Just a few hours before, the apostles had witnessed one of the greatest miracles of the past two years. They had been on a mountaintop of spiritual and physical blessing, but now they were in the middle of yet another violent and unpredictable Sea of Galilee storm. They were “toiling” at the oars to prevent their dinghy from going down. The word means to be harassed, distressed, and tortured! In other passages it is translated as tormented or vexed, and the word was used to describe testing the purity of precious metals.
Keep in mind that the disciples didn’t want to be out there in the first place. They wanted to be with Jesus, but He had made them get on board and begin the trip without Him. They were in this miserable mess because they obeyed Jesus. There is a lesson here we must not miss, and I cannot put it any better than Warren Wiersbe when he wrote:
Spiritual blessings must be balanced with burdens and battles; otherwise, we may become pampered children instead of mature sons and daughters.
Graham Staines was a Baptist missionary from Australia to India. He lived and served in the province of Orissa for most of his adult life. He met his wife Gladys on the mission field, and that is where their three children, Esther, Philip, and Timothy, were born. In January of 1999, Graham took his sons to the remote, almost inaccessible, village of Manoharpur for a four-day jungle camp. The terrain was so rough that reaching the village required an off-road vehicle. Staines had a four-wheel-drive Willys minibus that allowed him to get there, and he and his sons slept in the vehicle each night. Graham and his sons were well known and well loved by the villagers there, and he would teach them every year on a broad range of subjects ranging from public health and hygiene to the gospel, which he unapologetically proclaimed. God blessed his labor with fruit; about 22 low-caste families were converted.
Over the years, Hindu radicals in the surrounding district used the false charge of “forced conversions” to incite hostility against Staines' work. Sometime in the early-morning hours of January 23, a mob of more than 100 angry Hindu radicals approached the vehicle where Graham Staines, nine-year-old Philip, and seven-year-old Timothy were sleeping. The group surrounded the automobile, trapping Staines and his sons inside. They doused it with gasoline and then torched it, burning Staines and his two young sons alive. The mob kept would-be rescuers at bay for more than an hour; making sure the missionary and his sons had died. As flames engulfed the vehicle, the mob danced and some shouted, “Justice has been done; the Christians have been cremated in Hindu fashion.”
If you never obey Christ you may miss some of those contrary winds, but you’ll never experience the winds of the Holy Spirit in your sails bearing you on in service and power. Obedience will bring contrary winds, but it also brings abundant and everlasting joy.
We are told that in the evening – “when even was come” – Jesus saw the ship in the middle of the Lake, and “he saw them toiling,” but He didn’t come to them until “the fourth watch of the night.” The fourth watch of the night is from 3 – 6 am. Jesus waited to come to them. As the evening wore on, and Christ waited, the worse things became. It looked as though Christ was neglectful of them. It seemed as though He had forgotten to be gracious.
In the midst of a difficult obedience it would be easy, having toiled all night at the oars but making no progress, to begin and second-guess your obedience and the One whom you have obeyed. “Doesn’t Jesus see what I’m going through? Doesn’t He know? Does He care? Why did He allow this to happen?” During difficult days human tendency is to imagine a blind God, but our text proves otherwise. “He saw them toiling in rowing.” He was aware of the storm. He was aware of their challenging situation. He was not indifferent or uncaring, but He waited before coming to them.
This tested the faith and patience of the disciples. Believers and churches would do well to remember that the Lord not only is Creator of the light but of the darkness as well. Not only does He bring prosperity, but He creates calamity; not to tempt His people but to test them. We would also do well to remember that God is never in a hurry. We may believe that His watch needs a battery, but He waits for His own good time. Omnipotence can afford to wait. It is always sure of success, and because omnipotence is combined with infinite wisdom and love, we may be certain that God not only does everything in the right way, but also at the best time. The prophet Isaiah wrote (30:18):
And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD [is] a God of judgment: blessed [are] all they that wait for him.
Dear saint, whatever may be the path appointed by the Lord, however difficult and distasteful, continue therein, and in His own good time the Lord will deliver you.
Jesus sees us, empathizes with us, prays for us, protects us, and, in His own and perfect time, delivers us. We must continue to row; overcoming fear with faith. Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. We must recognize the insufficiency of our own strength and wisdom and learn that His grace is sufficient.
That is not always an easy lesson to learn, as the apostles prove. Sometime between 3 and 6 in the morning, having painfully struggled throughout the night at a task they had not chosen for themselves, Jesus came to them walking upon the same waves by which they were harassed. It seemed as if He would walk right past them! Was He ignoring them? No! Here is Pink yet again:
Christ does not force Himself upon us. He never intrudes. He waits to be “received.” It is the welcome of our hearts that He desires.There had to be some response from them before He would be of any benefit to them.
The response could have been better. Mark says: "But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled." Their fears had mastered them. They did not at first recognize Jesus because they were not expecting to see Him. They were not expecting deliverance. The miracle of the loaves and fishes, an event they had just witnessed hours before, was now completely forgotten. How tragically accurate they portray us. We so quickly forget the Lord’s past mercies and deliverances; so little do we really expect Him to answer our prayers of the present. We may even reject His help when it comes because it does not come in the way we expected.
The voice of the Lord should clear our heads. Terrified at His sight instead of trusting, Jesus immediately spoke to them: “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid”; ten simple words that changed everything for the wearied apostles.
"Be of good cheer" – A word to their emotions
"It is I" – A word to their minds
"Be not afraid" – A word to their wills
Total chaos was followed by total calm once Christ stepped into the boat. We read:
And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not [the miracle] of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
Time and again, and especially just hours before, Jesus had shown Himself to the Shepherd of His people. They should have known that He would not abandon them in their troubles. The Lord had sent them on their way and come what may He would see them through.
Having seen so many miraculous works their hearts were calloused. Like Herod with John the Baptist, it is possible for us to be hearers of God’s Word and still have hard hearts towards it. That generally comes as a result of being hearers only and not doers. We must be both, and we must never cease to be amazed by God’s amazing grace, by the power of His mighty hand.