Posts Tagged "Mark 6:45-56"

Fear Not

July 25, 2021
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this ninth Sunday after Pentecost comes from our Gospel text, especially where Mark records, “But immediately [Jesus] 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.”  Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

I’m going to ask you all a question, and I need you to be absolutely honest. It’s rhetorical, so you’ll be happy to know that I won’t actually have you voice your answers. Here’s the question: what are you afraid of? I don’t mean the heebie-jeebies; I mean, what sends a shiver up your spine, makes your hair stand on end, and makes your blood run cold? What wakes you up in the middle of the night with a terrified shriek, drenched in a cold sweat? What are you afraid of? Losing your job and financial ruin? Hearing from a doctor that there’s nothing more that they can do for you? Receiving a call from the sheriff’s department that there’s been an accident, and your child was involved? Learning that someone has found out your deep, dark secret, something you’re truly and deeply ashamed of? What are you really, really afraid of?

We just heard an account in our Gospel lesson wherein the disciples experienced true terror. Who knows what was going through their minds as they were making painful headway across the Sea of Galilee in the dead of night? It was a long way to Bethsaida from where they had been, and to be fighting against the wind, I’m sure, was no picnic. Bear in mind also that they had, just that day, “returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught,” only to go across the lake and be met with a massive crowd to feed. These guys, I’m sure, were tired. They had to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. And Mark tells us, “about the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] 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.” They thought the One walking past them was a phantasma, an apparition, a ghost. It’s hard to blame them, since everyone knows that human beings cannot walk on water; ergo, whoever or whatever was walking past them was an eerie, unknown entity that was clearly more than human, and the first thing that came to mind was that it was a specter. … Well, maybe they weren’t terribly off-base.

In their fear, they hear this walking-on-water entity speak, and we as hearers of their experience usually focus on the latter sentence, when Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid.” Grammatically, that’s an imperative, a command, and as you know, commands fall under the purview of the Law. We Lutherans know what the Law is and does, right? It gives us the requirements of God, how we ought to live, what we ought to do, what we ought not do, but more importantly we know that the Law gives the command … but not the ability to carry it out. The Law of God is good and wise, but to us who are perishing, it is a cruel taskmaster. So, in light of that honest conversation you’ve just had with yourself about the things that legitimately strike terror in your heart of hearts, to hear Jesus say, “Do not be afraid” may come with no small amount of guilt. We know we ought not to be afraid, that we ought to trust in the Lord our God with all our hearts, but that knowledge hardly gives us the ability to dismiss those fears from our hearts and minds. The plain and simple fact is that Jesus’s command to not be afraid is yet another command which we poor, miserable sinners are unable to fulfill.

But Jesus did say more than this. “Take heart; it is I,” He told them before the aforementioned command. With all due respect to the translators of this version, I think a more wooden translation serves the text better: “Take courage; I AM.” That’s right, Jesus says, Ego eimi, the Greek translation of the name YHWH. Turns out the disciples were on the right track, after all: the One who was walking on the waters of the deep was more than a mere man. He was the same One who made those very waters He walked upon, spoke them into existence ex nihilo, out of nothing. The same One whose voice the waves and winds couldn’t help but obey. The same One … who would, in the fullness of time, do what only God could do: make full atonement by offering Himself in the place of all sinful mankind. He was no ghost: He was, and is, God. Jesus’s proclamation to the disciples during His leisurely stroll across the Sea of Galilee is a Gospel proclamation, which frames the reason why the disciples need not fear. This is made clear as He climbs into the boat, and immediately the winds die down – note, without even a word from His lips.

Sad to say, while the creation recognized and obeyed its Creator, the disciples did not. Mark tells us, “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” In spite of all they had witnessed, in spite of the miracles they’d seen, they still didn’t understand. They still would experience fear through their lives. That’s because they were sinful men living in a broken world, and fear is endemic to the fallen human condition. And we’re in the same boat. In spite of the miracle that is baptism, when God claims a human being as His own, that human being will still be afraid. In spite of God’s Gospel proclamation week in and week out, in the words of absolution, we still worry and fret that we’ve sinned too much for God to forgive us. In spite of the glorious feast in the Lord’s Supper, wherein we taste and see God’s goodness, we are still beside ourselves when those deep-seated fears that we know resurface in our lives.

We can’t live perfectly without fear … but the One who did knows your secret fears and yet loved you so much that He died to pay for all your sins. Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s continuing on, trusting in spite of that fear, and Jesus, who claimed you as His own, says to you, “Take courage; I AM.”

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Mark 6:45-56

Take Heart

July 29, 2018
By Rev. David French


Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. It was, I don’t know, about five years ago thatI was listening to an interview with Dr. James Voelz, one of our seminary professors, who was in the process of writing a new commentary on the Gospel of Mark at the time. He said that one of the major themes of Mark’s gospel is that, with one major exception, all of creation knows exactly who Jesus is. The major exception, he said, is the human race.

God the Father announced the identity of Jesus at His baptism and again at the transfiguration. The demons in Mark are terrified because they know exactly who Jesus is as He casts them out. All sorts of diseases and harmful conditions know who Jesus is as He heals them. Death knows who Jesus is as He raises the daughter of Jairus. The wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee know who Jesus is as He calms them with a word. And still, even His own disciples … the ones who witnessed these things … even they don’t have a clue who Jesus is. In Mark’s gospel it’s not until the centurion in chapter 15 who witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross that a human being finally says, Truly this man was the Son of God!

Today’s reading began with Jesus making His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side. Interestingly, the word Jesus uses can also be translated as compelled or forced. It’s as though Jesus is anxious about something and really wants to get His disciples out of there.

But why? Well, to understand that we need to remember our reading from last week. Jesus had just finished providing bread and fish for 5,000 plus and certainly, in a subsistence culture where only the privileged few were regularly ‘satisfied’ after a meal, this was more than just an impressive miracle as you can tell by the people’s reaction. I mean, you don’t hear about the people wanting to make Jesus their king after healings or casting out demons or even raising the dead.

The problem, of course, is that Jesus didn’t come to be an earthly king, but as He said, The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus recognized the temptation for His disciples and moved quickly and decisively to get them out before they, like the crowds, were tempted to see Him as just a “bread king.” So, Jesus puts them in the boat with instructions to go to the other side. Then He dismissed the crowds and finally He went up into the mountains to pray.

As Jesus was praying, His disciples struggled to get across the Sea of Galilee. Unfortunately, the wind was against them. Now, this wasn’t like the time that they were caught in a storm while Jesus slept in the back of the boat. That time they were terrified. This time, they’re frustrated. In spite of all their experience on the sea, at some point they stopped making progress. They were, in a very real sense, stuck in the middle of the lake no matter how hard they worked.

Mark tells us that the disciples struggled on the lake while Jesus prayed on the mountain until the fourth watch of the night, the one just before sunrise. That is, the disciples had pretty much been on the lake all night, and Jesus had pretty much been praying all night. Jesus finished praying and looked down onto the lake from the mountain and saw that the disciples were still out on the lake. So, He walked down the mountain to the shore, walked across the shore to the water, and He just kept right on walking … on the surface of the water. Again, we see that the water knows who Jesus is and at His will obeys and supports His weight.

The disciples on the other hand, think Jesus is a ghost. Their frustration with the wind turns into fear as they see a figure about to walk by them on the water until Jesus identified Himself saying, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. Now the phrase, it is I, is actually a form of the very name of God that Moses heard from the burning bush: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And so, Jesus basically told the disciples not to be afraid because He is the God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.

Then Jesus got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. Again, we see that the wind knows it is serving Jesus. Still, the disciples don’t get it as Mark goes on to say, They were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

These disciples had not only witnessed healings, resurrections, exorcisms, control of the weather, food production for large crowds, walking on the water, but if you recall from a couple o f weeks ago, they also … went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them and yet still God’s word tells us that their hearts were hardened.

My friends, in the Scriptures the boat has long been a symbol of the church. The turmoil of the sea often represents the evil that attacks the church. When the disciples were in the boat by themselves, the more they struggled, the more everything stayed the same. The church is no different. We can work our hardest, but if Jesus is not the focus of our church, we’re stuck and the church is a shipwreck waiting to happen.

The terror of the disciples reminds us of the terror people still have when they first meet Jesus not knowing who He is. Now, to be sure, if you were raised in the church, there’s not a time you don’t remember Jesus, but the Scriptures make it very clear that before we come to know and believe in Jesus as our Lord, we by nature wrongly believe He is our enemy, and so He frightens us.

Then the disciples heard His words, Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. They learned from His words that the figure coming toward them on the water was not their enemy but their teacher and friend. So it is in us. As the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, faith is created just like we read in the book of Romans: Faith comes from hearing, and hearing (comes) through the word of Christ. You see, it’s as the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the Gospel that we come to know and believe in Jesus as our Savior.

Jesus doesn’t come to drive us to the depths of despair with His judgment. Jesus is our friend; a friend who took the punishment earned by all mankind upon Himself. And with His blood, Jesus paid for that sin and so purchased salvation for all sinners. And Jesus still uses water to bring that salvation, but now it is through the waters of our baptism. There, He freely offers to all the gifts of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life.

The account of Jesus walking on the water and the stilling of wind proclaim Him to be the Son of God. The hard hearts of the disciples reveal that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. He must come to us, and He does. Through the Means of Grace, offered to you and to all, He comes with forgiveness and healing in His hands.

When Jesus entered the boat, everything became peaceful. That is, the church can only know peace when Jesus and His word are found within her. Without Jesus, the church is a shipwreck waiting to happen. With Jesus, the church is safe and sound. May God grant that you, who by grace through faith have come to know His Son, would in the midst of your daily lives and struggles remember Jesus’s words and take heart, because He is always with you.

In His Name, Amen.

Tags: Mark 6:45-56
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