Text: Mark 6:45-56
Date: Pentecost IX + Proper 12B + 7/26/15
Last Sunday we heard of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Mark told us that when Jesus “saw a great crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). We are to know that you and I are in that great crowd, that is, that Jesus has compassion on you!
Throughout Mark’s Gospel and indeed throughout the Bible the number one, most important question that saving faith needs to answer accurately is, “who is Jesus?” It is most important because He is more than what you can see with your eyes or hear with your ears. For He looks human like you and me. That’s because He is human like you and me. He speaks words that we can understand. He teaches us about God. But there is more.
Remember questions 122 and 123 in the explanation of the Small Catechism? Well, you probably don’t remember those numbers, but they were those questions toward understanding Jesus’ two natures. “Why was it necessary for our Savior to be true man?” Christ had to be true man in order to act in our place under the Law and fulfill it for us. That’s His “active obedience.” And He had to be true man also in order to be able to suffer and die for our guilt. That’s His “passive obedience.”
Well that’s all well and good. We easily believe that Jesus is truly human. (Of course most people would say Jesus “was” truly human). The first disciples believed that. They saw Him with their own eyes. Rather quickly people began to believe Jesus was an amazing man who could heal people of their illnesses as we saw the people at Gennesaret bringing their sick to Him from the whole region.
Remember once the apostle Philip asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father” (Jn 14:8). He seemed to be certain that Jesus and God the Father are two different Persons. And he was right. But earlier Jesus already told us in plain language, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:22). As He said to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). So we confess in the Creed, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed). The disciples and you and I need to know that our Lord Jesus has two natures in His one person. He is man but He is also God. “Why was it necessary for our Savior to be true God?” Christ had to be true God in order that His fulfilling of the Law, His life, suffering, and death might be a sufficient ransom for all people, and so that He might be able to overcome death and the devil for us.
How do you know that Jesus is God? Well certainly the apostles and evangelists tell us the amazing truth of His incarnation, His human birth of the virgin Mary in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. But how did the apostles come to know and believe that Jesus is God? They of course witnessed many miracles at Jesus’ hand; His many healings, His raising of Jairus’ daughter and His raising of Lazarus from the dead to name only a few. But more than that they witnessed three important demonstrations of His divine nature. We hear of the first today, Jesus walking on the sea. Then there would be His transfiguration before the inner group of disciples and finally, of course, His appearances to them after His death and resurrection.
Today we hear of the amazing event of Jesus walking on the sea. This is so amazing that many have written jokes about it (“he knew where the rocks were”) or songs about walking across your swimming pool. But this was a demonstration (for believers’ eyes only!) of our Lord’s divine nature, the Son of God.
After the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus told His disciples to get back into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida. Now there wasn’t a terrible storm but there was a contrary wind that made their progress very difficult and laborious. Interestingly, Martin Luther saw that boat as a metaphor for the Church! As disciples we are in that boat kept safe while yet struggling against all the forces that would seek to hinder or destroy us. And lately we certainly have been witnessing many forces in our world today that serve to disintegrate society on the one hand and disable, deny, even outlaw the Church on the other.
It was on this occasion that Jesus demonstrated His divine nature as God. Mark tells us “he came to them walking on the sea.” When they saw Him the disciples were terrified. Our artist Mr. Bida captures the disciples fear painting Jesus in ghostly light on the front of your service folder. But it wasn’t a ghost. It was actually Jesus!
Who walks on water in the Bible? The Old Testament book of Job speaks of God “who
alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). Isaiah speaks of “the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” (Is 43:16). This brings to mind the miracle of deliverance through the Red Sea at the Exodus. Sometimes even the sea itself is depicted as a force opposed to God as in Isaiah 27, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Is 27:1). Jesus is the Lord who treads upon Leviathan, walking on the sea. But even more importantly Jesus tells His fearful disciples straight out that He is God when He says, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” “It is I” is the name of God the great “I Am.”
Having said this Jesus then got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. Back to Luther’s analogy of the boat as a metaphor for the Church. How comforting it is that God in the Person of Jesus gets into the boat, into the Church to be with us. And He comes and is here not just to tickle us under the chin or pat us on the head with a weak “Don’t worry, be happy.” He comes and is here with the fullness of divine power to save us not only from the contrary winds of unbelief or false doctrine around us but also from the sin and death we feel within us. He comes and is here speaking to us in His mighty Word. He comes to us and is here feeding our body and spirit by giving us His own body and blood. He comes to us and is here with healing and hope.
One last thing. Did you notice that though they were to go to Bethsaida the wind blew them off course and they ended up at Gennesaret? So our goals and aims can change and we can be surprised by the changing circumstances of our voyage. But our final destination is certain in “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev 21:1).