I don’t know what it is about religious holidays, but I just can’t get too enthusiastic about them. I guess I’m less concerned about formalities, and more concerned about realities perhaps. Somehow, the more ceremonial and religious it gets, the less it does for me. So that’s my excuse why I’m not too concerned that my message this morning is not a typical Easter message. I guess I’m not your typical preacher, and this isn’t a typical church for that matter.
The fact is though, we celebrate Easter every Sunday. If it were not for the reality of the resurrection, we would still be meeting on Saturdays. But we meet on the first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the church established in the first century. Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs came several centuries later and as far as I can figure out have little to do with the resurrection.
But I don’t want to knock your traditions here this morning. Paul said in Romans 14:5, “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” So if the traditions of Easter celebrations help you to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth, then go for it.
But on the other hand, you shouldn’t be upset if I don’t follow the traditions of the holiday. I have been preaching through the book of John verse by verse for some time now and I see no reason to change course. If the resurrection isn’t true and didn’t happen, then everything I preach is worthless and void. So the fact of the resurrection is something that is essential to the foundations of our faith, and because of that we can build the church of Christ here on earth.
However, we should be careful not to add pomp and circumstance as a substitute for substance. Religious ritual and ceremony which was instituted by the law was what was done away with at the cross. So we have to guard against adding new ceremonies. Paul writing to the church at Galatia said in Gal.4:9 “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.…”
Here is the point I wish to make; there is a form of religious ceremonialism and mysticism that is acceptable and pleasing to the masses, and yet it is powerless to really make a difference in your life. This is what Paul warns Timothy about saying that such people “have a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
Jesus said that God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Worship then is not merely pageantry or ceremonies or rituals or even music. Worship requires first that you be made spiritual, by believing the truth of God and acting upon that truth in faith and trust.
The resurrection teaches us that we must die to the old man, and be raised to new life, spiritual life in Christ. In Adam we were all made dead spiritually. God said if you eat of the tree you will surely die. What died? Well, the spirit of man died immediately. The spiritual sustains the physical. So that in due time the flesh died. Thus all men are born dead spiritually. The cross of Christ illustrates that death that is unavoidable as a result of our sin. But by faith in Christ as our substitute affecting our atonement, we are made alive spiritually. And because we are alive spiritually, we can have life, and have it more abundantly.
Now that new life is what is being presented here in this chapter symbolically in the feeding of the 5000. Jesus is illustrating that He is the source of life. At the end of the chapter we are going to be looking at a rather long discourse by Christ about how He is the bread of life, by which we eat and are made alive spiritually. But in the first section we have two miracles which serve as illustrations of life in and by the Spirit. The feeding of the 5000, (which was just men, so probably closer to 15000 with women and children), and then Jesus walking on the water.
In the first miracle, the illustration teaches us that Jesus is the source of life. He is the bread of life. Bread being understood to be the staple by which life is sustained. And as Jesus supernaturally manufactured bread and fish from HIs hands, He powerfully demonstrates that He is the source of life. But if you look at vs.15, Jesus knew that the people weren’t interested in spiritual life, but only in temporal, earthly things. They wanted to make Him King. Everyone who follows politics recognizes that whoever can give the masses free food and free health care has the people’s vote. Jesus seemed to be healing everyone of their diseases, and now providing free food, so “hey, let’s make Him King!” They wanted a King to deliver them from Rome and Jesus seemed at that point like the deliverer Moses was from the Egyptians.
But that isn’t what Jesus wanted. He did not come to earth to set up a physical kingdom at this time. He said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” So Jesus did not come to enact a physical kingdom but to establish a spiritual kingdom. He came to make men spiritually alive, and once that element of the kingdom comes to completion, then He will come again physically and bring His physical kingdom into existence. So the principle is that the spiritual empowers the physical. That is an important principle of the Christian life. The spiritual empowers the physical. That’s what happened in the garden of Eden. When the spiritual died, the physical died.
And that is the operative principle for the life of a Christian. The spiritual gives life to the physical. That principle is going to be preached by Christ later on in this very passage; Jesus said in vs.63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
What Jesus did by feeding the 15000 was one of the greatest miracles in the Bible. I mean by that the magnitude of the miracle. It wasn’t one person being healed; but 15000 people eating food that He created. But what does that miracle teach us? It teaches us that the physical food that Jesus created and gave them to eat, may have sustained them physically, but it did not do anything for them spiritually. They were not saved as a result of eating the food that He provided. They would have been saved by responding in faith to what that taught; that He was the source of life, God incarnate. That’s the message that He was preaching, the message concerning the nature of the spiritual kingdom of God. If they had responded to that message, they would have been saved. But the eating of fish and bread did not save them.
Folks, for that reason, eating communion, or taking the mass, will not, cannot, save you. It does not impute righteousness to your account. Eph.2:8,9 says “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”
So though the feeding of the 5000 did not provide salvation, it illustrated that faith in Christ is the source of life, and that spiritual life as well as physical life comes through Him. But not all who heard Him that day, nor ate of the miraculous food He provided were saved. Only by receiving the spiritual food He offered could they be saved and receive spiritual life.
Now then what is the meaning of the second miracle? In this miracle we see Jesus sending the multitude away, according to the parallel passage in Mark 6, and then making the disciples to get into the boat and sending them across the Sea of Galilee. So note first of all, this is not a miracle for the mixed multitude, but it’s a miracle for the saved, the believers, for the church if you will. So that’s going to give us a context for how to understand it. It’s for His followers, those that already have believed in Christ,and consequently are made spiritually alive.
I believe in some respects that this event is a foreshadowing of what to expect in the Christian life, as we live the spiritual life that we have been given, particularly for these disciples, but also for us in the church as well. And that is evidenced by the fact that Jesus is separated from His disciples. They don’t want to go away from Him, but He has to send them away. And I think that this prefigures the ascension of Christ after His resurrection. He offers Himself as the bread of life which was broken for us on the cross, and soon after His resurrection He is taken up into heaven and His followers are left alone. In this event we notice that Christ is alone on the mountain praying or interceding with the Father on behalf of the disciples. In Mark 6:48 it says that Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars, and yet at that point He was on the mountain and they were several miles away on the sea in the darkness. This is a picture of the separation that the disciples would experience after His resurrection.
Now there are several things we can notice about this event. First of all, that trials are the predetermined, sovereign plan of God. Jesus knows what is going to happen, and yet He deliberately sends the disciples into a storm. You know, a lot of people expect that the Christian life is going to be a trouble free existence. That somehow, being a Christian is insurance that life is going to be smooth going. But the Bible doesn’t promise that at all.
In fact, if we had time I could show scores of texts that show that we are promised tribulation in the Christian life. We are promised persecution. We are promised hardships. That’s not to say that Christians are necessarily going to experience more difficulties than the unsaved. On the contrary, I think the Bible teaches us that by following God’s way we are delivered from many hardships. But the difference is that as Christians, God uses trials to teach us and refine us, to enable us to be stronger spiritually, capable of achieving more for the kingdom of God. That’s why James says in James 1:2, that we are to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
So Jesus makes the disciples go out without Him, and notice that though the disciples don’t really want to go, or necessarily understand why, they are obedient to the Lord’s commands. In fact, they continue to be obedient even though all the circumstances seem to be against them. It should have only been a short trip by boat of about 7 miles, but the wind started to pick up against them. The wind of course produces waves which makes it almost impossible to row the boat with any forward speed. And then it gets dark. So there is a lot going against the disciples, even though they are being obedient. In fact, the trip seems to take forever. They leave Jesus on the shore before sunset and start rowing. And Mark says that it was the fourth watch of the night when Jesus came walking on the water towards them. That’s between 3am and 6am. Can you imagine rowing a boat against a gale force wind, with waves crashing over the front of the boat for perhaps as long as 8 hours? Those disciples never imagined that the trip could have lasted so long.
There are so many things we can learn from that. The main thing I would emphasize is that the walk of faith, or the spiritual life is not easy. It’s not easy because it’s not normal. As a Christian, you are figuratively running against the wind. You are swimming against the current. The world is described in Ephesians 2:2 as a current, as a course in which the river of life flows. And it goes on to say that it is designed by the devil to keep you enslaved to it. So when salvation comes to us, and we are given new life in Christ, by which we walk in the Spirit, we are in effect striving against the forces of this world which are in opposition to us. And that is a battle. It’s so tempting sometimes to just give in to the current, to allow yourself to get swept along by the things of this world.
Notice in Mark 6:48, Jesus sees them straining at the oars. I hope you can picture that. These guys were straining. The Christian life can sometimes require a battle that tests all your resolve. I’ll give those disciples something. They persevered. They kept at it. Eight hours after saying goodbye to Jesus on the shore they are still rowing with all their might. And they are still only in the middle of the lake. Listen, sometimes our trials last a lot longer than we think they should. Sometimes we think that there is no way that God could be in this situation. It’s gone on too long. There are too many things working against us.
I’ve been guilty of thinking that far too many times. I start counting all the things working against us, all the things which have gone wrong. I start thinking about how long I’ve been rowing and have so little to show for it. I sometimes get so discouraged. And then there is the darkness. How depressing is the darkness. The nights when you wake up every hour and it’s still only the middle of the night. When you pray and doze off, and then wake up a few minutes later and do it again. And the nights seem to go on forever, and God seems so far away. Sometimes, we soldier on in obedience, but we have long since run out of joy and our hope is almost completely gone. There is a song which is from a sermon I think, that I’ve come across a couple of times this holiday, which says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a coming.” The idea being that when it’s dark and things look hopeless, hang on, Sunday’s coming. The darkness was crushing on the Friday of crucifixion, but on Sunday, when the sun comes up, it reveals that the Son of God has risen.
Well, the disciples still had a few hours to go before the dawn, and it was dark, raining, waves threatening to sink their boat, they had made practically no progress, the wind was pushing them backwards for every foot of progress they made, and it had gone on far too long. But what they didn’t realize was that Jesus was watching and praying for them on that mountain. Oh, if they could have known that truth, how much more encouraged they might have been. I want you to know something this morning, ladies and gentlemen. No matter how difficult your long night of trial, no matter how long you have been straining against the oars, no matter how long the wind has been against you, or how big the waves are breaking against your boat, Jesus is watching over you, and He is praying for you.
I want you to know that you are not alone on that dark night of your trial. Jesus is watching you and praying for you.If that doesn’t encourage you then I don’t know what will. But if you are HIs child, then He has promised to watch over you and to intercede on your behalf to God. Hebrews speaks of our great High Priest who is Jesus Christ, who has been seated at the right hand of the Father as our mediator, and intercessor. And so it says in Heb 4:13-16 “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Now that should be a great comfort. But notice that Jesus doesn’t just pray and leave them there to deal with it alone, but He comes to help them. However, I want to point out that Jesus delays coming until the poor disciples are worn completely out and the night is almost gone. You know, my biggest problem sometimes in the spiritual life is understanding the timing of God. Why does He so often delay? Why does He let us reach the end of our resources, the end of ourselves before coming to help us? I think it is to teach us that the end of our extremity is God’s opportunity. God wants us to reach the end of our strength so that we might come to rely on His strength. Paul said in 2Cor. 12:10 “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” The Lord’s strength is made perfect in my weakness, but I must recognize my weakness for His strength to be completed in me.
So Jesus finally comes to them, walking on the water in the midst of the storm. There is an interesting principle there. When you pray for someone, there is a good chance that God will appoint you to be the answer to your prayer. And Jesus illustrates that principle right there. I appreciate it when someone says I will pray for you. But sometimes, I think if they really prayed, they would find that God has given them the means by which to answer that prayer. God choses to use people to minister to His people. But sometimes I believe people try to get off the hook by praying and not doing. James said in James 2:16 if you say to someone in need, “’Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?”
But the disciples see what they think is a ghost on the water walking to them. Now a lot of people give the disciples a hard time about being frightened, but I think that when you have been in the middle of a fierce gale for 8 hours, and rowing yourself to exhaustion, probably haven’t eaten or drank anything because of the severity of the storm, you obviously haven’t been able to sleep either, and suddenly you see a figure walking on water through this storm and through the waves, you would probably freak out too.
So Jesus says to them, “Take courage, it is I, be not afraid.” I don’t know for sure what fear Jesus was referring to. Was it the fear of the waves, the fear of the wind, the fear of the night, or the fear of Him? I sometimes think that we fear complete surrender to the Lord almost more than we do the terrors of tribulation. It’s amazing to me sometimes to talk to someone who is caught up in some destructive sin, and it has almost completely destroyed their life. They have lost everything or are about to. And yet when you tell them that the only hope that they have is to surrender to the Lord and ask Him to help them you would think that you just asked them to do something terrifying. People are so afraid to surrender completely to the Lord, to ask Him to be their Savior. And I can only guess it’s because they are afraid that they will have to let go of the steering wheel of their lives and let God have control. We are so conditioned to try to control our lives. And the devil’s lie is that we still have control even when our lives are clearly out of control.
But I suppose at it’s simplest Jesus is saying that if we are God’s children, and we are doing what He tells us to do, we are living in obedience, then He is in control over the events of our life and we don’t need to be afraid. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; there is no safer place on earth than to be in the will of God, and there is no safe place outside of the will of God. If you are doing what God has told you to do, then you need not fear what man or nature can do to you. Rom. 8:31 “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
This miracle illustrates that not only is God for us, but He is with us. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In the storms of our Christian life, we can be certain that not only does God superintend the trials we go through, but He has promised that Jesus would pray for us and watch over us as we go through them, and that He will be with us when we go through them. He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He says in Isaiah 43:1-2 “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel,”Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,Nor will the flame burn you.” We can be unafraid of life’s trials when we know that the Source of life is with us.
And there is one more application that I want to make today which is that He is the strength and the supply we need to do what He tells us to do. The disciples had rowed all night and made practically no progress. But John tells us that when Jesus got into the boat with them, they were immediately at the other side of the lake. It says in vs.21, “So they were willing to receive Him into the boat.” Listen, that’s not talking about salvation, but sanctification. Jesus gives you new life at justification, but He empowers your life through sanctification. You get the power to overcome sin, and the power to get through temptation and trials when you let Jesus take command of your boat. That’s the secret to sanctification. We have been given the power to triumph over sin and temptation, but it’s not in our strength, it’s not in our straining at the oars, it’s in giving Jesus permission to captain our vessel. When we look to Him for wisdom in every decision, for guidance in every action and then let Him direct our lives according to His will, then we will find ourselves arriving safely at our destination.
The destination for a Christian isn’t just heaven, ladies and gentlemen. The destination for a Christian is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. To be remade in the image of God. To reflect the light of Christ in our lives. And to do that in our own power and might is not possible. The only way it’s possible is to be filled with the Spirit of God, in accordance with the truth of God, and in obedience to the word of God, and in the power of God, we then walk as Jesus walked.
To be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ is to be sanctified here on earth, and then one day to be glorified with Him in heaven. That’s the purpose of the trials of life, to sanctify us for His purposes. Paul said in Rom. 8:28-30 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
That’s the lesson we need to learn from this passage; that Christ is the source of life because He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the beginning and the end. What He has called us to, He is able to make possible. But in doing so He often brings us through times of difficulty and trial, and though sometimes it seems to take forever, He is working in us that which is pleasing to Him, to bring about conformity to His Son, that we might be His representatives here on earth.
In closing, let me remind you of what I said at the beginning. The physical cannot produce the spiritual. You must be born of the Spirit of God to have spiritual life within you. Then once you are spiritual, the physical is empowered by the Spirit of God, so that we might do the works of God. The question I have for you is do you have life in the Spirit? Have you been born again by the Spirit of God? If not, then today I offer you the Bread of Life. Believe in Him and receive life.
And if you are saved, then I hope that you have come to know more completely the process of our spiritual life. That our purpose is to be conformed to the image of Christ, and to do the works of God, so that others may see our good works and glorify God. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to mean swimming against the current, but God has a plan for you, Jesus is praying for you and interceding on your behalf, and He will come to you and help you if you will receive Him as captain of your soul. He is the source of our life, and the source of our strength, and He is ever ready to help us in time of need.