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Scripture: John 6:16-24

"After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. 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 three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. 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." (John 6:14-21, NIV) [1]

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be the disciples in the aftermath of this miraculous swath that Christ was cutting through the musty draping of religious earth?  I don’t know how people exist in the context of a powerless faith. 

Four hundred years of prophetic silence had calloused the hearts of the religious elite.  When there is an absence of God’s miracle working power, and the resultant faith deficiency among His people, legalism rises to fill the vacuum.  And the Pharisees were firmly established and in control.  They gave passionless leadership to God’s chosen people.  That’s all they had to give because they were convinced that specific “sins” needed to be addressed and in this way they would climb back to some former place of spiritual grandeur.  They were the “revival rangers” in their own practice and estimation.

Jesus, the untrained, unsanctioned, unconstrained rabbi, on the other hand, professed himself to be the fulfillment of the law of Moses and the winds of his amazing teachings were fanning into flame an expectant spirit that had been long dormant among the common man. 

No one knew what to expect from Jesus but they knew that there would be something for he taught with authority and demonstrated a “connection” to God that was different than anything that they had seen among the scribes and the Pharisees.

It’s so easy to settle into a lifeless, passionless arrangement with God.  It’s not at all a satisfying thing.  People who are hungry to see God work in their own lives, yet unwilling to change, become critical of others because of their own deficit.  People who are “fed up” by a current relationship with God have abundant mercy from the mercy-giver and they lavishly bestow it upon others whether or not they deserve it – that is the nature of God’s mercy you know – if you deserved it God would have called it something else.  Because mercy is a reflection of the Bestower.  It says something about the great heart that extends it.  It is not contractual but unmerited.  It is a “confounding” mercy.  We can personally know what we lack the ability to understand.  I pray that God will raise us up to become an army of mercy-givers.  We give freely what we receive freely.  Mercy can never be given to the deserving only to the undeserving.

What a miracle – feeding a bumper crowd a buffet meal.  More than the multitude could consume.  Twelve baskets full of leftovers from five loaves and two fish.  Left with more than you brought to the table.  A beautiful picture of God’s grace.

How did the crowd respond?  They wanted to make him King.  If he could do this miraculous thing then what might He do with political, clout and power? 

14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. [2]

They would force him to adopt their agenda.  We try to do this from time to time in the church today.  We ascribe an agenda of our own creation to God.  Let’s make our nation a Christian nation.  We will create legislation to reflect the belief system that somewhere along the line lost it’s divine influence.  Is that the fault of society – I don’t think so.  There were secular minds in Jesus day and they were running the country.  People who were openly pagan and God’s chosen people were their vassals.  Did that bother Christ?  it didn’t seem to.  You know what bothered him?  The cold hearts of those who prescribed a formalized faith that left it’s adherents hungry.  Like us they had what they deserved.  When people trivialize their faith and they play with the things of God, he leaves them to their games and looks for those who are prepared to live and die by their relationship to God.

So what did he do?

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. [3]

He headed for the hills by himself and sent the disciples away as well.

And as he did, he displayed his heart.  He fleshed out a principle that is both basic and crucial for those who would follow him then and now.  In the economy of God . . . 

1.   Everything that looks good is not necessarily good.

It was clear to him but perhaps it might not have been to his disciples.  They were doubly enamored by the miracle that they had just participated in.  After all they saw what Jesus had to work with and they gathered the remnants.  Like the others they longed for deliverance from Roman subjugation.  Jesus could have done it, . . . easily and why wouldn’t he drive these pagans from the promised land?

Everything that looks good is not necessarily good or at least not God’s plan or at least not now.  Not every positive turn of fate or good fortune that comes to us serves God’s purposes.  We have this tendency to believe that everything that looks to be positive is in fact, positive.  Pastor Buckingham used to say that we are sometimes more sidetracked by life’s opportunities than life’s obstacles.  The things that we can do are sometimes more detrimental to us than our lack of ability – the things that we can’t do.

Ø      The multi-talented person can be cursed by a lack of ability to really give his/her heart to one thing passionately.

Ø      The person who is offered a job with greater reward or possibility of advancement can prematurely leave a good situation for something that evaporates and leaves them nothing.

Ø      The individual who is enticed to leave a solid marriage for a lustful liaison can wreak irreparable havoc and in the process usher a degree of hell into their lives that they forever regret.

The things that look good are not always so good.  Yet we pray for these very things.

And God Said, "No"

I asked God to take away my pride.

And God said, "No".

He said it was not for Him to take away

But for me to give up....

I asked God to grant me patience.

And God said, "No".

He said patience is a bi-product of tribulation.

It isn't granted it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness.

And God said, "No".

He said He gives blessings.

Happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain.

And God said, "No".

He said suffering draws us apart from worldly cares,

And brings us closer to Him.

I asked God to make my spirit grow.

And God said, "No".

He said I must grow on my own.

But He will prune me to make me fruitful.

I asked God if He loved me.

 And God said, "Yes".

He gave His only Son who died for me....

I asked God to help me love others

As much as He loves me,

And God said,

"Ah finally you have the idea."

How do you tell the difference?  How do you know whether opportunity comes as the blessing of God or the seductive sirens of spiritual shipwreck. 

I think that the answer is simple really.  You look for the presence of Christ.

Was it a good idea to crown the Christ as conqueror right there on the hillside?  Where was He?  Nowhere that they could find him.  If it had been a good idea they would have found Him.  But . . .

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. [4]

God runs away from us when we want to use our relationship with Him to fulfill our own selfishly limited ambitions.

James says:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Submit Yourselves to God

4     What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? a 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” b [5]

You see you’ll never find Christ in this kind of atmosphere.  I don’t care how noble or right your pursuits are or even how scriptural you consider them to be.  The Devil himself can quote more scripture than most of us in this room.  Just because someone sounds spiritually astute doesn’t mean that they are.  You find Christ in the absence of:

Ø      Pettiness

Ø      Gossip

Ø      Slander

Ø      Bitterness

Ø      Rage

Ø      Factions

Ø      Selfish ambition

Ø      Pride

Ø      Jealousy

And on and on the list goes – he heads for the hills when we become like that and he leaves us alone victims of our own ambition.  We trade things away that we can never regain all in the name of success.

No if you want wisdom, find Christ.  Let him be the designated driver – don’t drive under the influence, you’ll kill someone.

So Jesus sent the disciples away, sparing them from the spectacle.  Where were they?  Out in the middle of the lake.  We’d rather be on the hillside.  We’d rather be applauded and cheered.  We’d rather be reveling in past victories than accepting the present challenges that stir and build us in the faith adventure.

There were battling a storm there.  How are the winds blowing in your life these days?  I’ve been trying to get to Grand Manan for a few weeks now.  I have to call my mother to get the true picture because the winter winds can whip the bay into a frenzy that makes my stomach upset just to think of it.  I’m a poor sailor and I only go when the winds are favorable or non-existent.  But I’ve been on the bay in the storm, paying homage to the porcelain god, O’Rourke.  I’ve done that trip more than once on my knees in the restroom.

Life’s storms are never fun.  I have learned one thing though in my spiritual walk.

2.   What looks bad is not necessarily bad

Storms are not always bad.  Storms can be vehicles to deliver spiritual insight and growth.  They give us a clear set of priorities.  A place where survival takes clear precedence over success.  A place where what you have achieved is not important and what you have amassed is not a conscious part of your thinking. 

And where the desire to succeed tends to disconnect us from God, the survival instinct draws us quickly to communicate with the Master. 

Storms make public pray-ers out of timid souls.  People unashamedly cry out to God in despair and discreetly offer their muffled prayers in plenty if they pray at all.  No storms aren’t always a bad thing. 

I’ve talked to storm-broken people who recognize the strength and character that has come to their lives on the stormy seas of life.

If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I wouldn't pass it around. Wouldn't be doing anybody a favor. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don't say embrace trouble. That's as bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you'll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it.


Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 - 1894)

Physician and writer

We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. For my grandchildren, I'd like better. I'd really like for them to know about hand me down clothes and homemade ice cream and leftover meat loaf sandwiches. I really would.

I hope you learn humility by being humiliated, and that you learn honesty by being cheated.

I hope you learn to make your own bed and mow the lawn and wash the car.

And I really hope nobody gives you a brand new car when you are sixteen.

It will be good if at least one time you can see puppies born and your old dog put to sleep.

I hope you get a black eye fighting for something you believe in, I hope you have to share a bedroom with your younger brother. And it's all right if you have to draw a line down the middle of the room, but when he wants to crawl under the covers with you because he's scared, I hope you let him.

When you want to see a movie and your little brother wants to tag along, I hope you'll let him.

 hope you have to walk uphill to school with your friends and that you live in a town where you can do it safely. On rainy days when you have to catch a ride, I hope you don't ask your driver to drop you two blocks away so you won't be seen riding with someone as un-cool as your Mom.

If you want a slingshot, I hope your Dad teaches you how to make one instead of buying one.

I hope you learn to dig in the dirt and read books.

When you learn to use computers, I hope you also learn to add and subtract in your head.

I hope you get teased by your friends when you have your first crush on a girl, and when you talk back to your mother that you learn what ivory soap tastes like.

May you skin your knee climbing a mountain, burn your hand on a stove and stick your tongue on a frozen flagpole.

I don't care if you try a beer once, but I hope you don't like it. And if a friend offers you dope or a joint, I hope you realize he is not your friend.

I sure hope you make time to sit on a porch with your Grandpa and go fishing with your Uncle.

May you feel sorrow at a funeral and joy during the holidays.

I hope your mother punishes you when you throw a baseball through your neighbor's window and that she hugs you and kisses you at Christmas  time when you give her a plaster mold of your hand.

These things I wish for you - tough times and disappointment, hard work and happiness. To me, it's the only way to appreciate life.

    Written with a pen. Sealed with a kiss. I'm here for you. And if I die before you do, I'll go to heaven and wait for you.

By Paul Harvey

3.   The way out of every storm is to locate the presence of Christ.

Believe it or not, he’s already on the way.  In the midst of your storm, he sees you straining at the oars and while you’re hanging on for dear life, he’s on his way.  Jesus knew that the storm waited on the lake for his disciples.  In His purpose this struggle was far better for them than the one that he withdrew from.  Sometimes it’s easier to fight honest adversity than it is to fight ease or fame or financial security or power.  Sometimes storms take us closer to our destiny than smooth sailing might.  And things change when Christ is in the boat.

Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading."

Adversity builds character.  Sometimes it reveals deficiency first and then builds.

You see storms can only be used to fulfill the purposes of the Master of the storm.

Jesus strode away from the crowd into the storm.  Not everyone is able to recognize the presence of Christ in their lives.  He comes to them in unexpected ways and at times when we are not looking for him.  Initially he can be frightening.  I talked recently to Murray relative to his heart attack.  We have prayed for his healing and God touched his body in ways that made sense to him.  He touched his body in ways that perhaps did not make sense as well.  It wasn’t just his back that needed work – his heart did as well.  God knew that perhaps the greatest danger to this man was one that he was unable to identify.

Chris reveals himself to us by being the pilot of our lives.  He doesn’t circumnavigate the storms that present themselves to us but keeps us through them.  Is this the level of involvement in our lives that Christ has?  Has he ever charted a storm free path for even those that He loved the most.  Nothing that comes our way surprises him.  He saw the storm a long time before we ever did and somehow, someway He will approach us in the midst of every twist and turn.

Friendly Obstacles

For every hill I’ve tried to climb,

For every stone that bruised my feet,

For all the blood and sweat and grime,

For blinding storms and burning heat,

My heart sings but a grateful song

These are the things that made me strong!

For all the heartache and the tears,

For all the anguish and the pain,

For gloomy days and fruitless years,

And for the hopes that lived in vain,

I do give thanks, for now I know

These were the things that helped me grow!

‘Tis not the softer things in life

Which stimulate man’s will to strive;

But bleak adversity and strife

Do most to keep man’s will alive.

O’er rose-strewn paths the weaklings creep,

But brave hearts dare to climb the steep 

The Lord loves the just and will not forsake His faithful ones.

--Psalm 37:28


[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jn 6:14). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jn 6:14). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jn 6:14). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 a Or that God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in us; or that the Spirit he caused to live in us longs jealously

 b Prov. 3:34

[5]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Jas 3:13). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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