This morning we are in Mark 6. Last week we looked at the feeding of the 5,000. A miraculous multiplication of meager resources.
Immediately following that event, Mark tells us that Jesus sends the 12 away.
The language suggests this was forceful. In one translation, he insists that they leave in the boat.
Why did he send them?
John 6:14-15 tell us that there was an underlying political plot by revolutionaries to seize Jesus and appoint him as king. They saw an opportunity to capitalize on the moment gathering around Jesus and use him for their purposes. Jesus did not want the disciples to be caught up in that frenzy and sought to put that fire out before it could start.
He sent out the disciples, dispersed the crowd and went away to pray in solitude.
What was Jesus praying about?
A recurring theme in the records of Jesus praying is his concern for his people.
But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus prayed for his people by name. Romans 8 tells us that Jesus continues that practice today – at the right hand of the father interceding for his people.
Mark records Jesus praying 3 times.
“Each prayer is at night and in a lonely place, each finds the disciples removed from him and failing to understand his mission, and in each Jesus faces a formative decision or crisis. Following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus reaffirms by prayer his calling to express his divine Sonship as a servant rather than as a freedom fighter against Rome.” – James Edwards
While Jesus is praying, the disciples are on the lake having a rough go at things.
They were Northwest shore of the lake, west of Bethsaida. Mark tells us that “they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them”.
Matthew’s account tells us that the boat was blown off course, “buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.” (Mt. 14:24)
Combining the accounts, we can figure that the disciples had rowed 3 or more miles in about 8 hours. They were making very little progress, straining against a wind stronger than their arms.
The headwind the disciples face is, I believe, a figure for a general experience of followers of Jesus who encounter contrary circumstances. We tend to think that stepping out in faith to obey Jesus will create favorable circumstances for us. We expect favor and grace and momentum when we step out in obedience. The disciples’ headwind shows us that isn’t always the case.
They have strained for 8 hours and it is now the 4th watch (between 3-6 in the morning). At that point the exhausted disciples are startled by the appearance of a figure moving alongside them over the waters.
Their first response is that they have seen a ghost. They cry out in terror and the figure turns towards them. The fear grows until they hear a familiar voice, and Jesus steps into the boat with them.
It was Jesus, walking on the sea.
It’s an extraordinary account. Almost unbelievable. Some, unable to accept the possibility of the miraculous assume that the story is a myth. It’s the product of a superstitious society, prone to mythologize its great figures.
There’s certainly plenty of that kind of writing from the ancient world.
But the gospels doesn’t read like that kind of mythical literature. This story reads like the rational account of someone who was just as astounded as we would be. In fact it reads like it would if you or I had written the story.
An honest reading of Mark leads one to the conclusion that his writing is meant as a factual representation of a historical event.
What do we make of it?
Why this surreal scene of walking on water? Why did Jesus appear to be passing by the disciples? Was there a purpose for all of this?
You have to remember that the Jewish people of Jesus’ day were steeped in the constantly repeating sound of their Scriptures. They memorized vast quantities of the Old Testament texts. They heard them spoken day after day, year after year.
There are three elements in this story that call to mind those Scriptures.
Jesus is the one who treads on the waves of the sea.
The first is the image of walking on water. The sight of Jesus would have called to mind the words of Job 9:8 – He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.
This comes from a passage in which Job is meditating on the absolute supremacy of God. He alone treads on the waves of the sea.
His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?
5 He moves mountains without their knowing it
and overturns them in his anger.
6 He shakes the earth from its place
and makes its pillars tremble.
7 He speaks to the sun and it does not shine;
he seals off the light of the stars.
8 He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.
9 He is the Maker of the Bear[a] and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.
11 When he passes me, I cannot see him;
when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.
In that moment on the lake Jesus was demonstrating more than just miraculous power. He was demonstrating the astounding fact that he is the one who treads on the waves of the sea.
The second element of the story is the act of Jesus passing by the disciples.
This is also rooted in Job 9 – “when he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.” (Verse 11)
Even more striking is the connection to the book of Exodus.
And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.
When Moses requests a revelation of the glory of God, God passes by Moses in order to reveal himself.
The final element is the story is found in Jesus’ words. The English translation reads, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
The literal translation of the Greek reads like this: “Take courage, I am.”
Does that sound familiar to you?
When Moses asked God how he was to refer to Him, God said “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.”
In the Hebrew, those two words come in the form of 4 letters: YHWH. We translate that as Yahweh or Jehovah. Every time you see the title the LORD in all caps in the Old Testament, the Hebrew being translated is I AM.
When Jesus appeared passing by the disciples, treading on the waves of the sea and proclaiming to them, “I am” – something incredibly profound was taking place.
It was nothing less than a spectacular Revelation of the Son of God. Jesus was no mere prophet or wonder worker. That night on the lake, the spotlight of heaven shone down and revealed that Jesus is the I AM, the one who treads on the waves of the sea.
You need to know that Jesus is the one who treads on the waves of the sea.
In the Old Testament God was unknowable. Moses experienced God passing by behind his back as he stared face first into a wall. Job experienced God on the ground as the voice of God thundered out of the sky.
Now the disciples experience the almighty, transcendent I AM as he gets into the boat with them. Do you see it?
You need to know this.
Knowledge of Jesus comes on the other side of astonishment.
Jesus is the one who treads on the waves of the sea.
You need to know that if you are going to follow him.
It’s not ultimately that Jesus has supremacy over your circumstances.
If He can walk on water and calm storms, he can forgive your sins and raise you up to eternal life.
If you can trust him with your circumstances, you can trust him with your soul.
Your eternal destiny is far more important than your earthly circumstances.
At the same time your circumstances matter and you can expect Jesus in addition to exerting supernatural power to save your soul to exert the same power in leading you through the headwinds of this life.
You need to know it so that your soul may be saved.
You need to know it so that you can live the adventure and fulfil the mission he created you for and called you to.
I am free from the burden of justifying my own existence.
I am free from the burden of controlling my circumstances and securing my future.
I don’t even have to understand my circumstances.
This is hard for some of us. Alcoholic, abusive and absent authority figures. With Jesus you can let go.
He has power to bring all things under his control.
And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Are you experiencing headwinds in your life? This is what you need to remember:
Jesus is the one who treads on the waves of the sea.
The one who treads on the waves of the sea is the living Jesus who lives with me.
He’s with you and he is far greater than your circumstances.
You can expect to experience contrary headwinds so that you can learn that Jesus is the one who treads on the sea.
Some things can only be learned by experience.
Words alone are not enough.
We can learn from the disciples’ experience that we too can expect real time lessons that might be required for us to learn to know and rely on Jesus.
Obeying Jesus does not always result in tranquility.
Obeying Jesus may send us right into the path of adversarial headwinds.
You might find that circumstances are against you.
Knowledge of God and the faith that comes from knowing God are grown through real life trials.
God made Abraham leave home. When he left he experienced a famine which drove him across borders as a refugee to a nation whose ruler took his wife and then kicked him out of the country.
God sent Moses back into Egypt. When he delivered a request to Pharoah, the ruler punished Moses’ people who turned against him.
If the disciples who knew Jesus in the flesh and witnessed his power and his compassion first hand still had hardness of heart, we too may have heard hearts that are slow to believe.
“A smooth sea never made a good sailor.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt
You’ll need the grace of God to open your heart to see that Jesus is the one who treads on the sea.
They didn’t understand about the loaves.
Because their hearts were hardened.
Seeing is not believing. Because seeing is not always understanding.
When infinite reality emerges within the dimensional confines of time and space out mental capacity is exhausted.
When the creator enters into the creation our mental fuses blow.
In addition to our finite limitations, belief is hindered by the mixed motivations of sinful beings.
Sometimes we don’t want to believe, it’s too terrible. The possibility of our lives being remade by the supremacy of God is sometimes too much.
The disciples walked with Jesus for years, they witnessed first hand one supernatural event after another. They were still slow of heart to believe.
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
They needed help. Here’s how Paul put it in 1 Corinthians.
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 1:24
Sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes experience isn’t enough. Sometimes we need the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Are headwinds blowing strong these days? Turn your eyes upon Jesus, the one who treads on the waves of the sea.
Quiet your heart and pray with Paul –
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown