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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The One whose path led through the sea
Text:Mark 6:45-52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 96:1-4
Psalm 51:1,2 (after the law)
Psalm 77:1,4,6,7
Hymn 43:1-3
Psalm 96:5 (after offertory)
Psalm 96:6-8

Reading:  Exodus 33:12-34:10, Mark 6:30-44
Text:  Mark 6:45-52
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,


The main concern of the Gospel According to Mark is the identity of Jesus.  Who is he?  The gospel begins with a title informing us that he is Jesus Christ the Son of God.  In Mark 1:14-20, he is revealed as our chief prophet and teacher.  At the end of Mark 1 when he heals the leper, he’s shown to be the one who restores life and communion.  In Mark 2, he’s revealed as the Lord of the Sabbath.  In Mark 3, when he calls his disciples he shows himself to be the divine King of Israel.  In Mark 4, when he calms the wind and waves, Scripture reveals him to be true man and true God.  When he heals the demon-possessed Gadarene in Mark 5, we see him as the Lord who shows mercy. Earlier in Mark 6, in verses 30-44, he is revealed as the true Shepherd of Israel.


So now as we come to Mark 6:45-52, we can ask that question again, “Mark, can you please tell us more (or maybe tell us again) about who Jesus is?”  Ultimately, it’s not Mark, but the Holy Spirit who answers that question for us.  A moment ago, we read Psalm 77, and in that psalm there’s a picture of Someone walking on the water, Someone who is in control of the natural elements, Someone who is a Shepherd.  Who is that someone?  We’ll answer that as I preach to you God’s Word,


Jesus revealed as the One whose “path led through the sea.” 


Our passage opens somewhere on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, that lake in the northern part of Israel.  Right after the miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus makes his disciples get into the boat and he sends them on their way to Bethsaida.  Meanwhile, because it’s late in the day and darkness is quickly approaching, he dismisses the crowds, sending them back to where they came from.  Then after the disciples and the crowds are gone, he goes up on a mountainside to pray.


This is a familiar pattern in Jesus’ ministry.  After important events, he retreats for solitude and prayer.  But now the important question for us to ask is:  what does this tell us about the Lord Jesus?  We see that Jesus, the Son of God, the one who is true God in the flesh, Jesus is a man of prayer.  Even though he has perfect communion with God in his being, even though he is God, yet he goes and he prays.  These words here are for our benefit, “He went up on a mountainside to pray.”  In that we see his close relationship with his Father.  We also see his perfect life, his perfect walk with God.  When the Lord Jesus prayed, he did not have to pray in someone else’s name.  When the Lord Jesus prayed, he did not have to ask for the forgiveness of his sins.  When the Lord Jesus prayed, he didn’t have to rely on the intercession of the Holy Spirit to perfect his prayers. 


Loved ones, when we see the Lord Jesus in prayer in this passage, we again see our perfect Saviour, living a perfect life for us.  His perfect life combined with his suffering and death means that we have a close relationship with our heavenly Father.  We see a perfect Saviour, living a perfect life for us, so that we can go to God in prayer, even with all our imperfections, and we can be assured that he will hear us and answer us.  We can be assured that he wants to hear us.  What good Father doesn’t want to speak with his children?  We can have confidence that our weak and imperfect prayers are made perfect because of him and because of his Spirit.  Look again to him in faith here, resting and trusting in him and his perfect obedience for you. 


But also when we see our Saviour here and we look to him in faith, we also live out of our union with him.  And so when he prays, he teaches us that we who have union with him through faith and the Spirit are to do likewise.  He’s teaching us to rely on our Father, to look to him for all our strength, to seek everything we need for body and soul in him – teaching us to pray.


As he was praying, darkness fell.  The disciples were out in the middle of the lake and he was by himself on the mountain.  Perhaps it was a moon-lit night, perhaps dawn was approaching, but somehow he could look out on the lake and see the disciples in the boat.  They were in a tough spot.  They were directed to go to Bethsaida on the northeastern shore, but the wind was blowing in the opposite direction.  As a result they had to use the oars and try to row their way against the wind.  But despite their best efforts, despite their straining at the oars, literally being tortured at the oars, they weren’t making any progress.  In fact, in verse 53 we learn that although they were trying to get to Bethsaida, they ended up in Gennesaret, south of Capernaum on the western side of the lake, on the opposite side.  That tells us that it was some strong wind they were dealing with. 


They had to deal with that wind the whole night and into the early morning hours.  Verse 48 says that what follows took place about the fourth watch of the night.  The fourth watch refers to the time between 3:00 and 6:00 AM.  In some cultures, this time is associated with ghosts and spirits and that may play some role here in how the disciples first interpret what they see.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves...

Mark says that it was the fourth watch of the night, so about 3:00 AM, when Jesus set out to meet the disciples, walking on the lake.  There’s no getting around what this means.  It means that he walked on the water.  As we see him doing this, we can’t help but think of where we’ve heard of someone doing this before.  In the Old Testament, in passages like Psalm 77 and Job 9 (and there are other passages too), God is the one who walks on the waves of the sea.  But this is the first time in the Bible that we read about a human being walking on the waves.  Of course, we know that he is not only a human being.  He is God – that’s the key point that the Holy Spirit wants to drive home to us here.   


The divine nature of our Lord Jesus is also drawn out when it says, “He was about to pass by them...”  We read from Exodus 34 and there Yahweh, the LORD, allows Moses to catch a glimpse of his glory.  In verse 6, we read that Yahweh passed in front of Moses.  That’s exactly the same kind of language that’s used in Mark 6:48 and I don’t think that’s coincidental.  The Lord Jesus comes to them walking on the water, revealing himself to be the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the one in whom all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form (Col. 2:9), the one whom Thomas would later acclaim as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).


Thomas is there in the boat with the other disciples as they see him now.  But instead of recognizing him for who he is, they think that he’s a ghost or an apparition.  They can’t think that it is Jesus himself, in the flesh, before them walking on the waves.  That thought can’t and doesn’t enter their minds.  Whoever or whatever that is out on the waves, it can’t really be Jesus.  So it must be a ghost or a spirit.


That thought terrifies them.  After all, who knows what a ghost might do to you in the middle of the lake?  Here are these twelve men in a boat at 3:00 in the morning, with the wind howling and the waves crashing, and they think they’ve seen a ghost, and they’re afraid, and they start screaming.  Can you picture it?  It’s a scene of terror.


No sooner does that terror express itself than Jesus speaks with them.  The terror is short-lived because Jesus is there to quash it.  He has words of encouragement for them and for us.  He speaks with them and says, “Take courage!”  In the New Testament, almost every occurrence of these words comes from the mouth of Jesus.  He’s almost always the one to say, “Take courage!”  He’s telling them to be brave, that they can have confidence even in this situation.  These are words of encouragement and reassurance.  Everything’s going to be all right. 


How can he give them those words of comfort?  It’s on the basis of his presence and who he is.  His identity is revealed again when he says, “It is I.”  If you have a good study Bible, it’ll tell you in the notes that literally it says there, “I, I am.”  And if we look back again to the Old Testament, we find out that was how God revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  In John 8, the Lord Jesus was even bolder.  In verse 58 of John 8 he said, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!”  The Jews immediately recognized that Jesus was claiming to be God.  We know that because they picked up stones to try and put him to death right then and there.  In John 10 they came right out and said that they were not stoning him for his miracles but for blasphemy “because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”  So, when he says “It is I, “I, I am”, let’s be clear what he’s saying here.  He’s saying that God has come out to meet them and be with them in the middle of the lake. 


Then we find the most frequent command in all of Scripture:  don’t be afraid.  “Don’t be afraid” is found sprinkled liberally throughout the Old and New Testament.  It’s the most frequent command in the Bible.  It’s in Genesis, “Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen. 15:1).  It’s in 2 Kings 1:15, “The angel of the LORD said to Elijah, ‘Go down with him, do not be afraid of him.’”  It’s in Isaiah 41:4, “Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, I myself will help you...”  Now picture pages more of such references.  Pages more!  And do you know what all those references have in common?  They’re all spoken by God.  God is the one who comes to his people and reassures them and tells them not to be afraid.  God is alert to all the fears of his people, to all our fears and anxieties, whatever they might be. 


So, what does it say about Jesus when he comes to his disciples out on the lake and says, “Don’t be afraid?”  First of all, it reveals again that he is God.  In him and in his words, we have more revelation of who God is and how he relates to his people.  Who is God?  He is the Sovereign Lord and King, Almighty God, the LORD of Hosts, the Great I AM.  He is in control of every thing that happens.  Every wave out on that lake that night was answering to his sovereign decree, every blast of wind was ordained by him.  Every situation in our lives too – they’re not freak occurrences, they happen because of God’s sovereign will.  God is always in control – he never sleeps, he never takes a break. 


But there’s a second important truth that goes hand in hand with that.  God is not only our Sovereign Lord and King, he is also the one who cares for us deeply.  Jesus loved his disciples -- he came to them because he cared -- and his love is a reflection of the fatherly love that God has for his children.  He not only has a hand of power, he also has a heart of love.  So, loved ones, we can be assured that everything works together for our good.  We can be confident of God’s generosity towards us and of his desire to bless us, a desire that cannot be thwarted by anything or anyone in heaven or on earth.


So, when Jesus says, “Take courage!  It is I. Don’t be afraid” – those are not just words of wishful thinking.  They’re words that have substance.  They have substance because of who he is.  And note that I said, “who he is,” not “who he was.”  Because, as it says in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”  These words spoken by Jesus still have substance, because he is the same.  Brothers and sisters, you can count on that! 


After encouraging his disciples, he got up into the boat with them.  He not only comforts them with his words, but also with the nearness of his presence.  They can see for themselves that it is really him and they really have no reason for fear.  This person they saw walking on the water is not going to do them harm, but only good.  After all, this is the true Shepherd of Israel, the one who gave them bread and fish in such abundance a few short hours ago, he’s the true Shepherd who also fed them with the Word. 


They had the nearness of his physical presence – but what about us?  Do we have his nearness in the same way?  We know that he comforts us with his Word, but what about comforting us with his presence?  Well, he is not physically present on earth any longer.  His physical human body is at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  But when he ascended into heaven, he gave his promise to the church, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20).  How he does that is through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  He dwells in us and comforts us and strengthens us.  In fact, in John’s Gospel, the Spirit is called the Counselor.  In other Bible translations, you’ll find the word Comforter – both are equally valid translations.  The Holy Spirit is the Counselor, the Comforter, the Paraclete, the one whom Jesus has sent to give us the comfort of his presence.  He is always with us through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit brings faith to our hearts so that when we hear the promises of the gospel, we joyfully accept these in faith – and in this way, we have union with Christ, a spiritual nearness that Scripture portrays with the image of a branch being grafted onto a vine.  So, yes, we do have the nearness of Jesus to comfort us too.          


As we turn back to the disciples in our text, they have him physically near again and what was fear turns to wide eyed amazement.  Because not only did he walk on the water, but as soon as he got in the boat, the wind disappeared.  “They were completely amazed” – literally, they were astonished very exceedingly and amazed.  They were beside themselves with what they had just seen happen.   Whoever heard of a man walking on the waves? 


That ties into the last verse, verse 52.  Here Mark says that they were amazed because they hadn’t understood about the loaves.  He looks back to the feeding of the five thousand and he says that there’s a connection between what happens there and the response of the disciples here.  What is that connection? 


They were amazed because there was something lacking in their understanding of who Jesus is.  They didn’t understand what happened with the loaves – they weren’t getting the revelation of his identity as God come in the flesh.  The great surprise in the verse before our text was that Jesus had compassion on the crowds.  The crowds should have been regarded as annoying, exasperating and frustrating.  But Jesus has compassion on them.  Who among men would do that?  Who else other than the true Shepherd of Israel, God himself, who else would have that sort of heart for these lost sheep?  When he fed the five thousand, the disciples missed the point.  They failed to see that he was and is more than a mere man.  When he walked on the water and when the wind abated, they were amazed because they still hadn’t come to expect such things from their Lord and master, their Rabbi.  They still thought of Jesus in terms that were restricted to his humanity.  In this way, they were also failing to see him as the Messiah promised from long ago.  After all, the prophets were clear enough that the Messiah would be a divine figure – think only of Isaiah 9. 


They didn’t see it because their hearts were hard.  If they had understood what was going on with the feeding of the five thousand, then when they were out on the lake, it would have been completely reasonable to expect that this was Jesus coming to them.  Then they could call out to him with faith and have the expectation that he could help them.  The disciples were missing the boat on who Jesus is, they were lacking in faith.  No, they’re not hostile to him like the Jewish leaders whose hearts were also hardened.  But they are missing something about him, what actually is most important about him:  that he is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God. 


Now it’s true that as the gospel of Mark goes on, there are moments where the disciples begin to get it.  For instance, in Mark 8, Jesus asks, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?”  And Peter answers rightly, “You are the Christ.”  But Peter and the other disciples still abandon him in the end and leave him to suffer and die virtually alone.  It’s only after the resurrection of Jesus that the disciples fully grasp who he is, that he is the Christ sent to crush the head of the serpent, sent to redeem God’s people.


Brothers and sisters, we too live after the resurrection and we have been blessed with the full revelation of Jesus’ identity.  Mark’s words here then pose the question to us:  have we understood about the loaves?  And what does that do to how we read our text?  Do we see and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the God-man, sent to live perfectly for us, sent to take our curse for us on the cross?  Do we take hold of him by faith, resting and trust in him as he’s revealed to us?  Do you?  When he says to us in our fears and anxieties, “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid,” can we say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”?  Can you? 


Loved ones, the Saviour holds out to us the revelation of himself again to encourage and strengthen us.  Let not your hearts be hardened by unbelief.  Instead, let’s look to our Saviour in faith, trusting in him and his divine power and in his divine love. 


Let us pray:


Father in heaven,

We give you thanks for your Word which always challenges, guides, encourages and strengthens us.  We thank you for Jesus our Saviour, revealed in your Word.  Father, we’re grateful that he reveals your power and your love for us.  We worship you for your goodness and your grace, for your mercy and your sovereign almighty hand.  Having you with us and on our side, we have no reason to fear.  Thank you for the confidence that gives us.  Please continue to strengthen our faith.  Help us with your Word and Spirit to continue resting and trusting in our Lord Jesus each day.  Help us also to depend on you and express that dependence through our daily prayers.  Please give us more grace through your Holy Spirit.  We pray in the name of Jesus our God and Saviour, AMEN. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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