Proper 12 · Mark 6:45-52 · July 26, 2009
By David Peter
Exegetical Analysis and Homiletical Treatment:
This text is conducive to the development of a sermon which is constructed inductively. This is not only because the text is narrative in form (and thus inherently inductive), but also because it presents a couple of areas of tension for resolution. These tension points are manifested as enigmas regarding Jesus’ behavior. Not only does Jesus do what is unexpected but also what seems contrary to expectations. Thus the quest of the sermon is to discover why Jesus does what he does in his actions toward the disciples—and ultimately toward us.
The two ambiguities to be resolved relate to Jesus’ actions, which appear to put the disciples at peril. In the first case Jesus sends the disciples into conditions which are dangerous. In the second case Jesus appears to bypass attending to their plight. The question which the sermon may answer is why he does so.
Tension 1: Jesus sends the disciples into a perilous situation.
The first area of tension arises at the beginning of the narrative as Jesus sends the disciples out onto the Sea of Galilee. The text is emphatic that Jesus compels them to make this maritime trip (v. 45 – ηναγκασεν). En route to the intended destination of Bethsaida, the small boat encounters a forceful contrary wind (v. 48). The trip should have been a short one—Bethsaida would be across only a relatively small bay travelling to the north-northwest. But the gale, probably from the north or northeast, drives the boat off course and into the middle of the lake (v. 47 – εv μεσω της θαλασσης, v. 48 indicates it was a severe headwind). Thus although the disciples had embarked on their journey before sundown, by 3:00 A.M. (“the fourth watch,” v. 48) they are still battling the wind and waves. Verse 48 indicates that they are sorely distressed in their plight (βασανισομενους), no doubt fearing for their lives.
The enigma to be addressed here is that Jesus, who knows the future, sends his disciples into this traumatic context. The fact that he will walk on water and calm the wind signals that he can exercise divine power, which includes the ability to discern the events of the future (see Mark 17:18-21, 27-30). So although he foreknows that the storm will arise and threaten the disciples, he sends them forth onto the lake. The question to be pressed is this: Why does Christ deliberately send his followers into such a fearful situation? This is applied to the hearers’ lives as the preacher illustrates times in which obedience to God’s direction brings hardship.
Tension 2: Jesus apparently intends to pass by the disciples in their time of peril.
The second tension develops when Jesus, walking on the water, appears to bypass the disciples in their plight. Verse 48 states: “.. .he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them (και ηθελεν παρελθειν αυτους).” It seems remarkable—even contrary to Jesus’ propensity to deliver and rescue—that this clause appears in the text. Yet it is there. The preacher can address this tension by asking the question: Why does Jesus appear to neglect his followers in their time of need? This is applied to the hearers’ lives as the preacher illustrates perilous times in which God seems absent and aloof.
Resolution of the Tensions
Ultimately, of course, these dilemmas will be resolved in the sermon. This will serve not only to provide rhetorical and emotional relief to the hearers, but also to deliver the proclamation of the Gospel to them. Η. B. Swete summarizes the resolution in a single statement: “The purpose in each case was to try, and by trial to strengthen faith” (Commentary on Mark, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1977, p. 138). R. Alan Cole writes similarly but more thoroughly: “This episode is a good illustration of the life of discipleship seen as a constant experience of testing and deliverance; for it was not through stubborn self-will, but through direct obedience to the Lord’s command, that the disciples found themselves in this plight. Thus the storm in no way showed that they had deviated from the path of God’s will: God’s path for them lay through that storm, to the other shore of the lake.. .It was not that the Lord intended to pass them by, for it was because of their need that He had come; but they must be brought to realize the need for themselves.” (Mark: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961, pp. 115-116).
This opens up the proclamation of the Gospel by demonstrating that Christ’s purpose for such times of testing is to benefit his people. Christ is willing and able to deliver us from that which will destroy us—ultimately from sin, death, and hell. Just as Jesus demonstrated to his disciples his presence with them in time of trial and his power to save them, so also he has demonstrated this supremely in his death and resurrection, which rescue us from the curse of our sin. Accordingly we can trust him in the face of all perils and hardship (see Rom 8:28-39).
God brings his children into difficult and fearful situations to strengthen their faith in his presence and power to deliver them from ultimate peril.
The hearer, during times of hardship, more fully trusts Christ’s presence and power to save. Suggested Outline and Homiletical Development of the Sermon:
I. God sometimes sends his people into fearful situations.
A. Jesus sent the disciples into a perilous situation (w. 45-48a).
Β. God sometimes sends us into difficult contexts.
C. The question is why God would do this.
II. God sometimes appears to pass us by in the time of peril.
A. Jesus appeared intent on passing by the disciples in their time of peril (v. 48b).
B. It can appear to us that God isn’t paying attention to us in our time of need.
C. The question is why God would do this.
III. When God’s direction brings us hardship and he appears to neglect us, we often respond with fear and despair.
A. The disciples failed to trust Jesus’ presence and power to deliver them (w. 49-50a, 52.).
B. When our obedience to God’s direction brings hardship, we doubt God’s presence and his gracious purpose.
IV. But God’s purpose is to use this experience to benefit us.
A. God shows how powerful he is by delivering us from that which would destroy us.
1. Jesus demonstrated to his disciples his presence and power to save (w. 50b-51).
2. Christ rescued us from the ultimate perils of sin, death, and hell by his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.
3. Christ delivers us from the need to fear or doubt.
B. God uses these experiences of hardship to strengthen our faith.
1. The disciples were awed and amazed at Jesus’ power (v. 51b).
2. We are awed at God’s grace and power to save us.