“Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.”
Jesus had just done the miracle of feeding the 5000 before this part of Mark 6. And previous to that miracle was the account of the death of John the Baptist. They had been doing many other healings and traveling with Jesus. So here it states: “And immediately (after picking up all the leftovers) He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd/multitude away.” You know, there are times in our lives when it seems like we are sent us away – away from the work we are/were doing, away from people we love, and sometimes it even seems like He Himself is away from us even though we know He will never leave or forsake us. What do we do when it is that season in our lives? I think this miracle speaks to those who might find themselves in just that place.
“After bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.” Jesus, perhaps exhausted from all the healing and miracles He had been doing, seeks refuge in being alone with the Father. I see this over and over in the gospels. His rest in prayer seems full of purpose and the outcome is usually a miracle. Rest is full of God’s action…
“And when it was evening, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He was alone on the land.” In the other account of this story in John 6, it states that the disciples were waiting for Him to “come to them.” And it had already become dark. We so often expect and assume the “time” when God is going to show up. We think He’s said this or that time, and yet the timing of it always eludes us!
So He went up to a mountain to pray and yet, I find vs 48 most amazing and it says this: “And seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them…” So here He is alone on the land, on a mountain, in the dark of night and He is observing them straining at the oars! I think Jesus did not need his natural eyesight so much at this moment to see them straining at the oars. He knew his own sheep and knew they were struggling to get to the other side. When I read this, I wept, for so many feel such straining going on at the oars in life. Don’t we all experience this? Are you straining, trying to navigate yourself through some rough waters right now; straining to obey what the Lord has told you to do? Are you straining to see God answer prayer, straining to know why it has not been answered? Maybe you’re straining against sin, circumstances in life, broken relationships, trying to forgive someone, illness, or trying to find wisdom in each day – or maybe you’re just trying to get through each day and even that is an uphill battle?
I saw such a picture in these words of how we all feel in this life. We’re trying hard to follow God’s ways and yet the wind is against us. I’ve heard that the Sea of Galilee is a shallow body of water and thus prone to rough waters at the slightest winds. The current of the enemy in this life is going the wrong way, trying to carry us away from Jesus. Like the disciples, we’ve been waiting for Jesus to show up so we can indeed “go over to the other side” and while we’ve been waiting the storm has come up and we’re using all our strength to just keep afloat.
And here the rest of vs 48 comes in: “…at about the fourth watch of the night (between 3-6am) He came to them, walking on the sea…” Can you imagine rowing most of the night and straining to do so and it’s now 3-6am – How tired you’d be! Do you feel right now that it’s very late, too late in fact? You’ve suffered long ENOUGH – thank you very much! You cannot row any more. In fact you’re so tired you aren’t sure why you are even trying to keep yourself afloat now. And here they were – real fishermen used to such rowing but finding they were not “able” to do what Jesus said…remember the feeding of the 5000…and then Jesus asked them to go over to the other side. There is some larger lesson He is teaching them in this stormy moment.
But HE CAME TO THEM! He did it in such a unique way that they never would have imagined. He is coming to you – in the darkest part of the night. You know when I’m awake between 3-6am, it’s a weird time. I’ve heard it said that satanic activity is most active that time of morning. I believe it for I have gone through much in that time of the night. I think Jesus came to them JUST AT THIS TIME, because there may have been satanic activity at play here. We can’t know for sure. But it seems interesting to me, that Jesus waited until this very time to come to them. It’s never a mistake when God shows up. Perhaps He intended for them to experience this assault in order to know His deliverance. But if I remember the feeding of the 5000, this is also a time to put into practice what they learned from that miracle.
Jesus wanted to see if they would put their “little” in His hands and ask for His help right away. A puzzling part of vs 48 is this “and He intended to pass by them.” Puzzling… I mean really, was He just out for a stroll? I think not! I think there was a battle afoot during that night and only He could have power over it. He himself was going over to the other side as He asked them to. You know, none of us can obey God in our own strength. I’m sure the disciples were pulling out all their own tricks to batten down the hatches on their boat. And yet they were unable to get to the other side – at least not by rowing, not by doing it in the way they knew in the natural.
At any rate, 3-6am is an eerie time when you don’t know what time it really is. You are awake and yet want to be asleep. And here in vs 49 the disciples: “But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that is was a ghost and cried out; for they were terrified/frightened.” In referring to the previous thoughts, the spirit world seemed to be on their minds.
It strikes me that we all get freaked out when we are in the dark in life. Even when help arrives we often don’t recognize it. Is it really help or is it another attack on our souls? Have you had God show up to help and in your straining, you don’t recognize Him? It’s ok though, for I see no rebuke in Jesus’ words at this moment. “But immediately Jesus spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.”
Does it not take Him talking with us to calm us? John 10 – “My sheep know my voice.” We all need that individual touch of God to settle our hearts, minds and bodies down. The disciples saw with their eyes Jesus walking on water and that did not settle them. They needed to hear His voice – He knew that’s what they needed. I’m sure they might have settled for no wind or waves – but they needed to hear from Him.
“And He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were greatly astonished…” Him getting INTO our situations is what stops the storms around us. Oh sure, He stopped the storm in another story while He was already in the boat, but this time it was Him getting in with them, speaking with them, that stopped the raging waters.
As human as it all is, the last vs here says, “they were utterly astonished for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, and their heart was hardened.”
Nothing has changed in human nature. We all get confused in this life! I don’t think this was stated in a rough or punishing way. I think it’s just fact. God does something in our lives but we are still trying to figure out what happened. We still feel the sting of the storm on our faces and our arms are very sore with rowing. We feel the sense of failure as our own strength could not get the job done and so there is remorse or shame going on. We need rest and then our hearts become soft again.
Coming on the heels of the feeding of the 5000, perhaps this was a test for the disciples, to see if they would bring their weakness TO HIM to see what He might do with it. Many disciples were fishermen. How humbling to ask for help if you’ve done this crossing a thousand times before. Can we bring what we cannot do TO HIM so that, like the loaves and fishes, He can do something more with it? We all suffer from self-sufficiency don’t we? We don’t want to bother the Master with this or that if we can do it ourselves, or, have always done it ourselves. Jesus did not need a boat to get to the other side. Maybe that’s why He intended to pass them by. Maybe they did not need the boat either and He wanted them to get out and walk with Him? Just food for thought…
Regardless, Jesus still comes TO US in our weaknesses. Someone recently said, “O Lord, consume our weaknesses in Your strength.” I thought that was so true! So, I pray whatever storm you are in at the moment, that you will see Him and hear His voice through the whirlwind calling to you “don’t be afraid!”
Ask Him into your situation. Really this story and the miracle of the loaves and fishes back up Jesus’ words that NOTHING is impossible with God! Ask Him into whatever life is dishing out right now, and receive all that He can do for you.