Safe To Land
“Then they willingly received him into the ship, and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.”—John 6:21
Our Lord’s miracles were signs as well as wonders, wonders of power and signs of spiritual truth and blessing. The feeding of the five thousand which precedes our text was a great object lesson of the world’s hunger and the Lord’s provision through the Living Bread. The story that follows, of the storm on the Galilean Sea is equally fraught with lessons for the future of the Church and the experiences of our Christian life.
1. The Disciples In The Storm
What a picture that wild night on the Galilean Sea affords of the Church of Christ in the long night of the ages and of the individual Christian amid the tempests of life! The Lord had sent the disciples across the sea before Him, while he dismissed the multitude, and they spent that awful night toiling and rowing and unable to reach the shore, until at last His coming brought them safe to land. How full of significance the darkness, the tempest, and the long and weary night when it seemed as if he would never come! For it was not until the fourth watch, when the night was almost gone, that their Master at last appeared. It is needless to search for the application in the story of Christianity amid centuries of persecution and manifold temptation. And which of us has not found the picture true in the trials of our Christian life? Peter himself, who passed through that dreadful night, reminds the Christians to whom he addressed his epistles of consolation, that they must not think it strange if they were oft “in heaviness through manifold temptation.” Like these disciples we, too, shall often find that the night of trial is long, and the answer to our prayers delayed. That beautiful promise in the most comforting of all the Psalms, “God is a very present help in trouble; God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her and that right early,” when literally translated has a somewhat different message. The margin reads, “God shall help her at the turning of the morning.” It is not “right early” but right late. It is in the fourth watch of the night that the Master often comes, when it is darkest, just before the dawn. Let us not forget, therefore, that the promise is to them that wait. “Wait on the Lord, and be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thy heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.”
2. The Master On The Mountain
We have a second picture. The Master, where was He? Had He forgotten them? Nay, He was still remembering, still ministering in the presence of the Father. This also was an object lesson of that hour of which He sometimes spake to them, “A little while, and ye shall see me, and again a little while, and ye shall not see me, because I go to the Father.” How it speaks to us of our ascended and interceding Lord! It was a rehearsal of His holy priesthood before the throne where now “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.”
What a majesty and importance this gives to prayer! It was part of our Lord’s ministry on Earth, and it is, perhaps, His greatest work in Heaven. He is there as our Advocate. He is there specially appointed by the Father to represent us, to present our needs and supplications, and to be the channel for the communication to us of all the blessings that we require. How it should encourage us to hear Him say as He said to Peter, “I have prayed for thee.” The writer remembers once being told by the late George Mueller, with whom he had spent many hallowed days in the fellowship of Bible study and united prayer, that that venerable servant of Christ had placed his name on his private list for daily remembrance at the throne of grace, and that he would henceforth never cease to pray for him. It brought great encouragement. But one day the thought was suggested to him, You value George Mueller’s prayers very highly, but what about the prayers of the Lord Jesus? Have you forgotten Him? Have you failed to realize that not daily, but every moment, He is bearing your name upon the palms of His hands and tablets of His heart in loving intercession? It was a revelation, a reproof, and a new inspiration. Shall we, beloved, receive it too, and henceforth ever remember that the Master has said to the least of us, “I have prayed for thee?”
3. The Master By Their Side
“And in the fourth watch of the night he came unto them walking on the sea. And they were afraid, but he said unto them, It is I, be not afraid.” They needed more than His prayers. They needed Him. And He came. And He always comes. But often when He comes, we do not know Him, and are even afraid of Him. For sometimes He comes walking on the sea and riding on the storm. The very trials through which He comes are His chariots of blessing. But let us not forget the waves are beneath His feet, and the storm is under His control. And in the darkest floods faith can hear Him saying, “Fear not, for I am with thee. When thou walkest through the waters they shall not overflow thee, and through the flames, they shall not kindle upon thee.”
How did they recognize Him at last? It was through His word. He spake and said, “It is I, be not afraid.” And still He speaks, and His message is the same. He does not say, It is better weather, it is nearly morning, things are going to change, circumstances are going to improve. Nothing of all this, but simply, “It is I.” All you need is Him, and having Him, all else will be righted, adjusted, and subdued.
But they had to receive Him into the ship. He must take command. They must stop their rowing and toiling and trust themselves to Him alone. And so must we. The first thing is not deliverance, but surrender, confidence, the victory of faith, the receiving of Jesus into the surrendered heart and the consecrated life. Beloved, have you received Him into the ship? Is He the Captain, Pilot, the Master of your life?
4. The Ship At The Land
“And immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” This is a very wonderful thing, and the mystic mind of John has caught hold of it and fastened upon it as the suggestive type of some great spiritual teaching. Surely that lesson is not far to seek or hard to find. Surely it is substantially this, that when Christ becomes the Master of the heart, life’s crisis is over; life’s career is assured; our toiling and rowing are ended; our responsibilities are transferred to Him, the Schoolmaster’s work is done, and the child is at last at home upon His loving breast.
How significant the words of Jesus to Martha! He had tried to inspire her confidence as He exclaimed, “Thy brother shall rise again.” But Martha was afraid to venture on so great a promise, and so she put it over to some future day, saying, “I know he will rise again int eh resurrection at the last day.” It was then that Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” It was as if He had said, “Martha, if you have Me, you have everything else along with Me; all My power, and working, and, therefore, you have the resurrection now.”
How slow we are to understand that Jesus is Himself the epitome of all His gifts and blessings. One is reminded of the old woman who came to a London mission wanting a pennyworth of coal, and a pennyworth of bread, and a pennyworth of tea, and a lot of other pennyworths. The missionary asked her if a shilling would not get all these things. Her face lighted up as she took the shilling, and she went away saying to herself, “Now I have my bread and my tea and all my needs.” A few nights later he was trying to lead her to accept Christ as her Saviour, but she said, “There are so many things to do that I am afraid of it all. One has to repent and believe and be confirmed and do good works and go to chapel and keep all the feasts, and there is no end of it.” Then he reminded her of her shilling, and how that shilling included coal, and bread, and all the pennyworths of her need. “And so,” he said, “you have only to accept Jesus Christ, and all the rest is summed up in Him.” The simple truth dawned upon her heart and she found that she was complete in Him, her Saviour and her all.
And so there is a moment in every life, a crisis hour, when we take the Master on board the little ship, and immediately we are at the land whither we are going.
The writer remembers a skeptical inquirer, who had tried for years to balance the arguments for and against Christianity, and had failed to reach an anchorage for faith. One day in the anguish of bereavement he found himself almost unconsciously praying to the God, whom his buried wife had loved and followed, and before he realized the foolishness of a skeptics prayer, God had answered him, and a sense of the presence of Christ touched his soul with a joy that he knew was divine. He had taken Christ on board and immediately his little ship was at the land.
How Paul had struggled and striven for the best and highest things, but one day he met the Lord on the way to Damascus, and from that moment the crisis was past, the conflict was over, his destiny was fixed, his career was assured. He had seen the Lord, he had received Him, and his ship was at the land.
How often we have found in the works of fiction, which most of us have read more or less, and there is some good fiction, that the hero and heroine are drifting amid a thousand uncertainties and perils until a certain crisis comes when they meet to part no more, and the romance reaches its climax in the satisfaction of a great and noble passion. Have you noticed that at that point the curtain almost always falls? The crisis has been passed. They have reached the land whither they went.
In a higher, nobler sense the Heavenly Bridegroom is seeking our heart until He wins it. We, too, are drifting, toiling, and rowing, but the moment we receive Him we have reached the end of our perplexities and perils, and our life is henceforth forever in His holy keeping.
The writer remembers the years he spent struggling after a deeper and higher life and trying to realize the experiences of others. But there came a day when instead of seeking the blessing he found the Blesser, and the Lord Jesus said, Am not I enough for thee, thy holiness, thy faith, thy love, thy joy, thy power? The Master had come on board, and his heart had reached the land whither he went, and henceforth life was simply a sweet abiding in the all-sufficiency of his Lord.
Some of you are seeking healing from your sicknesses through the power of the Lord. You are looking for some extraordinary manifestation, some gifted man or woman, some magic touch, some extraordinary miracle. That is not what you need. The Lord of Life is waiting to undertake your life and to impart to you the strength and quickening of His glorified humanity, that Body of which we are members. And what you need is simply to receive Him as your second life, your supernatural strength, the vital force for heart, and lungs, and nerves, and frame, and from this moment to depend upon Him, to live by Him, and to let “the life also of Jesus” be made “manifest in your mortal flesh.” When you thus receive Him, you will have reached the goal of all your struggles and endeavors and find yourself at the land whither you are going.
And, oh, how many of you are passing through a storm of sorrow like that on Galilee of old, vainly struggling for deliverance from your troubles, and wondering the Lord does not answer your prayers and still the winds and waves of life’s troubled sea. Beloved, you are beginning at the wrong end. It is not deliverance you need first, but Him. It is not to escape your trouble, but to learn its lesson; and when that is learned and He has come in all His fullness, your sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Look at Jacob that night at Peniel. Was ever a life more imperiled and overwhelmed? An angry brother was waiting at the dawn of day to break the vengeance he had been seeking to do all these years. Jacob had tried every human resource and felt how hollow and empty they all were. At last he turned to God and in that night of conflict he learned his lesson; he died to the old Jacob, he rose to the new life. He touched God; he became a prince of faith having power with God and with men, and in his eagerness to get the blessing he forgot all about the troubles that confronted him. When he went forth next morning weakened in his own self-reliance, but leaning on the everlasting arms, he found his troubles all had vanished; his brother was waiting for the embrace of reconciliation. He had power with men because he had power with God.
Beloved fellow sufferer, will you not learn your lesson too? Will you not see that all your toiling and rowing will never bring you to the shore? Will you not receive on board your little ship the Master who has let all these troubles come that they might bring you at last to Him, and you too, will find that your ship is at the land and that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Finally, this beautiful story has dispensational application to this old Earth of ours and the Blessed Hope of the coming of our Lord. How the silly crew of the higher critics, the social reformers, the political agitators, the prophets of liberty and socialism are trying to row the rocking ship to the Utopian shore of a Golden Age. How fast the millennium is coming by such means is easily apparent from recent reports of the United States Commissioner of Inland Revenue. Notwithstanding all the campaigns of the political reformers, and the crusades of the temperance workers, and the processions of the suffragettes, and the platforms of the Progressives, Republicans, and Democrats, more cigarettes, more whiskey, and more beer were consumed in the United States last year than in any previous year. No, no, that is not the way. Thank God some day He will come walking on the waters of life’s stormy sea, and the watching disciples will cry, “It is the Lord.” And His whisper will answer, “It is I, be not afraid.” And the old ship will be at the land whither it is going, the Land of Promise, then land where parted friends will meet to part no more, the land where death and sin and sorrow will never come again, and this old Earth will be again the paradise of God.
“All told the broken story,
Night, death, and evil gone,
Our Egypt shame exchanged for Canaan glory,
And the bright city won.”