Jesus and the Disciples: More Adventures on Water and Land

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
July 7, 2024
Mark 6:45-56

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, July 5, 2024

At the beginning of worship:

We’ve just celebrated the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day. While the rain may have damped the celebration, I’m sure most of us were happy to receive it. 

Two hundred and forty-eight years ago, our forefathers and mothers came together to declare their independence from kings and tyrants. And while we have not always lived up to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, we have offered the world a vision of hope and new possibilities. 

But I am concern when people want America to be known as a Christian nation. I am not even sure of what that means. There’s no such thing found in scripture.[1] Throughout our history, attempts to change the constitution to name America a Christian country have failed.[2] I think that’s a good thing. As Christians, we should be proud Americans. But as Christians, we tie our identity to our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, not to a nation.

We follow Jesus. We shouldn’t have to pound our beliefs into others. It should be evident in our lives. Others should, as the old gospel hymn goes, know we are Christians by our love. And if they don’t, instead of us thinking there is something wrong with them, we should examine what we’re doing. How can we be more like Jesus?

Jesus’ ministry, as seen in Mark’s gospel, involved wandering around Galilee, showing his love in acts of kindness and grace. That’s the goal worthy of those of us who attempt to place Jesus at the center of our lives. Yes, proclaiming Jesus as Lord is important; it’s what preaching is about. But more important is showing the love of God to others. 

Before reading the Scriptures:

Today, we’ll finish off the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel today by looking at the events that happened the night and early morning after Jesus fed the 5,000.

Geography is problematic with today’s reading. Jesus sends the disciples off to the other side, to Bethsaida. And then, a few verses later, we’re told they had crossed over. However, Bethsaida was located on the north side of the lake, beyond Capernaum. You’d get there, not by crossing over, but by sailing along the shoreline to the top of the lake. 

And then, instead of arriving at Bethsaida, they go on shore at Gennesaret. It’s located on the same side of the lake as where the feeding took place. Last week, I suggested that ministry often comes to us despite our plans for something else. That’s the case here, for in Gennesaret there is much work to be done. 

Why did they not go to Bethsaida? Perhaps because the wind was too great to make the headway needed. But it doesn’t matter. Wherever Jesus lands, ministry opportunities abound. . 

Notice also the disciple’s reaction to all that had happened and is taking place. In less than twelve hours, they’ve seen the miracle of the feeding, of Jesus walking on water, and of him again demonstrating control over the weather. And yet, they still don’t get it. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves when we struggle with faith.  Let’s hear God’s word… 

Read Mark 6:45-56

Having fed the crowd, Jesus sends off the disciples while he heads up the mountain to pray. Mountains in Mark are often a place of retreat and rest.[3]

Mark now resumes his fast-paced storytelling. We’ve seen this earlier, in the first three chapters of the gospel. “Immediately” as we’ve witnessed, is one of Mark’s favorite words.[4] We get the sense as soon as the disciples picked up all the leftovers, Jesus has them aweigh anchor and stow it so they can set sail (or row the boat). While Mark’s urgency shows the nature of the kingdom slipping into a lost world, here I wonder if the urgency of their departure has to do with Jesus protecting their egos. He wants them to leave before they soak up the praise of the crowd who benefited from the miracle.[5]

I hope that by systematically going through Mark’s gospel, you have begun to see some patterns and gain some insight into what Mark wants his readers to understand. Several of Mark’s themes are again picked up in our reading today. 

While the disciples are not threatened by a storm, as they had been earlier in Mark’s gospel,[6] they still experience difficulties on the water this night. The wind slows their progress. This, Jesus watches, perhaps from the mountain where he prayed. Then, at the fourth watch (or early morning as our reading translates it), which would be 3 AM, Jesus approaches the disciples’ boat. Interestingly, here Mark, who may have been writing to a Roman audience, uses the Roman style of timekeeping. The Romans had four watches at night. The Jews divided the night into three watches.[7]

Oddly, Mark tells us that Jesus was planning on passing them by. There are questions about the meaning of this passage. Presumably Jesus wants to go ahead of them to their next location. But the disciples spot someone walking on the water and think the worse, crying out it’s a ghost. At this point, Jesus’ speaks, calms their fears and climbs into the boat. At this point, the wind cease. 

As it was with the feeding of the 5,000, Mark doesn’t explain how Jesus pulls off walking on water. Some have sarcastically suggested he knew where the rocks were, or maybe he was walking on a sandbar, but that’s not supported by the text. Mark wants his readers to know the divine nature of Jesus. But the disciples don’t get it. We’re told they are astounded. They don’t understand. Their hearts are hardened.  But Mark continues to focus on Jesus and not the disciples, so he quickly moves on to the next adventure. 

They land in Gennesaret, a rich agricultural valley located just south of Capernaum. It’s not really a village or town, but a rural area densely populated with farmers.[8] Again, people flock to Jesus. While the disciples may not get Jesus, the people of this region of Galilee, like those in other areas, can’t get enough of Jesus. Again, they flock to him as he’s getting out of the boat. All those who are sick are brought to him. As it was with the woman who had bled for 12 years, just touching his cloak is enough to heal.[9]

The word used here and translated as “healed,” can also mean “saved.” People are healed and saved, a fitting ending to this period of Jesus’ ministry.[10]

What can we learn from this text?  

First, the opening of this story provide insight into Jesus’ spirituality. He sends the disciples off ahead of him so he can retreat into the mountains to pray. Ministry takes place in the context of other people, but it also takes a toll. Jesus’ actions affirm the need for us to spend time alone with God. If we try to always work and be busy, we’ll burn out and not have anything left to give. So be kind to yourselves and take a break when needed. 

Next, we see again how Mark prefers to show Jesus’ Christology rather than telling us about it. Instead of saying Jesus is God, Mark demonstrates it. Of course, the disciples mistake Jesus for a ghost. We’ve seen how Mark prefers to limit what he tells about Jesus’ teachings. Instead, he wants to show us Jesus’ actions. English teachers and writing coaches encourage students to show not tell. Mark demonstrates this lesson magnificently as Jesus walks on water, calms the wind, and heals the sick.  Jesus is God, which is something we should experience instead of only knowing intellectually. 

And finally, think of the disciples. They witnessed that incredible miracle as Jesus fed the 5,000 with just a few loaves and fishes. They’ve experienced a series of miracles, one after another, but still don’t get Jesus. Their hearts, we’re told, are harden. That may be, but it’s also the case that if the disciples struggled with Jesus’ identity, we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. We shouldn’t worry if we don’t fully grasp Jesus’ identity. Instead, we should honor and follow him. If we still have questions, we can approach Jesus in prayer and ask for clarification and insight into his nature. 

Jesus reveals himself in Word and Sacrament. We’ve heard the Word. We’ve seen how Jesus calmed the disciples despite their misunderstandings, and how he had mercy on those who were sick. Now we will come to the table where we pray for Jesus to reveal himself in sacrament. Amen. 

[1] While the Old Testament tells the story of Israel, which was a theocracy, such a vision is absent in the New Testament. The church is envisioned as a place where national, racial, status, and sexual boundaries are broken down. See Galatians 3:28. 

[2] Around America’s centennial (1876), there were such attempts, but they failed. 

[3] Ulrich W. Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition (1963, Eugene, Oregon: WIPF and Stock Publishers, 2009), 109-110. 

[4] See for my discussion of  immediacy in Mark’s gospel. 

[5] In John’s gospel, after feeding the multitude, Jesus must deal with a larger crowd coming and demanding bread. See John 6. 

[6] Mark 4:35-41. See

[7] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 198. 

[8] Douglas R. A. Hare, Westminster Bible Companion: Mark (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 1996), 73. 

[9] Mark 5:25-34. 

[10] Edwards, 203. 

Sailing upwind in the Warsaw Sound

7 Replies to “Jesus and the Disciples: More Adventures on Water and Land”

  1. I always feel like your sermons make me see the familiar with new eyes, Jeff. I’ve always loved these stories about Jesus feeding the 5,000, walking on water, and healing others, including the woman who touched His cloak. Reading your sermons makes me realize and appreciate how thorough my religious education was, despite having attended a variety of churches and Sunday schools growing up. We went to whatever church was available. Such variety could have been confusing, but we were encouraged to focus on Jesus and His essential teachings. My parents always told us that God gave us a brain with the ability to think, so use it. I may be too me focused because I’m really taking your words, “If we try to always work and be busy, we’ll burn out and not have anything left to give. So be kind to yourselves and take a break when needed,” to heart. This old dog is still trying to learn that ~ lol! I am very concerned about the Christian Nationalist movement. Not only does it go against our founding principles, but it turns people away from Christianity. Have a great week!

  2. This was a lot to digest, Jeff. Do we call America a Christian nation? Or simply recognize it is 70% Christian (which may be an old stat), thanks to our fundamental belief that the US believes in freedom of religion? We all pick who we worship–no need to “pound our beliefs into others”. Somehow I missed that Christians put God over country. I know Jews do and Muslims–and I’m fine with that if they’re still loyal to country–but in 12 years of Catholic education, I sure didn’t listen closely enough to hear that!

    OK, enough. This is why I read your blog with such interest.

  3. This is an excellent message, Jeff. I totally agree with your opening comments, but that’s not always a popular sentiment in the “Bible Belt”.

    I’m definitely going to link to this post.

  4. I didn’t make it to church this morning, and your message provided a worthy substitute (for today; I know I need to “not forsake the assembling or ourselves together.”) Could not agree more about the U.S. being an alleged “Christian nation” and believe our brethren who push that are missing the point. And what a great reminder of the nature of Jesus and the example he set. Amen.

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