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Mar 15, 2020

Don't Panic!

Passage: John 6:16-21

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Miracles in John

Keywords: fear, peace, miracles, panic, obedience, covid-19


As God would have it, this passage on the 5th miracle of Jesus in John has a lot to do with fear and panic--something our whole world is experiencing right now with COVID-19. God is in all this world crisis and calling out to each of us just as Jesus did so long ago in this miracle. Be not afraid!


Don’t Panic!

John 6:16-21

Series:  Miracles of Jesus in John, #5

Get Acquainted:  What was a time in your life when you started to panic…or completely did?

Q:  WHEN do we panic?  (When something in life is out of control; when we are afraid; when we don’t know how to solve a serious problem.)


  • Coming home from an Elder meeting when I got my only official sabbatical after 10 years of tough ministry…and sliding off the freeway…backwards…at 50 mph.
  • Losing one of our children in the biggest shopping mall in Madrid, Spain.

Q:  Regardless of whether it’s justified or not, would you say that our nation and world is in a panic right now? 

Q:  What are signs of panic right now?

  • Runs (not “the runs”) on TP.—Story of fellow in line at Costco at Honolulu 2 weeks ago.
  • Irrational buying of anything.
  • Emotions out of control
  • Stock market: Did all those companies turn into terribly managed companies in a week?
  • Schools closing?
  • Arbitrary sized gatherings (What’s magic about being under 250? Is Mr. 251 the carrier?)

As God would have it, we’re in a passage today, the 5th of 7 miracles in John’s Gospel.  I’m pretty sure it’s a passage where the disciples panicked…though it didn’t start that way.  It actually started on the heels of one of Jesus’ most amazing miracles, the feeding of the 5,000 (+maybe 3 times that?) Eric preached on last week.  Remember the context here:  Jesus had just blessed probably 10-15,000 people with a miraculous multiplication of dried fish and fresh pita bread.  As Eric reminded us last week, this miracle was probably as much for the disciples’ faith as it was for thousands of empty stomachs.  He had brought them to the end of their resources and abilities so they could come to the beginning of His power and provisions. 

[Read John 6:16-21]

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,[b] they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t 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’s account here is rather cryptic.  He leaves out quite a bit that the other Gospel writers include in Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52.  They all follow the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 with the miracle of Jesus walking on the water, but John’s is a compressed version.

For example, John doesn’t tell us that Jesus compelled the disciples to get into the boat. He doesn’t tell us that Jesus sent the multitude away or that He was praying on the mountain. He omits Mark’s comment (6:48) that Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars or that He intended to pass them by when He came to them on the water. He doesn’t say that the disciples thought that they were seeing a ghost (although he does say that they were frightened). He doesn’t mention Peter’s walking on the water (Matt. 14:28-31). He doesn’t tell us that the storm was instantly stilled when Jesus got into the boat. And it’s puzzling why John, who wants us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, omits the disciples’ worshipful response, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (Matt. 14:33).

Also, John doesn’t offer any comment on why he includes this story. He just gives it in this compressed form and then the following narrative goes back to the feeding of the 5,000, as Jesus expounds on His being the bread of life.

So you have to ask, “Why did John include this sign in his Gospel? What does he want us to take away from meditating on it?”

Like Eric’s focus on the impact of the previous process surrounding the miracle of the feeding of the 5K, this miracle also seems to focus on the impact this miracle has on the disciples. You would think that fresh off a massive miracle, the disciples wouldn’t need anything else to build their faith.  Hold that thought as we jump into this passage.

Let’s start with vs. 16—“When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum.” 

[Sea of Galilee slide—explain location.]

In Mark’s account in Mark 6, we are given a little more detail about exactly why the disciples took off in their boat without Jesus.  Vs. 45 says, “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”

            So, imagine you are one of the disciples.  You’ve just gathered up 12 rather large baskets of leftover fish and bread, and you no sooner do so than Peter saddles up next to you and whispers, “He Andrew, James, John;  Jesus wants us to head back to Bethsaida… without him.  He’s going to dismiss the crowd.  Meet you at the boat in 5!”  And they do. 

The sun is just setting on the horizon. It’s one of those beautiful, Galilean sunsets.  The air is pleasant and calm.  The water is like glass. And finally it’s just these 12 guys in a boat.  No people to take care of.  No deadlines to meet.  As they pull away from the shore, the noise of the crowd fades and all you can hear is the splash of the oars on the water as the 6 who drew the short straws quietly row in unison away from the shore.    

You wonder how it’s going back on the shore for Jesus as he must have dismissed the crowd by now.  He told you He would be taking a little time up in the hills to pray before he joined you on the others side.  You may even find this habit of his a little strange.  Why does he prefer to get away from these massive crowds that are willing to follow him to the ends of the earth.  After all, there was a lot of talk by a lot of people just before you left shore that a whole lot of folks are believing that Jesus is the Prophet Moses predicted way back in Deut. 18:15 who would deliver the people of Israel from their oppressors. 

Why did Jesus seem so disinterested in that?  Nobody could draw a crowd like Jesus.  Nobody could do miracles like Jesus.  Certainly NOW would be a perfect time to get rid of these pagan Romans with their pagan ways!  Something deeply spiritual was happening in the land these days.  Surely now God would hear the prayers of hundreds of years and hundreds of thousands of people for what God had promised—a new nation led by the Messiah himself. 

But Jesus kept literally running away from it all.  In fact, John tells us at the very end of the account of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 that, “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 that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”  (John 6:14-15)


But back to the boat.  Before you know it, it’s dark. And then it happens. You hear it coming before you feel it.  All of a sudden there is a blast of wind, like a wall of unseen power.  Before you can say, “Oye vey!” the waves are starting to splash into the boat and the rowing has taken on a new urgency.  What on earth was Jesus thinking when He commanded all of you to load up in this tub and head out into what was turning out to be not only an increasingly exhausting experience but downright panic-provoking exercise? 

            Here’s the first somewhat confusing truth from this whole miracle:  God occasionally calls us to take actions that will lead us into trouble…even real hardship. 

Q:  How many of us came to faith in Jesus because we wanted life to get easier?  Better?  Maybe you were even promised health and wealth?  And certainly God does promise benefits to those who follow Him (forgiveness, eternal life, joy, peace, etc.). 

But He doesn’t promise that we will be exempt from lots of problems in life, right? 

Q:  What problems did Jesus not promise to erase in our lives?

Q:  WHY would He do that? 

Q:  What was Jesus doing with the expectations and designs of the disciples for His own future (as the King they wanted)…and possibly theirs?

A:  He was thwarting them, delaying them, protecting them from their own mis-timed longings. 

ILL:  God protecting me from leading a larger church early in ministry before I had learned that I could enjoy life with Him apart from ministry.

APP Q:  What expectations do you have for what God will be and do in your life that may not be His plan for you?  Might some of the storms you are in actually be protecting you from other dangers that would be far more destructive to God’s plans for you?

(We probably won’t know until we’re disappointed by what he doesn’t do.)  God may well be protecting you from wrong timing or wrong actions.

Q: What was Jesus’ agenda for both His disciples and the nation of Israel at this time? 

  • Repentance—John the Baptizer >> preparing the way >> Disciples preaching the repentance and coming of the Kingdom.
  • Submission to God’s call on and agenda for their lives.
  • Eternal salvation.

--They wanted a Messiah that would just make life better… easier… more peaceful, more prosperous, less difficult, etc. 

--They wanted Israel to be restored as a dominant nation. 

--They wanted heaven; Jesus wanted His kingdom to come on earth before they went to heaven. 

Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Thankfully, God doesn’t see life exactly the way we do.  He sees what’s really important, what really matters, what really lasts for eternity.  He values character above comfort; faith before fluff; eternity more than ease. 

            Jesus is certainly going to show us miraculous things in life, but not every day.  And even on the days He choose to do miracles, that very same night he may chose to put you in the middle of a really difficult storm in life.  Some of life’s lows follow right on the heels of divine highs. 

Truth:  God will take us from the miraculous to the messed-up so that He can help us keep growing up.  He will send us into the crowds to be servants who experience His miracles close-up as we feed hungry people and watch Him work in ways most people will never get to see.  But He will also send us into the storms of life that we never expected.

            And it may even feel like He’s not with us. 

John 6:18—"A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.”

Matthew 14:23,24—"Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.”

Mark 6:48—"He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”

Q:  Where was Jesus all this time?  [Doing the best thing He possibly could for them—spending time with the Father.]

Q:  What was He doing?  [Praying…hearing from the Father about taking a short-cut across the lake… getting ready for his next miracle…watching out for them… taking note of their predicament…interceding for them.]

Q:  What’s the “strong wind” blowing in your life right now that’s got you wondering where on earth is Jesus?  What is causing you to question God’s care for you? His interest in you?  Whether He is with you or not? 

            Jesus has His eye on you.  He is praying…interceding for you, right now.  Whether you’re in a heap of hurt because you did something stupid or whether you’re about ready to drown because you did exactly what He asked you to do, Jesus still has His eye on you.  It’s possible that you are doing just what God asked you to do…and life is getting tougher. 

            Don’t believe the lie that Jesus isn’t noticing and isn’t working on your behalf. He most definitely is!

And then comes vs. 19—"When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.”

            Wait a Judean minute!  “Frightened”?  Why on earth would anyone in the middle of a storm, bailing like mad, rowing with all your might, having spent an entire sleepless night straining at the oars, be AFRAID of Jesus showing up in the storm?

Matthew’s account gives us one of the answers:  Matthew 14--25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

            Here’s a somewhat strange spiritual reality:  We don’t always recognize the presence of Jesus in the middle of the storm.  In fact, this passage leads us to believe that Jesus’ presence can provoke even more fear than the storm itself. 

ILL:  My experience serving in foreign missions feeling very distant and detached from God. Looking back, some of the things I was most afraid of…that were most different and difficult…were the very things that should have reminded me that Jesus was there with me.  I was too busy “straining at the oars” and “cursing the darkness/waves/wind.”

20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 

Fear does funny things to people.  It skews what we see about reality.  It makes it difficult to perceive reality correctly. 

Fear is a funny thing.  The things we fear usually…

  • Don’t come to pass.
  • We can live without (if you are fearing loss).
  • Are much less terrifying than what we imagine.

ILL:  She lived most of my growing up years in mortal fear of my father passing away in his 50s or 60s.  He lived to be almost 98 years old!  Sadly, her fear inserted a lot of tension into their marriage.  It caused her to try and control him with her anger in an attempt to control something she could never have possibly done. 

Fear not only can move us to the wrong action; it can immobilize us.  It keeps us from making decisions…or good decisions.  Someone has said, “The single most destructive thing you can do is nothing!” 

WHAT do you fear?  Conquering fear starts by identifying what it is we are actually afraid of. 

But it cannot stop there.  It must move us to Jesus Christ.  Only as we embrace Jesus rather than our fears will panic fade and life’s anxiety-provoking experiences actually lead us to blessings in Jesus. 

What we need to do is invite Jesus into our boat in the midst of our fears.  But you have to “be willing.”

21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Q:  Are you willing to bring Jesus into your boat, your life filled as it is with all your personal struggling and straining?

RESULT?  You will “reach the shore” you are needing far faster and safely than you every will by yourself. 


  • Invite Christ into the boat of your life.
  • Need to accept the reality that Jesus sees where you are and is interceding for you?
  • Need to embrace that obedience may mean more hardship in some ways than just sticking with the crowd?
  • Keep your eyes on Jesus.


A prayer attributed to St. Patrick many centuries ago.  It’s called the Lorica, named for a Roman coat of armor that is meant for the protection of the one wearing it.  It is a great prayer to pray at the beginning of a day…especially one where fear is clawing at your heart.

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me;

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise

Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me

I arise today

Through a might strength, the invocation of the Trinity.