August 2nd, St Michael and St Barnabas
I am sure you have been in a shop looking for something particular and you try and try to see it, but to no avail. You look along the shelves and moan that they have changed everything around. Sound familiar? Oh well, you can always ask a member of staff to help you, but can you find one when you want to? But how many times, when you have found someone, have they pointed to this particular thing right in front of your eyes. When my son-in-law cannot find a certain thing (normally because he hasn’t put it back where it belongs!) my daughter says to him “look with your lady eyes”. Then he looks more carefully and usually finds it. Bit sexist but true!
How often do we witness a miracle and don’t even see it as a miracle? How often does the Hand of God move in our lives and we don’t even see Him at work? How much do we miss because we not looking for it? God still moves in the lives of His people but how often do His people even recognize what He is doing? How often do we recognise who Jesus really is?
The story today is a very familiar one with Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm and no doubt we have read it many times.
But the verse that stands out in my mind today and that I want to concentrate on is verse 51. “Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves, their hearts were hardened.” He was, of course, talking about the previous episode in chapter 6 which we heard last week of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.
To help interpret the water-walking story, we must first understand that Mark’s goal in writing his gospel is to provide his readers the evidence which back up his claim that Jesus is the Son of God. A second goal, perhaps almost as important as the first is to show that the Lord’s glory and power is there to be seen and heard but that not all people are able to recognise this; they have eyes but do not see, and ears but do not hear. Some who hear the word and receive it with joy nevertheless “quickly fall away” when trouble or persecution comes. In having the disciples fail to understand “amazing” acts performed by Jesus, Mark is letting his readers see that the disciples eyes are blind to Jesus’ miraculous acts and their ears deaf to the word of the Lord. These failures allow the reader to anticipate as we journey along in the gospel, the ultimate failure of the disciples: treachery by one, denial by another and abandonment by all.
So here we see a group of disciples whose hearts have become hardened. They had grown spiritually insensitive to the miracles of Christ. They had just observed and participated in perhaps the most spectacular of all of Christ’s miracles. Thousands of people were fed with only five loaves of bread and two small fish. So too, in chapter 8, the same truth is brought to light. Christ had warned his disciples after the miracle of the feeding of the four thousand “to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod”. By this, He designed to put the disciples on their guard against those peculiar doctrines, as He well knew were particularly liable to prejudice their minds against the truth of his teachings. He warned them to beware of that yeast, which would diffuse a destructive influence over all their opinions and feelings. But the disciples, misunderstanding the importance of Christ’s warning, in the hardness of their hearts, ‘reasoned among themselves,’ saying, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ And when Jesus knew it, he said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” In other words, have you so mistaken the meaning of the miracle which I did, that you cannot yet understand truth? Is it possible that you have so misinterpreted my instructions that you cannot understand the plainest truth which I make known to you?
These men had not turned their backs on Christ or His service, they were very much involved, they had healed the sick and driven out demons themselves and yet their hearts had become hardened. They were spiritually insensitive to the work of God. They were spiritually insensitive to see who Jesus really was? Their hearts had become hardened. What about your heart, what about mine?
Jesus had done an amazing work that only He could have performed, and yet the disciples missed its full meaning. They had Jesus with them every day and yet did they recognise Him as the Lord of heaven and earth?
So let’s go back to our gospel reading today, as soon as the 5000 were fed and Jesus’ teaching was finished, he sent the disciples into a boat to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while he went into a mountain to pray. We could talk about prayer and how Jesus so many times went to be alone with God in prayer. We always ought to reflect on our own prayer life and our relationship with Him but that is for another day.
We continue with our story. Can you imagine the scenario? As evening came the disciples were in the boat in the middle of the lake and Jesus was alone on the land. What were the disciples thinking, I wonder about the events of the day? No doubt they had bread and fish on their minds! But here was Jesus spending valuable time with His father, when he looked out and saw the disciples straining at the oars as the wind was against them. The sea had turned stormy, just what they needed after a busy day! It goes on to say at about the fourth watch of the night, which is between 3am and 6am, he went out to them walking on the water. You notice he did not go out right away when he saw them, he let them struggle for a few hours in their own strength.
I don’t know about you but when I have previously thought about Jesus walking on the water, and when you see images of this scene, I have imagined it being calm and level but here it says they were straining at the oars because the wind was against them so we can imagine what the sea was like.
When the waves are huge, you don’t see very far, just the mountain of water and then the boat sinking into the valley left by the wave after the water has crashed over the boat. Pretty scary and I am sure you can remember perhaps time when you have been on a ship in those circumstances or a small boat even. I know I have crossing the channel in a French ferry in the 1960’s with no stabilisers, not a fun crossing. I went with my family up in Norfolk between Christmas and New Year a few years ago and we took a boat trip to see the seals. It was not that deep and the boat was not that big but the wind was whipping up the waves so much so that they splashed against the boat which was rocking to and fro, and the water came over and soaked us and being that time of the year it was icy cold. Very scary!
It goes on to say in verse 48, “He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him, walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified”. Right there the disciples see Jesus walking on the sea and they are frightened out of their wits. Jesus speaks to them to assure them and calm them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed in the boat with them and the wind died down. Amazing to look back at the story now and see just how spiritually blind and ignorant the disciples really were. They had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and seen him do some mighty works, healings, driving out demons, feeding of the five thousand and now walking on the water and calming the storm, but somehow, they just didn’t see Him for who He was. But what did he say “Take courage, it is I.” It says something that means more than that, however, in Greek translation He says, “It is I am.” Jesus knew the disciples were familiar with the scriptures and would know the event in the old Testament of Exodus Chapter three when God called to him in the burning bush. After giving Moses instructions Moses said to God. “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you and they ask me What is his name?. Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses. “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites. I AM who sent me to you. The Lord the God of your fathers- the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you. This is my name for ever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” So by Jesus saying to his disciples “It is I”or translated “It is I am” they would realise that He is surely God himself.But their hearts were hardened, they had not understood or seen properly. These disciples with hardened hearts were having a difficult time equating the miracles of Jesus with the reality that He, as God, had power over the elements of the universe. Even though they had viewed the reality-defying feat of feeding the five thousand, they were nonetheless amazed at a little bit of water walking. We are somewhat amazed at what Jesus does for us in our every day lives but should we be amazed, we should be thankful but not amazed because we know He is God, the great I am where nothing is impossible.
He could not only provide for His people in feeding them but could overcome the elements of the world. We ourselves live in challenging times. The credit crunch, people are losing their jobs and losing their homes because they can’t pay their mortgages, loved ones are losing their lives in the fight against terrorism, the world seems out of control. More than ever, we need to have the assurance that Jesus is truly the “I AM”. But are our hearts hardened like the disciples?
Are we totally amazed when God answers our prayers?
I will repeat those questions which I asked at the beginning of this sermon.
How often do we witness a miracle and don’t even see it as a miracle? How often does the Hand of God move in our lives and we don’t even see Him at work? How much do we miss because we not looking for it? God still moves in the lives of His people but how often do His people even recognize what He is doing? Do we recognise Jesus as the great I AM. In our Jeremiah reading this morning chapter 23, he speaks of false prophets, stubborn hearts – in verse 18 “but which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear His word? Who has listened and heard his word?”
Verse 23 “Am I only a God nearby declares the Lord and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth declares the Lord.”
We can become so complacent, so lacking in vigour and excitement at who Jesus is. Our hearts can become hardened like the disciples and our understanding and vision and hearing can be stilted.
How complacent are we in our spiritual lives? How complacent are we in recognising this great Jesus, the King, the Holy One, the Lord of heaven and earth.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In our every day lives do we see Jesus as Paul in the Philippians sees Him or do we see him just as a friend to talk to.
Are our hearts hardened to his power and glory and holiness? What will be your answer?