           

Jesus shows that He is King of all creation: 

  1. the power of the storm
  2. the power of the Lord


1) the power of the storm: At the end of a really busy day, sometimes you just need to find a bit of quiet. This is what Jesus does. The first verse of our text says that it was the evening of the same day that He fed the thousands of people. It was a miracle, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t tiring: breaking all that bread and fish, hour after hour, handing it out, managing his disciples—all in the midst of a huge crowd who then started pressuring him to become king.

So we learn that Jesus has withdrawn “to the mountain by himself” (v 15). He’s looked for solitude so that He can rest, and even more importantly, to pray. This is what we see him do so often during the rush and commotion of his ministry. He was too busy not to pray! It is a powerful example to us how prayer sustained Jesus, how through praying Jesus kept connected to God his Father and in harmony with his will.

But for the disciples this night, there will be no quiet. They come down to the lake, where they get into a boat. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus and his disciples came here to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, where it was fairly secluded. Now it’s time to head back to the western side, to Capernaum and the other villages.

And as they set out, John reports that “it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them” (v 17). Now, it’s a puzzle in our text, why the disciples would leave without him. Maybe they waited and waited for him to finish on the mountain, but got impatient and decided to go. More likely, He had told them that He’d meet them on the other side. At any rate, there’s an ominous tone in those words, “Jesus had not come to them.” They’re soon going to find out how important it is to have Jesus near, to keep Jesus near.

And without Christ, things look bleak. That’s what John says, “And it was already dark” (v 17). The sun has set, twilight has faded, night has come. Is John simply telling us roughly what time of the day it was? It is probably more than that.

Throughout John’s Gospel, there is a battle between light and darkness, a sharp conflict between day and night. For example, in a couple of chapters, Jesus will announce, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (8:12). When we’re with Christ, walking with him, trusting him, we can enjoy his light—but the absence of Christ means darkness, confusion and discouragement.

So we’re not surprised later on, when Judas Iscariot leaves to betray Jesus, and John says simply, “Having received the piece of bread, he went out immediately. And it was night” (13:30). Because night and darkness are times and places when the devil gets to work. This is when our need for the light of the world becomes most obvious.

And as the boat heads out into the dark, there is in fact a looming danger for these disciples. Bible commentators tell us that the Sea of Galilee has always been notorious for being whipped into a frenzy by sudden storms.

Why? Because it’s about 200 metres below sea level, and at its southern end is a deep valley, lined by cliffs; this creates something like a funnel. So the warm air from the higher hills of the desert can rush down into the valley, clash with the colder air over the water, which quickly whips up a storm. Without warning, the sea becomes furious with wind and waves.

This is what happens. The sea was probably calm and fair when they put out, but there’s a dramatic change. Verse 18: “Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.” Think about that word ‘arose.’ It’s as if the water suddenly has a life of its own. The gentle swells arise to become angry whitecaps, pushing and pounding on the boat.

Probably everyone who has spent much time on the water can tell a good story about going through a storm. When the weather changes, the ocean confronts you with its merciless power. Your only thought is try make it to a safe harbour. Sometimes, being far out to sea, you hope that your boat will be able to ride the waves and not take on too much water. If a storm is severe enough, the danger of death is very real.

Keep in mind that at least a third of the men in the boat are fishermen from Galilee. They are seasoned sailors who have sailed this body of water many times. They know very well how to pilot a boat through the waves. Yet because of the storm’s power, their forward movement is terribly slow—just three or four miles, about six kilometers, all night.

And the disciples’ fear was surely made worse by how they regarded storms like this. For an Israelite, a storm wasn’t just a weather event. It was something cosmic, often something evil. In the Old Testament, forces of evil are often described with the image of turbulent waters. Listen to Psalm 124, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side…then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul; then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul” (vv 2-5).

The sea was an unknown and dangerous place. For this reason, the sea came to symbolize the almost untameable powers of wickedness. And the Israelites knew that it’s only God who can have dominion over the surging waves!

As the disciples flounder all night in the middle of the storm-tossed sea, they have just one question: Where is Jesus? They’ve been with Jesus for more than a year now, so they know this much: Jesus can do great things. This is what the signs have been all about, as He has revealed his glory as the Son of God, the Holy One of Israel. The disciples know that Jesus can help people, and that He has a deep compassion. He’s got the ability to save those in distress, and He is willing. So where is He?


2) the power of the Lord: The disciples have struggled to make headway against the storm. For hours they’ve been rowing slowly across, when suddenly, “They saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat” (v 19). They’d left him on the eastern shore, remember. But now here He is, hiking across the surging sea like it’s just another wilderness valley, stepping firmly and steadily toward them.

John doesn’t call it a miracle or a sign like he does for some of the other wonders that Jesus does in this Gospel. But it’s clearly an incredible moment. Think about what Christ is doing, walking on water.

Maybe you’ve tried to run across a pool before, to see how far you could make it. Your best efforts just weren’t good enough. As fast as you ran, as high as you lifted your feet, you immediately sank. There’s a simple reason that it’s impossible to walk on water: We’re pretty heavy, so the force of our gravity immediately overcomes the surface tension of water, and that results in us sinking. 

But Jesus walks on the sea, as if the laws of nature don’t apply. What’s more, He walks toward the disciples. This is scary. We prefer to watch mysterious things from a safe distance, keep well back from them. But Jesus wants to meet up with his beloved disciples, so He approaches the boat.

John says simply, “they were afraid” (v 19). That’s probably the understatement of the day. Their terror, already ramped up because of hours in the storm, now starts to redline. In the other Gospel accounts of this story, the disciples think that they’re seeing a ghost, a phantom on the water. They’re about to lose their minds.

So how much they need to hear these words of Christ: “It is I; do not be afraid” (v 20). We could dwell on either part of that for a long time. The second phrase is powerful, all on its own: “Do not be afraid.” You might have heard before how this is the most frequent command in all of Scripture, found more than 300 times. And so often, these are words spoken by the LORD to his weak and wilting people: “Fear not.” It’s a command that God knows we need to hear, again and again.

But we’ll focus on the first part of what Jesus says, “It is I.” This is what receives the emphasis in his words. You could say it’s his main message. It’s very short in English (just three words), and it’s even shorter in Greek—just two words: ‘I am.’ Jesus is going to comfort them with his glorious presence.

When you’re a child, and you’re really scared, sometimes Dad or Mom will comfort you in the same way. When you come to their bed at night, and wake them up, and you tell them about your horrible nightmare, they might say something like, ‘It’s OK. I’m here. It’s me.’ Their presence alone puts you at ease.

This is what Jesus does for his terrified disciples: ‘It is I. I’m here.’ Or again, literally: ‘I am.’ And that reminds you of something, doesn’t it? It echoes the special name of God that He reveals to Moses in Exodus 3:14 at the burning bush. Then “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” This LORD is the God who is unchanging in his faithfulness, unlimited in his power, who needs no one but who exists in perfection all by himself. ‘I AM.’ This is the name Moses had to share with the Israelites, because it meant that help was on the way.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus will soon begin introducing himself in very bold ways. He will even use this name of God to reveal his identity. With seven different titles, Jesus will make no secret of the fact that He is God himself, “I am the light of the world. I am the bread of life. I am the good shepherd.”

 Here on the stormy sea in the middle of the night, all that Jesus says is “I am.” But it’s enough. Earlier today they saw him feed thousands of people from next to nothing. They know his power has no limits, his ability has no restrictions. And now this: walking on water! They’ve already witnessed incredible things—but this is something new. This Jesus is far greater than they ever realized. They are deeply moved, and struck with a reverent wonder.

It’s safe to assume that these twelve disciples have grown up hearing the Scriptures. As church-going Israelites, they know the Scriptures—and they know that it’s God alone who controls that powerful, raging, violent sea.

Already from the beginning of time the LORD has been showing his dominion over the waters. At creation God did this, when He commanded the waters to be gathered together into one place. Job speaks of this in chapter 9:8, how God “alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.”

Not just at creation, but always, God is governor of the seas. During the Exodus from Egypt, He rolled back the waves of the Red Sea to allow Israel to cross. Habakkuk sings about that, praising God, “You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters” (Hab 3:15). We read it in Psalm 77 as well, when Asaph recounts of the LORD, “Your way was in the sea, your path in the great waters” (v 19).

Scripture reveals God as the Lord of creation, the one who holds even the oceans under his rule. This is God’s domain, his alone. And what has Jesus done? Who can this be, that He can trample on the storm, show dominion over wind and sea, make an invisible path through the great waters? It’s starting to dawn on the disciples. Jesus is someone with immense power, He’s even the Lord of creation.

In John’s Gospel, every miracle of Jesus discloses something else about him. They are ‘signs’ which put the attention on the Lord’s person and works. Walking on the water does too, because He is showing his authority over all things.

And see what Jesus is doing with his power: He’s coming to help his disciples. He won’t let them go alone. As the Lord of all creation, He won’t let anything get in the way of his plan to redeem sinners. So there is nothing more powerful than these words of comfort for his believers, “It is I.” His words overcome all fear, “I am Jesus. Do not be afraid.”

We’re often in the same boat as the disciples: we’re scared, desperate, anxious, sure that our troubles—whatever they are—are going to overwhelm us. We wonder if God is hearing our prayers. We think that this time, God is surely going to fail us. “It’s over. I can’t get out of this. There’s no hope. I’m too guilty to be forgiven, too worthless to be rescued.”

And as with the disciples, it doesn’t need to be this way for us. For we know Jesus. If we have walked with Christ at all, then we should know about his power. We know about his grace. We have his Word, which has fully guaranteed promises on every page. We know that all Jesus has to do is speak. And Christ remains with us always—for He is God himself. He comes to us and He gives us himself. “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

What a source of strength we have when we’re in the company of Jesus! What an encouragement when we follow him! We have a great Saviour, and there is none greater. He’s not just the carpenter’s son, not just a wise teacher or faithful friend. But He holds divine power, and He sits on heaven’s throne. He commands not just the holy angels, He has authority not merely over Satan and his hosts, but He rules all things in heaven and on earth.

What’s more, Jesus is Lord for us. Ephesians 1 says that God made Christ “head over all things for the church” (v 22). He is master and commander of everything in this universe. And as He rules all things, Christ is not indifferent to our struggles. He doesn’t ignore our prayers and cries for help, but He listens and answers in his perfect wisdom.

Notice that John doesn’t say that the storm subsides the moment that Jesus speaks. In other stories in the Gospels, that’s what Jesus does: He rebukes the wind and waves, and they immediately stop. But here, the focus is on how He is able to calm his disciples, how He calms them with his presence, even in the tumult: “It is I; do not be afraid.”

And then, verse 21 says, “they willingly received him into the boat.” Just moments before, they were not so sure—they thought He was a ghost, and then they got a glimpse of his divine power. All pretty overwhelming, yet now they welcome him. Once again, John probably wants us to think about these words on more than one level. It has a literal meaning: ‘the disciples received him,’ helped him climb into the boat.

But it has a figurative meaning, too, because not everyone is willing to receive Jesus. John has been saying that ever since chapter 1: “He came to his own, and his own did not receive him.” It was in the last chapter too, when Jesus rebukes the Jewish leaders, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” (5:43).

The disciples do receive him. They accept him into their boat, because they know that He is their only hope. The storm might continue for the rest of the night, and even into the next day, but now they have good courage and a strong confidence—for Christ is with them.

This is still the question of faith. Do we receive the Lord Jesus? Do we gladly welcome him, trust in him, and submit to him? If we try to go it alone, without him, we are surely sunk. There is no future for a person who does not believe in Christ Jesus, there is only condemnation and death. But if God helps us receive him, to go with him, then we will live and thrive forever.

The story ends on another curious note, “And immediately the boat was at the land where they were going” (v 21). People wonder if this is another miracle. Was the disciples’ boat teleported across the sea? Did Jesus snap his fingers and they all arrived instantly?

I don’t think that’s what it means. The disciples were probably not crossing at the widest part of the sea but from the northeast to the northwest shore. And so they were probably most of the way across already. When they take Jesus on board, it’s just a short distance to the shore: “immediately” here means something like “without delay.”

But the message of this sign is perfectly clear. Jesus is the great ‘I AM.’ When He goes with us, we are truly well and completely safe. When we are in his presence, and when we remain near him every day, there is no need to be afraid.

It’s true that Christ doesn’t save his people from every storm. Jesus didn’t come to give us smooth sailing through this life, the wind always behind our back and sun always shining. In fact, Christ has promised that many troubles will come. But Jesus will save us from our worst and greatest threat. He will deliver us from the overwhelming flood of sin, and the guilt which is like an impossible weight around our neck.

When we live by faith in him, Jesus will surely free and forgive us. When we live by faith in him, He will preserve us in our redemption until the very end. So his answer to all our troubles is ever the same. Jesus comes to us and He says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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