John 6:16-21 from 24/9/17
By porthkerryandrhoose, Sep 28 2017 11:17AM
Things don't always go as you would expect them to. I was reading this article in the Express online from July 10th:
"It must have seemed like such a good idea at the time. Last November Dafydd Davies asked his friend Dylan Lewis to be best man at his upcoming wedding. One of Dylan’s tasks was to arrange the stag party. He chose the pleasant city of Hamburg in Germany – not too wild, not too staid – just a couple of hours away and with plenty of beer.
What he did not realise was that other people were choosing Hamburg as a location for that couple of days too – among them Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and other members of the G20 summit. When the 23-strong party flew into Helmut Schmidt airport, President Trump was landing in Air Force One nearby. After arriving at the Hotel, the boys – dressed as beret-toting onion sellers, a saucy maid and a packet of French Fries as a nod to the groom’s gallic family history – noticed a heavy police presence. They were in the centre of the planned protest march called, “Welcome To Hell”.
But the Welsh are made of stern stuff: as up to a 100,000 anti-capitalist protesters rioted and the police called in reinforcements, the boys just got on with celebrating. “So far today, we’ve seen 50 or 60 police vans with sirens going past when we were having breakfast, plus around five of these tank-like things with water cannons,” said Adrian Harvey one of the stags."
More delicate souls might have been put off, but not Welsh lads on a stag do! Still, it was far from what they had expected, and fortunately for them, and for the bride to be, no doubt, they stayed safe. Now, in spite of the bravado, it can't have been a comfortable experience. There had to have been moments when they wondered what they had got themselves caught up in. Perhaps you can think of times when you've expected things to turn out one way but the reality was quite different.
There's something of that in our gospel reading for today. It's a little while since we were looking at John's gospel together, so I'll remind you of what happened last time (It was Rhiannon preaching and her excellent sermon can be found on our sermon blog, if you, like me were away and missed it). The disciples had had an amazing day. Jesus had been teaching them on a mountainside, when thousands of people joined them. They had come a long way, and so Jesus fed them, using only 5 loaves and 2 fish. There was so much food, that 12 baskets of leftovers were collected afterwards. It was the most wonderful miracle, so reminiscent of the time when God had fed his people in the wilderness with bread from heaven, manna. That was the message the people should have received - here is Jesus, God with you, God about to rescue you. But the deeper message was missed, and the people just wanted him to look after their social, economic and national needs, and so v14 & 15 "After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say 'Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world. Jesus, knowing they intended to make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself."
And that's where our reading continues this morning. The crowd has dissipated, the disciples are alone, and it's getting dark. Not really how the disciples imagined the day to end, I don't suppose. We're going to look at what happened in 3 sections: the Confusion of the disciples, the Comforting words of Jesus and the Constant purpose of God.
The Confusion of the Disciples
What had begun as a wonderful day, listening to Jesus' teaching and seeing him perform an amazing miracle, ended in confusion and fear. Jesus had walked off, they'd gone to their boat to sail for Capernaum, but Jesus hadn't come back, the sun had set and the wind had picked up. Then through the dark and the spray a ghost was heading towards them. They were terrified. How could such a good day have gone so wrong? We can ask that question when things go wrong for us. Sometimes we can be happily going along in life, our relationship with God growing, our quiet times enjoyable and interesting, our prayer life fruitful, when all of a sudden something goes wrong. A phonecall with bad news, the unexpected meeting at work, the illness which strikes out of the blue. We're left thinking 'How has this happened? Why has this happened?' The 19th Century bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, has some words of wisdom for us, written in his commentary on this passage: "Trial, we must distinctly understand, is part of the diet which all true Christians must expect. It is one of the means by which their grace is proved, and by which they find out what there is in themselves. Winter as well as summer, cold as well as heat, clouds as well as sunshine - are all necessary to bring the fruit of the Spirit to ripeness and maturity. We do not naturally like this. We would rather cross the lake with calm weather and favourable winds, with Christ always by our side and the sun shining down on our faces. But it may not be. It is not in this way that God's children are made 'partakers of his holiness' (Hebrews 12:10). Abraham, and Jacob, and Moses, and David, and Job were all men of many trials. Let us be content to walk in their footsteps, and to drink of their cup. In our darkest hours we may seem to be left - but we are never really alone." Wise words.
And they leads us on to the second point: the Comforting words of Jesus. What the disciples took to be a ghost was none other than Jesus himself, walking on the water. But they didn't recognise him until he spoke v20 "It is I; don't be afraid." Comforting words, spoken by a loved one can help us through the greatest of trials. Even calm words issued by a stranger can help. On our cruise in the summer, as the waves reached 10 metres in height, our captain Uge gave his usual midday address: "Today the winds are storm force 10, waves between 8 and 10 metres. It is OK." His calm nature was most reassuring! And there's no doubt that Jesus' words also had an effect. We're told that the disciples were willing then to take him into the boat, and in another act of Jesus' power over nature, they arrived straight away at Capernaum. But there's more here than just the comforting sound of Jesus' voice and his encouragement for them not to be afraid. The first 3 words 'It is I', seem so insignificant in English, but that's because the translation masks what Jesus was really saying. His exact words were 'I am' - the same words God spoke out of the burning bush to Moses, the very name of God. Just as he had given the people bread from heaven, and had shown them by his actions that he was God, now he was putting it into words. The disciples would be safe because God was with them. Whatever happened.
Everything was back on track again. They were in Capernaum, ready for Jesus to explain the miracle of the loaves and fishes. We see the Constant purpose of God. Our third point. In John's gospel, John is always careful to record the explanations of the miracles. If you remember back to John's reasons for writing, stated in John 20:30-31, you see Jesus' purpose for his ministry too "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name". It had to have been tempting for Jesus to give into the crowd and let them make him king, just as they wanted to in v15. After all, ruling in an earthly way was one of the temptations the devil threw at him just as he was starting out. But diverting his ministry to a social and political one, however much he loved the people and the nation, was not what he had come to do. He had come to give eternal life, and that would only be possible through his death on the cross. He had to keep on teaching the people who he was and what he had come to do, because that was the way to help them in a permanent way. Eradicating poverty, overthrowing the wicked Romans would have been amazing, but the people would still have died eventually. And if he hadn't been their sacrifice, how could they ever be reunited with their father in heaven? Their bellies might be full in this world but their souls would never make it to heaven. Jesus had to keep on with the constant purpose of God, to save his people, however difficult it would be. And praise God that he did.
So we're seen this morning the confusion of the disciples, confusion that we often feel when trouble strikes, yet in the confusion we heard the comforting words that Jesus-God-was with them. He's with each of us who calls on his name. And finally we saw the constant purpose of God, in spite of great temptation facing Jesus, to bring his people to be with him in eternity through the death and resurrection of Jesus. May we place our trust in this Jesus and receive life in his name.