Mark 6:45-52 finds Jesus and his disciples at a turning point in their ministry. Mark is just about to wrap up his record of the period of popularity that Jesus experienced (6:53ff). The next step for Jesus and the disciples is opposition. The Jewish leaders are going to ramp up their opposition and the fickle crowds are all too ready to reject the spiritual teaching of Jesus. From the disciples perspective this was opposition that was literally going to last for the rest of their lives; lives that with the exception of John all ended in martyrdom. In the face of such opposition the disciples were going to need to know how to deal with discouragement. Discouragement is a daily foe for the minister of the Gospel, and these men were headed into the layer of the foe.
Dealing with discouragement is not just an issue for the disciples we read about in the Gospels. Discouragement is something that every disciple of Christ must learn to deal with. Whether you are one of the twelve, one of the Roman recipients of this letter, or a Christian reading these words today discouragement is a daily foe that must be vanquished. Sometimes the battle for encouragement can be one of the most difficult battles we fight. When we try to encourage another person it is easy to feel ineffective or trite in encouragement we provide. As difficult as it is to give encouragement, it is even more difficult to receive encouragement. In the midst of difficulties our hearts seem wired to dwell on those things that enhance discouragement and our ears are frequently deaf to the reminders we receive.
This was the danger for the disciples as Jesus prepared them for opposition and it is the danger that we continue to face today. To prepare the disciples for this danger Jesus had already taken them away on a very brief “get away.” Now it was time for them to learn a lesson on encouragement through something far more significant than a short rest. In the events of this passage Jesus is teaching the disciples to look to Him for true encouragement.
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:45-52)
Jesus wants his followers to look to him for true encouragement. The key to seeing this is in verse 50, where Jesus says “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” These words of encouragement were true for the disciples in the boat, and they continue to be true for us today. Jesus is the source of true encouragement. In fact, this passage calls attention to 6 features of Jesus’ ministry that provide us with true encouragement.
I. His Providential Guidance (v. 45)
The first feature of Jesus’ ministry that provides us with true encouragement is found in verse 45. Here we see his providential guidance.
As we look to verse 45 it is important to note that these verses occur “immediately” after the previous verse. In other words, Jesus had just finished miraculously feeding 5,000 men when made his disciples get in the boat and go ahead of him toward Bethsaida. We are not sure exactly where Jesus wanted them to head. We know that they ended up near Gennessaret and that they were already right by a place called Bethsaida. There are a number of possibilities to explain the apparent problem, but the best is probably that there was another place alonf the shore that was called Bethsaida. Although we are not sure that such a place existed it seems likely because of the generic nature of the name (it means house of fish), and because John 12:21 seems to refer to second place called Bethsaida.
The issue of where the disciples were heading isn’t the strangest part about Jesus’ instruction. Jesus’ instructions to the disciples had an urgency to them, which is why Mark uses the word “immediately.” Plus, the recently fed crowds couldn’t have been happier at that point. Before they were fed the disciples understood why they needed to be dismissed, but now that they had a meal it must have seemed strange for Jesus to be dismissing the crowds. It was even stranger for Jesus to make them leave. From what Mark tells us it seems like they didn’t want to go. Mark tells us that Jesus had to make them (ἠνάγκασεν). They didn’t even know how they were going to meet back up with Jesus. If there was ever a time for the disciples to be confused, frustrated, and maybe even discouraged this would have been the time.
In the midst of these seemingly discouraging circumstances Jesus was providentially guiding the disciples. John 6:15 tells us that Jesus knew that the crowds were “about to come and take him by force to make him king.” Jesus was protect his disciple from the militant messianic influence of the crowd. The disciples were already preoccupied with their place in the kingdom, and the last thing that they needed was a mob of people ready to use force to put them and Jesus in charge. What seemed like a strange and discouraging act on Jesus’ part was actually for their own good. Jesus was providentially guiding them.
We can be encouraged to know that Jesus continues to providentially guide his disciples. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, Jesus is providentially involved in our lives. In my own life it is easy for me to look back and recognize this encouraging truth. For instance, Jesus used a miscarriage, an adoption that didn’t happen, and a church plant falling through to bring our family to Delaware. It is not just me either. Biblical characters like Joseph and Esther, they were all in the right place at the right time. Why? God’s providential guidance. This feature of Jesus’ ministry what accomplishes Romans 8:28. This is feature of Jesus’ ministry is what Mark calls attention to in verse 45.
II. His Eternal Fellowship with the Father (vv. 46-47)
A second feature of Jesus’ ministry that provides us with encouragement is found in verse 46 and 47. Here we see his eternal fellowship with the Father.
Notice what Jesus did when he dismissed the crowds and sent the disciples on their way. He went up on the mountain to pray. This is not unusual for Jesus, especially at pivotal points in his ministry. It reminds us just how important it is for us to pray. If Jesus, being fully God and fully man, needed to pray then we certainly do as well. But I think that there is an even more significant truth found here. It reminds us of Jesus’ eternal fellowship with the Father. As the second person of the Trinity Jesus didn’t start consulting with the Father when he arrived on earth. He has been in eternal consultation with the Father. He has been praying without ceasing for all of eternity. In John 14:11 Jesus reminds us of this eternal fellowship: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” Son has never done anything without the Father, and the Father has never done anything without the Son.
Before we develop the encouraging importance of this truth, look at where the disciples were while Jesus was praying. Mark makes it very clear that physically they were separated from Jesus: “And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.” It was very late, the disciples were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus was back on the land. Can you imagine how the confused disciples must have felt at that moment? Do you think they felt abandoned? Were they discouraged? Mark doesn’t tell us for sure, but if they were they should not have been. Jesus wasn’t with the disciples because he was with the Father. He was bathing his ministry and his disciples in prayer.
We can be encouraged to no that even though Jesus is not physically present with us, his is with the father interceding for us. When you feel most alone or abandoned you can remember the words of Hebrews 7:25: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Or when you are discouraged because no one seems to care or understand you can find encouragement in Hebrews 9:24: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Jesus has an eternal bond with the Father and, just like the disciples, all those who are “in him” through faith benefit from this bond. This is the feature of Jesus’ ministry to which verses 46-47 call attention.
III. His Constant Care (v. 48a)
A third feature of Jesus’ ministry that provides encouragement is found in verse 48. Here we see his constant care.
Mark makes sure to let us know that the disciples were not only alone on the water, but that they were struggling. They way Mark described it, they were were being harassed by a contrary wind. The idea that you should have in you mind is attempting to row forward against a head wind with no progress. It is not that there were in trouble, at least not like the last time Jesus performed a nautical miracle. The point is that their circumstances were exceedingly frustrating. It was very late at night and they must have been very tired. Mark indicates that it was during the fourth watch of the night, which means it was between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. This, by the way, was a Roman reckoning of time. It reminds us that these truths are encouraging for discouraged disciples all throughout church history, not jus the original twelve. It must have also been frustrating because they got in this position by obeying Jesus. Mark does not tell us what they were thinking, but I know my own heart well enough to know that I would have been very frustrated and discouraged with Jesus under these circumstances. I doubt that I would have said, “this is for some spiritual reason and I’m glad to be stuck in the middle of the water in the middle of the night.”
As we begin to sympathize with the frustrations let me draw your attention back to the beginning of verse 48. “He saw…” In the midst of the disciples struggle he was watching the whole time. His caring eye never left them. We don’t whether or not he supernaturally saw them. Some say that because the moon would have been full and high around Passover that we would have been able to see their boat from the mountain. Others point out that the visibility couldn’t have been that good because when he was walking toward the disciples they didn’t know it was him. Whether it was supernatural or not doesn’t change the point. Jesus was watching out for them.
We can be encouraged that Jesus constantly cares for his disciples. Even in what feels like the dark hours of our lives, Jesus is looking out for us. He cares for us, and wants us to look to him for encouragement (1 Peter 5:7). This is constant care is what Mark call attention to in verse 48.
IV. His Divine Power (v. 48b)
A fourth feature of Jesus’ ministry that provides encouragement is found in the latter half of verse 48. Here we see his divine power. In other words, Jesus does not just look out for us, he actually possess the divine power to take care of us.
After seeing the disciples in their frustration Jesus went to them. A few hours before the disciples had no idea how Jesus was going to catch up with them, and now we see what his plan was all along. Jesus was going to walk on the water to meet them. Those who try to deny the miraculous nature of this event also have to deny the truthfulness of Scripture. Mark, almost as if he was anticipating the critics, already told us in verse 47 that they were in the middle of the sea (ἐν μέσῳ τῆς θαλάσσης). Additionally, John 6:19 tells us that they were three or four miles out on the lake. This was a miracle, and Jesus did it to reveal his power to the disciples. English translations make it seem as if Jesus was trying to sneak past the disciples, but they saw him first. Literally it could be translated that his desire was to pass by them. In other words, his intent was for them to see his divine power in action. That is the point of this miracle.
We can be encouraged to know that Jesus possesses the same divine power now that he did in Mark 6. This is not the only passage that Jesus encouraged his disciple to be encouraged by His divine power. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”” If you are in this world and discouraged by trouble then take heart because with his divine power Jesus has overcome the world. This is talking about what Jesus’s power accomplished through the Gospel. By taking care of your sin problem Jesus has revealed that he has the divine power to help you. Put your faith in Jesus so that you can be saved by this power. Live you life encouraged by the constant presence of this power. This power is what Mark calls to our attention here in verse 48.
V. His Patient Offer (vv. 49-50)
A fifth feature of Jesus’ ministry that provides encouragement is found in verses 49 and 50. Here we see is his patient offer. In other words, not only does Jesus possess divine power provide encouragement, but he also offers that power to us.
In verse 49 we see how the disciples responded to Jesus walking on the water. They would have been seated backwards while rowing. As they were rowing they saw Jesus coming toward them. The only problem is that they didn’t recognize that it was Jesus. The only explanation that they could come up with as that it was a ghost that they were seeing. Sailors are usually a superstitious bunch and this group of mainly fisherman was apparently no different. They were being given a manifestation of Jesus power, and they only thing the could think was “Casper.” They were so freaked out that they were screaming. I think there may even be an ancient manuscript that says they were screaming like little girls. When they should have been encouraged, Mark tells us that they were freaked out.
The disciples responded like confused, scared, and discouraged men. Notice, however, the way Jesus responded to their discouragement. Immediately, urgently, he spoke words of comfort to them. He very easily could rebuked them, or been discouraged himself. But that is not how he responded. Instead he graciously offered them encouragement in the truth. This, by the way, is exactly how 1 Thessalonians 5:14 commands us to encourage one another. The disciples were in the fainthearted category, which meant they had the truth but need to be encouraged with it. So what did Jesus do? He encouraged them with truth. Specifically, he encouraged them with the truth of who he was.
Jesus invited them to be encouraged because “I am.” Literally, that is how Mark’s words should be translated. In John’s Gospel the Pharisees tried to kill Jesus when he spoke these same words because they knew he was claiming to be God. Now Jesus is telling his disciples to take courage and be strengthened by who he is. This was the truth with which the disciples needed to be encouraged.
We too can be encouraged not only by the truth about Jesus, but by the way he patiently offers this truth. Just like 1 Thessalonians 5:14 commands, Jesus was patient with these discouraged disciples and he is patient with us as well. Isaiah 59:1-2 reminds us that the problem with our discouragement does not come from the weakness of God, it comes from our sin:
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
Despite this sin Jesus patiently offers himself to us both for salvation and encouragement. This is what Mark is call our attention to in verses 49 and 50.
VI. His Ability to Change Hearts (vv. 51-52)
A sixth feature of Jesus’ ministry that provides encouragement is found in verses 51 and 52. Here we are reminded of his ability to change hearts.
Verse 51 tells us that the disciples were still “freaking out” even after Jesus got into the boat. The wind ceased and the waves died down. This was miraculous as well. In fact, John tells us that at the end of the whole ordeal they were transported to their destination. Despite all of this Mark tells us that they “did not understand.” The truth that they were supposed to be encouraged by went over their heads. It wasn’t just the walking on water that they missed either. Mark tells us that they didn’t understand about the loaves. He is talking about when Jesus fed the 5,000 men. What exactly didn’t they understand? They knew he did it. They knew what bread was. They knew that everyone was fed. What they missed was the significance of it all. They didn’t understand that Jesus was the Good Shepherd promised in the OT to provided for God’s people. That is why when they were supposed to be encouraged by Jesus walking on water they were only “freaked out.”
You can’t help but wonder how the disciples could keep missing the significance of these miracles. We don’t have to wonder. Mark tells us. They didn’t understand because they had hard hearts. Literally the word here for “hard” is petrified. It is a perfect illustration because in the bible a hard heart is a heart that was once alive to the truth but has been deadened through unbelief. There are different levels of hardness.
An unbeliever has a heart that is totally hard (Rom 2:5, Eph 4:18). Believers no longer have completely hard hearts, but because of the remaining effects of sin there are pockets of hardness and unbelief. The disciples were in the latter category, and this was the real source of their discouragement.
Did you catch that? Mark tells us that their discouragement did not come from their circumstances, their fatigue, or their confusion. Sure all of those exacerbated the problem, but ultimate source of their discouragement was a hard heart. This is an important lesson for us to learn. When we allow discouragement to rule our lives this is a symptom of a heart that is struggling to believe in Jesus. The good news is that this is just the kind of thing that Jesus’ ministry takes care of.
We can be encouraged to know that Jesus has the ability to deal with the heart of discouragement. He is the one who make the New Covenant promise of a new heart a reality (Ez 36:26), and he is the one who provides the believer the resources need to soften a hard heart (Eph 4:18-24). Jesus is the divine heart surgeon. He has the ability to mold our hearts so that we won’t be ruled by discouragement. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus was doing with the disciples and this is what Mark calls our attention to in verses 51 and 52.
In the person and work of Jesus we find the only source of true encouragement. He provides everything that we need for true encouragement. We have seen this in Mark 6. This is why in Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
If you are heavy laden and discouraged Christ is inviting you to look to him for encouragement. If you will repent of seeking your own encouragement and redemption He will provided everything you need. If you have not believed in him He is calling on you to do so now so that you can receive the encouragement of eternal rest. If you have already believed in him then he is calling on you to find your encouragement to him. To live like your yoke is easy because of all that he is and does for you.
You can find the sermon audio for this sermon, as well as other sermons from Mark HERE.