From Inside the Storm: Reflections on John 6.16-21
On Sunday I had the privilege of preaching the storm story we find in John 6:16-21, where John relays his brief account of the disciples caught in a storm aboard a boat in the center of the Sea of Galilee. It is amazing to me that so much can flow out of so little. All we get are six verses, but from those six verses there is so much richness because of the story’s interconnectedness with everything else in the chapter and the layers of Jesus identity John is gradually peeling back through his gospel account.
One of the keys to unlocking this story’s wealth is its vantage point. Whereas Matthew and Mark unpack the scene from Jesus’ perspective, John uniquely tells the story from the viewpoint of the twelve men in the middle of a storm. When you think about the day the disciples have had, the poignance of this scene is only amplified. Here are twelve guys who had spent their whole day spending themselves, working alongside Jesus to meet the needs of thousands who were clamoring to hear this miracle-working rabbi and be touched by him. When the day comes to an end, though they have seen approximately 20,000 people fed with the contents of a little boy’s sack lunch, they are wasted. And then just a few hours later they are in a storm.
This is a narrative that is likely not all together unfamiliar to people who follow Jesus. After all Jesus himself said, “In this world you will have trouble (read storms).” Later in the New Testament James tells the believers to whom he is writing that they are to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” So, the storms of life are an expected reality that take on a variety of forms. Additionally, followers of Jesus recognize that storms often brew immediately on the heels of seasons of intense ministry. And this is where the disciples find themselves as Jesus comes to them walking on the water.
So why does Jesus come to them walking on the water immediately following the feeding of the five thousand? It seems that Jesus is intent on clarifying something that may not have taken deep enough root in the disciples’ hearts. The story of Jesus’ food multiplication miracle concludes with Jesus saying, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” Then John writes, ““So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.” Twelve baskets, twelve disciples. And in the provision of the baskets Jesus is communicating the same thing he is communicating as he comes to the disciples on the water. Jesus’ point in providing the baskets was: I am bread from heaven, I am all-satisfying, I am able to provide exactly what you need. And Jesus’ point in coming to them on the water is much the same: When you serve me and you give and give and give until you think you can give no more, I will take care of you. I will always be enough for you. And when you feel you are at the end of your rope, you can be confident that I know what you need… I will be there for you.
Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, it is often inside the storm where your thoughts of God expand, as the storm clouds swirl above you, that your estimation of the Almighty rises closer to the true height of his being. This happens as you come to the realization that the storms of life don’t detract from Jesus’ power; they validate it. He is simultaneously able to allow every storm you go through (or he sends you into, read Mk. 6:45) and promise that he is able to work all things for the good. And true appreciation of that truth most deeply lays hold of your heart in the midst of the storm.