“ . . . 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.’” (Mark 6:49-50)
As usual, Mark moves his narrative along quickly. The next section in our expositions, verses 45-56 of chapter 6, begin with the word “immediately.” The events recorded in this passage take place right after the feeding of the 5,000.
When you read this text, you might feel as though it’s familiar – almost redundant. Here we have another account of the disciples in a storm on the sea, followed by another account of Jesus healing the crowds. But careful study of these accounts will demonstrate that Mark has given us, by the inspiration of the Spirit, deep insight into the nature of our Lord and Savior.
In these two events, we find Jesus’ divinity and humanity on full display. We see a powerful demonstration of his authority as well as a compassionate demonstration of his love. We see particular care for his creatures as well as sovereignty over his creation. Mark doesn’t only highlight the spectrum of Jesus’ character, however; he also offers us a diverse array of human responses. The disciples are described as afraid, astounded, and even hardened. The crowd, however, is presented to us with a childlike trust.
It would be too simplistic to think that Mark intends to point the reader in the direction of the eager crowd while dismissing the unbelief of the disciples. Rather, the reader is the one who must give an account of the entire story. As we read and hear this text, we are confronted with the entire Jesus: the one who walks on water and calls himself the “I Am” as well as the one who heals the sick on the shore. How do we respond to all of him?
It’s easy for us to say we would simply believe. But if you were in the disciples’ place – a dark, lonely, stormy place – what would you think? Then, you see your Master walking on water, calming the storm once again, and telling you to “fear not.” Are we seeing God on display? Is this truly the Great I Am? Indeed, a holy fear is most appropriate.However, our faith doesn’t end with fear. If we had fear but refused to come to Jesus, we would only experience condemnation. The needy crowd rounds this out for us. They come to Jesus. They trust in him. To be sure, they didn’t know everything about Jesus’ divinity that the disciples knew; in fact, for man, their faith was too shallow. But we, the blessed readers, have the revelation that Jesus is God and that he compassionately beckons us to himself. We are, then, called to both a holy fear and a childlike faith. When we reach this point in our hearts, we have responded properly to the whole Christ that Mark offers us in these narratives.