One of the questions I ask often in counseling is this: “What’s the reason God has brought this crisis into your life?” I do this to see if Christ followers put God into the picture of their hardships. If that person does not know how to answer the above question, then I will show how God uses trouble to help a person grow in Christ (Genesis 50:20, Psalm 119:71, Lamentations 3:32, 37). When we face a crisis our thoughts should be: “What is God up to in this situation? How does He want me to grow and change?” (II Corinthians 1:8-9)
Mark 6:45-52 is a passage where God deliberately makes His disciples face an impending storm. Verse 45 says Jesus “immediately made” his disciples get into the boat.
Why would Christ make them do this? To answer that question, you have to follow the passage’s context and look at the same story in John’s gospel (John 6:1-15). When you do this, you find each gospel narrative follows on the heels of the feeding of the 5,000. John’s gospel makes it clear that after this great miracle, the crowd wanted to make Jesus King. There was such an emotional groundswell by the crowd that probably His disciples saw Christ as a miracle worker and military savior. Like the crowd, Jesus’ disciples did not see Christ as the Suffering Servant who would die for their sins (Isaiah 53). This is why Mark adds a comment in verse 52: “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
Before you come down too hard on the disciples, stop and examine your heart to see if you are a lot like them. Frankly, if I were in the disciples’ shoes I would say: “Jesus, I don’t know about getting in this boat, because I remember how the last storm went (Mark 4) and you were with us. This time you aren’t going with us.” More importantly than just fear, when life storms came in my past I misunderstood God’s character and His purposes for my life. Have you had the same reaction?
You see God is more concerned with you trusting and following Him than everything going smoothly in your life. That’s why He deliberately takes you through a storm and often makes you wait like His disciples. He saw His disciples “making headway painfully.” You may be straining at the oars— caring for elderly parents, going through intense pain, seeing a husband or wife desert you for someone else, grieving and caring for yourself after your mate dies, facing financial hardship or having a prodigal son. Don’t get weary, even though it is dark and you are straining at the oars! Jesus sees and cares! He got into the boat with the disciples. He is there in your storms! The Lord is at hand (Philippians 4:5)!
Notice in this story Jesus does come to His disciples and walks on the sea during the fourth watch. That’s about 3 AM to 6 AM. By waiting, Jesus wanted his disciples and you to learn that your extremity of need should push you to depend on Him.
Again Jesus in this storm deliberately chooses to train His disciples to implicitly trust Him. Mark says that Jesus “meant to pass by them.” Jesus did this to show He is the Son of God! When He passed by the disciples, it should have reminded them of Moses asking the Lord: “Please show me your glory.” Moses in that passage (Exodus 33:18-23) saw only God’s back, not His face. This time during the storm, Jesus walked by and revealed His glory in His face. You like the disciples must see God’s glory is the centerpiece of the story of life.
Instead of seeing God’s glory, the disciples in this crisis react with fear like we often do. They thought they saw a ghost. It’s important in a crisis to see God! Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me.” You may have dark and difficult circumstances, but you must bring God into the crisis with spiritual eyes and not question Him. God is often working behind the scenes in His providence to show you His glory and do you good in the end (Deuteronomy8:16). With spiritual eyes you need to understand and firmly believe: God is in the trouble, God is up to something and God is up to something good (Genesis 50:20). You can say like John Newton: “With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.”
Aren’t you thankful for God’s patience! You see His disciples had failed once again. Jesus could have responded to their failure and said: “What does it take for you dopes to believe in me?” No, Jesus showed Himself patient, loving and kind by continuing the mission with His disciples. I am glad God has been patient with me and still uses me! What about you?
There’s one last item to focus on in this passage. It’s Jesus and the cross! You might say: “Dale, where’s the cross in this passage?” You will not see it directly referred to. Yet you must see there is something important in Jesus’ going up to the mountain to pray. Jesus prayed a lot, but this incident of praying and some others are strategic times of prayer. Jesus prayed in Mark 1:35 after healing people and casting out a demon. Here in Mark 6 Jesus prayed again after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Then in Mark 14:32 to 36, Jesus prays in Gethsemane before His death. Each time Jesus prayed during these strategic times, He faced temptation. He faced the test to succumb to his popularity and avoid the cross. Later, He faced the test to avoid suffering and the cross altogether.
What can you learn from this? It’s this: You can face your storms and yield to sin. You could question God’s goodness. You could say: “This is not fair, God!” Or you could question God’s love. How much better would it be to see Jesus faced the biggest storm–the cross–for you. If Jesus could take on the cross, then through His strength, power, love and grace you as a Christ follower can face the biggest of storms in your life and not avoid your suffering.