Devotional – At Whose Mercy? John 6:16-21

Scripture:  John 6:16-21

It is important to remember when we read the various Gospel accounts that they are each equally inspired by God but at the same time present the perspective of the individual author on the accounts of Jesus. The authors have different backgrounds, different emphases, and at times will seem to move forward and skip significant details that other Gospel accounts address. This is good, because it reinforces that the accounts are different and not merely four copies of the same narrative. While they don’t address all accounts the same way, all Gospels corroborate on the life of Jesus and the truths concerning Him.

Aside from Luke, who does not speak of this night on the sea, Matthew, Mark and Luke mention in varied detail the night, no one saying that a storm was blowing, but simply that it became very windy. John’s account gives the least detail, Mark builds upon that, and Matthew gives the fullest account. Mark 6:46 says, “And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.” Matthew 14:23 will say essentially the same thing. Jesus got alone to pray, even more alone than He was when He departed with His disciples to the deserted location. 

Rather than seek to harmonize all accounts, we will focus on the Gospel of John and ask why John would be so concise. Looking at the whole of John 6, the emphasis is mostly on Jesus and the crowd that He showed compassion to. John provides us with more of a bridge between the healing and feeding of the large crowd and their return to Him the next day for more healing and more food (and their eventual departure from Jesus). They had concluded He was the Prophet, but they did not believe on Him. Clearly, salvation is not simply based upon acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the Lord; it is entrusting one’s self to Him and not just identifying Him.

“And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.”  Matthew 14:22 will further explain that Jesus sent them ahead of Him to meet up with them, but the consistency of the passages shows that He intended to go before the Father in prayer. From all the writings, it does not seem that the disciples were expecting Him or that they were waiting for Him; they set out to go back and meet Him when He came over. 

“Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.” Late in the dark hours of the night, probably tired and weary not only from rowing but also from an eventful day with a multitude of people, the wind began to blow, something they had no control over. While it probably would be different today with technology, there really wasn’t a way for them to greatly foresee the strong winds coming. They got in the boat and they intended to get back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The word for “great” refers to intensity; this wind was fierce. 

What does this night portray but men made vulnerable for many reasons who had little if any control. The crux is whose mercy were they reliant upon. The initial inclination would be that they were at the mercy of nature (the wind, the sea, the dark, their own weariness).  This lack of control would compound with another unfolding: the Lord walking on the water within their view. So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.” There were many reasons to be afraid, though there were fishermen on this boat who had probably had seen their fair share of storms and darkness on the water. Mark 6:49 says that they thought Jesus was a ghost; clearly none of them were materialists at that moment, saying there was no such thing as ghosts. They all felt great fear.

“But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Jesus identified Himself in the midst of strong wind and darkness while walking on the sea that was so upset. What is likely being pictured here? The fact is, He is not subject to any of it, and that’s the point. He was not subject to darkness as He just walked on the sea and came right to where His disciples were. He was not subject to the sea itself, calm or tempestuous, but walked upon it as Master of it. He was not bound by nature; He was Lord of nature. He was not at the mercy of nature like His disciples

There is a big lesson to be learned here: we are not at the mercy of circumstances; we are at the mercy of God. We are not at the mercy of a pandemic or our government or time or money; we are at the mercy of the Lord. While any element out there can put great pressure upon us, it is God who actually holds all created things in check. He can calm any wind, any person, any vulnerability, any unrest inside of us at any moment He so desires. When the winds blow and the night is dark, or when we find ourselves a bit lost with knowing what to do, it is the Lord who is controlling the chaos. Fear often accompanies a desire for control. Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Taking our concerns and placing them in God’s hands is the path to peace and the taming of anxiety according to these verses. We are at His mercy every day and this is why it should make most sense to cast ourselves at His mercy in seeking His aid.

“Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” A tumultuous ride was brought to a calm in an instant; Jesus was in the boat now with them, the wind ceased at His presence, and they quickly got to where they were going. Where were they going? A physical destination, yes, but they were going where He wanted them to go. You see, we don’t know where God is trying to take us, and He uses all sorts of good and “bad” to bring us to where He wants us. In fact, we can’t get to where He’s taking us without the course that He’s laid out for us. It doesn’t mean that He delights in pain or fear, but what He delights in more than anything is what He produces within us through all the ups and downs. We are at His mercy; nature, people, systems, etc. are never the ones truly in control, but at times winds and darkness are allowed to help put us exactly where God wants us and how He wants us to be when we get there. 

David says in Psalm 27:13-14, I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!” The hope of every believer still rests in waiting on the Lord, mounting up in confidence upon the belief in His sovereignty and providence over whatever we may face. No, we shouldn’t check out, but we also should never believe that the results ultimately ever rest in our hands. God is in control and He is growing us to trust Him more, because strong faith isn’t developed in an instant, but through a lifetime of moments of trust that He brings us to and brings us through.

Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Father, help us to trust You. Help us to rest today in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross and to glory once again in the justification we have before You as believers by faith in Jesus Christ. Lord, the news is ever developing but You are in control of all people and circumstances. Help us to be people that recognize Your mercy as our greatest need whatever may continue to transpire. Lord, keep us close to You and dependent upon You. Glorify Yourself today. Help us in giving our allegiance most to You. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.




Parallel passages:

Mark 6:45-53 NKJV

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there.

Matthew 14:22-34 NKJV

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret.