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Jesus Walks on Water

September 2, 2012 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Gospel of Mark

Topic: Faith Passage: Mark 6:45–56

Let’s turn together to Mark chapter 6 as we continue our series in this gospel. A very familiar story – the story of Jesus coming to his disciples walking on water but my prayer is a simple one this morning: that we see Jesus through this passage, and that as we see Jesus, our faith in him is strengthened. So let’s pray and then we’ll read the passage.

Mark 6:45-56

Immediately after the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, Jesus makes the disciples get into the boat to head across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida while he dismisses the crowd. The Greek word indicates that Jesus forced them into the boat with some urgency. They didn’t want to leave – a great miracle had just been performed, they had participated in that miracle, and they were enjoying the afterglow with the crowd. Mark doesn’t tell us why Jesus made the disciples leave so urgently but the gospel of John tells us something about that event that Mark’s account leaves out. John 6:14 says,

When the people saw the sign that he had done [that is, the feeding of the five thousand], they said, ‘‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. John 6:14-15

Galilee was known for its nationalistic fervor and this crowd was ready to turn this gathering into the Messianic National Convention and nominate Jesus as their King. And they weren’t going to take “no” for an answer. Jesus knew they were ready to take him by force. So Jesus dials down the fervor by evacuating his disciples (who might have fueled the fire) and withdrawing to a mountain to pray.

So once again the disciples find themselves on the Sea of Galilee and once again they encounter a crisis, but this crisis is different than the last one. In chapter 4 they encounter a deadly storm that threatens to drown them, but in this case, they aren’t in any danger, they’re just not able to make any headway. A strong wind is against them making it necessary for them to lower the sails and row with all their might. But for all their rowing, they aren’t making much progress. Remember they are already weary from days of non-stop ministry demands – so busy they didn’t even have time to eat – and now they are at the point of complete physical exhaustion. Mark tells us that Jesus, from the mountain, could look out on the moonlit lake and see that they were making headway painfully and so he comes to them, somewhere between 3am and 6am, walking on the water. And it’s at this point that two questions are raised by Mark’s text. One question is about something he records, and the other question is about something he leaves out.

1. Why does verse 48 say that Jesus meant to pass by them? Didn’t he intend to stop and help?
2. Why didn’t Mark include the story of Peter stepping out of the boat?

In the Greek, the wording in verse 48 is clear: Jesus meant to pass by them. That was his intention –but the question is why? Why would Jesus head to the struggling disciples and then just walk on by without helping them, as if he didn’t care about their plight? Remember, the reason he walked out to them in the first place is he saw that they were making headway painfully because the wind was against them. So what does it mean that he meant to pass by them?

Mark’s wording of passing by them is very specific and unusual, and to understand its deeper meaning we need to look at this miracle through the lens of the OT and what we’ll find is that there is much in this miracle that speaks of the deity of Christ. Speaking of God Job 9 says,

He [God] 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 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. Job 9:5-11

Two interesting things in this passage: God treads on the waves of the sea. And when he passes me, I cannot see him, when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. The disciples couldn’t perceive that it was Jesus – they thought it was a ghost. But the idea of “passing by” has deep OT roots in the glory of God.

In Exodus 33 when Moses asks God to show him His glory, the Lord answers in verse 21: Behold there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by

In 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is hiding from Jezebel in a cave, the Lord appears to Elijah and says, Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord. And behold, the Lord passed by

Mark uses these specific words to show that this was an epiphany – a revealing of the deity of Christ. Jesus doesn’t mean to “pass by” them so that he can beat them to the shore, but to show them His glory. They were meant to see Jesus treading on the waves and see his glory, but in their fear and lack of faith they don’t perceive it, think it’s a water spirit and cry out in fear. Jesus’ response to their fear, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” is once again a subtle echo of OT reassurances from God.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; Isa. 41:10

The disciples didn’t understand, they didn’t perceive who Jesus was, even after all that he had done their minds were still dull. That’s why Mark says that they didn’t understand about the loaves – a miracle that was an echo of the Lord feeding the Israelites manna from heaven.

Mark doesn’t include the story of Peter because, if you remember, Mark’s gospel is the eyewitness account of Peter and apparently Peter didn’t see his portion of this story as essential to be told, and I think that there is something to be learned in that. I know people slam Peter for getting his eyes on the wind and waves and sinking, but to me its amazing that he got out of the boat at all. He walked on water, even if only for a few steps. But the hero of this story (and the point) isn’t Peter, its Jesus. People have preached – and I have preached – that we need to get out of the boat and take steps of faith. And there is great truth in that and times when that’s exactly what we need to do. But it’s not a story that is central to the miracle because the main point is Christ’s glory and Jesus’ goal was to help the disciples get safely to their destination in the boat, not to get all the disciples out of the boat and walking on water.

Before we consider how this passage applies to us, let’s look quickly at two other points from this story. The first point is that they didn’t end up where they were headed to go. Jesus told them to go to Bethsaida, which is on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee, but they are blown off course by the wind and waves and end up in Gennesaret which is on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee.

The other thing to note is that there was a large crowd waiting for them, but they were only there to get things from Jesus. They brought their sick and laid them in the marketplaces and implored Jesus that they could just touch the fringe of his garment much like the woman with the bleeding condition. And they were all healed – that’s a good thing. But there was no spiritual hunger, no pursuit of Jesus for who Jesus was, just for what Jesus could give them. In the gospel of John Jesus addresses this by telling them that they were seeking earthly bread to fill their earthly hunger but that they should work for the food that endures to eternal life, and then he says, “I am the bread of life.” This was a crowd focused on temporal blessings rather than eternal blessings.

Personal application

So how can we apply the truths that we see in this passage to our lives? Let me share three application points (going to take the most time with the first one):

I. Jesus uses strong headwinds to teach us that we need him in the boat

The disciples were rowing and rowing and going nowhere. Remember that they were already weary from days of non-stop ministry without even time to eat, and now here they are, doing what Jesus told them to do, but completely exhausted and making no progress.

Ever feel like that? You’re rowing and rowing and seem to be going nowhere? You’re working and working, but any progress you make is slow and painful. I’m not talking about good hard work, as if Jesus will make everything in life go easy. Hard work is a good thing and a part of a healthy life. I’m talking about in our discipleship, in our progress in Christ, in the labors that it seems he has called us to do, in our lives, there are times when it seems like we expend so much energy and make so little progress, sometimes even lose ground. Jesus uses these strong headwinds to teach us that we need him in the boat. Like the disciples, we are learning our need for dependence on God. We are learning our daily need for faith in his power, not our own.

There is a kind of weariness, exhaustion, and frustration in the labors of our life that come from doing it all in our strength. We rely on our rowing to move the boat forward and eventually we need to learn that we can’t do it. The question this asks our faith is, do we trust our own work or do we trust God’s work? This applies to everything in life. There are very few times when the Lord calls us to take radically supernatural steps out of the boat, more often he calls us to see our need for his strength and supernatural enabling in the everyday, ordinary things we do, like taking a boat from one side of the lake to the other.

• We need Jesus in the boat of our parenting – we can feel like we put so much effort into it, and wonder why progress sometimes is so painful. Moms especially can be tempted to discouragement and weariness. We can’t do it apart from Jesus. There is a rest in working our part but leaving the big stuff to God – we can’t save our kids, we can’t control what they become or what happens in their lives, we can’t change their hearts. When we think we need to do those things but then realize we can’t, we grow weary, we get discouraged, we become fearful, or we row harder and try to control or manipulate our kids into what we want for them. We need to call out to Jesus.

• We need Jesus in the boat of our evangelism – the gospel of Mark has appropriately stirred our hearts toward the lost and the call to preach the gospel and be witnesses of all that God has done for us through Christ. But we can’t row that boat alone – we need Jesus in the boat of our evangelism. When I feel an internal striving to share the gospel that isn’t linked to an internal dependence on God, and resting in the Lord to open the right doors, and praying that God would open the right doors, then I can row and row, but go nowhere.

• We need Jesus in the boat of our business (whatever that might be). I’ve met guys that have businesses and invariably choices will come along that test whether they trust in God or trust in themselves to move the business forward. If you are tempted to do something unethical because you think you can’t afford not to, you are trusting your rowing not the Lord. If you think you have to constantly work long hours, can’t turn off the cell phone, can’t leave the office or it will all fall apart without you, you are trusting your rowing, not the Lord. There is a rest that comes from faith – not inactivity, not lack of hard work, but a rest from striving and thinking it all depends on me.

• If you’re single and you want to be married – nothing wrong with that, that is a good desire – unless you begin to trust your rowing instead of the Lord. When I was single I knew a guy who would literally go to new ministry groups like Bible studies and such just long enough to scope out the single ladies, and if there weren’t any interesting single gals, or any single gals who were interested in him (which was far more common) than he dropped that group like a hot potato. He was rowing with all his strength, but thankfully, for the sake of all the young ladies in that church, he didn’t make any progress. You need Jesus in the boat of your singleness.

• All married couples at some point know what it is to encounter headwinds that seem be against your marriage. Arguments, conflicts, drifting hearts, stubbornness, nagging, manipulating, controlling, bitterness, failure to communicate, all these things can make it seem like you’re both rowing with all your strength, but in opposite directions! It takes effort to cultivate a good marriage, but it takes more than effort. We need Jesus in the boat of our marriages – we need help from the Lord, and we need to give our marriages to God, especially where we can’t change things, and pray for God to bring the changes needed – not just to our spouse, but to our hearts.

II. Where we end up may not be where we were headed

The wind and waves knocked them off course and they ended up on the wrong side of the lake. And here’s a theological question: Jesus told them to go to Bethsaida, and when he joined them they were immediately at the shore – but it wasn’t the shore he told them to go to. Couldn’t he have supernaturally transported them to the right shore? But they got out and ministered where they were.

The life of faith and following Jesus may take us in directions we don’t expect. What’s important is that the Lord is with us, and that we serve him wherever we go. Maybe you look around you and think, “we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.” Trust the Lord and serve him where you are!

III. Come to Jesus for the eternal bread

We want to hunger for the eternal bread that Jesus gives us – not the temporal blessings. Thank God for the temporal, but seek the eternal blessings. We can come to Jesus for needs such as jobs and health and homes, but ultimately he came to give us eternal bread and that is the best and lasting food for our souls.

How do we call Jesus into the boat?

Listen, I’m purposely not getting real theological here. I’m not talking about whether Jesus is in our lives or not – if you are a Christian Jesus resides in you through the Person of the Holy Spirit and he will never leave you or forsake you, just like he would never abandon his twelve apostles. But to experience his active blessing, his strength, his grace, his peace, his guidance, to see his glory in our lives, we need to call upon him. It’s not automatic and all believers don’t live on the same level of experiencing his presence in their lives.

We express our dependence on Jesus and our faith in him by meditating on his word and allowing his word to speak to us and feed us and change us and challenge us. We demonstrate dependence on Jesus when we make prayer a daily part of our lives. Consider this: the disciples got a head start on Jesus and began rowing in the early part of the evening. Jesus went to pray on the mountain. Who’s going to get to the destination sooner? It’s a no-brainer – the disciples have all the advantage. But they row and row and go nowhere and then a prayer-filled Jesus joins them and they’re there. We should realize that when we feel like we’re too busy to pray, too much to do, too little time, that’s when we need to pray most of all.

Finally, exercise faith. Stop white knuckling that thing and give it to God. Work, row, but rest while you row by giving it to Jesus, inviting him into the boat and giving him to oars. He is in control, not you, not me. That takes faith, it takes seeing Jesus passing by, perceiving by faith who he really is, and how much we can really trust him. Let’s pray.