16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 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. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; donʼt be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. – John 1:16-21
It’s early in the morning while I’m writing this blog post. I’ve got my coffee nearby and the house is still quiet. It’s actually one of my favorite times of the day.
I’ll turn on the necessary amount of light to avoid scalding myself with hot water. I’ll grind my coffee bean as quietly as possible (easier to do now that I have a manual burr grinder that I spin by hand).
It’s peaceful, even therapeutic.
Sooner or later, the sun will rise and the day and its deadlines and duties will start. There are the things I know will happen (or should happen, according to my calendar). Then there are the things that drop in my lap or come knocking on my door. They may be pleasant surprises or jarring interruptions.
Every day has its share of rhythm and rhymes. Let me explain.
A rhythm is a pattern, a sequence of sounds or events. A rhythm has a predictable flow. It might be your morning routine or workout schedule or a weekly appointment with a colleague or mentor. It could be a Bible study or small group that you’re a part of.
Generally speaking, you know what to expect with a rhythm. Rhythms give our day the structure we need to be productive.
Rhymes, on the other hand, tend be less predictable. In fact, we might only know one part of the rhyme and have to wait for the matching word or sound to be revealed. Like other things that are unknown, this often creates anxiety — maybe even tension and conflict.
When we’re not sure what will happen next, we may commit one of two mistakes: not doing anything at all or doing too much.
When something unexpected happens to you at work, you’ve just been thrown a rhyme. Unforeseen changes in the market, a doctor’s diagnosis. Rhymes may be big or small. There may be some we don’t mind leaving unresolved; others will beg to be completed, hounding us until we can make some sense out of it.
I imagine the original followers of Jesus had rhythms of their own. Prior to joining Jesus, they might have had routines that guided their days and weeks. Then Jesus came along, disrupted their rhythms and started introducing them to more rhymes.
When Jesus asked how they were going to feed the 5,000 people who gathered to hear him teach, he was only giving them the first part of the rhyme. Then he just left it dangling. Philip and Andrew both tried to finish the rhyme but couldn’t find the matching words.
If you’ve ever been unsuccessful at solving a rhyme, you know how frustrating that can be.
I can just imagine the disciples shaking their heads in wonder as they started distributing the food. Then being told to go pick up the leftovers!
As I read through John 6, that’s why the phrase “When evening came …” sticks out to me. After a day of mind-stretching food service, the disciples probably welcomed the arrival of night. It was the return of a rhythm. The crowds were gone, the leftovers were put away.
We know from Matthew and Mark’s account of this same story, that Jesus himself had instructed them to get in the boat and go to the other side. John’s account, read by itself, gives the impression the disciples just hopped in the boat and left Jesus behind (not that we don’t do that, but that’s not what happened in this story).
So, they got in the boat and started rowing and rowing and rowing. We know that they eventually had rowed three or four miles away from shore. By this time it had grown dark and they were battling a strong wind and rough waters.
And Jesus was not with them. Honestly, they probably didn’t expect to see him again until the next day when he joined them in Capernaum. At best, he’d catch a boat of his own and join them mid-morning. If he had to walk, it might be even later.
As far as they were concerned, this was their storm to work through. From John’s account, we have no reason to believe they feared for their lives. Several of them were professional fishermen. They had encountered a few storms before.
But they had never seen a ghost before.
At least, that’s what they thought they saw. A ghost walking on the water. As the figure got closer, they realized it wasn’t a ghost — it was Jesus and he scared the living daylights out of them.
John never tells us that they were frightened by the storm. But seeing Jesus walking on the water …
I wonder why that is.
This isn’t simply a matter of running into someone in a different context, like when you see a person from work when you’re out of town on vacation.
For a first century person who was born and raised around lakes and seas, storms were a normal part of life.
Seeing someone walk on the water wasn’t.
Sure, we like to say … “But they had just seen Jesus feed 5,000 people with five small loaves of bread and two small fish. They shouldn’t have been surprised.”
Easy for you to say.
How often have witnessed God perform a miracle one moment and then turn around a doubt his provision just an hour or a day later? And you weren’t even in a boat with howling winds and rough seas!
“It is I; donʼt be afraid.”
There’s no castigation or reprimand. He doesn’t tell them to suck it up and shoulder on.
“It’s me, Jesus. You don’t have to be frightened any longer.”
Only then were they willing to take him into the boat.
The process of becoming a better believer is messy. It often requires us to suspend our natural inclinations of what is possible and to become open to what doesn’t seem to make sense.
- It’s impossible to feed over 5,000 people with less than two Happy Meals.
- It’s impossible to walk on water and not sink to the bottom.
- It’s impossible to __________.
From a natural perspective, the first two miracles in John 6 are impossible.
But as Jesus often taught his disciples (and us), “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Here’s the catch: when we are faced with an impossibility, we only see one half of the rhyme. Our desire for answers kicks in and we begin looking for possible solutions. From a human standpoint, there might not be a satisfactory answer. In fact, it’s common to find no answer whatsoever.
But what we are failing to see is the other half of the rhyme. That half of the rhyme, the half that belongs to God, can only be seen through faith. By believing that “what is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Over the course of one day with Jesus, the disciples were having their faith muscles stretched in such a way that they would never be the same again.