Immediately, he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when the evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. - Mark 6:45-52
Sent Into the Storm
Evening fell on the beach, and the setting sun illuminated the full-bellied crowds with a golden blanket. They were full with a divine portion of bread and fish, and their hearts had feasted on the spoken word of God’s son. They had tasted and seen that the Lord was good.
How ironic that a veil of stone still wrapped itself around the hearts of the disciples – the very ones who had spent days working under the power of God’s own Spirit. They had worked side-by-side with Jesus, casting out demons, healing the sick, and had now been partakers of the abundance of His provision. In the twelve baskets of left overs they collected – one for each disciple – they should have been able to see, smell, and feel that Jesus was the Creator, the Son, the Provider, the Bread of Life. But still, their hearts were hardened.
It is no wonder then, that Jesus made them get into a boat that night. He knew the storm was coming. Even as He gave the vessel a solid push away from shore, He could see the terror that would be etched into their confused faces within a few hours’ time. But he had solace in the knowledge that it would be for a greater good. He knew from experience what a meeting with God amidst a storm would do for their hearts. The wind might change the course of their boat, but His appearance in the storm would change the course of their lives.
The words Matthew and Mark use in their accounts of the storm tell us that they were tormented by the storm – in an uphill battle for their lives. Surely they wondered why God was allowing it, why Jesus had forsaken them, and if they would make it through alive. But the truth was what they could not see.
They could not see Jesus in His solitary communion with the Father as He prayed on the mountain. They did not know that He could see them, and they could not fathom that He would take the time to look. But scripture tells us, “He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them,” Soon they would realize as many had before them, that He is a God who sees His children and hears their cries.
But even as they caught that first glimpse of Him, they were terrified. The wind had stirred them into a panic, and they had been pelted time and time again with wave after wave of destruction, so that when they saw their Lord, they were bombarded by fear, and expected only evil upon evil. So Jesus sought to pass them by.
The God Who Passes By
Did he seek to pass them by in order to bypass them? Not at all! He knew that the only way for man to see the glory of the Lord was for God to pass them by. Before he had been given access to man in the tent of a human body, He had passed many of His beloved by in order that they might witness His glory and their faith be strengthened. In this way, he had revealed Himself to Moses, Elijah, and Ezekiel. Every time He had passed by His servants without the dimming veil of flesh, they could but glance at His glory.
However, God’s love for His people is persistent and passionate and does not settle for merely a glance. He wants to enjoy our fellowship. So He clothed Himself in flesh named Jesus, and began, once again to pass His people by in every town, village, and province into which the Spirit led Him. Only now, in the dimming cloak of a human body, every time He passed by one of His children, they were not confined to a mere glance. Now, He invited them to experience Him.
When He passed alongside the sea of Galilee, Peter, Andrew, James, and John accepted His invitation to work alongside Him. Two blind men experienced Jesus’ healing hands as He passed by them in Jericho. A woman who had suffered from pain, rejection, and embarrassment for twelve years would not allow Jesus to pass by without reaching out to touch His cloak and experienced the power of the merciful Healer. A tax collector named Levi had his life changed forever, all because he responded when Jesus passed by and invited him to join Him. He became Matthew, the writer of one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, and one of the men on the boat that stormy night.
Time and time again throughout the New Testament, Jesus “passes by”, and each time someone’s life is changed when they choose to call out to Him or respond to His calling them. So when Mark tells us that Jesus “meant to pass by them,” we know that it was not an avoidance tactic, but a glorious invitation to experience His power. And as He passed by, the wind continued to howl in their ears and the rain continued to pelt them painfully, and they cried out in fear. In response to the fear that had been sealed by their hardened hearts, He comforted them saying, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”
A Storm with a Purpose
Jesus knew that they had to experience the trial of this storm in order to experience His power over all that threatened them. Just as His Father had allowed His people to hunger in the wilderness so that they would come to know Him as the One who feeds them, Jesus allowed His disciples to be tossed by waves, oppressed by wind, and pelted with rain in order that they might clearly know Him as the Lord of the storm – the One who saves.
As they caught a glimpse of His figure passing by them through the thick of the tempest, at least one heart was softened as it drove Peter to boldly step into the thick of the raging seas, forsaking the safety of a boat or the company of his friends, just to be with the Lord. At that moment, a perfect love cast out all fear and he stepped out onto the waves. For a brief moment, before common sense and rational overrode his trust in Jesus, Peter experienced a glorious fellowship with the Lord which physically held him up in the midst of all that threatened his life. And at the moment he fell victim to fear he began to sink. But at that same moment, the perfect love of Christ once again cast out all Peter’s fear as Jesus’ calloused hand and strong arm reached out – a automatic reaction to the love and mercy that defines Him – and rescued his beloved child from his own doubt.
Since Jesus’ mere presence in the storm had not been enough to chip away at whatever had hardened the other disciples’ hearts, he stepped into their boat and ceased the storm. “And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Jesus was the one who had sent them into the storm, and he was the One who saw their torment. Though he did not immediately eradicate that which tormented them, He revealed Himself clearly in the midst of all that caused His beloved children to suffer, inviting them to participate in the fellowship of being “more than conquerors” over all that threatened to destroy their lives and their faith in the power and goodness of God. Only one out of twelve chose to risk life and limb to experience that power, and he was mightily blessed for it. But all twelve were saved. How great the love, mercy, and perfect plans of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
1. Have you experienced a time in your life where a great “spiritual high” seemed to be followed by a season of trial?
2. How are we tempted to change our perception of God during events in our lives that torment us?
3. What does Mark 6:48 teach us about Jesus in our times of affliction?
4. In the storms of your life, have you acted more like Peter, stepping out into the thick of it, eyes fixed onto God, or more like the other eleven disciples, hunkered down in the boat waiting fearfully until the storm was over?
5. What would you find most difficult about stepping out into the storm without the comfort of worldly protection or companionship? Would it be worth it?
Jesus has a perfect and specific plan for each of us – one that He began before we were born, and that will continue to perfect us until the day of His return. He will do whatever it takes to be in fellowship with us. He has patience with hardened hearts, and he gives special favor to softened ones. He might send us out into a storm, but it is only to reveal Himself as Savior and Lord over all.