Have you ever noticed the surprising verse of John 6:21 before? I hadn’t. Right now, I am reading through the Bible chronologically and that means that I sometimes get to read the same story three of four times in a row! Well, recently I was reading about Jesus walking on the water towards his disciples in the midst of rough waters and strong winds. The book of Matthew, Mark and John recount this story.
So, the story in a nutshell is: 1) Jesus sends his disciples to cross the sea without him while he finishes up with the crowds. 2) Jesus goes up on a mountain and prays on his own. 3) The wind picks up on the lake, but Jesus isn’t bothered by that and heads out to sea (on top of the water) to meet up with the boat. 4) The disciples see Jesus and think he’s a ghost! They are afraid. 5) Jesus tells them not to be afraid and they recognize him and the wind dies down. 6) According to Matthew only, in the midst of this Jesus invites Peter to come to him on the water. Peter does. Peter gets afraid. Peter starts to sink and immediately, Jesus reaches out his hand to save him. 7) John 6:21 gives one more very interesting part to the story…
Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.John 6:21 (ESV)
When I read this, I had to take a double, maybe triple read through it. Did it just say that they immediately reached the shore where they were heading? Like, immediately, immediately? Well, I’m not going to propose that I’m a studied theologian or make a doctrine out of what I’m about to say, BUT God brought something to mind and I just had to share it with you!
Before I went too far into the analogy that God was forming in my mind, I wanted to look up the word ‘immediately’ in the Greek to be sure that I understood it’s meaning. The word is eutheos and means directly, at once or soon, forthwith, immediately, shortly, and straightaway. When I compared multiple translations of this verse, most of them used immediately, and many others used straightaway, or at once. So, I feel comfortable assuming the translation is ‘immediately.’ Well, if that’s so, then are we saying that the boat went from 3-4 miles out to sea (probably from the Sea of Tiberias) and then was all of a sudden (immediately) at the opposite shore? (They were heading to Capernaum and it’s a more than 6 miles trip by boat!) It really got me thinking about the miracle of a boat, disciples and Jesus instantly going from where they were to be at the place they were going, skipping the rest of the travel in-between. Fascinating!
But what does that have to do with the analogy that God was showing me? Because I read it so many times, a different part of the story ended up standing out to me and that was the beginning of God’s gentle speaking to my heart.
“Then they were glad to take him into the boat” The book of John addresses the heart posture of the disciples in this moment. They were GLAD to take Jesus into their boat! Let’s look further into what their day had been like leading up to all this because I think it would have been hard to be ‘glad’.
What a Day!…
So, we know that Jesus had been going about healing sick people during the day and that he and his disciples left at some point to presumably be on their own. However that didn’t work. As they were sitting together, they saw that the crowd of people had followed them! Instead of ignoring them or sending them away, Jesus took care of their present need – food. He had his disciples gather all the available food from the crowd (5 loaves of bread and 2 fish) and then he blessed it and sent them to distribute the food to 5000+ people! The amazing thing is that it worked! All were fed and they even had tons of food left over!
After this, Jesus went away to be on his own and when he was finished, he returned to his disciples. It was evening by this point and he sent them over the sea to Capernaum without him. As they made their way across the sea, the weather changed and they found themselves rowing against rough waters and strong winds. Then they see something coming walking towards them ON THE WATER! They were afraid, but when Jesus spoke, “It is I; do not be afraid,” they realized it was him and felt better. They gladly took him into their boat and then immediately they were on the shore! Phew! What a day!
Emotional Roller Coaster…
Can you imagine how the disciples must have felt after a day like that? It sounds like it was a day full of excitement with miracles abounding and mixed with tons of uncertainty. I mean, how did they feel when they saw the crowd following them? Did they get a sinking feeling in their stomachs? What about when Jesus asked them to distribute the meager amount of food? I can imagine they might have felt embarrassed, and been full of disbelief, uncertainty, and frustration! That was probably quickly followed by awe and relief when the miracle of multiplication happened! What a rollercoaster of emotions in just that one gathering!
Or what about when Jesus sent them across the sea without him and the going got tough? Again, human feelings of tiredness, uncertainty, fear, and doubt probably crept in. They might have been complaining that Jesus wasn’t doing this hard work with them. They might have been coming up with their own ideas for why Jesus didn’t come along with them in the boat. They might have been questioning if they heard Jesus correctly, because the way sure wasn’t easy!
But then they saw something on the water! I bet fear added to their already physically tired feelings of rowing with strong winds. Then Jesus speaks what he always says to his friends during uncertain situations, ‘It is I; do not be afraid!’ RELIEF! They knew that voice. They see their Teacher! ‘Then they were glad to take him into the boat and immediately they were at the land to which they were going.’ They weren’t alone anymore. They were suddenly done with the choppy seas. They got to their destination, safely and quickly! In a non-literal way, this story feels like a parable for our own lives!
Obeying the Voice of God…
There are times when Jesus sends us out or calls us to obey him in seasons when we’re already overwhelmed, uncertain, tired, and spent or even cranky. God says, ‘Go there.’ ‘Do this.’ and we have a choice. We can say, ‘Nah, we’ll just wait here on this shore,’ until Jesus is practically the one pushing the boat out to sea or we can obey and take the risk that we heard him correctly even if we’re not sure why it feels like we’re alone at times.
I think it’s important for me to take a moment to say that Jesus ‘never leaves us nor forsakes us.’ But in our feelings, we can often assume we’re heading out alone or that he somehow disappeared in the middle of our obedience. When our hearts don’t see him anymore and our circumstances change and get tough, it can cause us to question if we heard Jesus correctly. We could just give up and let the figurative wind and waves crash into us again and again. We could just wait and give up and have life happen to us while we wait for our rescuer.
However, I propose a different option. What if we continue to move forward in the direction that God gave us? We will have to be powerful and full of faith, but we will be continuing on course. It does require much strength to push through the ‘winds of life’ and we might find ourselves with a lot of worry and doubt, but… and this is what we need to be looking for… Jesus comes. When we’re in the midst of obedience to God and our circumstances change, we need to look for Jesus. When we see him, our faith rises. When we see him our hearts are lightened. We are reassured. We might even be more excited than when we started, but so much hinges on our attitude.
Will we gladly take Jesus into our boat? Will we put aside the hurt and frustration of the moment, to fully accept him into our situation, even if we feel like he’s the one who ‘got us into this situation in the first place’? Will we trust again? Will we gladly take Jesus into our boat? I hope I will! I hope we all will and that we’ll see our circumstances immediately change. I hope we’ll see our perspectives shift to a focus on him and that everything around fades away and we land where he first sent us. When we openly partner with Jesus, anything is possible.
What will we do?…
So, how about you? Are you in the midst of obeying God right now but it feels like everything’s turned upside down? Does it seem like Jesus isn’t with you in your present moment? What will you do? Will you passively wait until Jesus ‘shows up’ or will you continue on with action to the destination that you were sent by Jesus? When you see him again in your present moment, will you gladly take him into your boat?
It seems like it’s worth a try at least! I pray that Jesus is with you wherever you go and that you experience him always by your side. But, if you’re at a place where it’s hard to see him, I pray that he comes to you ‘on the water’ and your heart, mind and spirit are buoyed up! I pray that you will gladly take him into your boat and immediately be at your shore.