Mark 6:45–56 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Just six weeks ago, our Gospel lesson (Mk. 4:35-41) was very similar to this. The similarities include: crossing the lake late at night, a strong storm with strong wind, Jesus calms the storm, and the disciples are left in fear and amazement. But today’s text also has many differences with Mk. 4:35-41.
In today’s text, the disciples are alone in the boat; Jesus isn’t in the stern sleeping while lying on a cushion. In today’s text, Jesus is very much awake. Jesus is the Divine, Powerful Master of the storm Who is walking on the water as though it were a hardwood floor.
In Mk. 4:35-41, the disciples ask, “Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” But in today’s text, the disciples are not just questioning Who Jesus is. They are “unable to understand” Who Jesus is. Jesus can walk on water like hardened concrete, but the disciples’ hearts are harder than concrete. Their hearts are so hard because they are unable to understand about the loaves of bread that Jesus had used to feed the 5000 men (plus women & children) Mk. 6:38-44. Even though the disciples were repeatedly returning to Jesus to get more bread to set before the banquet guests, they did not understand about the loaves of bread.
Jesus reveals more and more clearly that He is God, but the disciples more and more are unable to cope with the fact that He is God. After Jesus gets into the boat with the disciples, Mark comments that the disciples were “utterly astounded” (lit. standing outside themselves). Their hearts become harder than stale bread.
Jesus instructs the disciples to go ahead of Him to the other side of the lake while He dismisses the crowd. So Jesus deliberately creates this separation between Himself and the disciples. He releases the crowd and climbs up a mountain to pray. Evening turns to night, and the boat carrying the disciples is now out in the middle of the lake. Alone on the mountain, Jesus sees them; He sees that the wind is against them. He also sees that they are literally ‘being tortured’ by the wind and are unable to make headway.
“About the fourth watch of the night,” 3-6 AM, Jesus decides to take a stroll down the mountain, across the beach, onto the water, and out into the middle of the lake. “He meant/intended to pass by the disciples.”
I think that is one of the oddest phrases in the Bible, “Jesus meant to pass by them.” What in the world does this mean? One commentary spends 16 pages discussing what could possibly be meant by this phrase. A good understanding is to view this as God revealing Himself. The language here is similar to Ex. 33:19-34:8 where God allows His goodness to “pass before” Moses, and similar to 1 Ki. 19:11-13 when God passed by Elijah not in the strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the still, small voice.
This “passing by” is what God had done in the past to reveal Himself to people. Jesus apparently wanted to reveal Himself to the disciples. And in several Old Testament passages, God is depicted as the Master of the Waters by walking upon them (Job 9:8; Ps. 77:19). Is 43:16 describes16 [Yahweh], Who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters.
Outwardly, when people looked at Jesus, they saw a normal man Who smiled, talked, ate, drank, walked, rested, slept, and did all the things an ordinary man would. Yet, Jesus did things that clearly revealed that He was much more than an ordinary man. The disciples see that again.
Imagine how the disciples experienced this; think about the day they are having. They are back in their boat, their normal workplace, after a failed retreat. Rather than getting a retreat with their Teacher, they are forced to be waiters for the feasting of the 5000—a crowd of (possibly) 15,000 people. Instead of camping for the night, Jesus now tells them to cross the lake—for the second time that day. When they finally get to the middle of the lake, a wind comes up and keeps them from being able to cross. They are being tortured by the wind (they aren’t afraid here, only stalled out and frustrated). It is somewhere between 3-6 AM.
Then, they look up and see a Person walking on the water as though it were any normal road. Their reaction, which is probably a ‘normal’ reaction, was to think that they saw a ghost, a phantasm. You can hear them hollering, “I can’t believe my eyes.” “You see that too?” “Can it be real? It is moving against the wind.” “Do you see that?” “Yes. Let’s get out of here.” They cry out in fear and are terrified.
So, Jesus is revealing Himself to the disciples, that He is God, Lord of the Storm, Master over the Sea, yet the disciples are terrified, crying out, and not benefiting from the revelation. Yet, Jesus graciously tells them, “Take heart; I am He. Do not be afraid.”
The storm stops. You would expect that the disciples would then breathe a sigh of relief. You would expect a nice, happy ending to this text where everyone has a good laugh; they reach the other side and go out for a breakfast of carmel rolls. Instead, the disciples are outside of their minds. They have some sort of out of body experience. They just don’t “understand about the bread, but their hearts were hardened.”
Scripture clearly teaches Who God is. He is the All-knowing, All-powerful, All-wise, and All-loving Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. Yet, you doubt and become fearful and hardened against Him. You know it is sinful, but when you hear about 70 people getting shot and 12 of them killed while they are enjoying a movie, you doubt that God is All-knowing, All-powerful, All-wise, and All-loving. If God were All-knowing, All-powerful, All-wise, and All-loving, why doesn’t He stop evil things from happening?
Too often, you want God to prove Himself to you. You want Him to prove that He is Who He says He is, and you dictate how God needs to prove it. That is the height of idolatry.
God doesn’t need to prove Himself to you. God does not necessarily deliver you from all your troubles in exactly the way you think He should. God doesn’t necessarily make everything perfect right now so you can “live happily ever after.”
Christians, we are too casual today. We tend to think God is our Heavenly Friend. We think He is the Santa Claus in the sky with a naughty or nice list and that He answers prayers according to that list. But God is so much more awesome, majestic, and powerful than that. Too quickly, we forget that He is also the God Who commands the waves and the seas. We forget that He is allowed to do things that we don’t understand.
In Is. 45:5–7 God says 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides Me there is no God; … I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, Who does all these things.
God doesn’t need to prove Himself to you. God has already proved Himself the All-knowing, All-powerful, All-wise, and All-loving Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. He proved it in a way that looks like absolute weakness and foolishness. God proved Himself on the cross. God showed His love for you on the cross. He descended to earth and revealed His wisdom and love and power by delivering you from sin, death, and the devil. And still, you want God to reveal Himself in a new and different way? Knock it off. Don’t tell God how to do His job.
As Jesus passes by the disciples to reveal Who He is, they do not understand and become terrified, and yet Jesus speaks graciously to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Even when you don’t understand, even when you’re terrified, even when you doubt Who God is, He continues to be gracious to you and be patient with you. He reveals Himself to you in ways that are much more quiet that are much more mundane, maybe, than you would prefer. He reveals Himself to you through the preaching of the Word and through His Sacraments.
Though you do not understand and though you harden your heart, He continues to be gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and righteousness. Amen
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto eternity. Amen.