Summary: The miracles of Jesus are significant, not because they reveal a miracle worker, but because they reveal the glory of the Son of God.
We come to yet another miracle. Jesus the miracle worker keeps pulling out one miracle after another. Even if our modern day magicians really were performing miracles with their tricks of illusion, they would have nothing up on Jesus. They might have pizzazz, but their showmanship could not stand up to Jesus’ majesty. And this leads us to the point that will be developed in the sermon – the miracles of Jesus are significant, not because they reveal a miracle worker, but because they reveal the glory of the Son of God.
Have you ever read a mystery or a novel in which the opening paragraph seems to be insignificant, only to find out later that it had provided the clues to explain what would take place later? That is what is happening in the first two verses. They indicate that something significant is about to take place.
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. What an odd action for Jesus to take. Why does he send off his disciples? He hasn’t done that before other than the mission trip. One could say that he wants to be alone to pray. But he does not need to send them away. He could simply have them wait along the shore while he goes up on the mountainside. Certainly the disciples are baffled by his orders, and, indeed, he has to make them go. It evidently is important to him that they get out on the water without him.
Verse 46 explains that he wants to pray. There is nothing unusual about Jesus praying, but it is rare for Mark to note it. Only three times in his gospel Mark records Jesus praying. The first time is in 1:35 at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The previous day and evening he had preached, healed and cast out demons, setting the pattern of his ministry. It was a spectacular start for him and the town of Capernaum, not to mention his disciples, was filled with excitement. He gets up early the next day and goes out alone to pray. When his disciples find him and urge him to come back into town, he announces his plan to go around the territory and preach. That prayer time seemed to be the moment of resolve to carry out his calling to preach. The third time is recorded in chapter 14:32ff where Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane. That we know is the time when Jesus resolves to fulfill his atoning work on the cross. It would seem then that Mark intends for us to see something of great significance about to take place in our present chapter.
Let’s return to the disciples in verses 47,48. Like good disciples, they obey their master and ship off. If they were hoping for smooth sailing, they didn’t get it. A wind had picked up against them, making it difficult to make headway. Indeed, after hours of rowing (and remember, there are at least four experienced fishermen on board) they are only in the middle of the lake, about three to four miles off shore, according to John’s gospel (6:19).
Try to get a handle on the state of the disciples. They have been shipped off by Jesus, not to go on a mission trip but basically to leave Jesus alone. Now that they are without him, trouble comes. They are not in a storm like the one that had caught them when Jesus was sleeping in the boat, but they are nevertheless in trying circumstances. I was caught out in a rowboat once on a lake when winds came on. I was about a mile from my home dock alone in the boat trying to row against winds that would continually blow me off course. I finally made it, but if I had left a trace in the water, one would have seen a zigzag course that showed how I had rowed twice the distance to get back to my destination.
Peter, no doubt, would have enjoyed the spectacle particularly since the mighty wind I struggled against would have seemed but a breeze to him. At best, he would have seen ripples on the water. But he and his companions are facing not a breeze, but a strong, steady wind that is creating waves. Again, it is not a storm and there is no mention of waves crashing into the boat, but it is enough to keep experienced fishermen in check.
They have been rowing for hours. They have gotten no sleep. Don’t forget, this is happening after a long day ministering to the crowd. And that day’s events happened only because the crowd foiled their attempt to get away for rest. Their muscles are strained, and their master is not with them. I bet they were thinking it would be nice if he had been. He calmed a raging storm before. This wind shouldn’t be a problem for him. But then, he is not here. He wanted to be alone. Now they are alone and seemingly going nowhere.