Text: Mark 6:45-56
Date: Pentecost X Proper 12B + 8/29/18
Jesus is the one true God who comes to rescue His people from sin and death, the same God who appeared to His people of old of whom the scripture says, “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8), and “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen” (Ps 77:19). This is the significance of Jesus walking on the sea, that we may know, believe and confess that Jesus is God come to rescue us.
A lot of people make jokes about this. I remember a man named Tom Lehrer who wrote a song called “The Vatican Rag” which included the line inviting Jesus to “walk across my swimming pool.” But what else are we to do with such a strange exhibition as this? It is not just a story or a vision but an account of an actual event! Well, we’re not alone for even our text ends, saying, “they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified.” “And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand…but their hearts were hardened.”
As of first importance notice that Jesus had dismissed the crowd, this miracle was not meant for them—yet. It was only for the apostles and later to be told for the catechesis of faith. But first is to soften and break through the hard hearts of unbelief.
Faith is shaped and informed by the scriptures. The Old Testament scriptures especially talk about the sea primarily as standing for all the forces opposed to God and the chaos that life has become for sinners separated from the God of their creation. The sea is the domain of Leviathan, “the fleeing serpent and twisting serpent the sea monster or dragon” (Is 27:1). But it also says, “In that day,” the promised day of our rescue and deliverance God will trample and defeat all the enemies that oppose Him. This is what Jesus is doing already, proleptically, ahead of time. The end result will be as pictured in Revelation 21:1 that speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
Probably the strangest part of this text is the detail that says, as Jesus was walking on the sea, “He meant to pass by them.” After they had screamed in fear Jesus said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” But does this not also bring to the mind of faith, “the Lord the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6ff.)? Or when He “passed by” to reveal Himself to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11)? When Jesus said, “it is I” however, faith hears the echo of God revealing Himself to Moses as the great “I AM.” Jesus is the all-powerful God who is master of His own creation.
In Isaiah 43 we read, “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:16, 18-19). That “new thing” in Jesus is that this same all-powerful God can now be seen in the flesh, in a physical way unlike any previous ways in the Old Testament revelations. Jesus even will say, “the one who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). The apostles will see Him in an even more glorious way in His Transfiguration and especially as the Christ risen from the dead.
One more sign for us is how this conquest of the sea happens in close connection to his feeding of the five thousand. For it is just the reverse of the crossing of the Red Sea in the Exodus followed by the manna then provided in the wilderness. Even this detail speaks to faith informed by the scriptures.
This account is meant for faith, for faith alone. For it brings the deep meaning of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, God in the flesh, come to rescue His people, to rescue us. As He has authority and control over the sea and all creation, so He uses that power to change us; to transform us from sinners into saints. Yet we have this struggle. The saints of God spend themselves in this life still surrounded by sin and death, all the winds that oppose not only us but God Himself. Think of and name all those winds today! The opposition is growing. Increasingly you cannot stand for Godly, moral positions concerning the training, education and development of your own children if it is in conflict with the positions of the public sector in our schools. You dare not even speak against the immorality of our times without being accused and even convicted of so-called “hate speech.” Such is the struggle of living the faith in a world of unfaith.
We pay a price. Some seemingly greater than others. So are the winds that hamper our journey and hinder our freedom and faith. So what comes of it all? When Jesus said, “do not be afraid, it is I,” He means to assure us of His victory; the victory over the wind and wave, over sin by nothing less than His victorious battle of blood and death on that cross. There not only has the price of our freedom been paid, but there has our only hope been planted. For it is the certain hope of resurrection; the undoing of sin, the stilling of the storm, the new life breaking through even our own death.
So shall we not sail on? Yes we shall.