June 6, 2021
This is the second time in the Gospel of Mark where we find the disciples struggling in a boat in the middle of a storm.
The image of a ship being tossed around the sea in a storm is a universal image. It shows up in famous paintings, well-known novels, and in popular movies. It also appears in multiple places throughout the Bible.
This image resonates with each of us because we know what it’s like to be tossed about by the storms of life.
The first episode happened in Mark 4. When I preached on that passage, I mentioned that this image is so potent that when the early Christians started building their first church buildings, they called the inside of the building where the people sit “the nave.” Nave comes from the same root word as Navy. It means ship. Christians saw themselves, as the church, as a ship tossed about by a storm.
It’s no wonder therefore that a story about the disciples in a boat on the sea appears twice in the Gospel of Mark.
Even so, both stories are different. In Mark 4 Jesus is sleeping in the boat when the storm hits. Here, Jesus is up on a mountain praying. In Mark 4, Jesus calms the storm by speaking to it. Here, Jesus calms the wind by his sheer presence.
In Mark 4, the storms is so violent, it threatens to capsize the ship. Here, the disciples encounter an extremely strong wind.
In today’s passage in Mark 6, I want to consider two points:
- The Futility of the Disciples
- The Face of God
The Futility of the Disciples
The context here is that Jesus has just sent the 12 disciples out on a mission trip to the surrounding villages to share the gospel. They come back and report all the amazing things God has done, but they’re exhausted. They need a break. On top of that, they got news that John the Baptist has been beheaded. They try to get away to rest and process, but a crowd follows them. The crowd is hungry so Jesus multiples a few loaves of bread to feed them. He has the disciples help out. They need a break. It’s time to get away.
Jesus has the disciple cross the Sea of Galilee in a boat while he spends some time praying on a mountain. He plans to meet them on the other side.
But instead of a time of relaxation and rest, the disciples trip ends up looking like an exercise in futility. There are 3 reasons why their trip makes them feel frustrated and futile.
- The disciples’ destination point:
In v.45 that Jesus dismisses the crowd, has the disciples get into a boat, and directs them to the town of Bethsaida. This is a small town at the very northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Destination point: Bethsaida.
But if we skip down to the very next passage and look at v.53, it says, When they had crossed over; they landed at Gennesaret. Gennesaret is a different village on the western shore. They do not arrive in the town they set out for. In fact, they don’t even arrive in the area they were shooting for!
They try to go where Jesus sends them and do what Jesus tells them. But the winds of a storm take them to a different place.
This is a picture of the times God calls you to a certain path. You obey. You follow. You even make sacrifices! But the winds of life—take you to a completely different destination than the one you set out for.
You try to follow Jesus, you marry a Christian spouse, and maybe it was a sacrifice because there were other non-Christian people who were viable options—and then you end up miserable in your marriage or it ends in divorce.
That can feel like futility. I’m in a completely different place than the one I thought God was calling me to.
- It’s not just the disciples’ destination, it’s their circumstances.
They listen to Jesus. Get into the boat and head out to sea.
In v.47 it says, Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on the land.
The disciples find themselves in a boat on the sea at night. And this isn’t just anytime of the night, v.48 says it’s shortly before dawn. It’s always darkest before the dawn. The disciples are in the darkest darkness of the night.
But it’s not just the circumstances of time. It’s the place: v.47 says the boat was in the middle of the lake. In other words, the deepest part of the lake.
Meanwhile, Jesus is not with them. He is alone on the land. He decided to leave them and go up on a mountain to pray. Do you see the contrast? The disparity?
Jesus is up on the mountain—a place of transcendent enlightenment. Yet, disciples are in the blackest darkness.
Jesus is up on the heights of the mountain talking to God. But the disciples are sitting in the deepest depths. Away from Jesus. They might call to him for help. But he may as well be in the highest heavens separated by a chasm of eternity.
To call out is useless. Futile. He can’t hear them.
- (Destination, circumstances) Ongoing resistance
In v.48 it says that the disciples are “straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”
Do you ever feel like that—like the universe is working against you?
A couple Saturday’s ago, I had to run a quick errand. I hadn’t slept well, I was grumpy. I arrive at the store I needed to complete my errand, and it was closed. I thought, that’s just great! I wasted half an hour. And then on the way home, every single traffic light turned red just as I approached it. Not a couple. Every single one. As I approached the last light…it was green. “Finally, something is going my way. I don’t ask for much Lord. Thank you for throwing me a bone!” And then…it turned red. I was so enraged by this. I hit the steering wheel and just yelled! I felt like everything in life was against me to the point where I couldn’t do something as simple as getting across an intersection. I literally can’t get anywhere in my life!
That’s just a red light. What about when the bills keep mounting up no matter how hard you work, health issues keep getting worse and the doctors can’t seem to help you with. A relationship that goes nowhere no matter how hard you try. You’re straining at the oars. The wind refuses to blow at your back for just a day.
This is the futility of the disciples.
The Face of God
It’s worth pausing and thinking about something the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In other words, the fullness of God’s glory is revealed in the face of Jesus.
Jesus responds to the disciples’ futility by showing them that when they look at him—they see the face of God. Jesus does this in three separate ways:
Jesus walks out to them on the water.
This is not just an amusing trick to impress the disciples. This is meant to be a revelation of who Jesus is.
In Genesis 1:2 we’re told how God created the world. It says: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep (sounds a lot like the disciples’ situation—sitting in darkness on the deep surface of the sea), and the Spirit was hovering over the waters. Then God triumphs over the dark waters of chaos and shapes them into his beautiful creation.
Later, in Exodus, Israel escapes slavery in Egypt only to find themselves trapped—with the chariots of Pharoah advancing on the one side and the threatening waters of the Red Sea on the other. But God, once again, triumphs over the waters and opens the Sea so that Israel can pass through.
And now Jesus, mysteriously treads over the waters that threaten Israel. Who could this be? Job 9:8 says: He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.
Jesus is revealing himself as the Lord over Creation and the Redeemer.
Jesus almost passes them by
In v.48 it says that Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass them by…but then they saw him.
This strikes us as odd. The disciples are straining at the oars. They’re struggling. Why would Jesus even think about walking right by them? Doesn’t a Good Samaritan stop when he sees someone in need—and not pass by?
Mark is again using Old Testament language to reveal who Jesus is.
In Exodus 33-34, God gives Moses the unique privilege of seeing glimpse of him. Moses says, show me yourself. Show me your glory. Let me read several verses from Exodus 33 and 34 where God is talking to Moses (listen for the words “to pass” or “pass by”).
19 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 my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” 5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses.
Jesus is passing by the disciples like God passed in front of Moses. Except here, they don’t just get a glimpse of his back.
The disciples see the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Jesus encourages the disciples.
In v.50 Jesus utters 3 short sentences: Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid. Sentences 1 and 2 are saying something similar. Take courage. Don’t be afraid. Why should they be afraid? Because of the second sentence. It is I. That sentence can be translated “I am.” Take courage. I am. Don’t be afraid.
“I Am” is God’s name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3 in the episode of the burning bush. But the disciples don’t get some elusive glimpse of God in a fiery bust—they see him, hear him, in the flesh.
You don’t have to be afraid. Because I Am is with you.
And then, amazingly, v.51 says, Then Jesus climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. Jesus doesn’t even have to speak. His mere presence is enough to still the wind and the waters. Things are calm because God is in the boat with them.
Yet, the disciples don’t seem to understand what they have just witnessed: v.52 They had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. They’ve seen the face of God and don’t even know it.
Mark is telling us that seeing the face of God in Jesus isn’t something that happens automatically when you look upon Jesus with physical eyes. It requires a heart made new and a new set of eyes.
The disciples don’t understand what it meant when Jesus earlier fed the crowd of 5000 with just a few loaves.
It was something like when God fed Moses and Israel bread called manna in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. But this is different. Jesus is the bread of God come down from heaven for the live of the world (Jn. 6:33).
Just as Jesus broke the bread and gave it to the crowd, Jesus body was about to be broken on the cross—so that we might be made whole.
This is a New Exodus. Not from slavery in Egypt, but from the slavery of sin and death accomplished through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection.
The disciples thought that Jesus had walked up the mountain and forsaken them. But Jesus will walk up another hill, Calvary, where he will be forsaken—so that none of us ever be.
If he is willing to walk up that hill, then we can trust in our moments of futility, fear, and frustration, that he will walk into our boat, get in, and calm the storm.
And not only will he bring calm with his presence. He will take away your futility. Futility is feeling like no matter how much you strive, you’re going nowhere.
But here is his promise:
1 John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus changes you to be like him. For now, we see glimpses of him—and that changes us. But there is a day coming when we will behold him in all the fullness of his glory. And you will be changed forever. That is your destination. That is where you are going.
You will be like him. And with him.