Now do turn with me to Mark's gospel chapter 6 please, and hopefully we will finish off this chapter this morning. We looked last week at the feeding of the 5000, under the title 'The Servant's Unlimited Supplies', and we're looking this morning at the miracle - or at least one of the miracles comprised within the verses that we will read - where the Lord walks on the water, and the title is 'The Servant's Security'. Again you can put your apostrophe wherever you like with 'servants': it could speak of the security that the Lord Jesus gives as the Servant of Jehovah, but it could also speak of the security that we enjoy as the servants of the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus.
So we begin reading at verse 45, and you will note somewhat of a difference between Mark's account and the other account that you're aware of of this event. Verse 45: "And straightway he constrained his disciples", that is the Lord Jesus constraining His disciples, "to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him, And ran through that whole region round about, and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was. And whithersoever he entered, into villages, or cities, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole".
Now in John's account of the feeding of the 5,000, we are told that the Lord Jesus led His disciples into the boat for the reason that the crowd were, as one has said, dangerously fuelled with messianic fervour. They were going to make the Lord Jesus, there and then, their King - and that might have started a popular uprising. That could not have happened for two reasons, one: because the twelve, the disciples, did not understand the kingdom fully, they had not matured in their understanding of what the kingdom of God was that Christ was bringing on the earth at that time. They still had national and political ideas about it. The second reason why that could not happen now was: it would not have fitted God's eternal plan. God's purpose, as we know very clearly from this gospel and the rest of the scriptures, was that Christ should be a Suffering Servant, as chapter 10 verse 45 tells us so well: 'The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many'. God's plan was not that Christ should ascend into Jerusalem to some earthly throne there and then, but He should go by the way of suffering - that is God's way: not the way of force, the way of suffering; the suffering before the glory, the cross before the crown.
That was the reason why the Lord put them in this boat, and yet there are often are parallel purposes in our experiences - I hope you know what I mean. There's not only one reason why things happen to us in life always, there can be several reasons. Often in the divine purposes of God there are many parallel layers of purposes that affect many spheres. Therefore I'm saying to you, really, that although this is the revealed reason in John why the Lord put them in this boat, I don't think for one moment that our Lord was unaware that there was a storm coming their way. So one main reason why He was putting them in this boat was to teach them a lesson, and it was a lesson in the life of faith. These twelve disciples had enrolled in Christ's school, the Servant's school of faith, and little did they know that faith was the next class that they were about to undergo. The lesson that they were about to learn in the midst of the Lake in this boat alone was to prepare them for a day of service that was ahead of them.
Now, incidentally, this is a great theme within Mark's gospel: the idea that the Suffering Servant of the Lord is preparing His own servants for the day that He wouldn't be with them any more, at least bodily. That's exactly what is happening here: He is preparing them for a day that lay ahead when He would be gone. Now, how applicable this message is to us, because we live in such a day: He is gone from us physically, and so there are many valuable lessons that we can learn from this miracle in Mark 6, the last verses.
Here's the first lesson: the Lord directed His servants into the storm. Now you must see that in verse 46, He sent them away, and then He separated Himself from them and went into a mountain to pray. He constrained them to get into that boat. Now storms can come our way because of our disobedience - we do things that are wrong, we sin, we go down wrong paths, we disobey God's revealed will in His word and so on, and storms come our way. But here is a storm that they are facing because they are obeying the Lord - that's interesting, isn't it? Indeed, one writer says: 'Imagine what disobedience could have gotten those men that night. Perhaps a full stomach, a warm bed in someone's home and an opportunity to regale their host with stories about Jesus. It may well have been that disobeying the Lord in this matter could have been more comfortable and easy for them - but they obeyed, and by obeying they faced a storm'.
Now remember where they had come from. A wee while ago you will remember, near the beginning of this chapter, they had experienced the Lord's power in their own ministry - they had a successful mission, healing and teaching and doing mighty works. Then of course they had shared in the miracle of the 5,000, and remember that the Lord gave them the loaves to distribute among the people. So they had experienced in their spiritual pilgrimage a high, a peak, a zenith. Now the Lord, the wise Master knew that they were in a dangerous zone - I wonder do we know that? Do you realise that whenever the Lord is doing things through you, whenever you're experiencing His power, and whenever you reach the mountain peak of spiritual experience that that is a very dangerous place to be? That's why the valleys usually come afterwards.
Someone has said: 'It's good to be on the mountaintop, if you don't get careless and step off a cliff'. God's wisdom here is seen in all our experiences: He knows, even if we don't, that blessings must be balanced with burdens and battles and buffetings - so the Lord led His disciples into this boat, into a storm. Now please remember that we have already been in a storm with the disciples in this gospel, and incidentally the Lord led them there as well. It was also following a very exciting day in chapter 4, a day of teaching. Here again, after one of the greatest miracles that our Lord Jesus performed - remember it's the miracle that's in the four Gospels - they experienced one of the greatest storms that we read of in the whole of Scripture, and that is often the way.
We read in Acts chapter 4 something very similar, and it's interesting to note the parallels. The storm of official persecution from the government began after the disciples had won - how many converts on the day of Pentecost? 5,000 - isn't that interesting? 5000 souls saved, 5000 people fed, and then the storm comes! Someone has said: 'Perhaps while they were in confinement', that is the apostles in prison after Pentecost, 'they may have recalled the storm that followed the feeding of the 5,000, and they must have encouraged themselves with assurance that Jesus would come to them and see them through'. You see, that's what it's all about: each new experience of testing is what it is to be in the school of Christ, the school of faith - and each new experience demands of us more faith, and with that more faith we grow to be able to face greater experiences.
Now the first storm that the disciples experienced in Mark's gospel, they had the Lord in the boat with them - and they were afraid then, and yet the Lord was there! But this one is different: He's not there any more, He has launched them away from Himself, and He has ascended a mountain and He is praying for them. He's trying to teach them a harder lesson: that they must now walk by faith, not by sight. He was preparing them for the day when He would have ascended to heaven, and would no longer be bodily with them.
Now let's not try and create some kind of facade here. We all know that tests of faith are not easy, and we more often than not run away from them. The disciples were no different in this case. Now people often reprimand the apostle Peter for sinking, and of course that's not included in Mark's record here - and remember, we believe that Peter was the source of Mark's information, and for one reason or another he didn't want Mark to record this. But you've heard people not only reprimand him for sinking, but praise him for stepping out of the boat - and rightly so. But the interesting thing here is that none of the disciples, it would seem, wanted to even get into the boat - forget about getting out of the boat! Now, how do I know that? Well, there's word here used in verse 46 and it's a strong expression that says the Lord 'sent them away', and it indicates an urgency, a pressure that the Lord was putting on them. Do you remember the situation they're leaving? 5,000 people have been miraculously fed, and they have had a part in it - they don't want to leave, it's like a revival experience! The Lord pushes them, forces them to get into this boat - and it could actually mean, perhaps, that He actually shoved them off from the shore. Kent Hughes says: 'The twelve were reluctant, like children who are having a good time and don't want to get into the car to go home' - that's what it was like! Do you see it? He shoved them into that storm.
Something else, it's found in verses 47 and 48 at the beginning: 'When evening was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them'. Here's the second point: the Lord interceded for His servants from on high. He directed His servants into the storm, He ascended the mountain and interceded for them from on high. Now there's two ideas here I believe: one, prayer; two, priesthood. We see first of all, obviously, the importance of prayer, and we've seen this already in the life of the Servant of Jehovah. After a spiritual high, what does He do? He gets on His knees before God and prays. Now that's often something we do before spiritual highs, when we're asking for them: 'Lord, bless us! Lord, use us!' - and then when He does it, how many times do we actually then get on our knees afterwards to thank God for blessing us, and indeed pray that God will bless us all the more? You see, there is a danger that after the mountaintop experience we somehow transcend the realities of who we are and what we are before God.
I heard a story about a man called George Adam Smith who was an Old Testament scholar. One day Smith climbed the Weisshorn above the Zermatt Valley in Switzerland - some of you may have been there, I have been quite near to it. He went up there with his guide, and they made the ascent on the sheltered side of the mountain. When he got to the top he was so exhilarated with the thought that he had climbed it, and the view, the panoramic wonder before him, that he forgot about the gale. He threw his arms in the air and shouted with exhilaration, and the guide grabbed him, pulled him down, and said: 'On your knees! You're only safe up here when you're on your knees!'.
What a lesson! We are only safe in mountaintop experiences when we are on our knees. The Lord was regularly on His knees. We know from this gospel that His ministry began prayer, that's why we have there in chapter 1 that mention in verse 35 of Him praying - it's at the start of Mark's gospel to emphasise that the secret of the life of service before God is seen in His Son as the Servant, a Man before Him in prayer. But we see that that very full day of ministry in Mark chapter 1 began with prayer, and here we have the conclusion of another very full day of ministry - and what's the Lord doing? He's on His knees again at the end of the day. You might say: 'Did He not deserve a break?'. Well, the fact of the matter is, He probably did deserve a break, but He wasn't thinking about what He deserved because His service was selfless. He's not even praying for Himself! He's up the mountain praying for His disciples whom He has directed into the storm.
You do see how important prayer is, don't you, when we're serving the Lord? Here's the second thought: priesthood. Now in chapter 3 and verse 13 we saw the Lord - at least it's implied, it's certainly recorded in the other Gospels - He's on a mountain again, and it's just before He chooses the twelve disciples. We know from the other gospel records that He spent that whole prior night in prayer. So He was praying on a mountain before He chose the twelve, and now we see Him here in chapter 6 praying up a mountain before He tests the twelve. What a wonderful picture we are given by Mark, think of that: here they are in the low valley of the Lake, a storm is about to envelop them, but here we have Christ up on high praying for His servants who are below struggling. Do you know that 'sea' in the Bible always speaks of separation? He is on the land, they are in the sea - now think of these lovely words in the light of that thought of priesthood, verse 48: 'He saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them'.
He saw them! Now there is a beautiful picture here of the salvation of our Lord Jesus, and the Servant of the Lord's ministry, in three aspects. Here's the first, verse 41, we've seen it already this very day - in the afternoon He broke bread and fed 5,000 people. I told you last week how John has told us in chapter 6 of his gospel that that is speaking of how the Lord Jesus Christ would be given for the world. Now that is His sacrificial death, is it not? Now, look to verse 46, we move from afternoon to evening, and now He ascends the mountain to pray, and He's praying for His own disciples - and that is the sympathetic priesthood. Hebrews chapter 9 tells us that our Lord Jesus has now entered into heaven itself, now to appear before the presence of God for us.
Come with me again, thirdly we read of the next morning, the early hours - and in verse 48 we read that seeing them toiling in rowing, and the wind contrary: 'about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them'. He is coming again, and He is coming to the troubled sea and darkness of the hour that will prevail in this world at that moment when He comes - and He will take His own people, His own disciples, His own servants to the shore, the heavenly shore of glory.
But I want us to linger at the second aspect of His sympathetic priesthood, because that's what we are experiencing now. He gives us deliverance now. While it's good to look at the second advent as an application of these spiritual truths, I believe that there perhaps is a more pertinent one for us now in the fact that He has arisen and ascended, and He is interceding for us as our sympathetic High Priest. When I thought of that, I thought of John chapter 14. Now of course the second coming is featured in that, He said: 'If I go away, I will come again, and receive you unto myself' - the second coming, but later on in that chapter He speaks of what it will be like in the absence, the bodily absence of the Christ, for His servants the disciples. What does He say to them there? Verse 18 of John 14: 'I will not leave you comfortless', the word is 'orphans', 'I will not leave you like orphans, I will come to you'. Then, greater than that perhaps, in verse 23 of chapter 14 of John, Jesus says: 'If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we', the Father and the Son, 'will come unto him, and make our abode with him'.
He was preparing His servants for His ascension, and He wants them to have faith to weather the storms - though they would be without His bodily presence, they would not be without His presence. Are you getting it? He was leaving them, and yet He was not leaving them. He was going to send His Spirit to them. It is very similar to what Peter was going to experience when he betrayed the Lord, and the Lord forewarned him of it and said: 'Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren'. Now this is a bigger picture of that: He has ascended up on high, and Christ our Great High Priest looks down upon us in our storms, He sees us toiling in rowing, He sees all the winds that are contrary to us - it's amazing, isn't it?
I don't know whether you've ever been in a maze or not - a literal maze, not the prison now! There's one - where is it now? - Delamont, or Castlewellan, or somewhere around that area: a maze. It's very easy to get lost in! Do you know the way to know how to get out of a maze? It is to have someone stand on a hill up high, and they have it all worked out - does that help you? He has ascended on high - we are in a storm, everything is contrary to us, but He sees it all, He knows the end from the beginning. I love how Michael Bruce put it in the 18th century in his hymn, it goes like this:
'Where high the heavenly temple stands,
The house of God not made with hands,
A great High Priest our nature wears,
The Guardian of mankind appears.
Though now ascended up on high,
He bends on earth a brother’s eye;
Partaker of the human name,
He knows the frailty of our frame.
Our fellow Sufferer yet retains
A fellow feeling of our pains:
And still remembers in the skies
His tears, His agonies, and cries'.
And you know this verse:
'In every pang that rends the heart,
The Man of Sorrows had a part,
He sympathizes with our grief,
And to the sufferer sends relief'.
And that's exactly what He did there: He led them into the storm, He interceded for His servants on high, but He descended and came to His servants' aid in verse 48. Now here's three things about it: one, He came early, the fourth watch of the night. Now I don't want to impose thoughts in the text that aren't here, but in Roman times there were four watches of the night, and this was the fourth - from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Often the Lord meets us in a special way, when we meet Him a great while before day. Now I don't want to push it any more than that, that's where the phrase 'the morning watch' comes from, speaking of the quiet time. Old saints of God used to believe that God watched over you all the watches of the night, and it was prudent of you and respectful to get up at the fourth watch, when the Lord was still watching over you, and meet with Him there. It's a lovely thought - but surely, at least, there's an application here that often we are terrified in the storms of our lives because we don't meet the Lord before the hustle and bustle of the day and everything that it brings.
He came early. Secondly, He came miraculously, He was walking on the sea it says. Now that was a place they never would have expected Him, indeed it was the impossible place! Man's extremity, God's opportunity - and God loves to reveal Himself in our seemingly impossible circumstances and predicaments. He came early, He came miraculously, and thirdly: He came mysteriously. Verses 48 and 50 at the beginning says that the Lord would have passed by them - now that is best understood as meaning, 'He would have passed alongside them'. It actually means not that He was going to miss them, but He was going to draw along beside them - but He couldn't, do you know why? Because of their fear, they were so terrified that He just couldn't approach them at that moment. Their fear and their lack of faith hindered Him helping them! Imagine it: they thought He was literally a 'phantasma', that's the word used, it speaks of 'a water ghost' - that's what they thought He was. These were fishermen, all their superstitions and folklore came to the brim of their minds: 'It's one of those ghosts we've always heard about!'. As Jack was telling us about the moon, in all likelihood this strong windstorm had blown all the clouds away, and it was also the time of Passover - now the time of Passover is the time of the full moon. So there was a Passover moon and no clouds, and they're seeing this eerie figure stepping on the waves. These are experienced fishermen who never saw anything like this, and He's illuminated by this full moon!
How would you have felt? Often the Lord comes mysteriously to us. Often the Lord comes to us in our storms in ways that we don't initially recognize Him. Now maybe that's because, at times, we're not looking for Him. Maybe, like these disciples, we're trying to fight, and row, and face the contrary winds. Maybe it's because we're distracted by other things - but He came to them. Maybe you're in a storm just now, and you think the Lord has forsaken you and He's forgotten you. Maybe you don't realise that mysteriously He is very near, and you haven't seen it yet.
Come with me again: He descended to their aid, but then in verses 50 to 56 we read that the Lord displayed His divine power to His servants. There's three things here: there is revelation, reaction, and rest. The revelation is of the Lord to His disciples, the reaction is of the disciples to their Lord, and the rest is right across the board. Let's look at revelation: He comes to them mysteriously, and He says: 'Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid'. Now in the Greek those words 'it is I' literally are these: 'I am'. Now what was He saying? He was identifying Himself, this Jesus whom you follow is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, He is the Creator of the winds and of the waves and of nature. Only God, Job 9:8 tells us, 'spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea'. From Matthew's account of this event, we know that at the end of this miracle the disciples came and worshipped Him, and said: 'Of a truth, Thou art the Son of God'. 'Be not afraid, I am'.
Now what would 'Be not afraid', and 'I am', have conjured up in their minds? I'll tell you: those wonderful words of Isaiah 43. Now remember the situation that they are finding themselves in: 'Now saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee'. He revealed Himself as the God of the winds and waves.
Now what was their reaction after that revelation? Their reaction in verses 50 and 52 is that they were amazed beyond measure. Now Mark has used that phrase and expression twice previously. It followed the healing of the sick of the palsy, and then the raising of Jairus' daughter - all the onlookers were amazed, and literally it means that they were out of their minds. Now Mark only gives us the reason why they were amazed: he tells us they were amazed because these disciples had not understood the last miracle, the feeding of the 5,000. Do you see it? In verse 52, they had not considered the miracle of the loaves. Now what's he getting at? The New American Standard Version translates it like this: 'They had not gained insight' from the miracle of the 5,000. Their hearts were hardened, they were unreceptive to the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ as the great 'I Am', the omnipotent Son, the Creator of the universe.
Now here is the lesson from their reaction: if we never learn from our storms, and if we don't learn something about our Lord, and probably learn something about ourselves, our hearts are in danger of becoming hardened for the next storm that comes along; and we'll begin to resent the Lord and harden our hearts against Him. I believe if you think about that, it happens all the time. Here they are: toiling and rowing - what are they doing? They are expending their natural energies in what seems to be an impossible storm, and John tells us in chapter 6 of his gospel that they rowed between three and four miles before the Lord came to them. Do you know how long that is? It's about seven or eight hours rowing! Because of the hardness of their heart, the Lord had to allow them to be exhausted of all their fleshly means - and sometimes He can leave us to ourselves as long as He sees fit, and it can be a long time. But do you know something? His delays are not His denials, for He came to them, and He got into the ship and immediately the storm stilled! Not only that, but John tells us immediately He got into the boat they were at the shore - so there's more than one miracle here. Jesus walked on the water; Matthew tells us Peter walked on the water; the Lord stilled the storm; and the boat arrives instantly, miraculously, as soon as the Lord enters it, right to the shore side.
Now surely, if ever there was a night of wonders, that was it for the disciples - all those miraculous experiences! Now see it please: in the night of their deepest darkness, distress, in the greatest storm they had ever faced, it was also their night of wonders - why? Because they learned to have faith in Christ. They had learned, through the miracle of the 5,000 being fed, the provision of the Shepherd. He provides for His servants. Now they are learning the protection of the Shepherd: 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want', later on verse 4 of Psalm 23, 'I will fear no evil'. If they trust they will have the Lord's sufficiency. If they trust they will have the Lord's security, no matter what the situation is.
In verses 54 to 56 we see that when they embarked on the shore, where it says that 'they knew him', it's not talking about the disciples, it's talking about the people at the shore - the ordinary people knew His power, they understood that it was the power of God, and they hadn't seen Him walking on water! What a scene: the marketplaces become impoverished hospitals, they want to get as close to the Lord, close enough that even to touch the hem of His garment would heal them. All who touched Him were made well, and the simple faith of these ordinary people caused them to bring their needs to the Lord - and what a rebuke that was to the disciples.
Have you got a glimpse this morning of the Servant's security? The Lord directs His servants into storms, He intercedes for His servants from on high, He descends to His servants to give them aid, He displays His divine power to His servants.
'O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace'.
Do you know those waves that frightened those disciples? They were stepping stones, they were stairs to bring Him near. May you let Him near in your storm, that all might be still.
Father, we thank You for the lessons that the disciples had to go through that we might learn - and yet, our Father, we are well aware that some of us are passing through storms, tests, trials. Father, You have allowed them to come into our lives, and You would that they should strengthen our faith, and they should be stepping stones to bring Christ near even in the waves. Lord, may every one of Your children here today, whatever they are passing through, though it might be mysteriously, may they miraculously know the presence of the Lord Jesus drawing alongside. May His presence come into their boat, may peace be still, may they experience a little bit of that heavenly shore even here and now through the sympathising Priesthood of the Man at Your right hand. We thank You for these rich truths, may they truly feed our souls for good. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirty-fourth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Servant's Security" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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