Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.” Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. Mark 6:45-52
I look at this account and tend to want to criticize the disciples for lack of faith and understanding right off the feeding of the 5,000. Then I think of myself, how I’ve watched the Lord work “miracles” in my life, and then soon thereafter, I’m quaking in my boots the very next time the same issue pops up.
I happen to think their heads were spinning from all that they were witnessing. They were probably fine when they were with Jesus, as he certainly kept them engaged. But now he’s putting them on a boat by themselves and instructing them to go to the other side of the lake. The last time they got into a boat he was at the stern, albeit asleep.
Halfway through, as could be anticipated, they encountered a strong harassing headwind and were straining at the oars. The encouraging thing to all of us was that the Lord saw their predicament and set out “on foot” to help them. Not by land but by sea.
That’s life by the way. On our own. Middle of something. Rowing against a strong wind.
The passage says he intended to “pass by them,” but he ended up coming alongside the boat. The experts are split on if the text says he wanted to pass them by or come alongside. Relying on the context, you’d want to think he set out to help rather than to beat them to the other shore. The “coming alongside” interpretation also allows for some corollaries to the Spirit-led life.
For teaching purposes, in reality, life requires us to face tough obstacles. For those trained by many trials, it should be enough to know Jesus is in the general vicinity. But here I don’t think these men were ready for a solo flight. After all, they thought he was a ghost.
I wonder if anyone among these men expected to see Jesus. The practical lesson for us is this: when in the midst of a tough row, expect Jesus to show up!
You can read Matthew 8:27 and following and see that Jesus couldn’t get a straight answer from them on who he was, except from Peter, who then followed his bold declarative with a lecture to Jesus to stop talk of his impending death.
Jesus’ assessment of the condition of the disciples’ hearts as he reined in the winds was incisive. Their hearts were calloused, not subtle as they should be. Here, they just witnessed him feeding over 5,000 people through them!
All this just tells me the essential value of the presence of the Holy Spirit to give me the mind of God. I simply can’t appraise my circumstances without it. The disciples required Christ’s physical presence. We’ve got him on board.
As new creatures our struggles are reminders to us that the Spirit is our helper who comes alongside for a pep talk and assistance. You’ll certainly hear the Lord say, “I’ve got this, don’t worry,” for the umpteenth million time, and all anxiety subsides.
One last point. The wind does not subside until Jesus’ climbs in. Don’t deny him permission to come aboard!