What is Advent?

Welcome to Advent 2016!

But what is Advent? I found this article to be helpful, written by an Episcopal Priest and taken from www.christianity.com/christian-life/christmas/what-is-advent.html



What Is Advent?

For many Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical year, there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. Some people may know that the Advent season focuses on expectation and think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but there’s more to Advent.

The History of Advent                                 

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Advent Today                                   

Today, the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.)

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.

Advent Liturgy and Practice                        

While it is difficult to keep in mind in the midst of holiday celebrations, shopping, lights and decorations, and joyful carols, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting, much like Lent, and there are a variety of ways that this time of mourning works itself out in the season. Reflection on the violence and evil in the world cause us to cry out to God to make things right—to put death’s dark shadows to flight. Our exile in the present makes us look forward to our future Exodus. And our own sinfulness and need for grace leads us to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew his work in conforming us into the image of Christ.

One catechism describes Advent spirituality beautifully: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’”

Advent and the Christian Life                                

While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ’s birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the  yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming that Karl Barth penned these words: “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.” The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.


Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.


Table Worship at the Walters, Sunday, November 27 at 5:30pm

The church season of Advent is upon us, believe it or not. This Sunday The Table is gathering at the Walters for worship (contact us for directions). We will gather for a shared meal at 5:30pm. This week’s food theme is “Leftovers.” Following the meal we will center ourselves on the Advent theme of Peace, looking at the book of Jonah.

Invite a friend, and join us!

Thanksgiving Help

thanksgiving_cornucopiaThis Sunday, at 10am at the Majestic Ballroom (1027 N Forest St), The Table is joining our sister church, Mosaic, to fill and deliver Thanksgiving baskets to low income families. If you can help to fill a basket, we have specific things needed, so please contact us and we’ll let you know how you can help.

Our next worship gathering will be on November 27th at the Walters’.

Preconceived Notions and John 6


My kids are getting to the ages where they like knock-knock jokes and riddles. On our road trip this summer we would share riddles to pass the time. For fun, lets see if you can get these 2 riddles:

1) I travel all over the world, but always stay in my corner. What am I? A Stamp.

2) What kind of coat is always wet when you put it on? A coat of paint.

Riddles help us to look at the world differently. And sometimes they reveal our Preconceived Notions w/o us knowing it. See if you can get this riddle:

A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies in the crash, and the son is taken to the nearest hospital. The doctor comes in and exclaims: I cannot operate on this boy. Why not? the nurse asks. Because he is my son, the doctor responds. How is this possible?

How is it possible that the doctor cannot operate on their son, when the father is already dead? Any guesses? The answer is that the doctor is the boys mother. Did you have preconceived notions you were not aware of? When I first heard this riddle I was thinking about how maybe the father who died was a stepfather and the doctor was the biological father. Or maybe the boy had 2 dads. In the moment, it did not occur to me that the doctor could have been a woman. w/o getting into a big discussion about gender and the workforce, I can say that b/c of culture and my upbringing, I had preconceived notions.

Preconceived notions are opinions that are formed beforehand without sufficient evidence. And we all have them. And they are informed by various inputs in our lives: Media, Culture, Upbringing, and more. And we all have our own preconceived notions of God. We agree w/ Paul in Romans 11 and proclaim:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?

We believe that fullness of God is beyond our understanding, and yet we approach one another and God Himself w/ our preconceived notions of who He is. If you are a more Liberal Christian, you might say that JC was a guy just like us, giving us the best example of humanity, while deemphasizing the sacrifice of JC. If you are a more Doctrinal Christian, you might say that JC is found only in the creeds of the church, which deemphasize the life of JC on earth, while highlighting the realities and benefits of the cross. Whether you agree w/ my assessment or not, you probably agree that our perception of who JC is informs how we interact w/ others and God, and defines who we consider to be preaching the gospel and who is preaching something else.



At The Table this fall we have been studying the life of JC seen in the book of John. And today I want us to look at John 6. So grab a Bible and turn to John 6. It has been our hope this fall to expose our preconceived notions of JC and discover Him again. I sometimes wonder how my version of JC would get along w/ JC Himself. So w/ all this in mind, lets look at John 6.

Today I want us to primarily look at the latter portion of John 6, but for context we must first look at vs. 1-15. JC and His disciples, after performing miracles in Jerusalem, cross the Sea of Galilee and are followed by a crowd. And in this famous scene, JC feeds 5,000 men, w/ only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. w/o preaching a sermon to the crowd (that we know of), JC feeds people. A more Liberal Christian might say: JCs primary concern was physically feeding, and therefore this is what we should do in His name. And a more Doctrinal Christian might discount this emphasis, calling it the social gospel, and say: JC is revealing a greater spiritual reality in this miracle. The way we read our Bible reveals our perceptions of JC. And the crowd that followed JC had their notions of Him too. This crowd had begun following Him because of the miracles He had done. They hoped He could satisfy their physical hunger and their political ambitions as well. The crowds believed He was the political messiah. And knowing they wanted to crown Him as such, we are told in v. 15 that JC slipped away from the crowd. And in vs. 16-21, JC performs another miracle, by walking on water. JC leaves the crowds further behind and crosses the Sea of Galilee again.

Now looking at v. 22-24, we are told that the crowd realizes that JC is gone, so they go looking for Him. They cross the lake and in v. 25 it says: Rabbi, when did you get here? This begins one of the great dialogs of Johns gospel.

Jesus answered: Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

JC says: You want me b/c I fed you, not b/c you understood the miracle. Do not seek food, seek eternal life. In v. 28, the Crowd responds: What must we do to do the works God requires? Their preconceived notion was that God required certain actions in observance of the law to receive His blessing. They are missing the point that eternal life is something that will be given to them, as v. 27 says. Their version of God was meeting God Himself . JC says in v. 29: All you must do is believe in the One sent by God. And so the crowd wants JC to prove that He is the One sent by God asks in v. 30:

What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

The crowd, perhaps seeing the connection b/t the sent one of Moses and the bread he gave, say to JC: Show us a miracle like Moses and we will believe. As one commentator said: Their request is strange, coming so soon after miracle of the 5,000. Why would those whom Jesus had miraculously fed only a day before ask for bread from heaven? It appears that the controlling term is not bread but the phrase “from heaven.” JC had given them food from the earth, but for them to believe He is anything like Moses, they want to see manna FROM HEAVEN. Maybe their preconceived notions had the Messiah looking like Moses. And in v. 32, JC says:

Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

JC says, it was not Moses who gave bread from heaven, it was God Himself who gives life. JC is redirecting the dialog to explain that this is not a question of what Moses did in the time of the Exodus but of what God is doing right now. It is not a question of manna from the sky but of a flesh and blood person who stands before them. But they are not tracking w/ JC and say: Yeah, this is the bread we are talking about. They do not get it, so JC explains the metaphor, in v. 35, saying:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Fathers will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

He says: You want a sign from Heaven, I have come from heaven to do my Fathers will. He says: I am this bread that gives life, but you do not believe. And the crowd rejects His claim of coming from heaven, b/c they know where He came from; they know His parents. In v. 42: They said: Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, I came down from heaven? JC rebukes them saying:

Stop grumbling among yourselves… 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The crowds preconceived notion was that messiah was a political good guy, a prophet like Moses or a King like David. JC sticks to the point and asserts that no one comes unless the Father draws them. He says: The bread Moses gave did not give eternal life. Rather, I am the living bread, eat of me and you will live. Meaning, all who believe that JC is the sent one of God, will have eternal life. JCs physical death is the price for the worlds spiritual life.[1] But this talk of eating flesh is weirding out the crowd. They know their Bibles, and would have been perhaps been thinking about Leviticus 17:10, when God said: I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people And so the crowd asks in v. 52: How can we eat His flesh? JC does not back down form this image and says:

Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

Seems like an appropriate passage as we head into Halloween week, eating flesh and drinking blood. But this was the reaction of the crowd, JC is talking strangely. He says, I am the one sent from heaven. The creator of life sent me, if you feed on me, believing I am sent, you will receive life forever. In other words, JC promises something far greater than manna in the desert. He offers life with Him now and victory over death at the last day.

And to me that is the key phrase: JC offers life with Him today and victory over death at the last day. In context, JC fed 5,000 men w/ real bread, no strings attached. JC cares for the physical wellbeing of His people. w/o saying a word, JC proclaims that the Kingdom of God is like a hungry crowd that gets fed. He offers a satisfied life w/ Him now. Perhaps this point is something a Doctrinal Christian would pass over. But that is not the end. He also offers eternal life, victory over the grave, for those who believe that He is the sent one of God, who gave His body as payment for our sin on the cross, so that we would not die, but rise w/ Him into eternal life. Perhaps this is a point that a Liberal Christian would pass over. But they would do well to wrestle w/ the thought that JC not only offers us satisfied life w/ Him today, but also gives us victory over the grave. This is the bread He offers us, live today and eternity to come. This is the meal He invites us to eat. But all too often, we prefer the preconceived notions we may have of JC to JC Himself. Perhaps we prefer the notion that JC was a political good guy, simply showing us how to live and serve. Or we prefer to lock Him in the creeds, detached often from today. And so when our version of JC meets our neighbors version of JC we feel threatened. And instead of dialoging we go into survival mode, dig into our defensive positions, pridefully assert our opinions on Facebook or at the dinner table, and live lives of maintenance and self-preservation. b/c of our preconceived notions, we miss opportunities of dialog and love. That’s why I wonder how my version of JC would get along w/ JC Himself. The good news is that JC offers life with Him today and victory over death at the last day. He cares for the physical wellbeing of His people, but does not stop there. He is the sent one, who offers His flesh as sacrifice, saying: eat of this and you will live. This is the bread He offers.

And if you look at v. 60 it says: On hearing it, many of his disciples said: This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? And in vs. 61-65, JC essentially asks them: What will you do when you realize you are wrong, and see me return to heaven. He says: Only the Spirit gives life, and I speak the words of spirit and life. I am the bread of life. And v. 66 says: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Their preconceived notions of messiah did not get along w/ messiah Himself.



My prayer for us today is that we would not become like these disciples who left. The Father did not draw them, so they did not believe. My prayer is that the Father would draw you close, that the Holy Spirit would reveal the preconceived notions you and I have of JC, and that JC Himself would reveal Himself more fully to us. The good news is that JC is the revealed messiah. He is the bread, the sent one from Heaven, and He invites us to life with Him today and victory over death at the last day. And so this means we need not settle for a life lived in survival mode, where we are constantly on watch in our defensive positions. Rather b/c of the work of JC on the cross, we can live a full life of peace, looking ahead to life fulfilled. We can leave the trenches and live into and share the resurrected life w/ others. So may we be found faithfully pursuing JC, as we live among our neighbors.



[1] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jn 6:51). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Table Worship at the Walters, Sunday, November 13 at 5:30pm

dailybreadThe Table is gathering this Sunday, November 13th for a worship gathering. We will again be at the Walters (contact for directions). Starting at 5:30pm we will share a meal. This week’s meal theme is soups and salads, so bring something yummy to share is you are able. We will then look at John 6:60-71, and ask, “What happens when Jesus becomes king?” Invite a friend; everyone is welcome. See you soon!

Election Thoughts

Psalm 47

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!
    Shout to God with joyful praise!
For the Lord Most High is awesome.
    He is the great King of all the earth.
He subdues the nations before us,
    putting our enemies beneath our feet.
He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance,
    the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves. Interlude

God has ascended with a mighty shout.
    The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King over all the earth.
    Praise him with a psalm.
God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
The rulers of the world have gathered together
    with the people of the God of Abraham.
For all the kings of the earth belong to God.
    He is highly honored everywhere.

Table Worship at the Walters, Sunday, November 6 at 5:30pm

Join The Table this Sunday, November 6th for a worship gathering at the Walters (contact us for directions). We will begin at 5:30pm with a shared meal. This weeks meal theme is Mexican food. After the meal we will sing, pray, and continue our study of the Gospel of John, asking “What happens when Jesus becomes king?” This week we will be looking at John 6:22-59, if you want to read ahead. Invite a friend and join us; everyone is welcome!

Mid-Week Book Study: Bonhoffer’s “Life Together”

book_life_togetherThe Table is going to host a 4 week book study, looking at Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” We’ll meet mid-week (day/time TBD), and cover a chapter and discuss. It is rich material, that should spur on great conversation. If you are interested, contact us soon and we’ll find a time that works for everyone!

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”
― Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

Saturday, October 29 – 5:30pm Pumpkin Carving/Movie Party (Bellingham Cohousing Common House – 2614 Donovan Ave.)

unknownThe Table is gathering neighbors and friends to carve pumpkins and enjoy the season. Bring your own pumpkin, carving supplies, and some appetizers/snacks/drinks to share. We’ll gather around 5:30pm at the Bellingham Cohousing Common House (2614 Donovan Ave). At 7pmish we’ll fire up “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” 25 minutes), followed by “The Wizard of Oz” (under 2 hours). Invite a friend and join us!

Our next worship gathering will be on November 6th.

Food Scarcity, Security, and Searching for the Messiah (John 6) by John D. Barry

When any storm comes our way in life, we tend to have one of two responses: Grabbing hold of truisms that comfort us or determining that God has abandoned us. For some, there is a third alternative: pure despair, as they realize their belief system has no answer outside of self-reliance.

When the storms of life come our way, we look for salvation. But what if we’re looking for the wrong thing?

Poverty and Perspective

In a society plagued by food scarcity and security issues, self-reliance offers no hope. A lack of access to basic necessities leads people to look beyond themselves for answers. This is why the book of James says: “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5 NIV).

The poor often understand something the wealthy do not: They cannot save themselves. This is why so many impoverished people were drawn to Jesus, while the rich generally turned away or persecuted him.

But while poverty may draw someone near to God, it is also against the heart of God. God wants a full and healthy life for all. Poverty can also create a different type of faith crisis. Faith can become reliant on what God provides rather than on who he is. We see this with the Israelites in the wilderness: When God did not provide for their needs in the way they desired, they lose faith (see the book of Numbers).

Belief in God must transcend even our most basic needs, our desires, and even our prayers of desperation. We must seek something deeper that will withstand our health fading, our loved ones being lost, and even our countries failing us.

When everything is stripped away, what will we believe? Or perhaps the better question is: What are we truly seeking now? Is it what God can give us or is it authentic relationship with God? A look back in time, to Jesus’ day and sayings, offers us a glimpse into how we should navigate the storms of life.

The Society of the Poor and Marginalized

Jesus lived in a primarily agrarian society. Politics preyed on the poor and weak. The wealthy gained further riches off the backs of the poor. The people felt insecure as the ruling powers had their own interests in mind, not the security of those they governed. The situation in first-century Judaea and Galilee was very similar to many places in the global East and Southeast today.

It is in this context that Jesus miraculously fed about 8,000 people: 5,000 men and an additional 1,000 to 3,000 women and children. What’s extraordinary is that all four gospels record this story (Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:32–44; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–15). This is a rare occurrence when it comes to the gospels. It’s a little surprising to find a particular teaching or miracle of Jesus in three gospels, but four is very rare. This suggests that all four Gospel writers viewed the feeding of the 5,000 as one of the pivotal moments in Jesus’ ministry.

But the feeding of the 5,000 is not critical to all four gospels simply because it is an extraordinary miracle. It is critical because of what the miracle teaches us about believing in Jesus.

Just after the feeding of the 5,000, three of the four gospels record the exact same story: Jesus walking on the water. Luke is the outlier, who moves straight to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one of God; Luke 9:18–21). In the other three gospels, there are multiple events that separate Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and this confession (compare Matthew 16:13–20; Mark 8:27–30; John 6:66–71). But what if Luke is onto something here? Perhaps the confession that Luke records is rooted in what the feeding of the 5,000 should have taught the apostles—Jesus’ closest 12 disciples. Perhaps the confession is what we’re meant to learn before we go into the storm, through the storm, and understand more fully after the storm?

Navigating the Storm of Life

John’s Gospel records the story of Jesus walking on the water this way:

“Jesus, knowing that they [the crowd who ate at the feeding of the 5,000] intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 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. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough” (John 6:15–18 NIV).

Matthew and Mark fill in the detail that Jesus told the apostles to cross the Sea of Galilee and that he would dismiss the crowds (Matthew 14:22; Mark 6:45). Thus, it was not the impatience of the disciples that sent them to sea; it was the command of their rabbi.

Here are Jesus’ closest followers, simply following the orders of their rabbi, and they are caught in a tempest. At this point, you can almost hear Simon Peter say: “Did Jesus really know what he was doing when he sent us out here?” To this, Andrew would reply, “Maybe we misheard him.” To which Barnabas may reply, “What if he was speaking in parables again and we weren’t supposed to go to sea but to prepare for our spiritual journey?” And John the son of Zebedee would say, “You know, he isn’t a fishermen—maybe he doesn’t know what the Sea of Galilee can be like at night this time of year.” James, John’s brother, would huff angrily in agreement, as he attempted to tie down the remainder of the items on deck.

I know you’re laughing now, because you see in these responses parallels to your responses to God’s wishes. When the sea gets rough, “You too think, ‘What is happening here? I thought God asked me to do this—maybe I was wrong.’ ” Or even, “Maybe God was wrong.”

We can gain an incredible insight into this dilemma from the context of John’s Gospel.

Faith Lessons from the Structure of John’s Gospel

John’s Gospel is ordered differently than the other three gospels. This is because John has a very different emphasis than Matthew, Mark, and Luke—known collectedly as the Synoptic Gospels.

From John 1:19 to the end of chapter 12, the Gospel of John focuses on Jesus’ public ministry—accentuated by his actions during Jewish festivals. This makes the story of Jesus walking on water rather unique: This miracle—and what it teaches—is just for the apostles. This is not for the public, but for the insiders—those already in the boat, literally. This point is accentuated by the fact that Jesus does not directly answer the later question of the crowd, “Rabbi, when did you come here [across the Sea of Galilee]?” (John 6:25). Instead, Jesus responds:

“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (John 6:26–27 NIV).

Jesus’ signs, then, are much more than miracles. They are meant to teach who he is and what he is all about. While he can answer a cry for provision, he especially wants to answer the cry of our souls. The signs, then, of John’s Gospel are about what it means for Jesus to be Messiah—the Christ, the anointed one of God—not merely about helping people.

We cannot divorce charity from the gospel. We cannot divorce the need of the stomach from the need of the soul. The whole gospel requires loving the whole person. This is Jesus’ lesson to the crowd and one of his lessons to the apostles through the storm.

Jesus emphasizes that our focus must be on relationship with God. He first takes a break from his public ministry to privately pray. And then he takes a further break to privately teach his apostles a critical lesson.

Finding Jesus in the Storm

Here’s the lesson Jesus is teaching his apostles through the storm: All of this life pales in comparison to knowing God. This is why Jesus walks on the water—it’s pragmatic, he needed a time with God the Father. And this is why the apostles are in the boat: to remember their reliance on God, even when things go sideways.

John records the remainder of the story of the storm as follows:

“When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading” (John 6:19–21 NIV).

Even if the disciples die, they have something to hold onto—the one who walks on the water. They have no need to fear.

This story and the feeding of the 5,000 begs the questions. If Jesus is Lord over all—the bread and the fish that he can multiply and the tumultuous sea, which he can walk on—how can he not be Lord over our lives? How can our confession of Jesus as the Christ not pull us through, even in the most difficult of circumstances?

Here in the boat, Jesus’ disciples learn that faith is no guarantee of prosperity; it’s a guarantee of eternal love and dwelling with God. This is in many ways the point of John’s Gospel (compare John 3:16–17). Chaos overwhelms us, but the God of order stands with us.

The Ancient Near East and Jesus

In the ancient Near East, open water represented chaos. In ancient Near Eastern myths, the waters represent chaos that must be wrestled with by the gods; sea monsters must be battled with. If a god could subdue the waters, then he showed himself worthy of worship. The gods were looked to for order.

The gods were also looked to for provision throughout the agricultural year. They were celebrated when provision came with parades, singing, dancing, and sacrifices. In John’s Gospel, Jesus shows himself superior to these gods. He can provide grain for thousands, in the form of bread, from a few loaves (John 6:1–15). It is not Baal who can be relied upon for this, but Jesus. It is not Dionysius, who is the true god of the vine, but the God of Israel as seen in God the Son, Jesus. He can turn water into wine (John 2:1–11). It is not Poseidon who can subdue the seas; it is Jesus the Christ, the holy one of God, who can walk on the water (John 6:16–21; compare Matthew 8:23–27; Mark 4:35–41; Luke 8:22–25).

We all look for security and provision in all the wrong places. We look to jobs, financial investments, our homes, our family members, and our government. But we know deep down that much of life is unstable.

In the midst of the storm—in the boat of faith—we cry out to God, saying, “Why would you put me here? I thought I was following your plan. I have been your servant and you have betrayed me.”

But the truth is that God put us in the boat of faith, but he never guaranteed security. Instead Jesus told us it would be painful and difficult and that people may even kill us for our beliefs. Note that after Peter’s confession in Luke, which comes right after Jesus feeds the 5,000, that this is precisely what Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 NIV).

What Jesus did guarantee was eternal relationship with him—through his Son who died on the cross and rose again three days later—for us.

It is through Jesus that all things were made (John 1:1–3). It is Jesus who offers us eternal life (John 3:16–17)—reconnecting us to God the Father. It is this God who will get us through all things, for better or worse in this life, for the sake of his eternal purposes, which are good (Romans 8:28). It is this God who can walk on the water and reign over all (John 6:19–21). Jesus can calm the storm, but shouldn’t we praise him even if he doesn’t (Luke 8:22–25)? After all, he is perfectly capable of walking on the water in the midst of the storm—showing that he can see far beyond it.

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