Many times when we think about the story of the Exodus we think about the provocative plagues that God sent among the Egyptians to set the people of Israel free. While Israel was set free that was not end of story. In many ways it was just the beginning. Not too long after that they were facing many struggles. In fact when the Pharaoh assessed what happened with his leaders he decided to track the Israelites down and bring them back. They chased the Israelites to the Red Sea, and Israel was between a hostile army and massive sea. They felt trapped. While they were free they were still facing extremely stressful trials.
The reason I am bringing this up is because many times we forget this part of the Christian life. We come in our faith thinking, “Well, my sins have been forgiven, Christ is a part of my life in a unique way now, so my life is going to be much better now.” We come into the kingdom of Christ expecting peace. While this expectation is reasonable, true, and secure it is also short-sighted. More often than not the peace of Christ is a provocative peace. The peace of Christ can be provocative because it is interesting, compelling, and exciting, but it can also be maddening, irritating, vexing, and even annoying. It is this provocative peace that I think our text speaks about today.
Theme: Sometimes obedience to Christ comes on the dark stormy waves of provocative peace.
1. Discouraging Danger—John 6.16-18.
At this point in the Gospel of John Jesus has just performed another miraculous feet—providing food for 20,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. After this John 6.15 tells us the people wanted to make Jesus king, and the phrase, “by force” tells us the state at which they were ready to do that. So, once again Jesus attempts to get away, but He also decided to send his disciples away to the other side of the sea (John 6.16). As they set out on their journey across the sea a great storm arose—READ John 6.16-18.
There are a few things I noticed about this story as I thinking through it this week. FIRST, notice the disciples were trying to be obedient to Jesus. Listen to what Matthew tells us:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.—Matthew 14.22
Matthew gives us different details than John, which show us these men were being obedient to Jesus’ instruction.
And what did this obedience get them? This brings me to the SECOND thing I noticed; their obedience put them into an extremely stressful, dangerous situation. The Israelite were set free in Egypt to go form a kingdom of priest to God. So while they were set free their freedom was supposed to lead obedience. That obedience would lead to more suffering. Obedience to Christ does not equate immediate comfort or ease. In fact more often than not, true obedience in the kingdom of God will lead to more discomfort in this life. One author I read this week put it this way:
“In many parts of the world today, particularly in the West, it would be difficult to find a more telling picture of the church…It is tossed by the winds of secularism without and controversy and uncertainty within…unsure of its whereabouts…its members, like the disciples in the story, strain at the oars of good works and ministry, making no apparent headway in the process. Crucially, they have no manifest conviction that Jesus…is anywhere in sight. ‘It is dark.’”—Milne, p. 107
Being a true follower of Christ is NOT easy in climate of our culture. On one end we have convictions that would disassociate us from right-wing radicalism, but on the other we also have convictions that would disassociate us from left-wing liberalism. This leaves the biblical faithful western Christians feeling like they are without a people. They feel alone, lost on an island, and there is nothing but violent waves tossing them about. The western world promises them peace if they will just merely give their allegiance to something other than Christ, or more often than not an unbiblical Christ.
2. Provocative Peace—John 6.19-21.
As we begin to examine the second part of this story we see massive, provocative implications. It is during this part of the story Jesus comes back on the scene. But when He arrives it is not the manner anyone would expect on almost any level. Therefore, let’s read and see what I am talking about—READ John 6.19-21.
I don’t know you about, but friends when I think about Jesus appearing on the scene in my life or someone else I think about it bringing some comfort. I would think this would be especially true in a situation like this. But in our story that is not what immediately happens. No, in this story fear does not always immediately dissipate when Jesus arrives. In fact fear and anxiety increases. Before the peace of Christ comes more fear came. Remember what verse 19 told us, “…they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened.” Pastor Milne commenting on this situation says this, “The disciples are apparently more afraid of the Saviour than they are of the storm. There are occasions when Jesus’ coming seems only to intensify our troubles.” (Milne, p.108) When Jesus comes on the scene it did not lead to immediate comfort but instead it resulted intensified troubles. This is why I am saying that many times the type of peace Christ offers us is a PROVOCATIVE PEACE. The peace Christ offers is interesting, compelling and alluring, but it also irritating, vexing, and maddening. This peace is not simplistic, but a complex terrifying storm.
Why does God do this? We know Jesus Christ has the foresight to see this tumultuous storm is going to happen, so why does He put His disciple in this scenario? The disciples could have gone up to the mountain with Jesus, but no, He instructed to go out before Him and travel to the other side of the sea. Here’s the thing friends, sometimes God places in extreme stressful situations so we will be confronted with even deeper struggles. We all have deep heart idols. We have various aspects of our faith where there are holes.
Imagine with me for a second your heart is like a boat. If there are various small holes in the boat of your faith, then eventually your boat will sink. God will allow us (or even direct us) to row out into open waters, knowing there is danger, so we will see the holes in the boat of our faith. This is why when Jesus’ presence appears in these types of situations it is not always immediately pleasant. Jesus’ appearing can be a refining fire, and no matter what kind of fire it is it hurts. Better to be temporally refined by God’s fires of suffering than tormented by God’s fires for eternity. One of my favorite songs from the famous worship band Sojourn is Warrior. Here is one line that reminds me of this truth every time I listen to it:
Oh the warrior will conquer all
The world will fall before His feet
Earth and sea will give up their dead
The nations gathered before him
A day of glory, a day of dread
No one dares now ignore him
What it reminds us of is everyone will stand before King Jesus someday. For those who have gone through the refining fires of faith with God it will be day of glory. But for those who have gone through suffering without God it will only get worse. It will truly be a day of dread for them.
So, to you dear Christians, while we remember Jesus sent His disciples on a dark and stormy journey with no sign of Jesus in sight, Jesus has not lost sight of them or us. God will allow us to go into the open waves with storms raging, but will never abandon us. And what comfort will He offer us during those times? HIMSELF. He will not come on the scene and say, “You are great. You can do this.” No, He will say, “It is I; do not be afraid.” The phrase “IT IS I” the Greek phrase EGO EIMI, which in other context of this Gospel can be translated, “I AM.” What brings God’s people comfort? Knowing God still is who He is. This is Jesus’ way of saying, “I am still who I am. Trust me I go this.”
And what was the response of the disciples after all this?—READ John 6.21. They were glad it was Jesus and they invited Him in. No matter what manner Jesus arrives in are we glad and inviting? Is this our posture toward Jesus Christ? Because if it is next thing we know we will have gone through the dark storms of life and be safely in the Land with Him.