The matter with which we are occupied in these
days is the training of disciples. One of the passages
which was at the foundation was: "Many other
signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the
disciples, which are not written in this book; but these
are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have
life in his name" (John 20:30,31).
Jesus did many signs in
the presence of His disciples, and John says that out of
those many he selected a few, that they might lead the
disciples into faith through which they would receive
life. So the training of disciples is unto life. We have
been seeing something of these seven signs that John
chose for that purpose: seven signs given by Jesus in the
presence of His disciples and intended to result in life.
We are the Lord's
disciples also, and He would train us in the same way, so
that the result of His training of us might be His own
life in us.
We now come to the
fifth of these signs.
This is not a very long
story, but it is very full. It is one sign which John
selected out of the many, and if he decided, out of so
many, to include this one in his seven, he must have
regarded it as being very important.
You will have noticed
that this was something for the disciples alone. The
multitude had gone away, and Jesus was going to deal with
the disciples alone. It was therefore something very
important as to their training.
Both Matthew and Mark
record this incident, and they have more to say about it
than John has, which means that John had just his one
object and was reducing this whole thing to one purpose.
But in Matthew and Mark it says that Jesus constrained
the disciples to enter into the boat, and that word
'constrain' is a very strong word. It means 'to make
necessary' - Jesus made it necessary for them to get into
that boat. That word 'constrain' is translated in several
other ways in the New Testament, and they will give you
some idea of how strong the word is.
You will remember the
incident when the woman with her infirmity pressed
through the multitude and touched the hem of the Lord's
garment, and Jesus knew that virtue had gone out of Him.
He looked round and said: 'Who touched Me?' The disciples
said: "Master, the multitude throng thee and
press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?" (Luke
8:45 - A.V.). That word 'throng thee' is the same word in
the Greek as this word 'constrain'. Have you ever been in
a multitude? How helpless you are when you get into a
great crowd of people! If they are all moving in one
direction, it is no use trying to go in the other. They constrain
you to go their way. As you see, it is a strong word.
Then, when Jesus was
arrested to stand His trial, it says: "And the
men that held Jesus" (Luke 22:63). That word is
the same as is here translated 'constrained'. I hope that
no one here has ever been arrested by a strong policeman!
But if that has ever been your experience, you know it is
no use trying to get away. He just takes hold of you and
says: 'Come with me', and it is no use resisting him. He constrains
you to go - and that is the word. Jesus constrained
His disciples to get into that boat. It was not just a
request - He did not say: 'Now, I would like you to get
into that boat.' He said: 'I want you to get into that
boat and go over to the other side.'
You may think that is
just a lot of words, but you will see before we have
finished that it is very important to this sign.
Now if Jesus knew what
He would do about feeding the five thousand when He asked
Philip: "Whence are we to buy bread, that these
may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself
knew what he would do" (John 6:5), He
knew quite well what He was doing when He constrained the
disciples to get into that boat. That is, He had a plan
and a purpose already in His mind - it was a deliberate
part of their training. Jesus was always putting these
disciples into situations which would make it necessary
for them to make a new discovery of Himself. We saw how
true that was in the case of the feeding of the five
thousand. He deliberately put His disciples into a
situation which made it absolutely necessary for them to
discover something new of Him. And that is exactly what
He was doing on this occasion. The storm that took place
on the lake was no surprise to Jesus - He knew all about
it before it happened. He knew it was going to happen -
and He constrained them to get into the boat.
So we come from the
story to the sign. I think there are four signs inside
this one sign, but let us remind ourselves of this - that
a sign is something more than an actual event. It implies
that the event has a deeper meaning than itself. John
does not call this a miracle: he calls it a sign. He says
that there is a meaning hidden inside this event, and we
are going to see what a very great meaning there was in
it. For we must remember that Jesus knew all things. He
was always teaching and working in the light of the
future, and the whole future was inside this sign.
Now look at the
details. Jesus at this time was up in the mountain
praying, making intercession, and you know that mountains
in the Bible always have a spiritual significance. They
speak of the high places. So the first thing we have
inside this sign is Jesus exalted to "the right
hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). The
Psalmist, in prophesying about Jesus, said: "Thou
hast ascended on high, thou hast led thy captivity
captive" (Psalm 68:18). "He
raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his
right hand in the heavenly places, far above all" (Ephesians
1:20). And what is He doing up there? The writer of the
Letter to the Hebrews tells us: "He ever liveth
to make intercession" (Hebrews 7:25). He is
praying, making intercession for the saints, up in the
heavenly mountain. "Thou hast ascended on
high" - 'Thou art making intercession.' That is
in this sign. Jesus was working with the future in mind
and was foreseeing the time when it would be true that
'all authority had been given unto Him in heaven and on
earth' - and, we may say, on the sea as well.
That is the sign in
general. Jesus is up on high making intercession, and He
was already, by this sign, telling the disciples
something about what it would be like in the future.
Then, next, note the
sign of the sea. I expect you know that the sea is often
used in the Bible as a type of the world and the nations
of this world. When Jesus called Simon, the fisherman,
from the sea He said: "I will make you fishers
of men" (Matthew 4:19) - in other words: 'I
will send you into the nations to be fishers.' The Sea of
Galilee was only a type of the world and its people. And
Peter did get a great multitude of fishes on the Day of
Pentecost. Read again the description of the people who
were in Jerusalem on that day. It mentions a whole list
of nationalities represented there, and sums it all up: "Every
nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). And this great
spiritual fisherman let down his net on the Day of
Pentecost and got a draught of fishes. The sea is quite
clearly a type of the nations of the world.
But how restless the
nations are! The sea is a very restless thing. It is
always changing, and you can never be sure of it.
Sometimes it is in a tempest, and then sometimes it seems
to be quiet and placid, but it is a very uncertain thing.
When the disciples set out that evening the sea seemed to
be quite quiet, but it was not long before it changed its
face. You will remember, on Paul's last journey to Rome
by ship, the sea was very calm when they set sail, but it
was not long before the whole situation changed. How
quickly the sea can change! How restless the nations are,
and how uncertain are the situations in this world!
Perhaps that was never more true than it is today - the
nations are in a tumult!
Now Jesus deliberately
sent these men into the sea, and that is the sign of the
sea, or the meaning of the sea.
What about the storm?
What is the sign of the storm? It says that a great wind
was blowing - 'there arose a strong wind'. There
are evil forces at work over and around the nations of
this world - the very atmosphere is full of them, and
these forces, like the wind, are stirring up things
against the people of God. That was never more true than
it is today. What a mighty wind is blowing against the
people of God! In so many nations, in Russia, in China,
in Congo, and in many other places, the evil forces are
against the Lord's people, stirring things up against
them. But we do not have to go to those countries to
prove it. If we are the Lord's people we are all
conscious that there are evil forces against us. There is
a strong wind blowing and it is contrary - it is hard
work to row against it. The Lord had told His disciples
that it would be like that, and that the time was coming
when 'they would be hated of all men for His sake'. He
said: "In the world ye have tribulation" (John
16:33). Yes, He had told them that it would be like this
- that, as they went into the nations, they would find
everything against them. He knew all about it a long time
before... but He sent them into it.
Next, the sign of His
walking on the sea. We note here in this story that
although Jesus was away up on the mountain, and they were
away down on the sea, He knew all about their situation.
He was not out of touch with them. He knew exactly what
was happening. That is, of course, simple, but it is very
comforting. If He is in Heaven (and I do not know where
that is), and we are down here on this earth, even if
there is a long way between the two, He knows all about
our situation. He is closely in touch with the position
that we are in.
The natural thing was
that they would be overpowered and forced under by this
sea. There was an occasion, you remember, when they were
on the same sea and the same kind of storm arose. That
time they awoke the Lord Jesus, saying: "Master,
we perish" (Luke 8:24). This was another
experience like that, and it was quite the natural thing
that these adverse forces should drown them, should prove
to be too strong for them. Naturally they would go under.
And Jesus came to them walking on the water.
What did the disciples
learn that night? That if Jesus is present all the
natural course of things is reversed. Natural laws are
just turned round the other way. He has ascendancy over
all the natural forces. His life is more powerful than
all the forces which are against it. And that is what He
was trying to teach these disciples.
Now, of course, we can
interpret this in our own experience, for we know
something about adversity in this world and the
tremendous spiritual forces that are against us. But
perhaps many of us know the other side of the story -
that naturally we should many times have gone under and
these other forces would have proved to be far too
powerful for us. The natural forces in our own selves are
far too strong for us. It is not difficult for us to go
down under the natural forces in our own make-up, in our
circumstances, in other people, and, yes, even in other
Christians - Paul had a real battle with the natural
forces in the believers at Corinth. And then there are
the natural forces in this world - but all these natural
forces are reinforced by super-natural evil forces. There
is something more than ourselves and other people - there
is the devil working in and through us, working through
other people and creating circumstances. I confess to you
that one of the problems in the New Testament which I
have never solved is something that Paul said: "We
would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and
Satan hindered us" (1 Thessalonians 2:18). I
have never been able to explain that! But, you see, the
enemy is right up against what is of the Lord in this
world, and his power reinforcing the natural things is
far too much for you and for me. Surely we have all
proved that! We do not have to go outside ourselves. Do
we not know that there are forces inside us which are too
strong for us? If we were left to ourselves they would
overpower us and put us under.
Yes, this storm on the
lake has a very real counterpart in the spiritual life of
the Lord's people. But what I began to say was this: that
we have not yet gone under. We who are the Lord's people
are not under yet! The enemy has had a good try to put us
under; people have had a good try to put us under; and
the world has had a good try to put us under - but so far
we are not under. Why is that? Because we are so strong?
Oh no, never that! Because we have such a determined
will? Because we say: 'I am not going under!'? That is a
challenge to the devil which he will quickly take up. Oh
no, it is nothing like that. It is because this same
Jesus is inside, this One who can walk upon the water. He
is not struggling with the water or the Wind - He has
them under His feet: "All authority hath been
given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore and
make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew
28:18,19). 'You will find plenty of storms there, but "lo,
I am with you all the days" (Matthew
28:19).' It is the power of His life that is stronger
than all the storms.
Jesus taught the
disciples this in His act, and they lived to prove it in
their own experience and history.
Note this last thing.
When our life is committed to Christ we are not always
kept from trouble. He very often deliberately leads us
into it. He constrains us to get into that boat.
Of course, we do not know what is going to happen, but we
do know that the Lord is making us go in a certain
direction - and then we meet trouble. We have to say:
'Well, the Lord has brought us into this trouble. He is
responsible for our being in this situation.' We may be
wholly committed to the Lord, but that does not mean that
we are going to be kept free from trouble. If you think
that by being thoroughly devoted to the Lord you are
going to be saved from trouble, you are going to find
that that is not true. A lot of young Christians think
like that. When I was a young Christian I used to think:
'If only I am out and out for the Lord, He will be out
and out for me and I will never have any trouble.' I have
lived to see that that is a mistake. No, wholly committed
people are not saved from trouble, but they are made
ascendant over it, or they are kept through it by His
power. The trouble does not destroy them. It becomes the
means in the Lord's hands of teaching them some very
valuable lessons, and afterward they say: 'It was worth
all the trouble.' "All chastening seemeth for
the present to be not joyous, but grievous: yet afterward
it yieldeth peaceable fruit... of righteousness"
I wonder what these
disciples said when they reached the other side! I
expect, if they had an opportunity to talk together, they
said: 'Well, that was a terrible experience! I really
wondered what was going to happen - but I have learnt a
mighty lesson of Christ's power and I would not be
without the experience for anything.'
So, you see, our
spiritual education rests upon this word 'necessity', for
that is the real word for 'constrain'. He made it
necessary for the disciples to get into the boat, and it
is necessary for us to have experiences like this,
because it is only by such experiences that we discover
what a Christ we have, and what a wonderful thing is this