[July 4, 2010] In the last passage Jesus manifested who He is, as our Abundance and Plenitude. The question on the table is “Who is He?” and this is the manifestation of the answer. It took place, however, as a strong and contrary wind was blowing. John the Baptist was beheaded. The church in Rome hearing the Gospel according to Mark for the first time was in the midst of persecution from Nero and the Roman government. They were like a boat in the midst of the sea—the Mediterranean—and the wind was beating on them, and they were distressed as they rowed. Yet Jesus was still their Abundance regardless of that. As the church broke bread in the midst of persecution, Jesus, their food, satisfied them. He was their peace in the midst of the storm. On the other side, He was again their abundance, the abundance of the kingdom, the Lord of the new creation. This—which He will one day demonstrate—He already is.
But the disciples, “did not understand concerning the loaves, but rather their heart was hardened” (verse 52). The disciples are struggling to believe. In 8:29 Peter confesses, “You are the Christ!” but it is evident that in spite of this “correct” confession, he and the others do not really “get it.” As that section and the rest of the Gospel will demonstrate, Jesus cannot really be known apart from the way of the cross.
In what follows I will examine the disciples’—and our own—unbelief. It is not that they did not believe; rather their faith was “little”—O you of little faith!
Belief Is Not Mechanical
Today I urge you to believe. The Bible says that all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). In this story it does not say that the disciples called on Him, only that they cried out. But to really call on the Lord mean you do so with an urgency that is from of the Holy Spirit. There must be an urging of your conscience, your inner consciousness, your spirit. Grace must be working in your heart and troubling your soul. The disciples were having a hard time believing, if they believed at all, for their hearts were hardened, even though they had been with Jesus and hours before they had seen the miracle of the loaves.
We Are Battered by the Waves of the World
Their boat was being battered by the waves for the wind was contrary to them. They were rowing against the wind and were “distressed.” They were getting nowhere and perhaps the water was even coming over the gunwales, maybe even posing a threat.
For us the wind represents all our troubles: the cares of this modern world that beat against us and threaten us. They make us worried about our life and whether we are getting anywhere. The boat in the midst of the sea is the church in the midst of the world—our world. It is also us. I say this because we do not really know yet what the church is. It is us when we feel alone. Together or alone, the boat describes us in the midst of the world.
Jesus Is Not in the Boat with Us
What is clear to us as we struggle to row, apparently getting nowhere, is that Jesus is not in the boat with us. For all that we have seen of Him and learned from Him, He is still not in the boat with us.
That “fact,”—I should say that fact in our experience and in our hearts—should shock us. It indicates that even after the miracle of the loaves, in which we have witnessed the abundance of Jesus, our heart is yet hardened.
We do not, or it seems we cannot, yet believe. We experience ourselves struggling in life and we look at others around us also struggling, and we inwardly sigh. The camera, as it were, slows down as we drift off in our thoughts. As our body continues to go through the motions, we wonder, “How is it that Jesus—this Plenitude—seems so unreal, so irrelevant, so far away, and His abundance so empty? So what if He did miracles in the past? Here we are, in the “real” world!”
He Is in the Heavens, Interceding for Us
What happened to Jesus anyway? He went up into a mountain to pray. This is a picture of His ascension to heaven, where He is now forever interceding for us, representing us before the Father, making our needs His own just as He makes His own plenitude ours.
That is what Jesus is doing now. He is making ours—through the Holy Spirit—all that He is and has and has attained and obtained for us. He is also making all our struggles, our emptiness and sadness and pain and sorrow and grief and tiredness and isolation His own in the sight of the Father.
But He Seems Disconnected
But He seems so far away, so distant, so out of sight, so irrelevant! That is what the mountain (heaven) looks like. One can see it from the sea, but it is only beautiful to look at, and at this moment (if it is even visible), it seems utterly irrelevant, cold and impassive. Jesus cares—so we are told—but so what? It is as if He does not care.
When we are involved in our worries—and we must be because we will sink if we are not!—all this “spiritual” and “heavenly” stuff seems like a luxury, not very real at all. Spirituality seems like that—a distant mountaintop when we are on a stormy sea. We cannot take time out for it, nor can we imagine that Jesus is more than a figure in our imagination, an exercise, a wise old friend whom we humor because He really has little to say to us about our world.
Can He really hear what we are thinking? And what difference would it make if He could? How are we to imagine such a thing anyway? A Man paying attention to all these people at once! Millions of them! Even by a miracle, how would such a thing possible? Jesus cannot give me His personal attention. And of course He does not, we think, which is why we are struggling in the wind.
This Is Because We Do Not “Get It”
This is what Mark means by “their heart was hardened” and “they did not understand concerning the loaves.” Their faith was so small. Yes, they had enough faith to follow Jesus, but not enough to really “get it,” to know what He—and their following Him—was all about.
How do we even know if He counts us as a believer? Not by what we see when we examine our heart! Our “true” faith maybe has not yet come. It is the will of Jesus Himself that keeps us with Him, trailing Him where He goes, getting in the boat because He says so—coming to church, perhaps, and going through the motions.
In fact though, we do not “get it,” not yet, just like the disciples. Even when Jesus came walking to them on the water, they did not “get it.” They were still in unbelief.
Remember that, even though eleven of them came through and eventually did “see” and did “get it,” one of them did not. One of them remained an unbeliever. Could that one be us? We are reminded of that often, are we not? “On the night in which he was betrayed …” It all started by being like all the others in common unbelief and hardness of heart, “not understanding concerning the loaves.”
He Walks on the Waves
But what is it that we are supposed to “get”? Jesus says they don’t understand, they don’t see, they don’t hear, they don’t remember (8:17-18). He says this even though they think they do because they are paying attention! He may be frustrated, but so are the disciples, and so are we!
It says, “He came to them walking on the sea, and He intended to pass by them.” It says that they all saw Him and thought He was a ghost. They were afraid. The text says three things here—He’s walking on the water, they see Him and are afraid, and He was going to pass them by.
We are (obviously) not walking on the water, but He is. We struggle in the boat but He walks on the waves. How can He do that? I do not mean physically (obviously His doing it was a miracle, done by the power of God). I mean, if we are struggling so much in life, how does He simply walk on the waves, as it were? What does it even mean that He does so? Rather than imagining that He is like a ghost and not real, not really participating in life (if that were the case, maybe spirituality means we should detach ourselves completely)—instead of that, what does it really mean? How did Jesus get through His life?
I would say by complete trust in God and with an eye only on what God wants (it was as though He was so fixed on His purpose of getting to the other side that He was going to pass them by). He was undeterred by the unbelief and hostility of others. Instead, He trusted that God is real in this life, real to every moment, every relationship, ever interaction, and every feeling. He did not think that the “world” in our minds is reality. The world—our shared mental construct—goes on, yes, and we need to use it, but He did not think that it was what was real, like we do. We are so invested in our “world,” but He knew it was all “wind” with no substance. To Jesus, reality is God. Knowing this has everything to do with keeping our feet on the ground, the real ground and not the windstorm going on in our minds. It is how He lived His own life. Always the reality of God was foremost. He relied on it. He acted as though it mattered, as though it was all that mattered.
We Misunderstand Because of Our Fears
We see Him and are afraid, because we are still in our own “world,” we think that what is reality to Him is some sort of magic, a supernatural realm, something unreal but amazing. We do not realize that we are the ones living in a fantasy, only our “fantasy” is really a nightmare.
We are frightened in the wrong direction: He is at peace; we should be frightened at ourselves.
“And He Intended to Pass by Them”
And He would pass us by. We can remain where we are. We can just wait and see if we are really a Judas. We can remain in our little faith, our unbelief. And He would pass us by!
Perhaps this is what it means to “call on the name of the Lord.” We must not let Him pass us by. If only I could startle you out of your rut, your cynicism, your unbelief. Do not let Him pass you by! Enter into the spiritual struggle. Act! Whether it is by prayer or study or talking or doing, get some urgency about this and stop Him. Stop Him so that He does not go by.
He Speaks to Us
What does He do when we get His attention? Of course, we always had His attention, for He has us in His hand, but He needs to rouse us, wake us up, and engage us. So what does He do?
He says, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” He speaks. He addresses us.
He Addresses Our Fear
First and last He says, “Take courage,” “Do not be afraid.” What locks us into our “world”—that place where we are so preoccupied, so worried, so overcome, and so attached—is our fear. It is our security, our protection. We need courage to let go of all that, and to open ourselves up to what is there at the heart of the matter.
We find that courage when we hear His personal address to us.
He Reveals Himself as God
What is at the heart of the matter is what He says between the “Take courage” and the “Do not be afraid.” What He says in our translation is, “It is I.” But in the original He says here, in this story and nowhere else in Matthew, Luke or Mark—but fourteen (all significant) times in John—what He says here is—“I AM.”
“I AM” is the name God calls Himself at the burning bush when Moses asked Him, “What is Your name?”
Just as significantly it is the name that God calls Himself in Isaiah (in the Septuagint translation of 41:4, 10; 43:10, 25; 45:8, 18, 19, 22; 46:4, 9; 48:12, 17; 51:12; 52:6; and 61:8) to signify that He is God, He alone and no other, that He is One and Unique. He is exclusively God; He does not share His glory with another. Any idol, anything that claims to compete with Him is a lie; it is nothing.
Jesus is saying that He and God are the same One, that in spending time with Him they are with God, not a representation of God, not a part of God, but God. His “I am” is God’s own “I am.”
This means that He is the Master of the storm, He can walk on the waves. He can cause the winds to cease, and He has us in His hands.
He Reveals Himself in Personal Relation to Us
Moreover, He also says this by using the words, “I am.” If someone says, “I am,” they mean that they exist, they are here and they are real.
They also put you in the present moment, not in the past or the future, but right now. This is where God exists for us, in the present moment. And this is where we have such a hard time looking.
Another thing is that when someone says to you, “I am,” they are saying that they are present, that they are with you. What they are also saying (by saying that to you) is that you are with them. You are thus brought into connection with them.
“I am”: Jesus is here, now, with you and for you, and He causes you to be in relationship to Him by addressing you with His word. He exists and has His attention on you and you exist for Him, the apple of His eye, the object of His concern.
So, rest. Be at peace. Do not be afraid. If we know He is with us and we are with Him, we discover that He is in the boat with us, and somehow, perhaps because our fear has subsided, the wind has also died. Things are calm—inwardly. We are okay.
All this happened because He comes to us and says—His own personal presence says— “I am.” Hearing that causes us to be in a different place. We are now in His sphere, under His wing.
The boat crosses the sea and we are on land, on solid ground. It is a picture of our passing over to the other side, to the kingdom. There Jesus can be Himself unhindered. Creation is restored in Him; the sick and broken are healed.
When we put aside our fears and put our trust in Jesus, hearing His “I am” to us, we discover who He is now. He is the One who fed the multitudes. He is the abundance of God. He is plenitude.
And He has enough to heal our sickness and pain. I do not necessarily mean physically—things may persist because we need to see who Jesus is in the midst of our need, with our hurts. It is in the storm of life that we discover Him. I speak of our soul. It is His will to restore and save our soul.
But it takes faith. Faith means letting go of our fears and anxieties enough to open our eyes and hear His “I am,” the voice of God, spoken to us. Put yourself in His hands. Let Him be your Master.
Stop the merry-go-round of your life and put Him first once again. Realize that all the things that weaken your love for Him are just things you gather around yourself because of your unnecessary fear.
Recognize that even though we think we believe, we may be hardening our heart and not know it. Do we know Him as the Lord of the banquet, the Feeder of the multitude, our Abundance and Plenitude, and the Healer of our soul? Can we yet walk the waves with Him? Do we really see? Do we really hear?
He says to us, “I am,” and He says “Do not be afraid. Take courage.” Are we ready to trust Him? If not, let us stick with Him until we are. Do not allow Him pass you by. Do something to stop Him!
—And try to see so that when He opens your eyes, He do see. Listen to Him, listen with your heart, so when He says to you, “I AM,” you really hear it.