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Jesus terrifies the disciples by walking on water
John Chapter 6, verses 16-21
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
As darkness was coming, the disciples left that place at Jesus’ directive, but without him (Matthew 14:22). Presumably, they expected to meet Jesus back at Capernaum.
They were far from shore when a fierce storm came up. They had rowed more than three miles, mostly fightingwind-whipped waves, when they looked up and saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. The time by then was between 3:00 and 6:00 A.M. (Matthew 14:25).
The sight terrified the disciples. Already weary and worn from the ordeal, they were sure they saw a ghost (Matthew 14:26). But Jesus spoke assuring words: “It is I; don’t be afraid.”
When the disciples heard Jesus’ words, they were convinced and took him into the boat. With that, the storm stopped and “immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” One moment they were in deep, raging water, battling to keep the boat on course, and the next they saw Jesus walk on the waters, the storm abate, and the shore appear before them. Once more Jesus performed a miracle to show them who he was.
Jesus’ words, however, made all the difference, as they do for us. Life has many storms and always will. Sometimes life seems like a never-ending battle against howling winds. Still, we need only to hear Jesus say again, “It is I; don’t be afraid,” and calm returns. He says it in his eternal promise to each of us.
Once again Jesus spoke words that have a special significance that is not obvious in English. His first words were simply, “I AM.” In 4:26, we noted how that expression is the name God told Moses to use to identify God to the people of Israel. That name matches Jehovah, or Yahweh. In Hebrew, Yahweh and the verb “to be” use the same consonants.
We don’t know if the disciples thought of the connection between Jesus’ “I AM” and Yahweh, but we do know they confessed there in the boat, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Soon, “I AM” expressions would become more obvious from Jesus.
Certain words seem to echo across the pages of John’s gospel: “believe,” “live,” “light,” “Son [of God],” and “I am.” The repetition reminds the reader that the gospel of John is a shallow pool in which a child can wade; for even a child will come away with the message “Believe and live.” At the same time, this gospel is an ocean full of wonders that the most eager explorer cannot fully fathom in a lifetime of searching.
We can think of John’s gospel, especially Jesus’ discourses, as spirals. Important thoughts for our faith keep coming back to us, working stronger faith in us, as we follow the spirals upward.
John Chapter 6, verses 22-24
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat hadbeen there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
The crowd stayed overnight on the far shore. They may have expected to see Jesus the next morning. They had seen his disciples leave on the only boat there. But when the sun came up, neither Jesus nor his disciples were to be found.
Other boats came from Tiberias on the western shore, so the people boarded the boats to leave. They headed for Capernaum in order to find Jesus because they still wanted to make him their bread king.
Jesus offers the Bread of Life to the misguided Jews
John Chapter 6, verses 25-27
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
When the people found Jesus, they naturally asked when he had gotten there, since they had not seen him leave the other shore. Typically, however, Jesus told them what they needed to hear rather than what they asked. He stressed the truthfulness of what he was about to tell, as he would two more times before ending their discussion (verses 32,53). This was a solemn moment of truth for them.
“You are here for the wrong reasons,” Jesus told the people. “You have not understood the signs I have done. I have something much better to give you.”
People can eat only a certain amount of food, and they usually need less than they eat. What’s left eventually spoils. In the hot Mediterranean climate without modern refrigeration, food would not keep long at all. So Jesus warned the people not to focus all their energies on getting the “food that spoils, but . . . food that endures to eternal life.”
Had the people understood Jesus’ miraculous signs, they would have known that he was the Christ sent from God. They would have received him as the Son of God and Savior. They would have thought more of their spiritual welfare than their bodily welfare.
Jesus had food to give them, but not the kind they sought. His food remains for eternal life. He came as the quintessential human being, the Son of Man, to give people eternal life. God set his seal on the Son in his humanity by sending the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and speaking from heaven at Jesus’ baptism. Every miraculous sign also echoed the Father’s approval.
If Jesus’ words had meaning for those people, they speak loud and clear to the materialistic people of every age. We need to listen today.
The apostle John uncharacteristically reported the feeding of the five thousand after the three other gospel writers had also included it. We have noted how John usually assumed his readers were familiar with the other gospel accounts. But only John’s gospel has recorded the discourse that now follows, which is most meaningful when we realize it happened the day after the miraculous multiplying of bread.
John Chapter 6, verses 28-29
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Jesus had just said he came to give them eternal life, but they asked what they must do to do the works of God. There are none so deaf as those who will not listen.
Jesus’ answer again sounds the keynote of this gospel. It explains what Jesus meant by “food that endures to eternal life.” The work of God is not a work we do for God. It is the work God does in us so we believe in his Son. We believe and live.
John Chapter 6, verses 30-31
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
When hearts grow hard in unbelief, no miracle is enough to change that condition. These people had just seen Jesus multiply bread and fish to feed them, yet the next morning they asked him to give them a sign that would move them to believe.
Refusing to acknowledge Jesus’ spiritual message, they cleverly alluded to the manna from heaven that their ancestors ate under Moses in the wilderness. It’s as if they were saying: “If you’re serious about getting us to believe you, then at least do something on a par with what Moses did. He gave the entire nation manna from heaven for 40 years. You started with existing food and fed a much smaller group.” Their argument was the ancient equivalent of measuring the growth of a church by the number of mouths fed through its soup kitchen.
John Chapter 6, verses 32-34
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
In reality Jesus had already done the greater work just by being there, as will become clear. This truth begins with the understanding that Moses had not given the people the bread from heaven—God the Father had. However, the Father, Jesus’ Father, was continuing to give them the real bread even then.
With that, Jesus directed them to the spiritual truth found in him, much as he had spoken of the living water with the Samaritan woman (4:10). This spiritual bread from God comes down from heaven and gives life to the world—not to five thousand, not to one nation, but to the world.
Jesus’ words impressed the people. But like the Samaritan woman earlier (4:15), they thought only in literal, earthly terms. “From now on give us this bread that is from heaven and gives life to the world,” they said.
John Chapter 6, verse 35
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
The people had totally missed the point, which Jesus drove home now, leaving them without excuse. “I am the bread of life,” he spelled out for them. In Jesus the people had what they just asked for, except they didn’t see it that way.
This now is one of the more obvious “I AM” statements of Jesus to which we alluded earlier (4:26; 6:20). With it Jesus offers himself to human beings as God, Yahweh, who gives life much as bread gives life. But Jesus gives eternal life.
Jesus’ next words explain how we are to understand this truth. Whoever “comes” to Jesus “will never go hungry.” Whoever “believes” in Jesus “will never be thirsty.” The two clauses are parallel. “Comes” can be interchanged with “believes” and “hungry” with “thirsty.” In Jesus all spiritual hunger and thirst is satisfied. We have that blessing from Jesus as long as we believe in him.
The author of this book chose the words “as long as we believe” deliberately because from the words of Jesus we can correctly understand “whoever continues to believe.” Some of the people who followed Jesus believed at first. But they had a weak faith. In some cases they stopped believing and lost the blessings Jesus gave them.
It is important to keep this verse in mind as we read the rest of Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. What he said upset the Jews and started them arguing sharply (verse 52) because they took Jesus literally, and felt his words were hard to fathom. But Jesus was only expanding on this thought: believe in me and live.
John Chapter 6, verses 36-38
But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come but to do the will of him who sent me.
People who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah sent from the Father do not receive Jesus’ blessings. Those Jews had seen Jesus but did not believe. That lack of faith was a fatal flaw and marked them as. outside God’s family.
“All [the group] that the Father gives me will come to me,” explained Jesus. The heavenly Father reaches his chosen ones by the word of Jesus and works faith in them. Those with faith come to Jesus—they don’t reject him like those Jews—and Jesus receives them. He will not throw aside anyone who comes to him in faith.
Jesus had a mission from his Father in heaven, not one he made up for himself. Self-grandeur, such as becoming a king as the crowd wanted, had no place in Jesus’ thinking. What the crowd wanted ran counter to the will of God the Father.
John Chapter 6, verses 39-40
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus’ two statements in verses 39 and 40 express parallel thoughts. They say the will of the Father, who sent Jesus, has the following purpose:
• Verse 39 says: All that the Father has given Jesus
• Verse 40 says: Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him
• Verse 39 says: Jesus shall lose none (literally, will not destroy)
• Verse 40 says: shall have eternal life
• Verse 39 says: Jesus will raise them up at the Last Day
• Verse 40 says: Jesus will raise him up at the Last Day
Remember the idea of the spiral? Jesus returns to basic truths throughout his teaching.