5 And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. 46 And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.
47And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. 48 And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.
49 But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: for they all saw him, and were troubled. 50 And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.” 51 And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. (Mar 6:45-51)
The background of this text is the incident of the feeding of the five thousand, which occurred on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. After feeding all those hungry people, He made His disciples get in the boat, and sent them on ahead to a city on the other side of the lake. Yes, he had to insist on it — to constrain them. They didn’t want to be parted from Him, for whatever reason. They probably didn’t understand why He would do this. Jesus often tells us to do things that we don’t want to do — that we don’t understand. He wanted them to have this experience, that they might grow thereby. We shall see how He made use of the circumstances for a greater revelation of who He is, and what He can do. But they had no idea what He had planned for their education. So they resisted. Oh, foolish ones! When has our backwardness to obey the Lord ever got us anything but trouble?
Then He sent the people away, so that He could be alone for a while with the Father. A. T. Robertson comments, “No one really understood Jesus, not the crowds, not the disciples. Jesus needed the Father to stay and steady him.” He went into a mountain to pray. If this was necessary for Him, how much more for us? Time alone with God is a necessity, if we wish to be used of Him.
As it grew dark, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and He alone on the land. They had not gone very far, a few miles at most, for a storm had suddenly arisen, as it often does on that sea, and the wind was contrary, and they were constrained to resort to rowing. Give them credit. Jesus told them to go to Bethsaida, and that was what they were going to do, no matter what! It is good to be determined to obey in spite of difficulties.
Now I want you to notice a very ordinary word in verse 48 — He saw. Now think about this for a moment. They are a mile or more out to sea. The wind is blowing hard, and the boat is being tossed on the waves. The air would be full of spray, even if it were not raining. It is late evening — not dusk, but dark. Jesus is on a hill some distance from the shore. How could He possibly see that they were “toiling in rowing”? But He did see them. He always sees His people, and knows when they are in trouble. Some of them were tough, hardy sailors, used to the hardships of making a living from the sea. But they would be hard pressed to make it to their destination, even if they rowed all night without rest.
They probably thought, when they left Jesus, that He would catch a ride on another boat, or perhaps take the land route along the shore of the lake on foot, which would take much longer. Little did they know what He was capable of!
For we read,”and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea”. He sees them toiling, struggling, with a long night ahead of them, and He comes to them. He had no intention of being away from them when they needed His help. He had had enough time alone, and was strengthened by communion with His God. No doubt He could have calmed the sea from where He was, on the shore, but there was a reason why He came to them instead. Jesus always has a reason for what He does.
So He comes to them, walking upon the sea. That’s impossible, as we all know. It defies the law of gravity, which determines what can float and what must sink. A man must sink into the water until he displaces an amount of water equal to his own weight. He must be nearly submerged to float. But Jesus was standing up, moving about with apparent ease, as if on dry land! Jesus can do anything. It matters not whether it is impossible to us. When will we learn this! What will it take for us to stop living as if we were subject to the limitations of our circumstances? Oh, that we could simply trust God to do for us whatever we require!
We are not told whether he walked all the way from their point of departure to where they were now, but it seems a natural inference. If so, then it gives us an idea of how little progress the disciples had made, that they could be overtaken by a walker, when they had left probably hours ahead of him.
The disciples, quite naturally, are afraid of this apparition. They know that it must be a spirit, because nobody but a ghost, who is not encumbered with a body, can walk around on the sea. Jesus conceals His intent to join them, pretending to be just passing by. This doubtless reinforced the impression that it was someone or some thing other than the Lord; for why would their dear Master go right past them without saying anything?
Convinced that they are being visited by a ghost, they “cried out”! The Greek word is very strong. It means “to scream”. We don’t know what they cried out, but their thoughts may have been something like this: “Oh, no! Here we are in the midst of the sea, in a storm, in the middle of the night, and at the mercy of some evil spirit! And we left Jesus on the shore! We’re done for!”
Isn’t that just like us? We get into a little trouble, and all our confidence in God just evaporates! We don’t know how to trust Him unless we are in hopeful circumstances. We can handle an occasional bump in the road, but when things seem to be coming at us from all directions at once, we are shaken to the depths!
Earlier on the same day, Jesus had demonstrated His divine power by feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes. If only Jesus were here, we would be safe. But He was there, and they were safe! They just didn’t know it!
The disciples failed this test. We often fail our tests. But this is not an unmixed evil. God knows that we are going to fail, but he tests us anyway. Why is that, do you suppose? Is it not because He wants us to recognize our limits? Yes! The greatest danger for all of us is to think that we are strong, and don’t need God every single minute, in every circumstance of life. On the other hand, as Paul says, when we are weak, then we are strong.
So our Lord, having brought His disciples to a place of felt need, then reveals Himself to them. “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.” What a relief — and at the same time, what an astonishment — to hear that familiar friendly voice! Their teacher is full of surprises. They never can figure out what He’s going to do next. Isn’t that just His way with all of us? Who can tell what He has in store for us tomorrow? His ways are past finding out. They are not our ways. Man proposes, but God disposes. It is not in man to know his own path.
Astonished as they were, there was one more surprise coming. Without even being asked, Jesus is going to give them what they most need — a break in the weather. As soon as He steps into the boat, the wind ceases! We read that “they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.” The evangelist seems unable to convey the impression in mere words. They are not just “amazed”, but “sore amazed”; not just “sore amazed”, but “sore amazed beyond measure”; not just that, but also filled with “wonder”! One moment, they are (as they imagine) staring death in the face; the next, they are sailing on calm seas with their Master by their side.
Wouldn’t it have been better if they had trusted Him all the while, and been at peace within? They were in His hands the whole time. What if God had been pleased to take their lives by a storm, to overturn their boat and send them to the bottom of the sea? They would only have gone to the Father. Why then were they so afraid? But these men should have known better; for they had every reason to believe that the Teacher had plans for them on earth. After all, what did they think Jesus trained them for, if they were thus to be suddenly, all together, destroyed?
We miss so much because of our unbelief! We deprive ourselves of the comfort that God would give us. We limit our usefulness. We run into danger and sin in our panic to avoid the fearful challenges that God has designed for our good — our growth in grace.
He honors us with a trial, saying to Satan,”Have you considered my servant Job? (or Howard or Steve or Rebecca — fill in your own name)” And we respond by refusing the honor — indeed, do we not often impute to our Father cruelty for the way He disposes our lives? He “puts His money on us” (so to speak), knowing that He has designed the trial with us particularly in mind. It is never more than we can bear IF we will just patiently wait for the way of escape that He has promised to give us.
Jesus cares for His disciples. He does not just care about them — He takes care of them. He has already mapped out our lives to the smallest detail. There is nothing uncertain or contingent. Believe it, my brother! Believe it, my sister! Though your life may be full of challenges and difficulties, it can be a good life, full of enjoyments, and profitable to yourself and others, if you will only lay hold of this truth and hold it fast! Jesus — this almighty Jesus — cares for you!
Howard Douglas King
August 30, 2016