Mark 06v45-52 “The One Who Walks on Water”

1-2015-10-02_16-20-45 Vanuatu Havannah Harbor

Introduction

What are we to believe about Jesus Christ? When we talk about faith, we are talking about believing. But exactly what are we to believe about Jesus?

In Mark 6, we find the story of Jesus walking on the sea. Jesus had just multiplied the five loaves and two fish, performing the miracle of feeding the 5,000. He makes his disciples get into the boat, dismisses the crowd, and goes up into the mountain to pray. In the middle of the night, the disciples are struggling against the wind as they try to row across the Sea of Galilee. In the midst of their struggle, Jesus comes walking on the sea. The disciples are terrified, thinking that he was a ghost. Jesus calls out to them, gets into the boat with them, the wind stops, and the disciples are astounded. Then Mark tells us why they were completely and utterly surprised: they had not understood the meaning of the miracle of the loaves.

There you have it: the disciples had not understood because, Mark explains, their hearts were hardened. Let’s read the story in Mark 6:45-52.

Mark 6:45-52 NIVO Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. 47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

1.        Separation: By Land Or By Sea

1.1.     The Misunderstood Miracle

This miracle takes place immediately after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.You remember the story: Jesus and his disciples had been overwhelmed by the crowds. Wanting some time to rest and relax, they got into a boat and went looking for an isolated, quiet place. But the people had seen Jesus and the disciples get into the boat. They followed Jesus around the edge of the Sea of Galilee so that when Jesus and the disciples arrived, there was a great crowd waiting for them. When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them for, Mark tells us, they were like sheep without a shepherd. The Good Shepherd taught them through the day, but when it was getting late, the disciples suggested that Jesus send the people away to find something to eat.

Instead of sending them away, Jesus took five small loaves of bread and two fish, blessed them, multiplied them, and fed the multitude. When everyone had eaten their fill, there were 12 baskets full of the leftovers.

The people were amazed! John’s Gospel tells us that the people wanted to come make him king by force (John 6:15). What kind of a king did they want? They wanted a king to overthrow the Roman Empire. But Jesus had not come to be a freedom fighter.

The understanding the people had of Jesus and of his mission was incompatible with the real reason why he came. Jesus did not come to overthrow political powers and governments. He came to set up his kingdom in the hearts of men. Jesus could not allow his mission to be defined by the masses or by his disciples.

The people wanted to force him to be king. The disciples also wanted him to be king. They had all completely misunderstood his mission as the Messiah. Jesus had to separated the would-be king-makers. The disciples would go one way and the crowds the other way:

Mark 6:45-46 NIVO Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

1.2.     Jesus on the Mountain, Praying

Mark only records Jesus praying three times in his Gospel. That is not to say that Jesus only prayed three times, but that Mark only mentions three times when Jesus prayed. In each case, Jesus was praying at night and in a lonely place. In each case, his disciples had failed to understand his mission. And each time, Jesus was facing a major decision or crisis.

In the first case in Mark 1:35, the disciples found Jesus alone praying early in the morning. “Everyone is looking for you!” they told Jesus.

Mark 1:38 NIVO Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

The last time was the night before his crucifixion. As Jesus submits fully to the will of his Father and determines lay down his life as a sacrifice for our sins, his disciples are sleeping, unable to watch and pray with him for one hour.

Here in Mark 6, Jesus has separated his disciples from the crowds who all want to make him king. Jesus has gone up on the mountain, away from the people, to be alone with his Father.

1.3.     The Disciples at Sea

Now the disciples are separated from Jesus.

Mark 6:47 ESV And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.

“Whenever the disciples are separated from Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, they fall into distress.”[1]

Normally it would take six to eight hours to cross the Sea of Galilee in poor weather conditions, but the disciples are helpless against the wind.

Mark 6:48 NIVO He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.

They were straining at the oars, rowing hard, being battered as they rowed, because the wind was against them.

Can you imagine their thoughts?

First, they must have been troubled by the response of Jesus. Everyone wanted to make him king, but he calls a halt to the whole thing. He makes them get into the boat and sends the crowds away. Why not strike while the iron is hot? Why would he not accept to be their king? A storm is brewing in their thoughts about Jesus.

And then, here they are in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, at the orders of Jesus, doing what Jesus has told them to do, and everything is against them. “The wind was against them.”

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever done what you knew was right, you did what you knew God wanted you to do, and then everything went wrong? That’s what happened to the disciples.

Before, in Mark 4, the disciples were in the midst of a terrible storm, but Jesus was in the boat with them. Jesus rebuked the storm and calmed the sea simply by speaking the word.

But now in chapter 6, the disciples are alone. Jesus is not with them. They are facing the storm along. I can imagine Peter saying to John, “The last time we were in a situation like this, Jesus was with us!” Then Thomas speaks up, “Yeah, where is Jesus when you need him?”

Ever felt that way? You are going through a crisis, one of the great storms of your life, and you don’t see Jesus anywhere around? Where is Jesus when you need him?

I will tell you where he is. He is at right hand of the Father, interceding for you! (Romans 8:34).

Notice what the Bible says, “He saw the disciples straining at the oars…”

He saw. Jesus is on a mountain top, and in the middle of the night, he sees the disciples three or four miles away in the middle of the Sea of Galilee straining at the oars. What kind of eyesight is that? “One must assume that Jesus had supernatural powers to see them so far away in the darkness (6:48).”[2]

As you are straining at the oars of life, dear friend, Jesus sees. Jesus knows. Jesus cares. And Jesus is praying for you.

  • Jesus prayed.
  • Jesus saw.
  • And Jesus came.

2.        Reunion: Jesus to the Rescue

Mark 6:48 ESV …And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea.

2.1.     Jesus Walks Where God Alone Can Walk

The fourth watch began at 3:00 in the morning. Here in the darkest part of the night, Jesus comes walking on the sea.

In the darkest part of your night, look for Jesus!

Here he comes, walking on the sea!

What is this all about? Why is Jesus walking on water? Is Jesus simply going for a walk? Jesus, hem i go wokbaot nomo? Does Jesus simply want to be on the other shore when they get there? What’s going on here?

This the centerpiece of this story: Jesus is walking on the sea. He is walking on water. Who walks on water? Who is this one who comes walking on the sea?

Mark keeps bringing us back to this question, “Who is Jesus?” Who is this one who does what only God can do?

  • Who is this man who forgives sins? Only God can forgive sins (Mark 2:10).

The disciples had already asked,

  • “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).

He forgives sins (2:10) and demonstrates his power of nature (4:39). He feeds 5,000 people with five small loaves of bread and two small fish (6:31-44). Now in walking on the sea, Jesus is unmistakably identified with God.[3]

In the Old Testament, only God can walk on water. In walking on the water, Jesus walks where only God can walk.

In Job 38:16, God asks Job,

Job 38:16 NIVO “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?

The psalmist says of God in…

Psalm 77:19 NIVO Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.

Again we read in…

Isaiah 43:16 NIVO This is what the LORD says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,

Only God walks on water.

2.2.     He meant to pass by them…

And then we read that strange phrase:

Mark 6:48 ESV …He meant to pass by them,

What does that mean? “He meant to pass by them…”

Years ago my father asked me about this verse. My father was up early every morning to read his Bible before going to work. He had read through his well-marked Bible many many times, but he was puzzled by this verse. Jesus is walking on the water and Mark tells us, “He meant to pass by them.”

These little phrases that sometimes seem to be out of place are sometimes the key to understanding the passage. In the previous story, Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion on them because, Mark tells us, they were like sheep without a shepherd. That’s a strange phrase in the middle of a miracle story about feeding five thousand people. But then Jesus showed that he was the Lord who is the Good Shepherd. He made the sheep to recline in green pastures in groups of 50 and 100 before multiplying the loaves and fish to feed the multitude. These phrases give us a key to understand the meaning of the miracle.

Now we read that Jesus came to them, walking on the sea, and, “He meant to pass by them…” (Mark 6:48).

In the Old Testament, when God “passes by,” he passes by to reveal himself and to manifest his glory. At Mt. Sinai, the LORD “passed by” Moses:

Exodus 33:19-22 ESV And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 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.

Again in the next chapter we read,

Exodus 34:6-8 ESV The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

In 1 Kings 19:11-12, the Lord tells Elijah to stand on the mountain, “for the LORD is about to pass by.” In Genesis 32:31-33 (LXX), “the face of God ‘passed by’ Jacob when he was wrestling with the angel.”[4]

Job makes the connection between God’s walking on water and passing by. In fact, Mark uses the same Greek words that are used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament:

Job 9:8 NIVO He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.

Job 9:11 NIVO When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.

God had told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Job said, “When he passes me, I cannot see him…” (Job 9:11). But when Jesus “passes by” the disciples in the midst of the sea, he fully intends to make the “God of Job visible…”[5]

The God of Israel, majestic and awesome but unknowable face to face, is now “passing by” believers in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus’ walking on the water to his disciples is a revelation of the glory that he shares with the Father and the compassion that he extends to his followers. It is a divine [manifestation] in answer to their earlier [astonishment] when he calmed the storm, “’ Who is this?’” (4:41).[6]

John, in his Gospel, declares that Jesus is God. Mark shows that Jesus is God.[7]

Jesus “meant to pass by them.” He fully meant to demonstrate his glory. And why this manifestation of his glory? The disciples are in the boat, in the midst of the sea, struggling against the wind. More than that, they are rowing hard against what the Spirit of God is trying to show them. Their minds are full of questions. Jesus was not following their agenda. Jesus performed many miracles. Was he not the Messiah? Why would he not let the people make him king?

In the midst of their struggle, Jesus comes walking on the waves. He says in effect, “I have not come to follow your agenda. But make no mistake about it. I am the King. I walk on water. I rule the waves. The winds obey my commands. I rule the universe for I am the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

2.3.     Jesus Says What God Would Say

The disciples were terrified at this display of the glory of God.

Mark 6:48-50 ESV …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…

These men were professionals. They knew the sea. The lived on the sea. They made their living on the sea. They were rowing hard against the wind, but then they saw something that they had never seen before. Something was approaching them. Something walking through the storm, walking on the water and getting nearer. They were terrified for they thought that a ghost.

Mark 6:50 ESV …But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

“It is I,” Jesus says. “egō eimi” That phrase is identical to the phrase that God used to reveal himself to Moses. It means, “I am.”

“Who shall I say sent me?” Moses asked. “Tell them that ‘I am’ sent you, for I am that I am.” The Greek translation of that is exactly what we have here: ἐγώ εἰμι (Mark 6:50 BGT). “Jesus not only walks in God’s stead, but he also takes his name.”[8]

Jesus says what God says in the Old Testament: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50).

This passage needs to be interpreted in light of what the prophet Isaiah had said in chapter 43. God says to Israel:

Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

Isaiah 43:10-11 NIV “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.

Isaiah 43:15-16 NIV I am the LORD, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.” 16 This is what the LORD says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters,

Garland comments,

The disciples who have been called by Jesus pass through the waters, and Jesus is with them and is the one who need only say, “I am.” “The Holy One of God” (1:24), the “Son of the Most High God” (5:7), really is in the midst. For now, however, the answer sails by the disciples.[9]

2.4.     Jesus’ Presence Calms the Storm

It was not until Jesus joined the disciples in the boat that the storm stopped.

Mark 6:51 ESV And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.

Separation from Jesus brought distress. Jesus’ presence with them overcame the storms in their lives.[10]

You will pass through storms. But with Christ, you will pass through them. As we read in Isaiah 43,

  • When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
  • When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
  • When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Deep waters, rushing rivers, fiery blazes — these you may experience in your Christian life, but with Christ you will pass through them victorious.

3.        Hard Hearts, Slow to Understand

Jesus steps into the boat, the wind ceased, and the disciples were utterly astounded (6:51).

They were amazed, but they should not have been. They were completely astonished at Jesus walking on the water and the calming of the sea when he got into the boat. They were astounded because they had not believed.

By now they should have understood, but Mark says,

Mark 6:51-52 ESV …And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

What did they not understand? Mark says specifically that they had not understood about the loaves. Jesus had multiplied the loaves and the fish, but they have not understood what that meant.

3.1.     Meaning in the Miracles

When we consider the miracles of Jesus, whether it be feeding the five thousand or walking on water, we need to understand that Jesus is not doing tricks to amuse us or amaze us. There is meaning in the miracles.

In these two miracles, the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and in the walking on the sea, Mark has given us the key to their meaning. Miracles are like signs that point beyond themselves. There are road signs along the road that goes around the island of Efate. You will see a sign that tells you how far it is to Paonangisu or Saama or Epau. When you see a sign that says that it is 13km to Saama, you do not stop at the sign and think that you have arrived at Saama. The sign points to a reality beyond itself. The signs are not put up so people would admire the signs. They are put up to point people in the right direction.

Jesus did not perform miracles so that people would admire his miracles. The miracles were signs that pointed beyond themselves. They pointed to the person of Jesus Christ. They should raise questions that ask, “Who is this that calms the storm with a word? Who is this that multiplies the loaves? Who is this who walks on the sea?”

3.2.     Failure to Understand

The disciples had not understood who it was who had multiplied the loaves and the fish. They had not understood that he was the bread of life that had come down from heaven. They had not understood that he was the Good Shepherd who made his sheep to recline in green pastures. They had not understood that he was himself the very source of life.

The disciples had not yet come to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh. They had failed to understand who he was. Had they believed that he was the Son of God, they would not have been surprised that he could walk on water. They would not have been astonished that the wind suddenly stopped. Had they understood the great might and unlimited power of the Son of God, they would not have feared.[11]

3.3.     Hearts that Were Hard

The disciples had not understood, but they were nonetheless without excuse. Mark says that they had not understood because their hearts were hardened. We have seen the hard hearts of the Pharisees and the Herodians when Jesus healed the man with the deformed hand (3:5). But these are his own disciples. And they have hard hearts.

What does that mean? That means that they have their own idea about who Jesus is supposed to be. They know what kind of a Messiah they want him to be. Like the rest of the multitude that wanted to make Jesus king, the disciples wanted a Messiah that would get rid of the Roman government and give them all the social welfare benefits that comes with multiplied loaves and fish.

Maybe you want a Jesus who will always make you happy, or well, or rich, or who will get you a wife or a husband. That’s the Jesus that you want and not another. You want a Savior on your own terms. The disciples were not the only ones to have hard hearts.

The disciples knew Jesus and had spent time with him, but they had hard hearts that kept them from knowing Jesus for who he really was and is. Their ideas about who he was kept them from truly knowing him. These men

  • had a unique calling (1:16-20; 3:13-19).
  • They had had privileged instruction (3:31-35; 4:13-20, 34).
  • They had been commissioned, and
  • Given miracle-working power, and
  • Had participated in Jesus’s ministry (6:7-13, 30, 35-44).

Still they do not understand.[12] Because they have hard hearts. They think they know how things ought to be. They know what they want in a Messiah.

Faith is not automatic; it is the result of a choice to let go of who we want Jesus to be and to accept what the Word of God reveals about him.[13]

The cults today promote a different Jesus. They have a smaller Jesus. A created Jesus. A Jesus who was simply an angel. A Jesus who was not equal with God (John 5:18). A Jesus who had some of God in him, but not one who was filled with all the fulness of God (Colossians 2:9).

They have not understood the infinite greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ. They do not want the Jesus that is revealed in the pages of the Bible. They have hard hearts.

That’s why they have their own books that they add to the Bible, or why they have their own translation of the Bible, or why they have their own prophets or prophetesses who change the meaning of the Bible.

3.4.     Hope for Hard Hearts

The disciples had failed to understand who Jesus is. But there was hope for them, and there is hope for us. Just as they came to understand who Jesus was and put their full faith in him, as we open and read the pages of the Bible and accept what the Scriptures tell us about Jesus, we can grow in faith. God will forgive us for our unbelief as we embrace what he has revealed.[14]

There is nothing more astounding than the fact that Jesus was actually God in the flesh. “The Word was God… The Word became flesh, and we beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14).

John 1:18 ESV No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

When you understand and accept the fact that Jesus Christ was God manifested in the flesh, then it is no longer a mystery how he could forgive sins, or heal the sick, or raise the dead, or how his death on the cross could atone for our sins.

Our God is an astounding God! Why would you want anything less than an astounding, amazing God? This is the God that evokes worship from us. This is the God who is truly awesome and worthy of our praise.

[1] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3800-3801). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 294.

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3816-3820). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[4] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 297.

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3835-3844). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[6] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3835-3844). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3835-3844). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[8] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3816-3820). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[9] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 298.

[10] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 3855-3857). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[11] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 8508-8511). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[12] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 8533-8545). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[13] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Location 3863). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[14] Stein, Robert H. (2008-11-01). Mark (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 8533-8545). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:

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