Who do you say that Jesus is? The predominate question that needs to be answered. This question is constantly before us as we read the gospel of Mark. Many answers have been given, Son of God (Mark 1:1, 3:11), Beloved Son (1:11), Holy one of God (1:24), a blasphemer (2:7), sabbath breaker (3:6), out of his mind (3:21), son of the most high God (5:7), just a carpenter (6:3), Elijah or Prophet (6:15), John the Baptist raised from the dead (6:16), to others he was a healer or a teacher. There are no shortages of answers to this question. However, when it comes down to it, there are only right answers or wrong answers. Everyone must give an answer. There is no neutrality to this question, not answering is giving an answer. However, the disciples who had spent time with Jesus and heard the parables were given the secret to the kingdom (Mark 4:11), did they truly know who Jesus is? The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. Chapter six continues to teach us the realities of discipleship.
I. A zealot to conquer (45)
Mark has just concluded telling the story of the feeding of the five thousand. After a large discussion about not sending the crowd away a shift happens in the narrative, in verse 45 Mark explains, “Immediately he made his disciples get in the boat…” Mark uses this word frequently and it is often used to depict a change in scene compared to a rapid movement. However, Matthew records the rapid movement in Matthew 14:22 with the word immediately (Cf. Matt 4:20, 22, 8:3, 14:31). Mark also points out that Christ does not merely suggest to his disciples to get in the boat but ‘he made’ his disciples get in the boat. The gospel of John gives us more information about why Jesus makes the disciples leave the crowd. John 6:14-15 says,
“When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
The region they are in was known as a desolate place (Cf. Mark 6:31-32, 35) these rural areas were strong holds of the Zealot movements (Acts 5:37). The zealots were loyal Jews that sought to escape from the Roman rule. Ultimately, they sought to be their own nation with their own king (Similar to the Hasmonean/Maccabean rule circa 140-37 BC). To them the Old Testament Messiah was a political man who would crush the serpent, the serpent was a political power, not Satan. He would deliver them from oppression of an empire, but they did not see him as the one to deliver them from sin or Satan. They wanted a national citizenship, but Christ came to give us a heavenly citizenship. The crowd thought Jesus was a leader of a revolution, a general for their army.
However, they did not understand that Jesus came to free them from something worse than the Roman empire, their own sin. He came to pay the price for their rebellion against God, not to have them rebel against the Romans. He came to give them his perfect righteousness, not to meet their desired pollical needs. Many people did have an idea about what the Messiah was coming to do, but they failed to understand God’s perfect plan. The Messiah came first as the humble servant to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Then he would come as the mighty King to rule his kingdom perfectly (Rev 22:20). Jesus perceiving that they were about to make him king by force, instructs the disciples to immediately leave on the boat and he would withdraw to pray on the mountain. We are reminded of Jesus withdrawing to a desolate place to pray (Mark 1:35-39). Jesus turns to prayer as preparation for upcoming ministry (Mark 1:38). We do not have an account of Jesus’ prayers on the mountain this night. Was he praying for the shepherd less sheep, the disciples, his own upcoming ministry, or to strengthen his soul? We are not told what he prayed but just that he prayed.
II. A magician to perform (47-51)
While Jesus is alone on the mountain praying his disciples are heading across the sea of Galilee in a boat. They find themselves with a strong headwind. This makes trying to move forward very difficult. A headwind can make a bike ride or run more demanding. However, in a Galilean fishing boat this makes your journey immensely more strenuous and arduous. The wind which once filled the sails to move the boat forwards ceases. You must rely on manpower of rowing the 26 ft boat into the head wind. The Greek word ‘painfully’ is translated ‘tormented,’ ‘beaten,’ ‘agony,’ and ‘suffering’ in other instances. The disciples are rowing in the middle of the night in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, between 3:00 AM and 6:00 AM (This shows Mark’s Roman influence; Roman’s divided the night watch into four, while the Jewish authors divided the night into three). Jesus sees the disciples in distress and helpless. Just as he saw the crowd as a sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34), Jesus comes to them, he was meaning to pass them by. A couple of Old Testament verses can help us understand this passage. The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint when God ‘passed by’ Moses (Ex 33:19, 34:6). God also passed by Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11 (I think there are more connections to Elijah in Mark chapter 6 Herod/Herodias and Ahab/Jezebel, prayer on the mountain, passing by and finally people saying Jesus is Elijah [Mark 6:15]).
All of these passages would come to mind to those who are familiar with the Old Testament. However, I think one comes to mind from Job chapter 9. The key verse in this story is verse 52, “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” The disciples, although they have spent a large amount of time with Jesus, do not know who he is. They do not know that he is the Son of God. Jesus comes walking on the water, only God in the Bible walks/treads/hovers on water (Gen 1:2, Ps 77:19). Jesus comes to them to pass them by. Because of their hardened hearts they are unable to know who Christ is. Job 9:8 and 11 says,
“[God] alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea… Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.”
Job in chapter 9 explains his need for a mediator. In the previous chapter Bildad explains that God is upright, holy, righteous, pure, and just. “God will not reject a blames man” (Job 8:20). Job’s problem is how can man be right before God? (Job 9:2). How can anyone who has hardened himself against God succeed? (Job 9:4). Because of this he passes Job by, Job cannot see or perceive God. The disciples, like Job, are unable to see Christ as God. Their hardened hearts make them blind. They see him walking on the water and their response is fear instead of faith. They think Jesus is a ghost.
However, Christ does not pass them by, nor does he leave them in the boat by themselves. He speaks to them. How sweet the words of Christ are to his true disciples when we are standing in fear. As Paul writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Christ speaks to his fear filled disciples, “Take Heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Christ says three things to his disciples.
a. Take Heart
Christ speaks to his disciples telling them to have courage. He will utter the same word to blind Bartimaeus, the only other time when this word appears in the gospel of Mark. The man who is unable to see anything, can eventually see clearly because of his faith (Mark 10:52). The same word, translated ‘fear not’ is used in Exodus 14:13, “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” Take heart because you soon will be able to see. Take heart because you have a mediator.
b. It is I
Their fear came from their uncertainty of this ‘ghost’ that they saw. Their mis-identification of Christ strikes fear within them. However, Christ explains “it is I.” On one level they are great words of comfort because they know who it is walking towards them on the water. However, they miss what he is saying. Christ says, ‘ego eimi,’ which literally translates “I am.” Jesus tells the Pharisees in John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Pharisees understood what Jesus was saying, they responded by picking up stones to throw him. Jesus tells the disciples to “Take heart, I AM…” However, they do not understand, yet, what Christ is saying. When God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush God answers Moses question, “Who shall I say sent me?” God speaks and says, “I AM” (Ex 3:14).
c. Do Not Fear
The disciples were filled with fear when Jesus calmed the storm in Mark 4:41. Then in Mark chapter five Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear. Only Believe.” We have seen several people come in fear and leave in faith (Woman who suffered for 12 years, Jairus). The disciples have not reached faith yet. Jesus reminds them do not fear. Jesus did not pass by but hopped in the boat. Again, we see the ‘with us’ principle of discipleship. Isaiah explains, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God” (Is 41:10). Jesus steps into the boat and calms the sea. What brought them great fear before (Mark 4:41) now has them utterly astounded.
III. A physician to heal (53-56)
They finally make it to the other side, after a long day and night. They moored their boat on the shore and people come from the whole region. Ministry continues, and Christ continues to heal them. As the news spreads of Christ’s power people continue to come from everywhere that they might be able to touch his garment. However, Christ’s popularity speaks to what people are seeking and who they think Jesus is. The crowds are only coming to him to heal their diseases.
IV. A heart breaker (52)
The disciples did not understand. Mark 4:12, “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” The disciples have seen Jesus cast out unclean spirits, heal a woman who was bleeding for 12 years, raise a dead girl to life, feed five thousand men with five loves. However, they are still blind to who Jesus is. Jesus will bring up the loaves again, in chapter 8:14-21. The disciples’ hearts are still hard, they are still blind, and they are still unable to understand. However, then Jesus heals a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). It is after this story of Jesus healing the blind man that the disciples can see. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:29). He is finally able to see and understand. However, at this point the disciples are compared to the Pharisees and the Herodians who had hard hearts and wanted to destroy Jesus (Mark 3:5-6). Many times, we see the crowd and even Christ’s disciples amazed at what he has done and do not worship who he is. He is the great I am. The Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the end. The Lord of lords, King of kings, God with us, Maker of heaven and earth. They see him only as the son of Mary, not the Son of God. They do not know he is the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world. They have hard hearts and as Oswald S. Smith said, “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.” We are glad that Christ who raise a lifeless body up from the grave can cause a man dead in his trespasses to come alive in Christ.
The question is still applicable, who do you say Jesus is? Are you like the crowds who want to make him king by force? However, the problem we face is not who sits in the oval office or the British throne, because even if Christ held those positions there would still be sin in the people. The crowd failed to see their need for a suffering servant. The disciples do not know who Jesus is because of their hard hearts, they saw the miracles that Jesus did but failed to know who Jesus was, the great I AM. The crowds surrounded Jesus with their sick, but they failed to see that their sickness was in their heart. They only sought a physician of the body but did not come to Christ as the physician of the soul. We too can seek to follow Jesus for the wrong reasons. We seek political peace rather than spiritual peace. We seek to have blessings rather than the giver. We seek to have a healthy body rather than a satisfied soul. There are right answers and wrong answers to the question, “who do you say that I am?” How you answer that question guides us on how we see, understand, and come to Jesus. Come to the bread of life, the living water, eternal life, and true salvation. We only need to know the true Christ, let us not settle for a man-made Christ.
As for his heart, all the kings and potentates in the world, nay, all angels in heaven- cannot subdue the heart of a poor sinner; and this is the glory of Christ, that He can do this. Heart-work is God’s work. The great heartmaker must be the great heart-breaker; none can do it but He. -William Dyer.