The early church theologian Augustine is famous for saying in his book “Confessions” (which I highly recommend), “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Jesus shows the crowd of 5000 people what this means. Only he can satisfy and he is the True King, the True Messiah, who shows compassion to his followers. After this miracle, Jesus and his disciples really do need the rest they were seeking. The broad context that this passage is found in is primarily concerned with answering the question “Who is this?” Everyone seems to be asking this question, trying to figure out how Jesus can so these things, teach this way, heal this way, and act with such authority. And his disciples who just witnessed this miracle, are trying to make sense of it all as well and then we get to the next part of this story.
Read the story in Mark 6:45-56.
One thing that stands out in this passage is the comparison or association of Jesus with Moses. This is an association that is seen in other places also. The purpose of this association is to aid in the effort to help us answer the question “Who is this?” in reference to Jesus. When Jesus goes up to the mountain in verse 46, this is a pretty obvious allusion to Moses. One of the great things Moses is known for doing in the book of Exodus is what? Parting the Red Sea. So when we read about Jesus going up on the mountain, it should call to our memory the events of Moses’ life. He is one of the greatest figures of Biblical history. God used him to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt and to bring them into the land of promise. But when we read this story, we see Jesus sending his disciples to the other side of the lake in the boat, and rather than parting the water, in verse 48, we see Jesus walking on the water. Who is Jesus? Well, he’s greater than Moses, and we all know how great Moses was. Moses may have parted the sea, but Jesus walked on it. The disciples don’t seem to be grasping these clues though.
In addition to this association with Moses, the main thing we should consider when answering the question “Who is this?” is Jesus’ care for his followers. In Chapter 6 we see Jesus sending out the disciples to proclaim the Gospel that the time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come. When he does this, he tells them not to take extra clothes or food because they will be provided for. Why don’t they have to take provisions? They are fulfilling Jesus’s ministry so he is providing everything they need to do it. In the feeding of the 5000 Jesus is moved by his compassion for the crowd of followers. Even though the disciples were worried about what it would cost to feed such a crowd, Jesus said, feed them. He took the bread and loaves and provided for his followers. There was even leftover, because he had completely provided and then some. As it says in Psalm 23, the cup runs over.
The primary point of the story of the feeding of the 5000 is that Jesus cares for his followers and this passage is an extension of that. So we read a passage like this one in Mark 6 and we ask, Why is it here and what is it telling us? As we’ve mentioned, it’s here to help answer the question “Who is Jesus?” And it’s telling us that the same thing we have been reading, just in a new way: Jesus is the King who has fulfilled the promised Time and brought his Kingdom because he cares deeply for his followers. He sends his disciples across the lake, but he stays behind to pray. This shouldn’t be seen as unusual since he sent them away in earlier in chapter 6 to expand the ministry of the Kingdom. Jesus comes to them walking on the water. Verse 48, in my opinion, should have been translated, “and he meant to come to them” rather than “pass by”. Why is he walking out to his disciples? Because he saw the difficulty they were going through to get across the lake to the place he has sent them. Jesus sent them to a place and it was hard for them to get there. But it wasn’t too long before he showed up to show his care for them.
I think there is some great encouragement for us here. The place that God wants us to go as individuals and as a church probably won’t be with an easy journey. But Jesus stands on that mountain overlooking the sea and sees his disciples struggling. It got bad enough that he intervened and he went to them walking on the water. God will allow us to go through some struggles. We may have to fight the wind and sail through some storms. But God cares so deeply for us, that we can have the confidence that we are under his watchful care. No trial, no sorrow, not struggle that we go through happens outside of the watchful eye of our Strong and compassionate King. We know he cares for us and when our circumstances SCREAM the opposite we have to hold to this truth.
This is such an important characteristic to grasp about the heart of God, that it is a big deal when his disciples misunderstand it. They don’t get it. The disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they freak out thinking he’ a ghost. Verse 49 says they saw Jesus, but thought he was a ghost. When they see him walking on the water, they have no way of processing this and respond with fear. They should have known that Jesus would be coming. After all, he had already calmed a storm for them. He had already demonstrated his compassion. But they missed it.
I love these stories, because it helps me see that I’m in good company. No matter how many times God demonstrates his goodness to me, or his care for me, I still forget. I mistakenly think at times that God’s purpose in my life should be to make me happy when really it’s to make me holy, like his Son.
So Jesus says, in verse 50, “Guys, it’s me, don’t be afraid” And when Jesus enters the boat, the storm stops, just like in chapter four. So this should have just been a reminder to them of that situation when they asked Jesus,” Don’t you care that we are perishing?” Of course he cares. Have you forgotten already? After that event, when Jesus calmed the storm, they ask themselves “Who is this?” Since then, Jesus has healed people, confronted an army of demons, raised a little girl from the dead, and fed 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. And the disciples still don’t get it. They were utterly astounded it says in verse 51. Those two words don’t translate well. What is being conveyed here is a mingling of confusion, misunderstanding, fear, terror, and amazement at what they have just seen. Who is this guy walking on the water? They are terrified and amazed. Verse 52 says the reason they react this way to Jesus is because they didn’t understand the reason he fed the 5000 the bread and fish. What didn’t they understand? They didn’t understand that Jesus cares for his followers. Jesus has compassion on his people and provides for them. Because he is the true King, he protects and provides for those who are his. After all they had seen, why didn’t they understand this? Verse 52 goes on to say they didn’t understand because their hearts were hardened. They didn’t want to believe that Jesus is who he is so they couldn’t believe it. He has been explaining things to them all along. He has demonstrated his authority over and over. He’s done everything from raise the dead to walk on water, and they still haven’t come to the point of believing that he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. He’s shown that he’s greater than the prophets, the priests, the kings, and even Moses and yet they still don’t believe that he is the Messiah, the one who would fulfill the time and bring God’s Kingdom to earth. They have even proclaimed this message and they still don’t grasp it. They still don’t understand that there is no reason to be afraid of Jesus, he cares for his people. He has done all of these things and they still don’t get it. What else is it going to take for them to believe that he is the Messiah? Is there anything left that he can do to show them he is the Messiah?
We who know the whole story know what it had to take. Jesus would have to give his life, and die on a cross, and then rise from the dead before his followers would finally understand who he is and how much he loves them.
At this point in the ministry of Jesus though, his disciples are continually missing who he is and what he is doing. They simply don’t understand him. They don’t understand that he is the Messiah, or that he cares for them. There are people everywhere that aren’t so different. Maybe you like Jesus just fine, but you have no understanding of what it means for him to be your King, Messiah, and Savior or you have no understanding of just how much he cares for you. Until you come to the point of believing in Jesus and giving your life over to him, you won’t understand these things. As long as you are content to do your own things in your own ways, you won’t know Jesus as your compassionate King. For a lot of people it’s not a matter being convinced, you know who Jesus is, you know it in your head, but you don’t understand it in your heart. This is why it says we must believe and repent. Believe that he is God who has come in the flesh to demonstrate his great love and care to us. He’s the great King, the creator of heaven and earth. He has authority over storms, demons, and even death. And yet our Great King is no cold and heartless tyrant. He is a compassionate King. One night he saw his disciples struggling to get across the sea, and he walked out to them on the water to help them. Be he would do much more to prove his love. He saw his people struggling, so God took on flesh in the person of Jesus and submitted to death on a cross. Three days later he rose again so that sin and death would no longer have authority over us. And the day is coming when he will prove his love again, and he will return and be our King. We will see him face-to-face and he will set everything right and restore us to our intended place with him. But first, we must believe that our King has come. And we must repent, or align our lives with his Kingdom.
Are you doubting God’s love and care for you today? Do you understand his care for you? Do you know how much he loves you? He has moved heaven and earth to prove it. He told his disciples “Don’t be afraid” and he says it again to us today. Turn from doing your things your ways and give your life to Jesus. If you have already done that, then remember his care for you and align those things that are out of sync with a person who is friends with the King. Repent in your thoughts, actions, and attitudes that are not in line with the Gospel.
He is our compassionate King who has come to rescue us and one day his rescue mission will be finished.