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Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 6:45–56

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 9, Proper 12, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Jul 26, 2015 

Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mark 13:31) I am so glad He said that; because no matter how much I study Gods Word, there is always more to learn.  I look forward to studying His Word in eternity and continuing to learn more and more.

During the last couple of years, I learned something about the Gospel according to Mark that I didnt know before.  I was listening to an interview with Dr. James Voelz.  Dr. Voelz is in the process of writing a new commentary on the Gospel according to Mark.  He indicated that one of the major themes of this account is that, with one major exception, all of creation knows exactly who Jesus is.  The major exception is the human race.

God the Father announced the identity of Jesus at His baptism and again at the transfiguration.  The demons in Mark are terrified because they know exactly who Jesus is as He casts them out.  All sorts of diseases and harmful conditions know who Jesus is as He heals them.  Death knows who Jesus is as He raises the daughter of Jairus.  The wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee know who Jesus is as He calms them with a word.  Never the less, even His own disciples the ones who witnessed these things even they dont have a clue.  It is not until the centurion witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross that a human being finally said, Truly this man was the Son of God! (Mark 15:39)

This year is the first year that we have focused on the Gospel according to Mark since I heard that interview.  Now that I know about this theme of Mark, I see it every time I study this Gospel account.  You have probably noticed that I have been mentioning it in my sermons a lot.  Todays account of Jesus walking on the water is no different.  Once again we see that nature knows who Jesus is, but the disciples remain confused.

Todays reading began as Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side. (Mark 6:45) That word made could also be translated as compelled or forced.  It is as though there is something dangerous at work and Jesus is eager to get His disciples to safety.

To understand why Jesus was on RED ALERT, we need to review the reading from last week.  Jesus had just finished providing bread and fish for 5,000 men plus women and children.  This was pretty spectacular stuff in a subsistence culture where only the privileged few were regularly satisfied after every meal.  You cant really blame the people for wanting to make Jesus their king.  Who wouldnt want a king who could provide free food for life?

The only thing is that Jesus didnt come to be an earthly king.  As He Himself said, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45) the peoples desire to make Jesus their king was a tremendous temptation.  It was a temptation to give up His mission to the cross and become a bread king instead.  He could have avoided the cross.  He could have been very popular.  Of course, the rest of us would all be condemned in our trespasses and sins.  Obviously, the people who had eaten their fill did not know that Jesus was the Christ who had come to take on the punishment of their sins with His suffering and death on the cross.

Jesus recognized the temptation and moved quickly and decisively to get the disciples out of the situation before they also were enticed by the idea of making Him into a bread king. He got them out onto the Sea of Galilee with instructions to go to the other side.  Then He dismissed the crowds.  Afterwards, He went up into the mountain to pray.  Jesus prayed regularly especially during times of intense temptation.

While Jesus prayed, the disciples struggled to get across the Sea of Galilee.  Unfortunately, the wind was against them.  This was not like the time that they were caught in a storm while Jesus slept in the back of the boat.  Then they were terrified.  This time, they were frustrated.  In spite of all their experience as fishermen, they could not make any progress across the water.  They were stuck in the middle of the lake.  It seemed like the harder they worked, the more they stayed in the same place.

Mark tells us that the disciples struggled on the lake while Jesus prayed on the mountain until the fourth watch of the night.  The fourth watch of the night is the last watch before sunrise.  The disciples had pretty much been on the lake all night and Jesus had pretty much prayed all night.

Jesus finished praying and looked down onto the lake from the mountain.  He saw that the disciples were still out on the lake.  So Jesus walked down the mountain to the shore, walked across the shore to the water, and then He just kept right on walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee.  Once again, we see that the water knows who Jesus is and, at His command, it supports His weight.

On the other hand, the disciples think Jesus is a ghost.  Their frustration with the wind became terror at the figure they see walking to them on the water.  They were right in assuming that the figure walking to them on the water is more than an ordinary man.  They are wrong in assuming that they are in any danger from this man.

Jesus identified Himself to them and said, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. (Mark 6:50) The phrase, it is I, is a form of the very name of God that Moses heard from the burning bush: God said to Moses, I am who I am. And he said, Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you. (Exodus 3:14) Jesus basically told the disciples not to be afraid because he is the God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.

Then Jesus got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. (Mark 6:51) Once again, we see that the wind knows who Jesus is.  Never the less, the disciples dont get it for Mark went on to say, They were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:5152) These disciples had witnessed healings, resurrections, exorcisms, control of the weather, food production for large crowds, walking on the water, and still the inspired word of God states that their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:5152)

The ship or boat has long been a symbol of the church.  The depths of the sea often represent the forces of evil that attack the church.  The account of Noah that we heard from the Old Testament and the account of the disciples struggling to get across the Sea of Galilee both remind us of this.

When the disciples were in the boat all by themselves, the harder they worked, the more they stayed in the same place.  The church is no different.  We can work our hardest, but if Jesus is not in the church, we are stuck the church is a shipwreck waiting to happen.

The terror of the disciples reminds us of the terror we first have when we encounter Christ, but do not know who He is.  It is as the Apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus, You were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 2:12) He also wrote to the church in Rome, The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to Gods law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7) The Bible makes it very clear that before we come to know Christ and believe in Him, we wrongly believe He is our enemy, and He frightens us.

But then the disciples heard His word, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. (Mark 6:50) They learned that the figure coming toward them on the water was not their enemy, but their teacher and friend.  So it is when the Holy Spirit works faith in us through the Word of God as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17) As the Holy Spirit works faith in us through the Gospel, we come to know Jesus as our savior and friend.

Jesus does not come to drag us down into the depths of judgment.  Instead, He is the friend who endured the bloody sweat of Gethsemane and the bloody mud of Golgotha.  In the agony and shame of His beatings and crucifixion, He has ground out a salvation that is for all people.  Just as Jesus came on the water to His disciples, so He comes on the waters of Holy Baptism to us.  He brings us the peace of eternal life.

The account of Jesus walking on the water gives us one more example of the wind and the water proclaiming the identity of the Son of God.  The hard hearts of the disciples give us another example that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.  In spite of the proclamation of all creation, we human beings dont understand.  Jesus must come to us, and He does.  He comes with forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.

When Jesus got into the boat, everything became peaceful.  Likewise, the church can only be at peace when Jesus is in the church.  Without Jesus, the church is a shipwreck waiting to happen.  In fact, it isnt really the church.  With Jesus, the church is safe and sound.  It is only when Jesus is present that we have the true church the One, Holy, Christian church that will last forever.  Amen

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