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Lesson 32: Growing to Know the Lord for Who He Is (John 6:14-21)

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October 27, 2013

Many people come to Christ in the hopes that He will make them happy. They struggle with personal problems and they hear that Jesus can help, so they trust in Him to gain the peace and joy that they long for. Or, they’re in an unhappy marriage or having problems with their kids and they heard that Christ can help, so they decided to “try Christ.” Whatever the need, they want Christ to make them happy.

But after they come to Christ, they find that the problems get worse, not better. Things aren’t exactly like the salesman—I mean evangelist—promised! They feel like when you sign up for some offer, only to find that it was a bait and switch. If you had known what you were in for, you never would have signed up.

As I’ve often said, the crucial question in life to answer is Jesus’ question to the disciples (Matt. 16:15), “But who do you say that I am?” If Jesus is who He claimed to be and who the Scriptures show Him to be, then we must follow Him as Savior and Lord, even if it results in being tortured and killed. The Bible is quite clear that many godly saints have suffered terribly because of their faith. In fact, Paul promises (2 Tim. 3:12), “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The main reason for following Christ is not because He can make you happy—although He can, even in your suffering—but because He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is the eternal Son of God, sent from the Father to provide the only way to heaven through His death and resurrection.

Thus, as we’ve seen, John wrote his Gospel, and especially the miracles or signs that Jesus did (20:31), “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” It’s important that we believe in Jesus for the right reasons and that we grow to know Him as He is, not as we might wish for Him to be.

John (and Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52) follows the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 with the miracle of Jesus walking on the water, but he gives a compressed version of the story. For example, John doesn’t tell us that Jesus compelled the disciples to get into the boat. He doesn’t tell us that Jesus sent the multitude away or that He was praying on the mountain. He omits Mark’s comment (6:48) that Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars or that He intended to pass them by when He came to them on the water. He doesn’t say that the disciples thought that they were seeing a ghost (although he does say that they were frightened). He doesn’t mention Peter’s walking on the water (Matt. 14:28-31). He doesn’t tell us that the storm was instantly stilled when Jesus got into the boat. And it’s puzzling why John, who wants us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, omits the disciples’ worshipful response, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matt. 14:33).

Also, John doesn’t offer any comment on why he includes this story. He just gives it in this compressed form and then the following narrative goes back to the feeding of the 5,000, as Jesus expounds on His being the bread of life. So you have to ask, “Why did John include this sign in his Gospel? What does he want us to take away from meditating on it?”

One clue to these questions is what John told us back in 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John reports this miracle so that we, too, will see Jesus’ glory and trust Him in life’s storms. Also, this miracle was private; only the disciples saw it. Thus it was for their training (and ours).

We’re not reading too much into this story to say that the disciples were confused and disappointed with Jesus’ response to the multitude after He fed them with the loaves and fish. (R. C. Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord [Baker], p. 173, and G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John [Revell], pp. 102-103, point this out.) The crowd proclaimed Him to be the prophet of whom Moses spoke and they wanted to take Him by force and make Him king (John 6:14-15). The disciples had placed all of their hopes in this Galilean carpenter-prophet as the promised Messiah-King, who would deliver His people. They had given up their livelihoods to follow Him. Jesus has sent them out on a mission to proclaim that the kingdom of God was at hand. They were expecting Him to establish that kingdom at any moment.

And now, after Jesus has shown Himself to be the new Moses by providing bread for this crowd in the wilderness, the people want to make Him king. This was what the disciples had been waiting for!

But rather than capitalizing on the mood of the crowd and moving ahead with their desire to see Him enthroned, Jesus forced the disciples to get into the boat and head back toward Capernaum, while He sent the multitude away and went up on the mountain by Himself. What was He thinking? And then, to make matters worse, after Jesus forced them to get in the boat and put out on the lake without Him, a strong wind came up against them. They had already been in one storm on that lake when Jesus had been asleep in the boat with them. He woke up, rebuked the storm, and the sea was instantly calm. But now He wasn’t even with them!

So it’s reasonable to assume that the disciples were confused and disappointed as they were trying to row against this storm. Here they were, trying to help bring in God’s promised kingdom and to help people see that Jesus is the promised Messiah-king. In obedience to Jesus, they had set out across the lake without Him. But now, they were caught in this storm. In that setting, Jesus came to them walking on the water to teach them that even though He wasn’t the kind of Messiah-king they may have hoped for, He still is the Lord of all creation. They needed to get to know Him as He is, not as they had hoped that He would be. The lesson for us is:

Jesus does not want followers who use Him for their own purposes, but followers who grow to know Him and trust Him for who He is.

1. Jesus does not want followers who have misconceptions about who He is, who use Him for their own purposes (6:14-15).

John 6:14-15: “Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”

Moses was the revered leader who had led Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Through him, God gave the law and provided manna in the wilderness. If Jesus was the prophet of whom Moses had prophesied (Deut. 18:15), then maybe He could deliver Israel from Roman domination! Maybe He could usher in God’s kingdom where Israel would enjoy peace and prosperity. So they wanted to make Him their political king.

But they didn’t want to repent of their sin and submit to Him as Lord. Rather, they wanted a king who would improve their living situation. They wanted a king who would usher in peace and prosperity. In short, they had misconceptions about who Jesus is and they wanted to use Him for their own purposes.

Even the disciples fell into this wrong way of thinking about Jesus, as you know. Right after Jesus asked them that crucial question (Matt. 16:15), “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus told them that He had to go to Jerusalem, where He would suffer many things, be killed, and be raised up on the third day. But (Matt. 16:22), “Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” But Jesus rebuked Peter (16:23), “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Peter had a wrong conception of Jesus that didn’t include the cross.

I hope that that doesn’t describe you, but it would not be uncommon if it describes some of you. One Sunday several years ago a woman who was visiting here for the first time came up for prayer after the service. She and her husband had moved here for a good job that she had been offered. But after a short while on the job, she had been terminated. She was very angry at God for leading them here, only to lose her job. I wasn’t able to help her see that this trial was from God’s loving hand for their good, but that she needed to trust Him, submit to Him, and even give Him thanks for this opportunity to grow in her faith. She had misconceptions about who Christ is and she wanted to use Him for her own happiness. When that didn’t work out as she envisioned, she grew angry and bitter.

2. Jesus wants followers who grow to know Him and trust Him for who He is.

In Isaiah 55:8-9, the Lord says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Part of growing to know the Lord is growing to know His ways and to submit thankfully to His ways when they run counter to my ways. One test of whether I am truly submitting to God’s ways with me is whether I am grumbling or giving thanks when things don’t go the way that I wanted them to go. If I’m trying to use Him then I’m acting as lord and He’s just my servant. Biblical Christianity means that I submit joyfully to Him as Lord and I’m His servant. John’s account of Christ’s walking on the water brings out five ways that we grow to know and trust Jesus for who He is:

A. We grow to know and trust Jesus’ person through the trials that He puts us through.

John tells us that Jesus withdrew to the mountain by Himself alone. The disciples got into the boat and started to cross the sea without Him. John adds the puzzling statement (6:17), “It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” Not all agree, but I take it to mean that John anticipates the rest of the story: Jesus would shortly come, but He hadn’t yet come. So the disciples were on the lake in the dark in this storm, without Jesus.

Not only was Jesus not with them, He also let them struggle against this storm for many hours. John says that they had rowed “25 or 30 stadia,” which was about three and a half miles. The other gospels say that it was in the fourth watch of the night (between 3-6 a.m.) that Jesus came to them. They were probably exhausted and perhaps wondering whether they should turn around and let the wind blow them back to their starting point. At that point of great need, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea.

If we could interview John as he recalled this event, he would probably say, “It was an awful thing to be on the lake in the dark in a storm for that long without Jesus in the boat. But if He had not sent us into that situation, we would not have seen His glory and power when He came to us, walking on the water. The fresh vision of who Jesus is made it worth all the toil and anxiety.”

Although such trials are never enjoyable at the moment, as the author of Hebrews tells us (12:11), “Yet to those who have been trained by it [the trials of God’s discipline], afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” The late Malcolm Muggeridge wrote (A Twentieth Century Testimony [Thomas Nelson], cited in Reader’s Digest, Jan. 1991, p. 158):

Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, everything I have learned, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness.

Also, that storm kept them from joining the crowd in their error of wanting to make Jesus a political king. I think that when we’re in heaven, we’ll look back and see many instances in our lives where some trial or situation that didn’t go as we had wished actually kept us from some temptation that we would have fallen into. If I may use a rather homely personal example, when I was a teenager, I had a bad case of acne. Also, like most teenage boys, I struggled a lot with lust. I’ve thought that maybe the Lord used my bad complexion to keep me from getting involved immorally with girls at that vulnerable time of my life.

So one result of this miracle was that through it, the disciples grew to know Jesus’ person in a way that they never would have if they had not been in this storm. Jesus often sends us into storms so that we will grow in our understanding of who He is when He comes to us in a powerful way in the midst of the storm.

B. We grow to know and trust Jesus’ purpose in the trials He puts us through.

A. W. Pink (Exposition of the Gospel of John, on points out that these people proclaimed Jesus as their prophet and were willing to make Him their king. But they were omitting the other office that must come before He is crowned as king: He is the priest, who offered Himself as the final sacrifice for our sins. The disciples did not learn that lesson until after the cross and resurrection. But this miracle was one of the many times that Jesus had to repeat this lesson before it finally sank in.

One of the main lessons of the Christian life is that God’s purpose is not centered on me and my glory. It’s about Jesus and His glory! God’s purpose is to sum up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). To that end, He is working all things in our lives for His glory. Maybe you’re thinking, “I thought he was working all things to­gether for my good, as Romans 8:28 says.” He is, but your greatest good is bound up with Jesus’ glory. Your greatest good and your ultimate glory is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29-30). When we’re perfectly conformed to His image in heaven, it will be to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).

C. We grow to know and trust Jesus’ providence in the trials He puts us through.

The disciples here went from the mountaintop experience of the feeding of the 5,000 to the valley of the violent storm as they struggled to cross the sea without Jesus being with them. Just as Jesus knew what He would do with the feeding of the 5,000 (6:6), so He knew that He was sending the disciples into a storm and that He would come to them to calm their fears and to increase their understanding of who He is. Mark 6:48 says that Jesus saw them as they rowed against the winds. They were at least 3-4 miles away, so Mark is referring to Jesus’ omniscience. Also, Jesus had to know exactly where they were on the stormy sea to walk to them. They thought that they were alone, but they were really not alone. They learned that even though they didn’t know it, Jesus was fully aware of their circumstances and He would come to them in His time. And, as the other gospels state, He was praying for them while He was on the mountain. But they didn’t know that until later.

God’s providence means that nothing happens to us apart from His sovereign, loving will. Jesus isn’t asleep in heaven; He is there praying for us, even as He was praying for the disciples while they were fighting against this storm. In His perfect time, He will come to us. But we’ve got to trust Him when we can’t see Him or figure out any reason for why we’re in the storm.

D. We grow to know and trust Jesus’ power in the trials He puts us through.

The disciples had just seen Jesus create bread and fish to feed the large crowd. Now they saw Him as the Lord over His creation, as He walked on the water. Our trials cannot prevent Him from coming to us, even if we can’t imagine how He will do it.

At the same time, it is not always His will to use His power to deliver us from trials. Here, He stilled the storm and the disciples got safely to the shore. But He didn’t deliver John the Baptist from Herod’s sword. He didn’t call legions of angels to spare Himself from the cross. He later delivered Peter from prison, but not James. As Hebrews 11:33-37 shows, by faith many experienced powerful deliverances from their trials, but also by faith others were tortured and suffered martyr’s deaths. But whether it’s God’s will to deliver us or to take us to glory through death, we should know and trust His mighty power in the trials He puts us through.

E. We grow to know and trust Jesus’ presence in the trials He puts us through.

One of John’s main emphases in recounting this miracle is that Jesus’ presence with them in the boat got them immediately to their destination (6:21). This may have been another miracle or John may mean that with Jesus in the boat, they quickly got to their destination (solid commentators hold to both views). But at any rate, Jesus’ presence with the disciples calmed their fears in this storm. As Jesus says (6:20), “It is I; do not be afraid.” When we experience Jesus’ presence in the middle of life’s storms, it calms our fears.

“It is I” is literally, in Greek, “I am.” Some commentators say that this is the only way that a person could identify himself in Greek, so Jesus is not claiming to be Yahweh, who identified Himself to Moses as “I am” (Exod. 3:14). But perhaps John, in light of his overall purpose, wants his readers to at least see a hint of this here. It is obviously Jesus’ point in John 8:58, where He says, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” Because of who He is, Jesus’ presence with us gives us comfort.

When the Lord gave the Great Commission, He also gave the reassuring promise (Matt. 28:20), “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” That was David Livingstone’s verse as he endured countless hardships in the 19th century, trying to open the interior of Africa to the gospel. He said (A Frank Boreham Treasury, compiled by Peter Gunther [Moody Press], p. 107), “On those words I staked everything, and they never failed! … It is the word of a gentleman of the most strict and sacred honor, so there’s an end of it!”


So, why do you follow Jesus? Is it so that you can use Him to make you happy? Or, is it because He is the sovereign Lord of creation, who demands your submission and loyalty, even if His ways are not what you expected?

Another underlying current of this story is Christ’s patience and grace toward the disciples. Mark (6:51-52) reports that they had not gained any insight from the feeding of the 5,000. Later, they were still clueless about how to feed the 4,000 (Mark 8:4, 16-21). But the Lord did not give up on them. Even though we’re slow to learn, He is gracious with us as we struggle to know Him and trust Him for who He is. Even when things do not go as you expected or hoped, you can know that Jesus is still the Lord over all. Through your trials you can grow to know His person, His purpose, His providence, His power, and His presence. You will look back and say, “The storm was worth it because I grew to know more of who Jesus really is!”

Application Questions

  1. How can we keep our prayers from turning into idolatry, where we use “God” to get what we want?
  2. Since it is not always God’s will to deliver us from trials, is it wrong to pray for deliverance? What else should we pray for?
  3. Why doesn’t the Lord protect those who are seeking to serve Him from difficult trials?
  4. How can we grow to experience God’s presence with us in all situations? How would this affect our behavior and emotions?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Life

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