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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am service, 2008-03-09

Text: John 6:16-24

Two weeks ago a 7.2-magnitude earthquake took place about 580 km away in Sumatra, and the tremors were felt in many parts of Singapore at about 4 pm. The news reported that 53 buildings on our island were affected, and some people were evacuated. Early the next morning some residents in Geylang and Marine Parade were rudely awakened by tremors of the aftershocks of that earthquake. Thankfully, no damage or injury was reported, as has always been the case with all previous instances of tremors.

However, those who live in places like Padang and Bengkulu have every reason to fear and rush out of buildings whenever such tremors are felt, because they may be harbingers death and destruction. And many who run out of their homes will stay outside for a long time, because they fear the aftershocks. And their fear is real. Only 5 days earlier, a 7.5-magnitude earthquake had rocked the province of Aceh in Indonesia, killing 3 people and seriously injuring 25 others. This brought back memories of the earthquake in December 2004 which triggered huge tsunami waves that destroyed coastal towns and villages around the Indian Ocean and killed 168,000 people in Aceh. 

While many people are fearful of death, some have greater fears that may even overcome their fear of death. Many years ago there was a history professor in our local university who became a Member of Parliament. He was sent on a mission to communist Russia, and had a very unpleasant experience there with the KGB. After he was rescued and returned to Singapore, he continued to be plagued with fearful nightmares filled with gunshots and memories of being pursued and interrogated. One day, when he was depressed and resting at home, he heard what he thought was gunfire. Actually it was only the sound of riveting going on in a construction site nearby. But this was enough to trigger off the fears in him again, and he hanged himself in the bathroom.

Fear is one of the greatest enemies of man. It brings out the worst in people and makes them do the most irrational things. Some respond to fear with antagonism, and rebellion. Others respond to fear with total despair and even suicide. 

And we who belong to the Lord sometimes find ourselves gripped by fear too. We are not immune to fear, and if we are not careful fear can lead us to commit grievous sins against God. It was fear that caused Abraham to tell the half-truth about his wife, instead of trusting in God to protect him in Egypt. It was fear that caused Elijah to run for his life from the wicked queen Jezebel, instead of trusting in God to deliver him. It was fear that caused the apostle Peter to deny Christ three times!

Seeing what fear can do even to the ablest of God's servants it is important that we learn how to respond to fear in the right manner. This morning we will learn from God's Holy Word that the secret of responding well to fear is to know who is with us when we face any trial or difficult situation in life. Whenever you feel afraid and your heart is gripped with fear please ask yourself this question: Who is with me? It is not just a trusted friend or loved one, but the Lord Jesus. This thought alone can remove all fear from your heart. Dearly beloved, Jesus is all that you need to deal with fear, just as He said to His fearful disciples 'It is I, be not afraid.' We shall now read the passage where these assuring words were spoken - John 6:16-24. (Read)

Let us first consider how this event took place. It was just after Jesus had fed the 5,000 on a mount on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was now late in the evening and the twelve disciples were tired from all the work they had done in distributing the bread and fishes and gathering up the fragments. Jesus instructed them to return home to Capernaum which was on the other side of the Sea, but He Himself did not go with them because He wanted to spend time alone in prayer. 

And as the disciples got into their boat and set sail for Capernaum the sky grew darker, the winds grew stronger and the waves grew larger. And very soon they were caught in a terrible storm at sea. According to v.18 'the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew.' The word 'arose' here literally means 'woke up thoroughly.' It was as if the sea was a sleeping giant that had now woken up to toss about the little boat of disciples. Nine years ago I had the opportunity to sail in a similar boat across the Sea of Galilee and my trip was wonderfully smooth and calm. 

But I was told not to be fooled by the serene calmness of the Sea of Galilee, because it is well known for its sudden violent storms. These are caused by the temperature difference between the hot air above the sea (about 40 degrees C) and the cold air on the surrounding mountains. 

As the cold air descends the mountain sides it collides with the hot air, creating strong air currents. Sometimes, this happens all around the lake at the same time, and because the terrain is shaped like a funnel, the winds converge on the water with great force to whip up a raging storm within minutes. One such storm in March 1992 sent waves 3 meters high crashing into the coastal city of Tiberias and causing considerable damage to it.

A fishing boat with 12 disciples will definitely not be able to withstand such a maelstrom especially at the middle of the sea, where the winds and waves are most violent. A wave or two breaking over them will fill the boat completely, and it will sink, with only the strongest swimmers having a chance to make it to shore. This is why v.19 tells us that the disciples 'rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs.' They were rowing the boat as hard as they could against the wind, to get to the shore and prevent it from being swept towards the middle of the sea. 

But the distance they traveled indicates that they did not succeed in doing this. Five and twenty or thirty furlongs is about 6 km. If they had traveled that far in good weather they would have arrived safely at Capernaum within half an hour. But because the strong winds and waves had prevailed against them, they had drifted way off course. Their boat was now right smack in the middle of the Sea of Galilee which is 11 km broad (Matthew 14:24) and they were being lashed back and forth by the merciless waves. This was really the worst nightmare of the disciples' lives! Their chances of survival were extremely slim, and death seemed very very imminent for them. All hope of salvation was gone. 

After several hours of struggling in the dark against the elements and clinging desperately on to the boat for their lives, the disciples suddenly saw a strange figure coming towards the boat. In the darkness of the night they could not see who it was or what it was, but it was clearly moving toward them on the surface of the waters. It was already bad enough to be caught in a violent storm at sea on a dark night. The last thing they needed was to be further terrified by the approach of this mysterious figure. This was really the last straw. It was all that these weary men could take. According to Matthew 14:26 they 'cried out for fear,' and said, 'It is a spirit!' It was then that they heard a most familiar voice saying to them, 'It is I, be not afraid.'

And they realized that the mysterious figure on the water was none other than their Lord Jesus who had come to their rescue. What joy and comfort filled their hearts when they heard the soothing sound of His voice saying those assuring words, 'It is I, be not afraid.' 

Perhaps these are words that some of us here really need to hear today: 'It is I, be not afraid.' Perhaps your life has lately been filled with stormy winds and you are already being tossed to and fro by them. You dread going to work because of the stormy situation you have to deal with at the office. Or perhaps you are fearful of going home after work to face the raging storms of family strife and unhappiness over some trivial matter. Or perhaps you have committed an error or sin and you are fearful of the horrible storms you may face if you were to accept full responsibility for it. Whatever the storm in your life may be, you need to hear those words from our Lord Jesus - 'It is I, be not afraid.'

Or perhaps things are going quite well for you right now, but the Lord is using this message to prepare you for some crisis you will face later on. The days of calm sunshine you now enjoy may turn suddenly and unexpectedly into chaotic darkness. Then like the 12 disciples, you will find yourself right in the middle of a sea of trouble. Perhaps it may be the darkness of loneliness, helplessness and insecurity. Or perhaps it may be the darkness of defeat, disease or depression. And perhaps what strikes the greatest terror in your heart is the darkness of death. There have been an unusual number of deaths in the first two months of this year - I have attended 2 wakes, preached at 4 vigil services and officiated 2 funerals. Perhaps you fear that someone you love is getting weaker and may soon depart because of old age or illness. Or perhaps you are fearful about facing your own death. What will it be like to breathe your last breath and close your eyes for the last time in this world? If you fear any of these things, please listen to the One who says, 'It is I, be not afraid.'

What we need to know now is the reason why we should not be afraid. What is it that convinces us to abandon our fears? The answer is found in knowing who it is who says, 'It is I.' There are at least 5 things you should know about Him. Firstly, 

A. It is He Who Sees You and Knows Your Needs

According to v.15 of our text, Jesus had departed into a mountain alone. And what did He do there? 

Let us turn our Bibles to the parallel passage in Mark 6:46-48 to find out: 'And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them.' Even though Jesus was not in the boat with His disciples He was still watching them from afar. He saw them struggling at the oars against the winds and waves. He saw their boat drifting helplessly into the worst part of the storm. He knew that they were in great danger and He felt their distress and misery in His heart. And He did all this despite being about 6 km away from them. Our Lord does not need to have telescopic vision to see what was going on. Distance is no restriction to Him. And though He has now ascended up to Heaven, He can see every struggle you face and is aware of every pain and sorrow you feel.

And our Lord could see His disciples very clearly despite the darkness of the night. Darkness is no impediment to His watchful eye. He does not need night vision goggles to see what was happening to His disciples. Psalm 139:11,12 tells us, 'If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.'

Dearly beloved, He who tells you not to fear is the One who sees you and knows your needs. He sees you when you are at the furthest corner of the earth. He sees you when you are in the deepest darkest of the night. This truth can relieve you of all your fears. When no one knows and understands the burdens in your heart, He knows. He understands. When everyone around you is too busy with their own problems to notice your distress, He sees you and watches over you.

B. It is He Who Tarries in Order to Test You

But you may ask, If Jesus sees me and understand my needs, why does He not answer me now? Why has He not come to deliver me yet?' This may have been the thought of some disciples in that boat. How they wished that Jesus was there with them. Then He can easily stop the winds and waves from raging. This is what Jesus had done for them in an earlier miracle, not recorded in John's Gospel, but in the other 3 gospels (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25). They were sailing across the Sea of Galilee in the evening and Jesus was asleep on a pillow at the rear end of the boat. 

The boat was caught in a violent storm and the strong waves were filling it with water. In their desperation they woke their master up and said, 'Master, carest thou not that we perish?' (Mark 4:38) All that Jesus did was to rise up and say, 'Peace, be still' and everything became calm instantly! The disciples were thoroughly amazed that even the wind and the sea obeyed Him.

Now in John 6, the disciples were caught in a storm at sea again. The difference is that Jesus was not in the boat this time. How they must have regretted leaving the shore without taking Him along! But though Jesus was not with them He could see them from the mountain where He was praying. And yet He did not immediately command the winds and waves to stop troubling His disciples. He allowed the storm to rage until He came to them. And Jesus did not come to them immediately when He saw their distress. He waited a few hours until about 3:00 am (The 'fourth watch' in Matthew 14:25 and Mark 6:48) before He went to them.

Why did He delay? It was actually for their own good - so that His disciples will grow in faith and patience. The storm was not there by accident. Jesus had planned for it, and He had deliberately made the disciples face the storm without Him. The earlier incident when He was with them had already taught them to trust Him to calm the winds and waves. They had grown spiritually from that, but they needed to grow some more. Another test was necessary, and this time it was to be a more difficult test to refine their faith further and to teach them to wait patiently for His deliverance. 

Dearly beloved, the Lord may do the same thing to you to accomplish the same purpose in your life. He wants you to grow into the fullness of spiritual maturity. He wants you to have a stronger faith in Him and to develop more patience in prayer. But the only way you can have these important virtues is to go through times of testing. Listen to what James 1:2-4 says: 'My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.' Knowing this helps you now to understand why there are times when you do not immediately receive what you had prayed for, and why the deliverance you had hoped for still has not come. The Lord is working faith and patience into your life. You must let Him finish that work. Then, and only then, will His deliverance come. 

C. It is He Who Controls All Things

And when His deliverance finally comes, you will realise that Jesus doeth all things well. And all things are at His disposal to accomplish His purpose for your life. Every circumstance of your life is a tool that He uses to shape you andmould you, and also to wean you away from your love of the world and from self-reliance. Nothing is beyond His control, not even the stormy winds and waves. 

All these seemingly uncontrollable elements are His faithful servants, doing whatever He commands them to do. They are all 'under His feet' (cf. Psalm 8:6 'Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.') When Jesus walked on the water, each wave of the sea rose up obediently to catch every footstep and to support His weight. And so when He said to the fearful disciples, 'It is I, be not afraid' it may be understood to mean, 'It is I, who have full dominion over all things - even the winds and waves that you have been struggling with. Be not afraid. No harm can befall you when I am in full control.'

This is the meaning of the miracle of Jesus walking on the sea - it speaks to us of His sovereign control of all things. And you must let your thoughts focus on this awesome truth whenever you feel helpless against seemingly uncontrollable forces in your life. The Lord is in control. He arranges all things for His glory and for the good of His children. This truth will relieve you of every fear, as the psalmist says, 'Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.' (Psalm 46:2-3)

D. It is He Who Comes at the Right Time

Thus far we have seen 3 reasons why we should cease to be afraid. Firstly, the Lord sees us and knows our needs. Secondly, if He tarries, it is only to test us and develop patience in us. And thirdly, He is in fullcontrol of all things. We now come to the 4th reason. It is the assurance that He always comes at the right time. The Lord Jesus never arrives too late at the scene. In verse 19 we observe that He drew near to the ship of His disciples. It does not say that He drew near to the shipwreck of His disciples, or to the place where the ship had sunk and His disciples had drowned. He came to save them at the right time. The Lord's timing is always perfect and precise. 

And this also applies to the timing of His second coming. When we look at developments in the world and see things going from bad to worse, we wonder when Christ will come. The Lord will come just at the right time, and it will not be a moment too late. When all things seem hopeless and utterly desperate He will come to save His beloved bride which is the Church and He will bring her safely home to His glorious home in heaven. This brings us to the last point of the message: 

E. It is He Who Brings You Safely Home

We need not fear, when we know that the One who said, 'It is I, be not afraid' is He who will bring us safely home. In verse 21 of our text, we see that the moment the disciples took Jesus into their boat they instantly found themselves at their destination. Jesus had miraculously transported them from the middle of the sea to the shore next to Capernaum. They did not have to row their boat for the distance of 6 km to reach home. 

Dearly belove, one day it will be your turn to be taken home by the Lord Jesus. If this should happen before His Return, and you leave this world from a deathbed, you can be assured that you will be immediately in heaven. If you belong to Christ, you have nothing to fear in death. As you close your eyes for the last time you may hear Someone saying to you, 'It is I, be not afraid.' It is only the loving voice of Jesus coming to bring you safely home. It means that your struggle with the winds and waves of life has finally ceased and you can go home to your eternal rest. 

But if you are blessed to be able to live right up till the time that Christ returns, rest assured that there is nothing to fear when He comes for you. This time He will come, not walking on water anymore, but riding on clouds of heaven. And when you are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, you will be glad to leave this stormy world behind, and to be with the Lord Jesus forever. That day may be coming soon. Let us all be patient to wait for His coming. In the mean time, while we must press onward to sail on the stormy waters of life, let us relieve ourselves of all our fears by knowing that He who said, 'It is I, be not afraid' is He who sees us and knows all our needs; He who tarries in order to test us; He who controls all things; He who comes at the right time, and He who brings us safely home.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11