Mark 6:45-56 “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I, Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. When they had crossed over, they anchored at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.”
Last Sunday I spoke to you from this chapter on the Son of God multiplying five loaves and two fishes and feeding at least five thousand men. How did that knowledge of that mighty work of Christ affect how you’ve lived during this past week? Were you a more contented Christian? Did you trust the Lord more? When difficulties came into your life did you go to God with deeper faith and greater confidence? Did it cause you to love the Lord Jesus more since you learned that he is so compassionate and powerful? Did it serve to make you cast your cares on him? If not, why not? God speaks to you by his word each Sunday morning, and what are you doing about it? Are you becoming better disciples of Christ by the truth? More holy, hating sin more, more prayerful, more patient and loving, more evangelistic? Are you growing Christians? If not why not? Is this some sort of traditional ritual we are going through on Sunday mornings without any divine life in it? We are not playing games with God in being here, are we? Man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Are you living on the words you hear week by week? You remember the great words of James, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves?” Are you deceiving yourself about your seriousness in being a Christian? James goes on, “Do what it says . . . the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 2:22, 25). There is no divine blessing resting on the life of the man who hears and immediately forgets this fact, that the Lord Jesus could feed five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fishes. The profession of so many of you should be far more credible, and I can only conclude that though you are hearing the word of God, you are not doing it.
A woman took her son for an interview in a Christian school and she asked the headmaster what the school prepared its pupils for. “We prepare them,” said the headmaster, “for death.” What a wonderfully sensible and calming answer to an anxious question. Why do we come here on Sunday mornings? To prepare us to die and to meet God. Last week there was a court case in Reading Crown Court. A paramedic was being tried for causing the death by dangerous driving of a 40-year-old woman named Rosemary. One of the twelve jurors was spotted filing her nails and reading a magazine in the jury box and she was reported to the judge, Christopher Compston. On Thursday he fined the woman a hundred pounds and dismissed her from the jury. She had already turned up late for court on two occasions. He told her that her behaviour was disgraceful, and that he had first thought of sending her to prison, but he took into account that she was a single mother with only a part-time job and a young daughter. He added: “Never in all my time at the Bar and on the bench have I come across this.” A woman had been killed, and a man was accused of causing her death, and this juror was soon to make a decision about the future life of the accused. She could make him a criminal and take his liberty from him, but she was reading from a magazine and giving herself a manicure. If a human judge views such misconduct gravely how much more does the Judge of all the earth judge those who hear the gospel of his dear Son but do nothing with what they hear? The Son of Man has died, and we are accused of causing his death by our sins, and we have to take a decision about whether we are indeed guilty so that henceforth we will live new lives of repentance before God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Are we mere hearers of the word? Or are we hearers and doers of the word? Men and women, hear the word of God! Yes! And then do it. There will never be any impact of the word of God on this town or on our land if it is not making an impact on you.
This is not a new problem, but that is no comfort to any of us. In fact it goes back to New Testament times. We are told in this passage that the feeding of the 5,000 failed to make an impact on the twelve disciples themselves: “they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (v.52). The Christ they had heard preach was filled with the Holy Spirit. They had been the closest observers of his miracles, but their hearts were like stone. They still did not know who Jesus Christ was.
1. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST TAKES THE INITIATIVE IN OUR LIVES.
Whatever may happen to us in the week ahead any comfort and meaning will come to us only as we go back to the great First Cause of everything, of Whom and through Whom and to Whom everything comes. You will end up frustrated if you blame your troubles on the mistakes and sins of other people. Always go to the First Cause who works all things after the counsel of his own will. He says, “Cease!” Things cease. He says, “Yes,” and none can prevent it. Mark shows us how the Lord Jesus is in control of things by telling us of three steps which Christ took after feeding the five thousand.
i] Firstly, the Lord made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida (v.45). There is unmistakable urgency in this action. He forced them to get in the boat posthaste. You can imagine him beckoning and calling to them, “Come on! Get in the boat!”, overcoming their reluctance, and pushing the boat out into the lake as they look back perplexed at him. It is dusk, and he hustled them off in this unusual peremptory way. They had no time to argue with him. In the gospel of John we learn that the five thousand were saying things like this, “Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world.” The smell of revolution was in their nostrils. What a leader he would be! They would be able to endure any siege with Jesus of Nazareth feeding them. Christ did not want his own twelve to be contaminated by revolutionary fervour. There was political messianic contagion in the air, so he insisted that his disciples get into the boat and go right to the opposite side of the lake to peaceful Bethsaida at the mouth of the Jordan river – right in the north of the Sea of Galilee. So everything that happened to these disciples subsequently on their journey there across the water occurred by the determined decree of King Jesus.
ii] Secondly, the Lord actually dismissed the crowd. The five thousand were all looking expectantly towards him, refreshed after their food, and he turned to them and said, “You are dismissed,” and he walked away. John tells us at the end of his narrative of the feeding of the five thousand, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (Jn. 6:15). These Galileans wanted to force the kingship of Israel on him. We are looking at the beginnings of another messianic uprising. For nine months these people had had powerful preaching and miracles throughout their entire region and they were stirred up as never before. “This must be the Messiah,” they were saying, “the promised prophet.” Let Jesus of Nazareth give them a word and 5,000 swords would flash under the Galilean sun. Here was the new Moses who sets out the people in groups of fifty and a hundred, whom they are constrained to obey for he has such authority. Here is the new Joshua who can see the people as sheep without a shepherd. Here is the man who can blow the trumpet of jubilee and freedom would sound throughout the land.
That perversion is still in the church today, to make Christ a political Redeemer. There are corrupt and unjust regimes everywhere, and a vast gulf between the affluent (with their pensions and health care) and the poor with their endless misery and disease. So some in the professing church have said, “Let us politicise the Christian faith and preach social revolution.” That is the tragic mistake the church has made for over a hundred years, what in the seventies of the last century became briefly fashionable in so-called ‘liberation theology.’ The Lord will not have it. He dismisses those who want a Che Guevarra figure, and he disappears.
With this miracle of feeding five thousand Christ comes to the terminus of his open ministry in Galilee. For the next six months he will abandon the province, only passing through it occasionally, spending his time elsewhere until in exactly one year’s time Jesus goes to the Passover feast in Jerusalem where breaks bread again. But this time he gives it not to the thousands who fill its streets but to his disciples in the upper room, and his earthly ministry is all but over. So the Lord dismissed this eager crowd, and with that action he also dismissed their messianic expectations. He would go on feeding the hungry people with the truth of God – if only they would heed him. They must repent and believe the gospel for the ministry of Christ to help them. So the Lord was in control of the disappointing decrease of the numbers of people following him.
iii] Thirdly, “After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray” (v.46). Mark in his gospel reports the Lord holding sessions of prayer on just three occasions. He has a time of prayer at the commencement of his public ministry, then again here, and finally in Gethsemane there is a season of prayer. Each time is at night and it is located in a lonely place. On each occasion the disciples are not with him and they can’t understand what he is doing. Each time the Lord is facing a formative decision or crisis in his life. “Father in heaven, I have dismissed five thousand men who want to make me the Messianic King. Holy Father, have I done right? Help and guide me in the days to come. I want to be your chosen servant, not a freedom fighter. Confirm this to me Righteous Father.” One presumes that this could have been the theme of his praying. How important to think of the incarnation of the Power of God on his knees praying. How necessary prayer must be.
“George Adam Smith once climbed the Weisshorn mountain above the Zermat Valley in Switzerland with a Swiss mountain guide. It was a stormy day, and they made the ascent on the sheltered side. When they reached the top, exhilarated by the thought of the view before him and the triumph of having got to the summit, George Adam Smith ran the last few yards to the top of the peak. He’d forgotten the force of the gale and was almost blown off the edge by the force of the wind. His guide grabbed him and pulled him down. ‘On your knees!’ he shouted. ‘You are only safe here on your knees.’ Just so! Though Christ was one with the Father, and lived in constant prayer, in times of crisis he went to a garden or a mountain and to his knees. We can reverently say that is was the only ‘safe’ place for Christ, and indeed for us” (R. Kent Hughes, “Mark”, Crossway Books, 1989, p.156).
I was touched by a comment Sinclair Ferguson makes about Christ praying: “How often we comment on this and hear sermons about it, yet how little we do – for ourselves or others – to put it into practice. Jesus was a man of constant prayer, and yet he also sought special times of fellowship with his Father, when the strategy of his life and ministry might be reviewed. We need to follow that pattern. We need to help others to do so as well. Not all mothers, for example, can send their little disciples away in order to have time alone with God. Not all husbands realise that their wives need such times, as they do themselves. At the very lowest levels, our Lord’s example is an encouragement to build seasons of special communion with God into our lives, and to do what we can to help others do so as well” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Let’s Study Mark,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, p.96). So Jesus parting himself from the disciples, and going away up a mountain and praying, that too was his decision.
2. THE LORD JESUS LEFT THE DISCIPLES TO STRUGGLE FOR SOME TIME.
How often do Christians go quickly from situations of blessing to discouragement and struggle. In this regard we always think of the prophet Elijah, a man of like passions to ourselves, one who knew a conspicuous victory for the Lord on Mount Carmel. Yet we are confronted with a very different Elijah a few days later, dejected, despairing and suicidal, who feels utterly useless in the service of God. His example is one of a number in the Bible presenting us with the possibility of knowing similar experiences, of going from yesterday’s mountain top to today’s valley bottom. It is clear that the Lord’s people are not strangers to such an emotional roller-coaster.
So also here, from being in the presence of one of the greatest of all miracles this planet has seen, with five thousand men eating out of the hand of Jesus – the disciples’ own Master and their Friend – the Twelve are now alone and struggling. Even in poor conditions the Sea of Galilee could be crossed in six to eight hours, but this night the disciples were helpless in the face of a gale blowing against them from the northeast. They had taken down the sail and were rowing hard against this relentless headwind. This wind was called the “Sharkia” and it gave apprehension to any fishermen on the lake who might be caught by it too far from his port. It might not be life-threatening but it was intensely wearying. These disciples had heard Jesus’ teaching, and they had prayed with him, but now they were stuck. Professional fishermen, unable to make any headway against this squall. They were miserable perplexed men, tossed about by the Sharkia in the middle of the lake, and at the express orders of Christ, while he was safe on the land. Think of their misery in that open cockpit, their feet soaking in icy bilge water, straining at the oars for eight hours. The word ‘straining’ (v.48) means ‘to torment.’ When it is used in the Bible it describes the torment of demon possession, or the contractions of childbirth, or the pains of hell, or the anguish a godly man experiences forced to live amongst godless people day by day. When, years later, the apostle Peter sat and described that long night to Mark as he was compiling this gospel then he subsequently wrote down in this account that we are studying that the disciples were ‘straining’ at the oars, battling long and wearily with the incessant blast and the waves.
Now, hear the word of God. This the first picture I want you to keep in your minds in the days to come. It has its own vivid power, as much as any of the statements of Paul or Peter in their letters. The picture is this: Christ is on the mountainside in prayer overlooking the sea below where the infant church is struggling. This is the picture I want you to keep before you. It shows what the New Testament is speaking of: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5): again, ” He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him since he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebs. 7:25): again, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:31&32). On the throne of heaven One intercedes today who has been given all power on earth, power over men, the demons, the winds and waves and all creation. The one who prayed for Simon, who loved us so much that he gave his life for us, prays for us on our storm-tossed seas. The one who died to be our King now lives to be our Saviour. That is the realty of our existence as Christians. We live our lives under the loving control of our good Shepherd. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. Down in the boat the disciples were straining at the oars with the wind against them, and we are told that Jesus saw them there (v.48).
Remember that they were in this trouble because they had obeyed Jesus. They had done what he said and were heading to the place where he told them he would meet them – Bethsaida. They had done everything right, and they ended up in trouble. If they had defied Jesus they could have been in some grateful host’s bed long before the fourth watch with a full stomach and sweet dreams. Instead of this they had done what he said and it had all ended up in agony. Does it sound familiar to you? Have you known anything of this? It happens on a great tragic scale with missionaries in a distant land bringing Christ to that nation as he himself directed them, and there they are kidnapped, and there they may be held hostage, incarcerated, tortured, raped or killed. The examples are too many to list. For thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. We are told of the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 that “some were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death with the sword . . . persecuted and mistreated” (Hebs. 11:37 & 38), all for obeying their Lord. We train our children kindly and lovingly as the Lord tells us, and yet they rebel. We refuse to work on Sundays, and we lose our jobs or any possibility of promotion, so then our wives have to look for work. We are in trouble through doing the Lord’s will. We oppose two homosexuals adopting a baby when there is a married couple who long for that child, and we are dismissed from our work for the social services for our alleged ‘homophobia.’
See the picture again, Christ praying above, and on the moonlit Sea of Galilee below the tiny rolling boat and the struggling disciples battling with wind and cold and perplexity. They are making no progress, and have been given no explanation of why this has happened. If only he’d been there he’d have said, “Peace, be still,” and the wind would have blown in a different direction, and they’d soon have been where they wanted to be, but he is not with them. They are alone . . . in a storm . . . without Jesus – that is the picture – but we are told that Christ knew all about them, that he could see them, and that he loved them. When his people are in a storm they are the special objects of his care. J.C.Ryle says, “The same eye which saw the disciples tossed on the lake is ever looking at us. We are never beyond the reach of his care. Our way is never hid from him. He knows the path that we take, and is still able to help. He may not come to our aid at the time we like best, but he will never allow us utterly to fail. He never changes. He will always come at the right time to uphold his people. Though he tarry, let us wait patiently. Jesus sees us, and he will not forsake us” (J.C.Ryle, “Expository Thoughts on Mark”, Banner of Truth, p.131).
3. THE LORD JESUS WALKED ON THE WATER TO THE DISCIPLES.
“About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake” (v.48). This is supposed to be one of the funniest things in the New Testament. When Kent Hughes of the College Church in Wheaton came to England he visited Cambridge, and one of the first people he saw was a student with a black sweatshirt and on the back of it in red were these words, “Jesus Walks on Water.” He thought it was a member of the Christian Union boldly witnessing to his faith. Later that afternoon he crossed the river Cam and he saw that someone had painted the same words in the same shade of red on the footbridge. We don’t approve of graffiti but we appreciate zeal. Then he walked by the river and came across Jesus College boathouse and saw their colours were the same as the sweatshirt and the red writing on it, and also the colour of the words painted on the bridge. It was not a bold witness to Christ at all. It was godless triumphalism. It was an irreverent testimony to the excellence of Jesus College’s eight, the university champions on the river. ‘Jesus walks on water’ has been taken over (like the phrase ‘born again’) for totally secular ends. ‘Jesus walks on water’ describes men going through a period of remarkable success – they can walk on water, men say, they can do nothing wrong.
“About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake” (v.48). I glanced at a fifty-year-old commentary on Mark’s gospel written by Dr. Vincent Taylor. The book was the crown of liberal scholarship to come from the Methodist denomination. The learning of their lecturers was the cause of pride to the Methodists of fifty years ago. What did that modernism say? Vincent Taylor wrote that Jesus was ‘wading through the surf near the hidden shore and this was interpreted as a triumphant progress across the waters.’ That was the theology that emptied Methodist churches across England and Wales and set the denomination into freefall from which it shows no sign of recovery. I always say to you that modernism was not a scientific movement. It was and remains a romantic movement. There were no scientific discoveries made in the 20th century that gravely concluded that a man couldn’t walk on water. They weren’t needed. Mere man has never been able to walk on water. Nor have there been any scientific discoveries that could proved the Lord Jesus didn’t walk on water. No one can run a controlled experiment to prove that. I repeat that modernism is not a scientific movement.
The language of verse 48 is absolutely unambiguous. There is no possibility of translating the words “walking on the lake” in any other way. The Greek preposition “epi” means ‘on’, ‘upon’, ‘on top of’ the water. As Dr James R. Edwards says, “The phrase cannot be retranslated to avoid the problem of open water sustaining a human body.” Who knew the Sea of Galilee best, an old English Methodist lecturer sitting in a terraced house in the north of England over 19 centuries after this event had happened, two thousand miles away from the scene, or the people who were there, Peter and Andrew, James and John and the others? Who knew best where the surf on the lake was and the alleged hidden shore? Vincent Taylor, and liberals like him? Or these fishermen and this gospel writer who knew both the group of fishermen and Jesus Christ? What did Mark write? “The boat was in the middle of the lake” (v.47), not near a hidden shore. Vincent Taylor is perplexed that the story has no moral implications. People are not healed. They are not fed or delivered, just that Jesus came to his disciples walking on the water, and then this over-the-top reaction of the men, “they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified” (vv. 49 &50). Why such a response? There is no perplexity about that, men and women. Firstly, they were alarmed at this figure and didn’t recognise him because they never expected to see him there. The son of a family in this church lives in California and he surprised them with a visit a couple of years ago. They saw a man in town talking to their other son who lives in the town. The mother and father recognised the son who lives here, but who was the man he was talking to? They did not recognise their own son for a while because he lives six thousands miles away. It was the same here: the disciples never expected to see Jesus in the middle of the lake and so were scared stiff at the appearance of this man. “It must be a ghost!” they cried. Again, their response can be explained from the fact that these men knew the lake. They had been on water in boats daily for almost as long as they had walked on dry land. Now they see this figure walking towards them. Men don’t walk on a lake. Only God can walk on water.
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.” (William Cowper, 1731-1800)
When he came towards them on the water Jesus was walking where only God can walk. Job says, “God treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). Asaph said, “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen” (Psa. 77:19). Isaiah the prophet said, “This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (Isa. 43:16). This was Jehovah Jesus walking towards them.
But notice something that is so easy to miss. We are told, “He was about to pass by them” (v.48). You might think that that meant Jesus was going to continue with his stroll across the lake passing by the boat, but that phrase in the Old Testament is charged with meaning. It is found where God makes himself known in an awesome appearance to his people. The men who led his work were fearful and uncertain about the future, and then God comes and he passes by them. There was an occasion at Mount Horeb the Lord “passed by” the prophet Elijah in the wind and the earthquake and the fire, and then in a still small voice spoke to him (I Kings 19:11). It lifted Elijah out of his suicidal frame. Again, before that, at Mount Sinai the same Lord in his glory passed by Moses at a time of perplexity in his life (Ex. 33:22), in order to reassure and reveal God’s name. We are told, “He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin'” (Ex. 6&7). This same God is here passing by his troubled servants on the lake. That is why the Lord Jesus came walking on the water.
How glorious is God! What a gulf between him and us! He can do what no man can do. He is what none of us will ever be. He moves mountains, and shakes the world, and causes the sun to stand still, and drowns the earth, and arrays the heavens in splendour. When Jehovah Jesus speaks the winds and waves obey him. At his command all the fish of the depths of the sea fill the nets of his disciples. You cannot conceive of this God in human categories – ‘wading through the surf’? He sounds like a California lifesaver. Our God is wholly God, not to be confused with his creatures.
The glory of this transcendent God has literally passed by the rationalist commentators and the theologians and bishops who are responsible for destroying the gospel of Christ in our land. This God who is here incarnate in Christ makes himself known to these disciples in this unusual place, not in the Temple of Jerusalem, and not in the Rabbinical schools, not to Gamaliel and seminary teachers, but to young men straining in a boat. This is the same God who in mighty storms met with Martin Luther and also John Newton. John Wesley watched in a storm in the midst of the Atlantic when the Christians on board the little vessel could pray together and worship the Lord of the winds and waves. He did not possess their faith: “Alas, I have a fair weather Christianity,” Wesley wrote in his journal.
Our Creator, so majestic and awesome, there revealed himself to John and James and Peter and Andrew and the rest. Jehovah Jesus went passing by the towns of Galilee, and it was sight to the blind. “Jehovah Jesus is passing by!” and it was cleansing for the leper. “Jehovah Jesus is passing by!” and the deaf could hear. “Jehovah Jesus is passing by!” and the dead were raised. And to the men in the boat Jehovah Jesus came passing by and it was courage for fear, and peace for terror. His walking on the water was a revelation of that glory of God which he shared with the Father and with the Spirit. Mark is showing us that Jesus Christ who planted his footsteps in the sea is the incarnate Lord.
But more than what he does, Jesus also speaks to them and brings them the same message. What does he say? “It is I” he says (v.50). “Ego eimi”, are his words in Greek. The word ‘ego’ is emphatic: “It is I!”. These words which Jesus loved to say are the identical words that come from the burning bush to Moses. That is how God discloses himself to Moses during the storm the people are in in Egypt. “Tell the people that ‘I am’ has sent you,” he says to Moses. You remember the great refrains in John’s gospel? “I am the bread of life. I am the way, and the truth and the life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the true vine.” You remember when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, asking which one of those Galileans was he, then the Lord stood erect and said, “I am he.” All the corps of soldiers fell to the ground before him. Who are you dealing with? Jehovah Great I am, by earth and heaven confessed.
That is the same one who comes to us. When John Marshall lay dying earlier this month someone asked him whether at death angels come to meet us. John said, “In important family matters the Lord himself comes to us.” This was why he came to the disciples in the boat, and why he comes to us and our loved ones. “Go into all the world, and lo, I am with you always. When you pass through deep waters I shall be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you.” How could he impress that reality upon them if he remained on a mountainside and they were in the middle of the lake? He could see them and the plight they were in, and if he willed he could have caused the wind to drop immediately and the boat to be gently blown ashore in Bethsaida, but then they wouldn’t have learned this glorious truth that he powerfully taught them that in the storms of life he comes to us himself. Nothing is going to prevent his coming. The forces of all creation cannot come between them and him. He himself knows about us in our storms, and he comes and helps us as the God of Moses and Elijah and Job and Asaph, the one who plants his footsteps in the sea. He came and manifested his glory to them, and he comes today, our Lord Jesus Christ, to us, and we behold the same glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
What does Christ say to them? Firstly these familiar words, “Take courage!” (v.50). Let me seize on an advertisement for beer and steal it to promote my Saviour. When the late Dr Sam Patterson the president of Reformed Seminary, Jackson came to preach at Westminster Chapel in April 1977 he told the amused congregation that he was glad to see all over London the text, “Take Courage!” He was later informed what the words were promoting. But let me use them in this way. Next time your eyes catch that phrase you may be cast down. Remember that the Lord Christ one day on this planet, in space and time, on the Sea of Galilee went walking on the water some miles to his weary and perplexed disciples, thus manifesting himself and his glory as the living God to them. He walked to them because he loved them, as he loves you, and he said to them. “Take courage!” Whatever the storm, however many the dangers and fears that alarm you Jesus is saying, “Take courage!” You will be more than conqueror through his matchless love. “Take courage!” If God be for you, who can be against you? “Take courage!” Greater is he that is with you than he that is with them. “Take courage!”
What does Jesus also say to them? “Don’t be afraid!” (v.50) How often did he needed to say to his disciples those words, “Fear not.” How prone we are to fear! What little things cause us alarm. It is all so desperately unbelieving with Jesus Christ as our rock and shield. He protects us and keeps us. “Be afraid of neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, for they are not able to separate you from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I was reading a sweet letter this week written on September 7th a year ago this month by an old Christian from Hailsham named Mary Offer. She was writing to her pastor concerning the hymns she would like sung at her funeral, and in this letter she was recollecting the Lord’s first dealing with her many years ago. She wrote as follows:
“As you were speaking my mind was carried back to a time in my very early life, which I have cause never to forget. It was my first real contact with God. I was only about four years old. One afternoon I was playing alone on the stairs of our old home. My dear father so often talked to me about Jesus, but it never meant a great deal to me till this time. Mother was working in the basement and father had driven off to Clayton in the pony and trap on business. I played about and presently I noticed the big key in the door of my parents’ bedroom. I had once seen my mother turn that key; it went over with a big ‘clack.’ Why couldn’t I do it too? I tried, and in so doing I pushed the door shut; twisting hard with both hands at last I turned it over.
“After a few moments I realised I did not know how to open the door! I had no idea how! I had shut myself in; I was now locked in the room alone. I knew my mother couldn’t hear me, and father was gone for the afternoon, and I was alone. Anyone who has a child knows the awful sense of panic a little girl feels. The desolation was awful. I screamed. I hammered on the door. But all was no use. Then a small voice said in my mind, ‘Daddy said, “If ever you are in trouble, my dear, always pray to Jesus. He will help you.”‘
“Quick as thought my frightened little mind said, ‘How do I do it?’ I remembered that my father always knelt down by the bed when he prayed to Jesus, and in panic I ran round the bed and knelt down and buried my hot face in the bed clothes, just as I’d seen him do.
“Then I heard a familiar ‘clip, clop’ coming down the road. I was sure it was my father’s pony. Yes, sure enough it was. He had forgotten something and had come back to fetch it. I jumped to my feet, and ran to the window. The lower sash was up about three inches and by tiptoeing I could see it and put my little hands through it to attract attention, as he fastened the pony to the tree outside. I cried out and he heard me: ‘Daddy, I’m shut in.’ He looked up and said, ‘All right, I’m coming,’ and in a moment he was through the door, up the stairs and outside the door. ‘Don’t be afraid dear, I’m here. Now I will hold the handle; Take hold of the key with both hands and turn it towards the bed.’ With renewed confidence I did. Slowly the big key turned over, the door opened, and I was in his arms. O how safe!
“Now, over the years, I have found such wonderful confidence in that simple episode. It seemed to establish in my mind: ‘There is a God who does hear.’ He did answer me.” (Mary Offer, “A Child’s Prayer Answered”, “The Gospel Standard,” October 2003, p.324). Little Mary had met with the Lord who comes to his people in their fears as they cry to him, and he says “Take courage! It is I! Don’t be afraid.” The man who walked on water to be with them said those simple words of encouragement as he says them always to you. Now this week I want you to remember this incident and plead before God that he will make you very courageous, and that he will take your fears away. I am wanting you to be doers of the word not just hearers of it. I want you to count for Christ this week.
“Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down” (v.51). What a relief; the storm abated, and yet their abiding feeling was not trust, or joy in having Christ with them, or thanksgiving that he was such a loving Saviour, rather it was amazement. You see “they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (v.52). You would think that after being with Christ for now over a year, knowing his blessings on their ministries, seeing two such mighty miracles in the past twelve hours, that their hearts would be soft and warm, filled with love for him, but the Lord Jesus Christ had hard-hearted disciples.
Of course, meeting this hardness did not prevent him continuing his work. He had one more year in which to teach them many things. These were very immature believers before the Day of Pentecost. The passage does not end on such a discouraging note. Jesus and his disciples got out of that boat early in the morning in Gennesaret. It was the place where the people a year ago had cried to him to leave them, but when Jesus went he’d left behind a former demoniac whose life he had transformed. What a witness to Jesus Christ he had been. What a difference now in the community! No angry people crying to him to get back on his boat and move on elsewhere. As soon as he got out of the boat crowds from the whole region came hurrying to meet him, carrying their sick with them on primitive stretchers, and wherever he went that was the sight that greeted him, men and women begging to touch him that they might be healed, and all were transformed. Heed the word this week! Take courage this week! Don’t be afraid this week! Walk with God this week.
28th September 2003 GEOFF THOMAS