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(45-48) Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them
How often have you found yourself frustrated because, even though you might not want to admit it, you just don’t seem to get it. You read a simple Bible story like that from today’s Gospel, and it just doesn’t sit right. You start asking yourself things like: If Jesus is God and God knows all things why does He order the disciples out into what He knows will become a storm? If Jesus is God and God is compassionate then why does He wait so long (around 8 hours!) without doing anything to help? And if Jesus is finally about to do something for them – like walking all the way out there on the water – then why does He “mean to pass them by”?
The head may understand the words, but the heart doesn’t get what’s going on. It just doesn’t seem right, and no simple answer seems to make it fit. Why would Jesus toy with them in their time of need like that? You wouldn’t be alone if you were having trouble “getting” the point behind this story. Many people today still read their lives the same way! “Why doesn’t God help me? Does He not know? Does He not care? Is He just toying with me?” “I don’t get it … He says that He loves me, but then He lets this happen!”
The disciples didn’t seem to get it either. (49-52) but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 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.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Despite all they had seen Jesus do in the past they just don’t get it! Talk about a short memory! Why, they’ve even been in a boat during a storm before … and Jesus came to their rescue that time too! Do they remember? He’s just “delivered” a miraculous lunch, feeding over 5000 with five loaves and two small fish! Don’t they get it? No. And so Mark’s comment “for they did not understand about the loaves”!
And now maybe it’s our turn to scratch our heads and say “I don’t get it!” What do the loaves have to do with the waves? What is it about the feeding of the 5000 that we are not seeing? What does it mean that their hearts were hard?
Where they should have seen Jesus they saw only themselves. Where the miracle of thousands fed shouted forth the creative power of Christ over the elements of nature they saw only a means to filling their own belly! Where Jesus displays His omnipotence over the destructive powers of the wind and the waves they are blinded by their own fears and superstitions. It is a subtle and deadly trap we all fall into. We think we are getting it, when really we are focussed on the wrong thing all-together!
The reason so many people – you, me, and the disciples included – just don’t get what’s going on here is what C.S. Lewis referred to as Putting God in the Dock … putting God on trial … demanding answers from Him … assuming that He must prove Himself to us! Why doesn’t He protect them better? Why doesn’t He help them sooner? Why doesn’t He stop what He’s doing to serve them more fully? We just don’t get it!
Jesus is not just our warm and fuzzy friend who is there to serve our every whim… He is God! Our relationship with the Divine shouldn’t be treated casually. Nor should our understanding of who Jesus is be taken lightly either! Jesus is the Creator, the Word through whom all things were made, the image of the invisible God, He has power over all creation.
To finally get it (and so much of what happens in our life) we must first put our hubris and our pride firmly aside. God does not deign to explain everything He does, every difficult event that happens in creation or in your life. But He has condescended to reveal Himself to us in Jesus Christ – inviting us to believe in Him through all the ups and downs of life!
In these struggles, human and divine, Christ does not come to us at once. There will always be time for the development of character, for the exercise of faith and patience. Time to focus not on Me but on Thee! We Christians tend to complain that Christ’s comforts do not come sooner. It is not about when we will … His Divine love is never late. There is a time for healing, a time for answers, but that time is known only to Him. If you get nothing else from this sermon let it be this! He may not take our fears and our suffering away when we might want, but He will never leave us to suffer alone!
(48-51) And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 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.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.
In the Bible, when God makes His presence pass by, it is not out of neglect, it is because of undeserved favour. The glory of God passed by Moses on the mountain, and by Elijah, also on a mountain. Jesus wanted the disciples (and so Mark wants us) to understand that when Jesus intended to pass by them, it was a saving passing by. It was a Theophany – a revelation of His Divinity, His God-head, His authority as master of all creation – even the laws of nature. He was giving them an unprecedented glimpse of the Lord God Almighty at work! But they don’t get it … so He graciously stops and gives them a further demonstration – an even greater revelation of Himself!
Jesus our Messiah is the One who truly sees their (and our) situation and willingly steps through the storm and on the surface of the sea to bring them peace and save their souls! He gives His word of authority. He gives His word of peace. “Take heart, I am He. It is me. I am in charge, just as you see! Now stop being afraid!” He doesn’t abandon disciples when they don’t get it! He never abandons those who just don’t seem to get it. Rather He graciously reveals Himself again and again!
That’s why He sends them out on the boat, why He waits, and why He walks by – to reveal Himself to the disciples who still didn’t get it … even after the feeding of the 5000. That’s why He comes to us again and again and again. To reveal Himself as the Lord and God of our salvation. That’s why He comes to us in the Words of Holy Scripture, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper. Not because we get it. But because in these things we get Him! His life and death and resurrection. His forgiveness and perfection. His everlasting life.
Dear friends, consider again your saviour in the light of this account. So kind, so loving, so gracious. So patient to reveal himself to us in His cross and in His empty tomb! He does not still the storms of life at our whim, but rides them out with us according to His divine purpose for our salvation!