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Take Heart

July 29, 2018
By Pastor David French

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Take Heart
Mark 6:45-56

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.