IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Take Courage Instead of Fear

Date: Sep. 8, 2019

Author: Bob Henkins

Mark 6:45-56

Key Verse: Mark 6:50

Because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid."

Have you heard about Hurricane Dorian that a few days ago pounded the Bahamas, Florida and the eastern coast of the U.S? Between 1924 and 2019 there have been only 35 category 5 hurricanes in the North Atlantic. Having five such storms form over just the past four hurricane seasons is way beyond the average occurrence rate.Even more remarkable is that Dorian broke the record for the strongest storm so far north in the Atlantic east of Florida. Historically, the farther north a hurricane moves in the Atlantic the cooler the sea surface temperatures it encounters, which typically causes the storm to weaken. This time, however, the sea surface temperatures were warm enough to add energy and power to the hurricane. While over the Bahamas, Dorian not only had sustained winds reaching 185 miles per hour, wind gusts were reported to be over 220 miles per hour. It went through not just one, but two unprecedented rapid intensifications (greater than 35 miles per hour increase in wind speed in less than 24 hours).And at times, Dorian moved along its devastating path slower than most people walk. Think about the devastation that can cause. The forecasted storm surge for the Bahamas was between 18 and 23 feet. And with an elevation of around 6-8 feet above sea level, that’s not a good scenario. Early satellite imagery suggests around 60 percent of Grand Bahama Island is submerged. Why are I talking about this you ask? No, I’m not a meteorologist wannabe, but I do want to bring awareness to the destruction of the hurricane and to show the seriousness and danger of storms that come into people’s lives. And in today’s passage, Jesus’ disciples experience a powerful storm of their own. Not nearly as crazy as Dorian, but a terrifying storm none the less. Let’s see how this impacts their lives.

Last week we saw Jesus’ compassion upon a crowd of 5-15K people as he fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. Most likely this event took place in the late afternoon. And after the disciples finished picking up the leftover bread and fish, Jesus gave them a new direction. Take a look at verse 45. “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.” As you know the theme of our study of Mark’s gospel is “Jesus is a Man of Action” and here we see another example of Jesus IN ACTION. In this slide you can see approximately where Jesus and the disciples start out. Here’s a zoomed in view. And here is where Jesus wants them to go. Verse 45 intrigues me because it says that Jesus MADE the disciples get into the boat. Other Bible translations say that Jesus insisted that they go. There are not many passages in the Bible that indicate Jesus pushing people in this way, so it’s interesting to me. It makes me wonder why Jesus would do this? Why here, now? Did he know that something was about to happen that he didn’t want the disciples involved in? In John’s account of the feeding of the 5K, it says that Jesus knew the crowd was going to make him king by force (Jn 6). Maybe this is why Jesus insisted the disciples leave. Also, I find it interesting that Jesus sent his disciples ahead and he stayed behind. And none of the disciples question how was he going to follow them without a boat? Maybe in the urgency of the situation they didn’t think about it. But Jesus' action actually shows great wisdom and purpose on his part. Firstly, it got the disciples out of harm’s way as the “satisfied” crowd turned hostile and allowed Jesus to be free so that he could escape. Secondly, it allowed Jesus to have some alone time so that he could pray and connect with his heavenly Father. Verse 46 tells us, “After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.” What we learn is that Jesus prayed most of the night. This translation says “shortly before dawn,” which is kind of vague, but from earlier NIV translations it says that he finished praying sometime after the fourth watch of the night, which means sometime between 3 & 6:00 am.

Jesus led a life of prayer. Often, he would get up before sunrise, or go out at night so that he could be alone in a quiet place to pray. He was a busy guy but he still made time to pray. If it meant that he had to skip sleep to do it, he would. It makes me wonder how he could he keep up his busy pace without a good night's rest? Personally, I find it hard to function without a good night’s sleep. But Jesus’ action shows just how important prayer was to him. No matter how busy he was, Jesus always made time to pray. Some people might think it’s better to get a good night's sleep than pray. I’m not advocating for less sleep, it’s important, but if in the morning, your body’s rested, but your soul is restless that can be draining. So, if you’re ever in a situation where it feels like your soul is restless, you’re not at peace, then you know you should set aside some time to pray and re-connect with God. When we make prayer a priority, like Jesus, then we can build and strengthen our relationship with God. Generally, we tend to pray most when we’re in need. Through prayer, Jesus got spiritual power and wisdom to overcome difficult situations and serve God’s work.

While Jesus was safely praying on the mountain, the disciples were battling on the lake. Take a look at verses 47-48. “Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them,”

The disciples were having trouble in the boat, because they ran into a strong head wind. As they had set out in the evening, everything seemed fine. But as it got later, the wind picked up and turned against them. Strong wind gusts were pushing against the boat and whipping the waves into a frenzy. Does this sound familiar to you? If you remember, only 2 chapters ago, in Mk 4, another storm comes upon the unsuspecting disciples in the sea of Galilee. The storm in today's passage is different than the one in chapter 4. This storm didn’t pop up suddenly, like the first one. This storm didn’t threaten their lives, rather it started with a gentle breeze and grew and grew and grew in intensity over a period of 8 hours. Some storms of life come upon us suddenly, like an accident, or loved one's sickness, or losing our job. And then there are other storms that grow with deceptive slowness. They don’t appear life threatening, but they threaten to exhaust us, and to prevent us from going anywhere. This passage says that the disciples were STRAINING at the oars. No matter how hard they rowed they weren’t going anywhere. Although they had made it to the middle of the lake by evening (v47), they struggled for the next 8 hours, without making any further progress. Imagine what was going on in the boat as the disciples struggled. At first, when the wind picked up, it was no big deal. Many of them were seasoned fisherman, so they were probably in this situation before and they came through it. Although the wind pushed hard, they had always been able to push harder and get where they needed to go. So, they weren’t concerned at all. In fact, they actually made progress for the first hour. But by then, the disciples were getting tired, whereas the waves were just getting warmed up. The less experienced disciples complained that they needed a rest while the more experienced ones began to accuse them of not pulling their weight. Frustration led to bickering. And for the next 7 hours, they futilely struggled against the waves.

Finally, all of them were exhausted. Their muscles ached, they’re hands were blistered and for all their work what did they have to show for it? They were stuck, as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. They more they struggled going nowhere the more frustrated they became. And during their difficulty, where was Jesus? Verse 46 tells us that Jesus was praying on a mountainside. Here were find another difference between this storm and the previous one. Jesus wasn’t in the boat with them this time. The disciples may have felt all alone in their current troubles. Maybe they didn't think to ask Jesus for help, because of the old saying; out of sight out of mind. Or maybe they thought that because he wasn’t with them, he couldn’t help them? The disciples probably thought Jesus was unaware of their trouble.  But verse 48 tells us “He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them,” How could he see them, he was way up on a mountainside and they were several miles out to sea? And it was in the middle of the night? And yet the Bible says that he SAW them, and he KNEW about their trouble. Maybe while Jesus was praying, he knew that they were struggling. Then, at the right time, Jesus went out to them. This teaches us and important lesson about Jesus. Even though he was miles away from the disciples, he knew their situation. Even though he allowed them to struggle on their own for 8 hours, he had a plan to rescue them, when the time was right, when their hearts were in the right condition to accept. When the disciples left Jesus on the shore, they thought that they were on their own. They thought that they had to do it by themselves. And in a normal situation, they could have managed. But in this storm, they had reached their limitation. Although they pulled as hard as they could, they tried everything they could think of, they weren’t going anywhere. And since they were on their own, Jesus wasn’t with them, all they could do was try harder. But what they didn’t realize was that Jesus was in fact with them. He knew exactly what was going on, he saw them and was praying for them. But you know what, it doesn’t appear that they were praying. For whatever reason, they didn’t cry out to Jesus or to God. They were trying to make it on their own and they were failing. 

Actually, the disciples in the boat are like a picture of all people. When people try to accomplish something without the help of God, they may start out with success initially, but at some point, they will ultimately run into their limitation, where the situation is just too much for them. People reach a point where they just get stuck and can’t go any further. For some people, they experience financial limitations. Around the time they paid, the bills hit. And it always seems like there are more bills than money. And it seems like no matter how hard they work, they just can't break even, and slip further and further into debt. For others, maybe it’s school studies. As soon as they finish two homework assignments, three new ones are due. It one thing for unbelieving people who struggle to get ahead because of their selfish ambition. In the end they find all their effort is meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ec 6:9). It may seem important at the moment, but we find later on that in the big picture it’s not that important. But even sincere Christians can experience similar types of struggles. Often, we can only find the meaning of our struggles when we follow God.

Ever since Adam disobeyed God, man's life has involved painful toil and struggle. Struggle with nature to survive. Struggle with others who ruthlessly steal or cheat to get ahead of us. Struggle with ourselves to do what is right. In all of this human struggle, there is always a limit to what we can do. Some people are more capable than others, but all experience failure. We can row against this much wind, but not that much. When we encounter more wind than we can handle, we begin to move backwards, like the disciples.

However, one thing all of us struggle with is sin. In this struggle, many people feel like the disciples: stuck. They can resist temptation for a while, but Satan is the best fisherman, he knows what kind of bait each person is tempted by. So, he tempts people again and again until they take the bait and they’re hooked. They never get any closer to righteousness, no matter how hard they try. This is the picture of the defeated man Paul describes in Romans 7. Paul says “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Ro 7:19) This verse paints a picture of just how helpless people are in their struggle with sin. They are straining at the oars, in a storm which renders all of their effort in vain. If this IS the case, then what can we do? Should we give up? There are three types of people: Those who found the struggle with sin to difficult, and so instead chose to just give in and enjoy the ride. They don’t have struggle with it anymore, but enjoy sin for a short while. They don’t fight the waves, but let the waves carry them wherever they go. At first, it doesn’t seem bad, they might even say, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” But they’ll pay for their lifestyle later in life. The second group are those who continue to struggle with their sins. Their struggle is futile, the sea is too strong for them to overcome, but they are more noble because they continue to resist even though they’re losing. The third type of person is the one who has resisted to the end of their ability. They’ve come to the point where they recognize their personal human limitation. But rather than give in or give up, they cry out to God, "Jesus, rescue me from this body of death!" (Ro 7:24) Then, Jesus gives them the strength through the Holy Spirit to do what is right. Jesus paid the cost for our sins and sets us free from condemnation (Ro 8:1). Our struggle helps us to find our weaknesses so that we can pray to God about them. All of us have limitations, but God is limitless.  He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9) Thank God who doesn't leave us alone fighting a losing battle with the waves of sin, taking one step forward, two steps back, but rather instead he gives us the VICTORY through his spirit.

Likewise, the disciples had a choice in their struggle with the sea, they never stopped rowing. They never said, "Let's forget where Jesus wanted us to follow wherever the wind takes us." Instead, Jesus told them to go to the other side, and they never gave up trying to get to the other side. This revealed their noble inner character in that they obeyed Jesus direction, even though it was difficult. And yet, despite all of their good character, they still hit their human limitation. They needed Jesus’ help. Jesus is not limited, even by the laws of Physics.

Sometime after 3:00 am, just as the disciples' last strength was about to give out, Jesus came to them walking on the water. Through this Jesus shows that we are never beyond his reach. He saw them, even though they were far from him. Jesus came to them, when they couldn’t come to him because they were lost at sea. When there was no boat for Jesus, he simply walked across the water. This shows that there is no obstacle too big to keep Jesus from us. Among Jesus' miracles, the walking on the water is one of his most visually impressive. It was not subtle, like the feeding of the 5,000. It’s something that’s impossible. Myth Busters tried everything they could think of to walk on water, but they couldn’t. [Only the Jesus Lizard (Basilisk Lizard) can walk on water and only for about 15 feet] Seeing this the disciples may wonder who is Jesus that he can even walk on water? In Mathew's account of this event, when Jesus climbs into the boat, the disciples proclaim, “Truly you are the Son of God.” They’re right. There’s nothing Jesus can’t do. He could probably ride the waves without a surfboard. Through this, Jesus demonstrates that he is the creator God who is the Lord of the sea. Like God at the creation, Jesus can float above the waters. When we think of Jesus like this, it’s clear that he has no limitations. This storm which caused the disciples so much trouble was no trouble for him. Jesus could help them when no one else could.

Living as a Christian is also a struggle. When we see the standard that Christ has set for us to live, we struggle to meet it. Many of us received a calling from God to serve in some way, maybe it’s to proclaim God’s word, show hospitality, praying, teaching the Bible, giving, raising disciples, participate in the Bible club, however you are called. And at first, we are excited, we may even have initial success, but over time it became more difficult. Maybe it seems that no matter how hard we work; we never make any progress. It gets harder to write messages, people are not thankful when we show hospitality, our prayers don’t seem to be answered, we don’t have the money or time to give like we used to, and no one comes to Bible study or wants to be a disciple. This may cause some people to give up and stopped struggling. Life is easier because there is no more struggle and they let the waves carry them wherever the waves want to, without struggling against them. (There have been several ministries that are not on campus any more) But the right response is to acknowledge our human weakness, and depend on God whose strength is made perfect in our weakness. It’s true, we cannot do it, but it doesn’t mean that we give up; because God can do it. Verse 48 says that Jesus was about to pass by them but they cried out. We should not let Jesus pass by, but cry out like the disciples. Sure, it was a cry of fear, but still they cried out to God. Sometimes a cry of fear, or anguish, or desperation is all we can do. Even if all we have is a grunt we should still cry out to God. It’s less about what we try to do and more about our prayer to God to do something through us. When we can acknowledge our inability and come humbly and faithfully to God, that is when there is hope.

How did the disciples react when Jesus walked up to them? Take a look at verses 49-50. “but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”” They thought Jesus was a ghost. Of course, we can understand why. It was a dark night on the lake, with only the moon for light. The strong wind made eerie howling noises. The waves began to sound scary. Then they saw something walking to them across the waves. They had flashbacks of scary stories when they were young about the ghosts of those who had died at sea, and who would wander at night bringing disaster with them. Their conclusion is understandable, but it is superstitious. It is not Biblical. It shows their lack of faith, and their fear. When we do not fear God, we fear everything else. We fear imaginary ghosts and also real troubles. We have fear of losing our job. We have fear of having an accident. We have fear of getting sick. Fear makes us powerless. But when we fear God, we do not need to fear anything else. Jesus taught us not to fear even those who can kill us, but rather to fear God who controls our eternal soul.

Look at how Jesus greets the disciples. “Immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.'” They didn't recognize him because of the dark night, but also because they were afraid. Jesus showed his concern for the disciples. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid. “Through this they were encouraged. In our struggles we may also be encouraged by Jesus, who came to the disciples in their time of need. They had no reason to be afraid, when Jesus was with them. Loo at how effortless Jesus was walking on the water, he had no problems even in the middle of a storm.  In the midst of our troubles, we too can take courage, knowing Jesus is there to help. So, we do not need to be afraid of anything but have faith in God who can deliver us from evil.

Take a look at verses 51-52. “Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”  When Jesus got into the boat, immediately the wind stopped, and they were able to reach the shore. The disciples were amazed that Jesus had walked on water. They couldn't believe that such a thing was possible. For the one hundredth time they asked themselves, "Who is this? But Mark interprets their amazement as unbelief. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

What does it mean that “they had not understood?” It doesn’t mean that they didn’t remember. The miracle of the five loaves and two fish had only happened twelve hours ago. They remembered but they didn't understand. The disciples did not understand what the feeding of the 5,000 was supposed to teach, so they could not apply it, when a new situation came along. What should they have learned? Jesus who fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish is the Son of God who can do anything. If he could do that, he can do anything, such as calm the sea or walk on water. Even though these are very different sorts of miracles, when they saw one miracle, they should be able to apply it to the next situation. But they missed the point of Jesus’ miracle, because their hearts were hard.

When one's heart is hard, nothing penetrates the hard-outer crust. One miracle or a hundred doesn’t matter, because the heart is not open to accept. The pharisees, who had seen Jesus do so many miracles, demanded even more signs. None of the others would do because their hearts were hard, due to unbelief. To these people Jesus would give no sign except his resurrection. That one sign is sufficient, but if our hearts are hardened to it, then no number of signs will do.

The Israelites are another example. After God performed 10 wonders to bring them out Egypt with a mighty hand. He even parted the Red Sea, allowing them to pass through as on dry ground, while the Egyptians were destroyed. None-the-less, only three days later, they complained again. When we see this, we wonder, “What’s wrong with them, after all that they had seen?” The answer is that they hardened their hearts. God cries out to us through the Psalmist saying, “… do not harden your hearts…” (Ps 95) 

We soften our heart through a conscious decision, and through spending time praying and meditating on God's word. Often as I try to prepare a message, my heart is hard to what a passage is trying to teach. At first, I can't receive anything let alone write something. It’s like my heart is numb. For me, it takes time, prayer and meditating on God’s word before anything can come out of a passage. Sometimes, before I start, I think that there not much to get out of the passage, but later, usually at the end, after my heart has been warmed up, I find that the word of God is abundant and that there is so much wisdom to glean from the passage. That’s when I know my heart had been softened up. And it’s so joyful.

The disciple’s failure to understand the current significance of a past event, shows that they did not have a sense of history. We also need a sense of history, and remember what God has done for us in the past. We need to accept that the current situation is no different than the past situation, in terms of what God can do.

And lastly take a look at verses 53-56. “When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus.55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.” At the beginning of the passage, Jesus told his disciples to Bethsaida but they ended up in Gennesaret. This really shows just how bad their progress was. It was the completely wrong place, not even in the same direction. And yet, God still used it and blessed their trip with so many people coming out to see Jesus. It’s interesting to see how Jesus’ ministry grew. It started small in the desert and grew so big that they often couldn’t fit in the places they visited. It was like the mustard seed.

In conclusion, what can we learn from this passage? What can we take away from this passage and apply in our daily lives? When the disciples didn’t understand, it caused them to struggle more. When they didn’t know who Jesus is, they didn’t know where to go for help when they were in need. So, they did the best they could and went out on their own. When we don’t know that we have access to the Creator God, we default to ourselves, even though we know all our own faults and weaknesses because we don’t know where else to go. And being in that overwhelming state is fearful, it causes anxiety and stress. But I thank God for Jesus, who saw the disciple’s situation and had compassion on them and encouraged them. It’s interesting that Jesus said “take courage,” Jesus was willing to help them, but now one can give you courage, you have to TAKE it. But often, when we don’t understand what God is trying to teach us, like the disciples, we don’t know HOW to take courage. I think this is something we have to learn for ourselves how to do. I know no one likes to be put in difficult situations, like this one, but it’s how we learn. The more you go through it, the better you become at it. One thing that can help us, is to know how much Jesus loves and cares for us. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33) Jesus understands us, he’s walked in our shoes, experienced the same situations, and he overcame. And he wants us to know that with him, we can overcome too. Remember these words that St. Paul gave to help us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:4-7)

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