Jesus Walks on the Sea
Main Idea: Hard hearts pose a greater threat to personal discipleship than any form of physical danger.
I. An Intentional Withdrawal
II. An Inconceivable Revelation
III. A Significant Deficiency
You know, sometimes I read through the Gospels and I wonder, “How in the world could the disciples spend so much time with Jesus and still not grasp who he truly was?” They have an inside track to all of his teaching. They have a front row seat to all of his miracles. They are even able to actively participate in his ministry. Yet, time and time again, their actions reveal the truth that they still don’t understand who Jesus really is.
As we have already seen, proximity to and affinity for Jesus is not the same thing as faith in Jesus. What I mean, is that at this stage of Jesus’ ministry the disciples are not pursuing Jesus as an end in himself—they are not pursuing Jesus as their highest joy and satisfaction. They are little different from the crowds who are looking for a human Messiah to deliver Israel from Roman rule. And as we will see later on, they are actually hoping to leverage their relationship with Jesus for their own personal gain in his promised Messianic kingdom.
But, as we turn to our text today, Mark exposes us to the fundamental truth—and the main point of our passage today—that that hard hearts pose a greater threat to personal discipleship than any form of physical danger. Up until this point in the Gospel of Mark Jesus has cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, stilled the raging sea with a simple command, and in the previous passage he fed 5,000 men with 5 loaves and 2 fish… If anyone should understand who Jesus is by now it should be these 12 men. But, their actions in our passage today clearly reveal that they still don’t have a clue. They know Jesus is from God, they have growing hope that he might be the promised Messiah, but they still do not realize that his is God in human flesh.
An Intentional Withdrawal (Mark 6:45–46)
Notice that Jesus and his disciples are still with the crowd from last week. But even more, notice that verse 45 carries an unmistakable note of urgency.
Mark 6:45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
Jesus doesn’t let the disciples hang out with the crowd or slip off to the perimeter for a nap. He forcesthem to get in the boat and leave for Bethsaida the very moment that they finish collecting the 12 baskets of bread; even though the sun is quickly setting. But, why does Jesus want to dismiss the crowd all by himself? Well, the parallel account in John 6 provides valuable insight.
John 6:13–15 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
See, the crowd in the Gospel of John make the Prophet like Moseslink between the bread miracle and the OT manna that we saw last week, and they are getting excited. And I’d suggest that the disciples are getting caught up in their Messianic fervor as well because the Greek verb (ἠνάγκασεν) behind our English word “made” strongly suggests that the disciples didn’t want to leave. Therefore, it appears that Jesus forces his disciples to leave so that he can diffuse the crowds revolutionary fervor by persuading them to just go home.
No one, not even his disciples, understand the true nature and ultimate cost of his gospel mission. Jesus will not ascend to the throne in a groundswell of nationalistic fervor and Roman blood. He will ascend to the throne in the face of abject rejection and conquer his enemies by pouring out his blood for them, which is why he retreats to the hills to pray.
The Gospel of Mark records Jesus praying only three times during his earthly ministry (1:35; 6:45; 14:35–39). And as one scholar observes, in each instance Jesus prays alone, at night, in a lonely place after his disciples fail to understand his mission, and he has faced a formative decision.
In other words, Jesus goes away to pray alone so that:
- He might fight the temptation to pursue an easier path.
- He might cast his anxiety and frustration over the disciples ignorance on God.
- He might come before God in humble dependence, reaffirming his calling and commitment to whole-hearted obedience.
This is important for us to see. Where do you go when you are hopelessly misunderstood and everyone fails you? Do you slink into a dark hole to brood and stoke your bitterness? Do you lash out? Or do you turn to God in prayer?
Yes, Jesus has faced every temptation that we have without sin. But, he did all of this while humbly depending upon the Father’s provision, plan, and power to complete his mission. In fact, in this, I’m reminded of Surgeons insight, “You will observe that the desire to commune with God is intensified by the failure of all other sources of consolation.”
Pain and disillusionment with people is often a divine invitation to find and enjoy intimate communion with God himself. The only one who will never abandon us. The only one who can give us power over temptation. The only one who will preserve us in his grace. The only one who sees everything we are going through.
An Inconceivable Revelation (Mark 6:47–52)
Jesus Saw (Mark 6:47–48a)
Now it may not be apparent to us, but it’s been 8–12 hours since Jesus made the disciples leave in verse 45. And under normal conditions the disciples should have been able to cross the Sea of Galilee in about 6–8 hours, but they are only half-way across after 8–12 hours of brutally painful rowing against the wind.
They may feel lost and tormented in the dark storm, but Jesus seestheir perilous circumstance and responds to their need. When Jesus sees our plight, he does not dismiss or ignore our struggle. His seeing drives his compassion to act in behalf of the struggler. This is the very heart of our God on display in the New and Old Testament alike. Listen to the striking similarity in Exodus 2.
Exodus 2:7–8 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Note, when God sees his people suffering he is driven to act on their behalf. Yet, in Mark Jesus does not wait for the boat to come to him or command the storm to stop so that the disciples can make it to their destination. Without hesitation, Jesus goes out to them—without a boat—walking on the water. The main point of this miracle is that, only one person walks on the water, and that is God himself.
Job 9:8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea?
Jesus doesn’t walk across the water just because it is the quickest route to his disciples. He walks across the water to reveal the true nature of his inexhaustibly omnipotent and utterly sovereign divinity, in that he is doing something that only God can do! And in this miracle, he is following a well-established pattern for moments of self-revelation— a pattern that is unintentionally obscured in some of our English translations.
Jesus Planned to Pass them by (Mark 6:48b)
Let’s take a quick look at four common translations of this clause. (For more information see Mark 6:48b Translation Data below)
- KJV: He cometh unto them walking upon the sea, and would have passed them by.
- NIV: He went out to them walking on the lake. He was about to pass them.
- NASB: He came to them, walking on the sea; and he intended to pass by them.
- ESV: He came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass them by.
These translations leave us with a question, would Jesus have passed them by if they did not see him (KJV and NIV) OR did Jesus really mean to pass by them? Did he mean to or not?
Well, as I dug into this question this week I found out that the Greek text behind each of these translations is exactly the same even through the KJV follows a different textual tradition. And while I believe that the KJV and NIV are great translations, I’m not really sure why they didn’t follow the simple grammar of the text which literally reads, “and he wished to pass by them.”
So why, why would Jesus plan to pass by his disciples at the very moment they need his deliverance? Is he “passing them by” so that he can meet them on the other shore—like a joke? Is he “passing them by” hoping that they will notice that he is with them in the storm? No. I believe that he is planning to pass them by so that he can follow a well-established pattern for divine revelation established over 1,400 years before in book of Exodus.
Exodus 33:19–23 And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass beforeyou 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 Lordsaid, “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. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
Notice that God doesn’t pass before Moses so that Moses will not be able to discern his divine presence. He doesn’t pass Moses by so that he can meet him somewhere else.
Rather, God passes by Moses in order that that he might reveal nothing less than his divine glory to his faithful servant Moses. Unfathomable and infinitely holy glory that would kill Moses if he saw God face to face.
And we see the same pattern roughly 700 years later in God’s self-revelation to Elijah.
1 Kings 19:11–12 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lordwas not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lordwas not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
When Jesus plans to “pass by” his disciples he is planning to reveal that he is much more than a human Messiah. He is Yahweh the God of Israel. The very one that “passed by” Moses and Elijah is now present in the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. But, the disciples think they are seeing a ghost!
Mark 6:50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Think back to Exodus for a moment. What did God do for Moses when He passed by? He declared his divine name while he protected Moses in the cleft of the rock.
Exodus 34:6 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,
And Jesus does virtually the same thing when he says, “Take heart; it is I” (Mark 6:50); he is using the very same self-disclosure that God used in the OT “I AM.” Yes, most of our translations say, “it is I.” But, the Greek phrase behind “it is I” ego eimior simply, I Am.
Jesus is not only “passing by” his disciples he is declaring the divine name! Apart from the transfiguration and resurrection this is the highest point of Jesus’ self-revelation to his disciples in the book of Mark. But, once again the disciples completely miss the point.
A Significant Deficiency (Mark 6:51–56)
The Disciples Did Not Grasp Jesus’ True Identity (Mark 6:51b–52)
While the main point of the miracle is the revelation that Jesus is truly God. The main point of this story is that hard hearts pose a greater threat to personal discipleship than any form of physical danger.
Despite everything that has happened and the fact that Jesus instantly stills the storm again, the disciples still do not understand who Jesus is because “their hearts were hardened.” This is a devastating diagnosis. The last time Mark talked about hardened hearts was at the synagogue in Capernaum when Jesus healed the man with a deformed hand (3:5). There it occurred in reference to those who were against Jesus—people like the Pharisees, and Herodians. But, here it’s used in reference Jesus’ own disciples—insiders with intimate access to Jesus.
- Men who have witnessed his every miracle.
- Men who have heard him teach in public and in private.
- Men who have participated in his ministry, even performing miracles themselves.
By now they should understand who Jesus truly is. They should be able to trust him in any circumstance and follow him anywhere he leads. They should be holding fast like the Psalmist in Psalm 46.
Psalm 46:1–3 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
But, they react with fear because their hearts were hardened. The disciples’ hardness is manifest, in that, they do not understand the miracle of the loaves. They get caught up in the political fervor of the crowd and they completely miss who Jesus is. And as a result they do not trust in Jesus or call out to him in the midst of the storm… Rather, they exhaust themselves grinding away at the oars for 8–12 hours going nowhere, convinced they can make it to the other side if they just keep pressing on in their own strength.
See hardness does not always cause humans to flat-out reject Jesus. Hardness drives us compartmentalize our lives, embracing Jesus in some areas of our lives while we carefully protect our personal autonomy and self-sufficiency in others. As we close this morning, let me make two observations about this hardness.
First, the journey to saving faith is often a battle against self-sufficient hardness.
We see this all the time as non-Christians begin to respond to the gospel. More often than not, they are drawn to Jesus out of a sense of true need and they see how Jesus can satisfy that need; but they are still unwilling to fully-embrace Jesus in repentance and faith (Mark 1:15).
The danger is that this is not true, saving faith. Even more, is the danger that eager friends, family, and pastors behave as if this response is saving faith instead of an initial but incomplete response to the gospel.
What these people need is mature disciples to ask good questions and speak into their lives because The Parable of the Sower in Mark 4 warns us that affinity for Jesus is not the same thing as true faith in Jesus. Saving faith embraces Jesus’ promises, enjoys Jesus sovereign Lordship, and pursues Jesus as one’s greatest treasure. Jesus doesn’t let us pick and choose. If we get this wrong we get everything wrong.
Second, the journey of discipleship is often a war against self-sufficient hardness too!
What I mean by this is that the greatest danger you and I face as believers is not unexpected illness, physical danger, or religious persecution. Rather, the greatest danger that you and I face is that we are prone to find greater and greater comfort in our own abilities and resources as our hearts grow cold and hard to the infinite worth of knowing Jesus Christ.
How can you tell if this is happening to you? (Three simple questions)
1. Where do you do and what do you do when life begins to unravel?
- Do you turn to your resources and abilities?
- Do you turn on the TV to lose yourself in endless hours of entertainment? Do you turn to alcohol?
- OR do you turn to God in prayer?
2. Why do you read your Bible?
- Do you read it out of duty and obligation?
- Do you read superstitiously hoping that you will have a better day if you do?
- OR do you read it out of eager delight to see, know, and savor, Jesus Christ?
3. Why do you attend Sunday worship?
- Is it a tedious religious obligation?
- Is it an convenient opportunity to see friends?
- OR is it a heartfelt delight?
I’m not asking these questions to shame you but to help you see that Jesus sees your every need, has promised to support you through every trial and temptation, and truly satisfies your deepest longings.
Mark 6:48b Translation Data
KJV & NKJV
|… and would have passed by them.||
Texus Receptus (1550)
|καὶ ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς|
|… He was about to pass by them.||
UBS & NA28
|καὶ ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς|
|… He intended to pass them by.||
UBS & NA28
|καὶ ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς|
|… He meant to pass by them.||UBS & NA28||καὶ ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς|
Translation and Parsing
|“he wished”||“to pass by”||
|—-||Imperfect, Active, 3rd Person, Singular||
3rd Person Plural
Old Testament Parallel Texts
|Greek Septuagint (LXX)||
|καὶ εἶπεν Ἐγὼ παρελεύσομαι πρότερός σου||And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you”…|
|ἡνίκα δʼ ἂν παρέλθῃ μου ἡ δόξα||“and while my glory passes by”…|
|καὶ παρῆλθεν κύριος πρὸ προσώπου αὐτοῦ||The Lord passed before him…|
1 Kings 19:11
|ἰδοὺ παρελεύσεται κύριος||…And behold, the Lord passed by…|
“The Gk. euthys ēnankasenis unusually forceful, meaning that the disciples were “compelled posthaste” to depart the scene;” (James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 196).
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 197.
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 197.
The Greek verb (βασανίζω) behind the English word “painfully” in verse 48 means “to torture, or torment;” (Walter Bauer et al.,A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. [University of Chicago Press, 2000], 168).
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 285.