If you’ve never read this part of Mark 6, give it a good read and receive something good for this day! (I’ve included the text in this post). Jesus had just done the miracle of feeding the 5000 before this part of Mark 6. Previous to that miracle was the account of the death of John the Baptist, and healings and traveling Jesus and the 12 had been doing. Mark 6 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 multitude away.” You know, there are times in our lives when it seems like we are sent away – away from the work we are 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.
“After bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.” Jesus, perhaps very tired 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. How wonderful that He knew His human limits. And yet, His rest 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 presume the time when God is going to show up. We think He’s told us “when,” and yet the timing of it always eludes us! He went up to a mountain to pray and I find verse 48 amazing. It says this: “And seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them.” 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. 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 are straining at the oars in life.
Are you straining, trying to navigate yourself through some rough waters right now? Maybe just straining to obey what the Lord has asked you to do? Are you straining to see God answer prayer, to know why it has not been answered? Perhaps you are straining against sin, circumstances in life, broken relationships, trying to forgive someone, illness, or trying to find wisdom in each day, or maybe you are 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 are trying hard to follow God’s ways and yet the wind is against us. I have heard that the Sea of Galilee is a shallow body of water and thus prone to rough waters at the slightest winds. The current in this life is often going the wrong way, trying to carry us away from Jesus. Like the disciples, we have been waiting for Jesus to show up so we can indeed “go over to the other side”. While we have been waiting, the storm has come up and we are using all our strength to keep afloat. He sees you in the dark; rest in that fact. He will come into your situation.
And here the rest of verse 48 speaks, “…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 would be! Do you feel in life right now that it is very late? You’ve suffered long enough – thank you very much! You cannot row any more. In fact you are so tired you are not sure why you are even trying to keep yourself afloat. And here they were, real fishermen, used to such rowing but finding they were not able to do what Jesus asked. Remember the feeding of the 5000, and that 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! And 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 am awake between 3-6am, it is a weird time. I have heard it said that satanic activity is most active at that time. I believe it for I have gone through much in that time of the night. I think Jesus came to them just at that time, because there may have been satanic activity at play. We cannot know for sure, but it seems interesting to me that Jesus waited until that very moment to come to them.
It is 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. Maybe Jesus wanted to see if they would put their little in His hands and ask for His help right away. A puzzling part of verse 48 is this, “and He intended to pass by them.” I mean really, was He just out for a stroll? I think not. I think there was a battle afoot during that time of night and only He could have power over it. He was going over to the other side as He asked them to. None of us can obey God in our own strength. I am 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 in the natural, self-effort way they knew.
At any rate, 3-6am is an eerie time when you do not know what time it really is. You are awake and yet want to be asleep. And here in verse 49, “But when they (disciples) saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that is was a ghost and cried out; for they were frightened.” In referring to the previous thoughts, the spirit world seemed to be on their minds. You know we all get freaked out when we are in the dark in life. Even when help arrives we often do not recognize it. Is it really help or is it another attack on our souls? Have we had God show up to help and in our straining we just 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.”
Doesn’t it take Him talking with us to calm us? John 10 says, “My sheep know My voice.” We all need that individual touch of God to settle our hearts, minds, and bodies down. The disciples saw Jesus walking on water and that did not settle them. They needed to hear His voice – He knew that’s what they needed. I am 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.” Jesus getting into our situations is what stops the storms around us. 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. Their response was very human: “They were 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 do not think this was stated in a rough or punishing way, but 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. I think this is what hardens our hearts to understand what is really going on. We need rest and then our hearts become soft again. A hard heart is the work of the enemy, trying to discredit God’s love for us. The enemy wants us to believe a lie – that God is against us when, He in fact, is most faithfully “for” us!
Coming on the heels of the feeding of the 5000, this was a test for them, to see if they would bring their weakness to Him. Jesus wanted them to see what He might do with it. Many disciples were fishermen. How humbling it must be to ask for help if you have 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. We do not want to bother the Master with this or that if we can do it ourselves. Jesus did not need a boat to get to the other side. Maybe that is why “He intended to pass them by.” Perhaps they did not need the boat either, and He wanted them to get out and walk with Him. Regardless, Jesus still comes to us in our weaknesses. Someone recently said, “O Lord, consume our weaknesses in Your strength.” And I thought that was so true. I pray that whatever storm you face, you will see Him and hear His voice through the whirlwind calling to you; “Do not 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!”