“Reflections on Mark 6:45-56”
I have recently been reflecting on a short passage in Mark 6:45-56 that tells the story of Jesus and His disciples, but in a new and unexpected way. You see, they are having the ministry time of their lives. Jesus has been teaching the people all day, He has been taking time to show mercy on them by healing the sick and lame and casting out demons. Finally, as the evening came Jesus performs an incredible miracle and takes five loaves and two fish from a little boy and divinely multiplies them so that everyone present is able to eat to their fill. There were between six to eight thousand people there, taking in all they were hearing, seeing and now enjoying… You can almost imagine the disciples saying to one another, “Hey, this is really getting fun. Our Master is a really cool guy he does really amazing things and we get to go with Him wherever He goes. We are going to enjoy this.” You can even imagine them mingling among the people telling story after story of the ways in which Jesus has been miraculous. They are reveling in it all…then…
“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.” (6:45)
What? Why? Ministry is going so well. Jesus and the disciples are experiencing effective ministry, why would Jesus want them to leave? Well, it is interesting that the text tells us that Jesus “made” them get into the boat. Literally they were forced, compelled and corralled by Jesus into the boat and pushed off toward Bethsaida. Now, maybe it was because the crowd was getting all in a frenzy thinking that Jesus was the Prophet who would come and overthrow Rome. It could also be that the disciples were getting caught up in that frenzy or even because the disciples were thinking of themselves as “big shots” or something similar. Truly, we don’t know. What we do know is that Jesus, the one who knows all and knows best sends them away onto the sea to another town. Their leaving was immediate, urgent and forced by Jesus Himself.
And friends, life with Christ is like that. It is always moving and we “must” remember that. We often look back at all the spiritual successes of the past and wish that we could reproduce them again and again as if “the good old days” were the only time when God moved among people.
But as we reflect on God’s goodness in the past we must also remember that He is calling us to new adventures today. He is telling us every day to “Get in the Boat“, and that, for some of us, is very difficult to do because we have become so accustomed to where we have been and are somewhat skeptical about ministry today.
The point is that we must not get too comfortable where we are. We cannot get complacent or used to your Christian walk. Jesus is saying to us all, “I have a new voyage for you to experience…today.” It may be different, similar, bumpy or smooth, but it is His journey for us today. Are we willing to “get in the boat”?
Well, the disciples went out into the sea while Jesus went off into the mountains to pray, and while the disciples were pulling on the oars with all their strength a storm brews up. Not a big storm, but one that meant hours on the sea, rain, water sloshing about the basin of the boat. They were straining painfully the text tells us because the wind was against them. Now, can you imagine what the disciples were thinking as they pulled on the oars multiple hours after they had left the comforts of the shore?
- “Jesus, why did you send us out here? We were perfectly fine on the shore!”
- “When will this storm die down? I don’t want to do this any more.”
- “I’m hungry and thirsty…and we left food and plenty.”
- “Why did Jesus leave us alone…doesn’t he care any more?”
Of course we know from the text that Jesus had a close eye on them the whole time. He knew what they were experiencing and how hard it was.
And think about it. Jesus sees all those things we are facing: Bills piling high, a bad doctor’s report, the argument you and your spouse had and the way you left the house, that sick child that you are kneeling over and the ailing parent that you are praying for. He sees your struggles even though you can’t feel His gaze on you. He is always watching over us.
Then Jesus came to the disciples “walking on the water.” Literally it means, “walking about the sea” as if he was gliding through the wind and waves. But as Jesus is Passing By they think that He is a ghost and scream in total panic and fear. It was everything they could do to stay in the boat. But what is going on here is not obviously clear to us. To a trained Hebrew this Theophony, a personal revelation of God to persons, would be clear. Moses stood in the cleft of the rock as God passed by. Elijah stood on Mt. Horeb as God passed by him. Even in Job we are told that God passes by. It is a declaration of who Jesus is. Jesus wants the disciples to see Who He really is, but their hearts are hardened, but growing.
So, Jesus speaks and says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Again, this is an “I am” statement accompanied with a command not to fear. You see, Jesus is sending these disciples away from “successful” ministry to go through a storm so that they could learn more about Him.
He sends them, prays for them, watches them, joins them, comforts them all with a purpose to teach them.
And friends, not only does Jesus tell us to “get in the boat” He also wants us to “stay in the boat.” He doesn’t want us to abandon ship even though it may be miserable. That’s the point here. The disciples were not fearing for their lives with the storm, they were just miserable. And when we get miserable we begin to see only our own comforts and we begin to question God.
Now that Jesus is in the boat with them He takes them to their destination, Gennesaret. Wait, didn’t He tell them to go to Bethsaida? Yes, but ultimately He wanted them to go to Gennesaret. This is more common in Scripture than you may think. Joseph was sold into slavery only to end up in Egypt. Israel left Egypt and found themselves at the Red Sea, then Kedesh Bernea, then the Wilderness, then the promised land. Paul was on his way to Bythinia when he got the call to go to Macedonia. And that is often how He works with us.
He may lead us down a path only to have us take a turn to go down another path, which in turn takes us down another path. We may not know exactly where we are headed, but we know that it will be where God wants us to be when we get there.
So, Jesus tells us to “get in the boat” and “stay in the boat“, but eventually He tells us to “get out of the boat” and begin the new voyage, the new challenge or the new opportunity that He has for you..
Now, on a final question. What would disobedience on the part of the disciples have looked like? Probably it would be the comfort of dry clothes, a warm bed, full tummies, social popularity with those who had heard and watched Jesus. These are all reasonable things, yet, for the disciples they would have been disobedient things. We must be careful that we don’t equate obedience with pleasantness and prosperity in this world. No, obedience will often take you down paths that are difficult, harsh and will put you to your limit. But they are paths of joy found only in Jesus and His grace and mercy.
So, let me encourage you to, “Get in, stay in, and get out” when He tells you to…and enjoy the ride…
Don’t forget to wear your life jackets!!