Summary: Sometimes we find ourselves in life-storms and after exhausting every method of deliverance, including prayer, we despair and give up. Very often Christ comes at just these precise moments.
THE FOURTH WATCH OF THE NIGHT
We’re going to take a little trip with Jesus across the sea of Galilee. Actually, calling it a “Sea” is a bit of a overstatement. It’s a lake. A big lake, but a lake all the same, 15 mi. long and 8 miles wide.
TEXT. Matthew 14.22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat was already a considerable distance from land [Mark’s version says that at the time in question, they were in the middle of the sea, at least four miles from shore.], buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. [--Mark adds here the interesting observation that somehow, in the middle of the night from a great distance, Jesus saw the “toiling in rowing, rowing hard and struggling against the wind--] 25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It’s a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. 27But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid."
I. BACKGROUND. Let’s take a close look at some important details in this account of Jesus walking on the water, sort of squeeze all the nectar we can out of it.
A. In particular …..
1. Remember: A third of the disciple’s were professional fishermen. They understood their job. So it is interesting that the word “made” is used in vs.22. Jesus “made” them get in the boat. Jesus compelled (forced the against their will).
a. Why would have to do that?
i. Perhaps they were tired, after a long day of ministry (feeding the 5,000).
ii. But, maybe, they noticed the storm brewing and fishermen don’t go out on open waters during a storm.
b. APPLY. Sometimes the will of God leads us INTO storms.
2. The account says “when evening came ... fourth watch of the night“
a. John Gill comments on this passage: “The first watch began at six o’clock in the evening, and lasted till nine; the second began at nine, and ended at twelve, which was midnight; the third began at twelve, and closed at three; the fourth began at three, and ended at six in the morning.”
i. This gives us a time frame to work with.
ii. Feeding 5,000 people took all day!
iii. By evening (6:/7:00 pm) disciples were dispatched, crowd dismissed, Jesus begins climbing slope of a mountain to find a place to pray.
iv. Storm arises while they are in “the middle of the sea” [Mark 6.47] – i.e.,about four miles from shore. How long does it take to row four miles? Puts the time near midnight (10pm/12:00am), say around 11pm.
B. This begs some questions: Why did Jesus wait until the fourth watch of the night (after 3:00 am) to respond to their prayers? Why didn’t he go to them immediately? Surely, they were praying. Surely he knew that they were in the storm.
1. Apparently, Jesus’ delay in coming to them was intentional.
2. APPLY: Why does the Lord often delay in answering prayer? I once read this verse, penned by Ophelia Adams, which answers some of questions about prayer: “Unanswered yet? Nay, do not say ungranted; / Perhaps your part is not yet wholly done; / The work began when first your prayer was uttered, / And God will finish what He has begun. / Though years have passed since then, do not despair; / His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere.”
3. This was the case in this instance. The Lord had a lesson he wanted to teach them.
C. But they were not ready. They had abandoned hope. Their faith had crashed. When they saw something coming toward them on the water, they had by then given up on the possibility that Christ would save the.
1. the timing was wrong. It was “too late.” He would have answered before now. Surely he would not have left them in this scary place.
2. But Jesus had sent them into the storm in the first place.
3. Do not feel abandoned when your prayers seem unanswered. Jesus prayer that the cup of suffering be removed was not answered. Paul’s prayer that his thorn in the flesh be eased was not answered. Remember their words, “Not my will but your’s be done” and “My grace is sufficient.” Unanswered or delayed prayer are for a reason and we must discover that reason.
ILLUS. Ted Turner, who claims that religion is for losers, once said that his decision to turn his back on Christianity happened after a sister died with a terminal illness despite his fervent prayers that she be healed. In 1990 he told a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I was saved seven or eight times,” But he said he became disenchanted with Christianity after his sister died, despite his prayers. Turner said the more he strayed from his faith, “the better I felt.” Turner only allowed God one response to his prayer … his own personal desire.