July 17, 2016
There are four gospels in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They all tell the story of Jesus. As a result, since they tell the same story, three of them are quite similar – Matthew, Mark and Luke. In fact, those three are called the synoptic gospels because synoptic means “seen together.” They look the same. The fourth gospel, John, is quite different – 90% of John is not found in the other gospels because John was written last and he records stories the others left out. But why do we have four gospel narratives? Well because, Eastern writers of history wrote with specific purposes in mind – for example, often to communicate specific truth. They were not as concerned about getting all the events in proper order, or communicating all the details of an event – in other words, they didn’t record history for history’s sake. So, as you read similar stories, depending on their respective purposes, they may contain different details.
Why do I share that? Because today, we look at a familiar story found in Mark, but also Matthew and John. It’s the story of Jesus walking on the water. And there are lots of similarities and…some differences. But do those differences mean irreconcilable contradictions? Of course not – what we have are different authors recording the same story from different vantage points – with slightly different purposes in mind. And when we put it all together, we get a full picture of what happened – for our western minds.
So, we’re studying the gospel of Mark, and we’ve already studied Matthew and John – which means we’ve already looked at this story in their accounts. Which means we saw why they included them in their narratives. But at the risk of sounding terribly redundant, what was Mark’s purpose in writing his book? To share the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So that’s his primary purpose, but we’ve found he’s also developing this theme of the dullness of the disciples. In the midst of all Jesus says and does, they seem to have a hard time figuring it out. That’s going to become more clear today. So let’s read the text – Mark 6:45-52.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, wait a minute, I know this story. Isn’t this where Peter walks on the water? Yes, it is – and Matthew records that. But Mark doesn’t, for two possible reasons. First, it didn’t particularly fit his purpose of demonstrating Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And second – remember, who did Mark get his stories from? From his mentor, Peter. The story of Peter walking on the water did not end well for Peter. So Mark left it out.
There are a couple other significant – not contradictory, not irreconcilable – but significant differences between these stories as told by Matthew and John that I’ll note as we come to them. But again, why is this here? Why does Mark record it as he does? I could ask it like this – why does Jesus walk on the water? Our outline goes like this:
- The Background to the Miracles (45-46)
- The Miracles – I say miracles, because there are actually a number of them. (47-52 ) And along the way, we’ll see the purpose of the miracles – that is, why Mark records it as he does. You see, there are four significant things that support Mark’s purpose.
You see, all the things Jesus had done to this point wowed the disciples. They were really impressed when He healed people, drove out demons, raised the dead, calmed storms, fed 5,000 with a boy’s lunch. But they were just impressed, they weren’t yet convinced, because, Mark says, their hearts were hard. That’s interesting. That word is used of outsiders, not insiders. Are they followers or not? I don’t know – are you? Are you convinced? You see, this particular miracle, Matthew tells us, put them over the edge. They finally get it – this guy is the Son of God. Which means this is an important story before us today, if you’re sitting on the fence.
Let’s begin by setting the stage for the story. The story actually begins with that familiar story we looked at last week – you remember, the only miracle to appear in all four gospels. Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed 15,000 people with it – great stuff. But, why were those people there in the first place? John tells us: “A large crowd followed Him because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.” They were following Him because of all the neat tricks He was doing. But they weren’t convinced. In fact, in John’s gospel, after this, Jesus begins to teach some hard things. And many leave.
But at this point, Jesus and the disciples are in the middle of nowhere, and He does another trick. He makes them sit down by 50’s and 100’s, blesses some bread and fish, and feeds them all. Not only that, they took up twelve baskets of leftovers – one for each of the 12. Jesus really has their attention now. It’s one thing to heal somebody else, it’s a different thing to feed me lunch.
And so, we read these words in John 6:15, “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself to be alone.” The crowds at lunch that day were going to forcefully make Him king – why? Because they ate a good lunch. This was better than Golden Corral. Fickle, easily satisfied, wrongly motivated bunch of people.
Which brings us to our text. That’s why Jesus immediately made them get into the boat and go ahead of Him while He dismissed the crowds. The word made is a strong word – He commanded them, He compelled them to get in the boat. Why? There was a lot of hoopla going on. No doubt the disciples were right in the middle of it. Can you imagine? “Finally, after two years of walking around, no place to lay our heads, living from hand to mouth, this is it, Jesus. They’re ready to make you king – you have them eating out of your hands, literally. Let’s go – we’ll march with these tens of thousands to Jerusalem, pick up a few more thousand on the way, get rid of Herod, then Rome. This is it, Jesus, time to claim your kingdom!” Get in the boat.
You see, Jesus would not be made king forcefully for economic or political reasons. He would not be used for personal gain – there are a lot of people who need to hear that today. His was not a kingdom of this world – at least, not yet. To set up a kingdom and bypass the cross was exactly what Satan had tempted Him to do back in the wilderness. This was not the way to set up His kingdom. You come into His kingdom through the cross, or you don’t come at all. So, He got rid of the disciples, sending them ahead.
And after dismissing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Remember, He and His disciples had come to the area to get away from the crowds. They were tired. I said this last week: even Jesus needed a break and time to pray, to commune with His Father. It’s interesting, Mark records Jesus praying three times – before choosing the Twelve, in Gethsemane before the cross, and now. You see, this attempt to make Him king prematurely would derail His purpose for coming. So Jesus prays – likely seeking His Father’s continued will to be fulfilled, and also, perhaps, for His disciples, who were about to face another storm.
That’s the scene. It’s evening – the crowds are gone. Jesus is up on the mountain praying. And the disciples are supposed to be making their way across the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, toward Bethsaida. Not a long journey. But they encounter a storm. Not just any storm – remember, many of these disciples were seasoned sailors. This was a doozy of a storm. The entire trip should have been a few miles. But, they were driven by the wind toward the middle of the sea – they were many stadia from the shore – John tells us about 25 or 30 stadia – that’s three of four miles. They were apparently forced south, in the wrong direction.
The boat was battered by the waves, literally it was being tormented, harassed. The wind was against them – they were going into a headwind that was driving them the wrong way. Mark tells us they were straining at the oars. Basically what you have is a bunch of sailors fighting for their lives. Not only that – they’d been doing it all night. Jesus sent them away sometime in the evening. When He finally shows up, it’s during the fourth watch of the night. That’s the Roman way of dividing the night up into periods. The fourth watch was from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. The point is, these poor disciples had been fighting the storm all night, up to 6 hours, and were no closer to their destination than when they started.
This was some trial – a raging storm. Now, let’s stop right there, can I remind you it was Jesus who sent them away in the boat. And I don’t think it was like Jesus was up on the mountain praying, lost track of time, and thought, “Oh no, what have I done? I forgot all about them!” It wasn’t like the Father told Him in the middle of His prayer, “By the way, Son, your disciples are in big trouble.”
Jesus knew what He was doing. He was the one who sent them into the storm. Some speculate that’s another reason He make them get in the boat – they could see the storm coming. The point is, Jesus sent them into the storm. Which leaves us with three alternatives: either Jesus didn’t know what would happen which is unacceptable or Jesus made a mistake which is also unacceptable, or He sent them into the storm on purpose.
Which plays havoc with some theologies – the way we think about God. Some think when you come to faith in Christ, it’s prosperity for you. Your struggles and trials go away. You mean Jesus actually sent them into a trial? He intentionally placed them in harm’s way? Yes. Which means, when we face trials, it might not be we’ve done something wrong. It might not be Satan is attacking us. You talk to some people and a flat tire is an arrow of the enemy. It might not be we’ve done something wrong, it might not be a satanic attack, and it might not be mere coincidence. It actually might be God wants to purify us, strengthen us, mold us, and teach us. God sometimes brings storms into our lives to mature us and teach us about Himself.
That’s what He does here. Jesus could have prevented the storm. He could have come to them sooner, if He wanted to. He could have gone with them, as He’d done before. But He allowed them to reach the extremity of their need before He intervened. He does that sometimes. But we can be sure He knows where we are, He knows what’s going on, He knows what we need, and He knows what He’s doing.
Psalm 139:8-10 says, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.” Do you believe that?
Which brings us to the Miracles in verses 48-52. There are actually four miracles here. Mark records two of them, Matthew a third, and John the fourth. Let’s look at them one at a time:
- First, Jesus came walking to them on the water. Now, a lot of liberal commentators want to dismiss this. They suggest Jesus was walking on the shore – the disciples just thought He was walking on the water. Or, He was walking on a sandbar. Problem is, that’s not what the texts says. Putting them together, we find the disciples are a long distance from the shore, three or four miles. And the language is such Jesus came walking on the water.
Which is the first significant thing that supports Mark’s purpose. Who walks on water? Job 9:8 says, “Who alone stretches out the heavens and treads upon the waves of the sea?” God.
Get the picture in your mind. I don’t think the sea was calm when Jesus was walking on it – it says the wind didn’t die down until after He get in the boat. Waves are crashing around – sea spray everywhere, the wind is howling, the night is dark – no moonlight, no starlight because of the clouds. Perhaps there is the occasional flash of lightening that illuminates the sky, claps of thunder. And they look out and see a figure walking toward them. Their response? Terror. It must be a ghost – the word is phantasma – from which we get or word phantom.
They cry out – the word is scream – grown men, like little children. Who wouldn’t? It’s the middle of the night, and someone’s taking a stroll in the middle of the sea. Their hopelessness turned to horror – they’re terrified. So Jesus calls out to them, “Take courage” – literally, cheer up. Right, Jesus. Cheer up – you try fighting for your life all night long. Then He says, “Do not be afraid.” Easy for you to say. And sandwiched between those encouragements is the reason they can cheer up – the reason they need not fear. “It is I.”
Stop right there. This is the second significant thing that supports Mark’s purpose. The Greek words are ego eimi, literally translated, I Am. The same words used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Exodus 3 when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Moses asked His name. My name is Ego Eimi – I Am. Then, in John 8, Jesus claimed to exist before Abraham – remember that? “Before Abraham was, I am.” Don’t you mean, before Abraham was, I was? No. I am. Ego Eimi. And the Jews picked up stones to stone Him. Why? Because of poor grammar? No. They knew He was claiming to be the I Am of the burning bush – they knew He was claiming to be God, as Jesus does here.
Although I doubt the disciples understood it at the time, Mark intends for us to understand, the reason they could cheer up, the reason they need not fear in the midst of a storm is because the God of the universe was there. I Am. Does that encourage you this morning? I don’t know what storms you may be facing, but I want to remind you the great I Am promised to never leave you nor forsake you. He is present – He knows what you need, He knows where you are. Remember, when He was praying on the mountain top? I suggested He was praying for the disciple? You see, Romans 8 says He’s seated at the right hand of God interceding for you.
Not only that, verse 48 is the third significant thing that supports Mark’s purpose. There’s a troubling description given. Mark says when Jesus came walking on the water, He intended to, “pass by them.” What? They’d been struggling all night, and He’s going to just walk by? What is it, a race? Not exactly. The word for “pass by” is a technical term in the Old Testament which speaks of a theophany – an appearance of God. God put Moses in the cleft of the rock so Moses could see when God “passed by.” God told Elijah to stand on the mountain, for the Lord was about to “pass by.” The point is, Jesus was doing something very significant with this walk on the see – He was proving He was God. And they got it. We’ll see that in a minute.
Understand this, Jesus didn’t walk on water to teach the disciples how to do it – this isn’t something we’re supposed to try to do. And He didn’t have to walk on water to save them – He could have done it from the shore, He could have done it from the mountaintop, He could have prevented the storm. But He chose to show up in the midst of the storm in the nick of time to demonstrate His willingness to do whatever necessary to save His children – to give them an unforgettable reminder of the power and extent of His divine care. Which means, you will never find yourself in a place where Jesus can’t find you. You’ll never be in a storm so severe He can’t protect you. The storm is never so severe, the night never so black, the boat never so frail that we have to be fearful or discouraged that we’re beyond His care.
- So, first miracle, Jesus walked on water. Second miracle, actually found in Matthew’s story. Most of us are familiar with the story – we all know about Peter’s successful, and failed attempt to walk on water. Only Matthew records it – Mark and John leave it out. When Jesus calls out to the disciples, Peter responds, “If it’s you, command me to come to you.” Jesus responds with a single word, come!
Now, again, Jesus’ point here was not to teach us how to walk on water. If you just have enough faith, you won’t need boats. Later, in John 21, when Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection – the disciples are out fishing on this same Sea of Galilee. Jesus calls to them from the shore, Peter realizes it’s Jesus, tears off his coat, throws himself overboard, and swims ashore. Didn’t he learn anything about water-walking? That wasn’t the point. The point was, Peter wanted to be with Jesus. Lord, if it’s you, in the midst of this storm, I want to be where you are. Command me to come.
Jesus did. Peter walked on water. We’re not sure how far, apparently most of the way, because when he started to sink, Jesus simply reached out His hand and grabbed him. Then, presumably, they both walked on the water back to the boat. You see, when Peter got out there, for just a moment, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to look around. He saw the wind and the waves – the storm was still there – he became frightened. And he began to sink. We do the same thing. We can face storms in our lives – significant storms of huge proportions. We look to Jesus, and everything’s okay. The storm’s still there – but He helps us through. But how often do we take our eyes off Christ and begin looking around at our circumstances, and begin to doubt? We look at the financial, relational, academic, vocational, familial struggles – and we doubt, and can begin to sink in a sea of despair. Jesus says, focus on me – I’ll see you through. I won’t necessarily cease the raging of the storm – but I will see you through.
Jesus gave Peter a mild rebuke – O you of little faith, why did you doubt? Because, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. And Jesus said, you almost made it – just a few more steps and you were here. Don’t doubt – trust. Now think about it, was Peter a failure? Maybe. But there were eleven bigger failures in the boat – they never got out. Peter may have exercised little faith – they exercised none. I’m confident Peter took this event to the grave with him – he walked on water – he’s the only person on the planet besides Jesus to walk on water. Peter is an encouragement to us to exercise faith and walk with Jesus through the midst of storms.
- Third and fourth miracles, very quickly. The third is found in verse 51, and is the fourth significant thing in the story that serves Mark’s purpose, “Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped.” The storm died – just like before. Who controls the winds and the waves? God. And there’s also an encouragement to us, storms don’t last forever – they eventually go away.
- Which brings us quickly to the fourth, rather obscure, miracle, found in John 6:21, “So they were willing to receive Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” He gets in the boat, the storm stops, and beam me up Scotty, they’re at the shore. They had been rowing long enough.
Now, at this point, Mark tells us the disciples were utterly astonished for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. You see, he’s developing another theme in his book – namely, the disciples were very slow to understand. They had seen Jesus do a lot. The latest, He had taken five loaves and two fish and fed a multitude of people. That should have been convincing. It wasn’t. They needed more, because their hearts were hard. That’s quite the indictment. I wonder how much Jesus has to do before we really learn to trust Him. Mark’s point, I think, is to encourage us. Trust. Sure, you may face storms in this life, but trust Him – He’s altogether trustworthy.
But, Matthew records a further response. You see, as I suggested earlier, till this point, the disciples had only been amazed by Jesus – they were even asking the right questions, “What kind of man is this?” But they had yet to come to the right answer.
Even after He fed 15,000 people with a boys lunch, they were impressed, but it hadn’t convinced them yet. They didn’t get it. Which is exactly why we have this story of Jesus walking on the water. Okay fine – let’s throw them into the midst of another storm, where they fight for their lives all night, then, I’ll take a little stroll in the middle of the night, on top of the water. Let’s see if they can figure it out then.
And Matthew records, when Jesus got into the boat and transported them immediately to the shore, they exclaimed, “You are certainly God’s Son.” This is the first time in the Gospels the disciples declare it. That’s the message Jesus wants you to hear today. He is the Son of God. In fact, He is God Himself – the great I Am of the burning bush. He wants to show Himself mighty in your presence. In the storms of life, in the challenges you face, He wants to pass by you – to say to you, cheer up, don’t be afraid – I am that I am is here. As we close this morning, I simply want to ask you, do you know who Jesus is? Yes, I know most of you know Him as your Savior, but do you know Him as the One to walk with you in the midst of the storms. Do you trust? Maybe, you’ve focused on the elements, the circumstances of your storm long enough. Maybe it’s time to focus on the God of the storm Who walks with you, and trust Him.