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God’s Word for You

Mark 6:45-48 Walking on the sea

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, February 12, 2023

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he parted with them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

He sent away his disciples, and then he sent away the crowd. The crowd dispersed and the people went home in groups along the roads and pathways of Galilee. The disciples embarked all together into one boat to cross the lake and wait for him. Then Jesus had time to himself, and he walked up the nearby mountain (there are several heights all around the Sea of Galilee) to be alone to pray.

Jesus’ preference to pray while all alone shows us that he was not simply modeling prayer for others to see, nor was he leading prayer to be sure his disciples were including prayer in their daily lives. Jesus got himself alone by sending away and dismissing everyone, and then by climbing a mountain to be more certain of his solitude as evening fell, and then he prayed. The Christian has at least five motives for prayer:

1, The command of God to pray (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) which includes God’s constant promise to hear the prayers of his people (Genesis 20:7).

2, The need to pray based on our own needs, terror and guilt over sin, and the necessities of life (our daily bread, Matthew 6:11; Proverbs 30:8).

3, God’s promises and the certainty of being heard as we pray (Exodus 8:12-13; Job 22:27; Psalm 5:3).

4, The merit and efficacy of prayer. Prayer works (James 5:15-16).

5, The faithfulness of our Mediator and Advocate, our Lord Jesus Christ (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 119:90).

Jesus’ motives for praying begin with his desire to give honor and glory to the Father (John 8:49, 12:28), his constant communication with the Father within the trinity, his eternal desire and activity of working with the Father (John 10:30), his need to speak about the approaching sacrifice, now just one year away (compare John 6:4 and John 12:1), and his constant intercession for mankind’s sins (Colossians 3:13; Hebrews 8:12) and the good of the holy Christian church (Psalm 28:9). Jesus prayed for all mankind, and you can be assured with humble confidence that you yourself were on Jesus’ mind and in his heart, for you still are even now.

47 By evening, the boat was well out to sea, and Jesus was alone on the land.

This was not a short prayer. Jesus had sent everyone away just before or as the sun set (“by evening”), with darkness approaching at 7:00 or 7:30 in the early spring. The next verse tells us that he concluded his prayer (or was still praying as he walked) in the fourth watch of the night, sometime after three in the morning.

48 And he saw that they were straining as they rowed, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He was going to walk past them.

Mark leaves some things unsaid. The disciples were now rowing; the sailing excursion that should have taken an hour to reach the harbor was now an all-night battle against death in the teeth of one of the Sea of Galilee’s sudden storms. The sails had to be reefed (tied up) or taken down completely. Any scrap of canvas exposed in a gale could bring the boat right over on her side and sink her! The disciples had grabbed the big oars that a sailor would call sweeps to try to gain a little headway. A mile or two from land meant that if they could only make one or two knots (sort of a watery version of “miles per hour”) they should come to land soon enough, but they could not make any headway at all. After six or more hours of this desperate, exhausting work, they were no better off than they had been when the wind began to blow. Oh, the contrasts! The sea had been so friendly when they set out, with no sign of a gale! The peaceful sky was now shrieking with wind, rain, and thunder. Lightning flashed and leapt about in the sky. Cold rain mingled with rivers of hot sweat running down the straining muscles of the men and made their flesh seem to smoke and steam, and there must have been an eerie cadence between the silence of the hard straining work and shouts about wind, weather, and fear. The wind was against them. What could they do? If they let the boat run before the wind, to the south or east, they could well be dashed against the invisible rocks of the far shores. But their strength would not last forever.

But something else was on the lake. The Son of God had come down from the mountain, had taken the unseen path in the dark without hesitating right down to the shoreline, and he calmly walked out onto the sea. We don’t need to wonder if the waves were churning up and down making his road along the waves heave and surge; the waters were his, a path through the channels of the surging surf was his to command. He had no navigating to do; the sea was his, the shore was his, the boat ahead of him a couple of miles out was his, and the desperate men aboard that ship, fearing for their lives? They were his, too.

He had taught them with many miracles that they should depend on him in every need. Their stomachs, heaving perhaps with seasickness at this very moment, had been filled the previous afternoon with bread and fishes multiplied for the huge crowd. But they needed to know that he really was with them always, to the very end of the age and the very end of the world. So he walked out to them. It was not shallow water. Even half a mile from the northern shore, the Sea of Galilee is thirty to forty fathoms deep, fifteen to twenty yards. My ears pop when I dive to the deep end of the pool (12 feet, which is two fathoms). But Jesus walked on the surface of the water as if he were taking a stroll down the sidewalk. Did the rain of his own making wet his face at least a little? Did the wind of his creation send his hair and beard streaming? But just as the artist knows his own painting or sculpture, and just as the poet knows his own verses, and just as the composer knows his own melody, harmony, and counterpoint, so Jesus the Creator had nothing to fear as he strode along just in the same way he might have on the Second Day of creation. Then he had spoken and the sky and sea were separated (Genesis 1:7), and he was still their Creator, still in command, still in control.

But this walk he was taking was not only the creator visiting his creation. He still had a lesson for his disciples and for all mankind, the crown of his creation.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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