Sermon based on Mark 6:45-56 for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear disciples in the storm: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
How does God deal with the hard-hearted? He terrifies them. God terrifies the hard-hearted so that they cry out in fear.
Our Gospel reading tells us that the disciples’ heart was hardened. The disciples were Israelites, awaiting the promised Saviour of the world. They were awaiting the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Moses, that the Lord God would raise up a prophet like him from among them (Deut. 18:15). Jesus, the fulfilment of that prophecy, was right there in front of them, but their heart was hardened, and they did not understand.
As Moses taught God’s people in the wilderness, so Jesus taught them in the wilderness as we heard last Sunday. As with Moses when the people of Israel were miraculously fed the bread of manna in the desert, so Jesus miraculously fed them in the desert as we also heard last Sunday. Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecy spoken by Moses.
Psalm 23 says that the Lord is our Shepherd. As we heard last Sunday, Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And then He shepherded them. He fed them physically and spiritually. Jesus is the fulfilment of the promised Good Shepherd.
Isaiah prophesied that God will come and the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy (35:5-6). The disciples had witnessed Jesus healing, casting out demons, and even raising the dead (cf. Mark 5). The disciples had also witnessed Jesus calming a storm earlier, when He was in the boat with them (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaiah, so the disciples should have seen that Jesus is God who has come.
The disciples had witnessed all of this, but they did not understand. They did not perceive who Jesus is. The disciples’ heart was hardened.
How does God deal with the hard-hearted? He terrifies them. Jesus made the disciples get into the boat, knowing that a storm was coming. Jesus made them get into the boat. He compelled them or forced them to go, and sent them off to the other side of the sea even though it was already late and He knew that a storm was coming.
The disciples didn’t make much progress. From the late evening to the fourth watch, which is between 3 and 6 in the morning, the disciples fought with the wind. The wind was harassing them and afflicting them, fighting against their progress across the sea. The text says they were making headway painfully (v. 48). This is also clear from the fact that a trip that would normally not take much more than a couple hours had taken them all night and they still hadn’t reached the other side.
The text also says Jesus saw them making headway painfully. Jesus saw their struggles. Jesus saw their affliction. Yet, He did nothing to stop it. He didn’t even walk to towards them. Mark records that Jesus intended to pass by them.
The disciples see Jesus walking on the water past them. Who can walk on water? Job 9 says it is God who treads on the waves of the sea (v. 8). Psalm 77 (v. 19) and Isaiah 43 (v. 16) say God’s way is through the sea, and His path is through the great waters. Who can walk on the sea? Only God can. But the disciples’ heart was hardened, and they did not understand. Instead of recognizing God in the flesh, they feared they were seeing some kind of ghost or apparition, and they were terrified.
How does God deal with the hard-hearted? He terrifies them. To those who do not recognize that Jesus is God in the flesh, God is a terror. To those who do not recognize that that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, God is a terror.
This is true because those who do not recognize Jesus as God and Saviour think that they need to fight the storm by themselves. Instead of looking to Jesus for help, they look to themselves to get out of the storm. They don’t even pray to God for help. Notice that the only one who prays in our Gospel reading is Jesus. No mention is made of the disciples even praying for help. They thought they had to fight through the storm on their own because their heart was hardened. They did not recognize Jesus as their God and Saviour.
Those who do not recognize Jesus as their God and Saviour think that everything is up to them. They see God simply as a strict judge and think they must work to save themselves. They think that the storms in their lives are just random events, and that they must save themselves from those random events. Seeing Jesus in the storm then just causes terror because they don’t believe that Jesus could possibly be there. It must be some ghost or apparition who is out to do harm.
How does God deal with the hard-hearted? He terrifies them. God terrifies the hard-hearted in order to soften their hearts. God terrifies the hard-hearted out of trusting in themselves to get through the storms in their lives. God terrifies the hard-hearted out of trusting in themselves for their salvation. He terrifies the hard-hearted so that they would recognize Jesus as God and Saviour.
God puts the hard-hearted into situations that terrify them in order soften their hearts. He did it to the twelve disciples. He does it to us. He makes us get into situations that we would rather not be in. He compels us into the boat, only to send a storm our way that will break our hardened heart. He terrifies us so that we would recognize who He truly is: our Saviour.
Did the disciples have a reason to be terrified of Jesus? No, not if they recognized Him as God and as their Saviour. Not once Jesus opened their eyes to see that He is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. Not once Jesus opened their eyes to see that He is the one who provides physical and spiritual nourishment. Not once Jesus terrified them out of trusting in themselves to trusting in Him as their Saviour.
Jesus can be terrifying if we don’t see Him as our Saviour. If we look at God’s commandments and realize how we have broken them all, the only thing left in us is terror. But Jesus terrifies us so that we would see our sin and rather than trusting in ourselves for our salvation, He opens our eyes to trust in Him as our Saviour.
If we see Jesus as who He is, as our Saviour, then we see things completely differently. We see that the Son of God came to earth in order to put Himself under the Law for us. Jesus fulfilled the commandments of God perfectly for us. Then He willingly took on Himself the punishment of our sins and our failures to keep God’s Law. He died on the cross in our place. He faced all the terrors of hell so that hell is no longer a terror to us. He faced the storms of life for us so that we will be rescued from the storms of life in the end.
How does God deal with the hard-hearted? He terrifies them. He terrifies them out of trusting in themselves. He terrifies them so that they will see that He is their Saviour.
So when you are in the boat and the storms of life rock your boat, know that Jesus is your Saviour. Know that He put you in the boat and sent you into the storm. If Jesus has compelled you into a storm, then you know that your suffering is not just bad luck or a random event. If it is merely by chance that you are in the storm, it must be merely by chance that you make it through the storm. However, if God sends you into a storm, you know He does it for a reason. If God sends you into a storm, He will also save you from that storm. God uses the storms of life to terrify us out of trusting in ourselves, and seeing Him as He is: our Saviour.
As we will sing in our final hymn today:
When life’s troubles rise to meet me,
Though their weight May be great,
They will not defeat me.
God, my loving Saviour sends them;
He who knows All my woes
Knows how best to end them. (LSB 756 st. 2) Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.