The Terrified Disciple – Mark 6:49-52

terrified“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. Immediately He spoke with them and said, ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. They were completely astounded, because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:49-52, HCSB).

Have you ever read a familiar passage in the Bible and found something new in it? That’s what happened to me as I read again this familiar story of Jesus walking on the water.

Admittedly, Mark’s version of this story does not include an important element described in Matthew’s account (Matthew 14:22-33). In Matthew’s version, Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the water toward Jesus until he notices the wind and the waves, and consequently, begins to sink. So Peter’s faith (or lack of it) is usually the focus of this story for us.

But Mark has a distinct interpretation of this event. He associates the response of the disciples to Jesus walking on the water with their response to the previous miracle performed by Jesus, the feeding of the five thousand.

Mark says their astonishment to the walking-on-water miracle is predicated by their misunderstanding about the miraculous feeding of the five thousand.

You might recall that that the disciples weren’t exactly willing participants of the feeding of the five thousand miracle. First, they advocated sending the crowds away to find their own food because there were so many people (Matthew 14:15, Luke 9:12). Then they scoffed at the notion of feeding so many people from so little food (John 6:7).

Now Mark concludes that their misunderstanding of the first miracle (feeding of the five thousand) caused their astonishment at the second miracle (walking on water). The supernatural wonder of these two amazing miracles (and others) did not seem to penetrate their hearts and open their understanding of Jesus’s divine nature.

They were so insensitive to the spiritual reality that Jesus confronted them with that their hearts were hardened! Sound familiar?

Why, in full view of these astounding miracles, were their hearts hardened? While I don’t claim divine inspiration for knowing what they were thinking, nevertheless, I’m going to pose one possibility based on my personal knowledge of the human condition.

I think they were terrified!

Yes, terrified! Not because they thought they saw a ghost, but because they had gotten themselves into a predicament that was turning out to be much more challenging than they realized would happen when they unthinkingly and abruptly left what they were doing and followed Jesus.

The disciples were finding out that following Jesus can be terrifying!

Mark records that when Jesus caused a storm on the Sea of Galilee to cease, the disciples “were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!'” (vs. 4:41). On the occasion of the transfiguration of Jesus, Mark records that Peter offered to build three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah “because he did not know what he should say, since they were terrified” (vs. 9:6).

It seems that Jesus was revealing His divine nature and supernatural power to His disciples, first in one way and then in another, as His ministry developed. As the supernatural reality of God’s Kingdom began to unfold, it was frightening to the disciples!

They didn’t want to believe that Jesus could act supernaturally and then want them to be a part of it.

And so they turned it off; they went into denial; they hardened their hearts towards what Jesus was trying to show them and teach them.

When you really consider what Jesus requires of you to be His disciple,
it’s risky,
it’s unnerving,
it’s alarming!

After all, you can’t possibly abandon everything you are and have and want to accomplish in life to follow Jesus!

And not only that, He expects you to put aside your own desires and wants and needs and instead do His will. And then He dares to call it abundant life!

Then, He wants to supernaturally intervene in your life to turn your fear into faith so you can tell others about it. Like they’re going to believe you!

Are you scared yet? If so, then you’re probably ready to be a disciple of Jesus!  

“There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4:18).

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