Jesus had not planned to feed a crowd. Earlier that day he had invited his disciples to come away to a quiet place where they could get some rest and talk in peace, but a large crowd of 5,000 men and who knows how many women and children had interrupted their plans. Perhaps it was from compassion that Jesus told the disciples to get in the boat and row across the Sea of Galilee while he dismissed the crowd.
Whether Jesus intended to be compassionate or not, it appears the disciples didn’t like the idea. The NIV says he made them get into the boat. The KJV says he constrained them to get into the boat. It appears that the experienced sailors knew a storm was blowing up and wanted to stay put.
Jesus insisted, so the disciples got in the boat and set off across the lake. After he dismissed the crowd he went off by himself to pray. Now, v. 47 says, “when evening came,” so when the storm came up, it was still light, and Jesus saw them struggling. The fourth watch of the night would be between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning.
People often get into a real mess by their own self-will and stubbornness. That’s not what happened here. Sometimes, as in this case, people can get into a real mess as a direct result of their obedience to God’s call.
After the disciples struggled against the wind for several hours, Jesus decided to go to them. This is the second time they crossed the lake in a storm. The first time, Jesus was asleep, and the disciples wondered if he cared. This time, he was completely absent. It seems to me that they had much more right to wonder if he cared this time. Then they saw him walking on the water.
Mark says he intended to pass them by. Now that seems strange. They needed the wind to stop blowing. They knew their need. Did they yet realize that even a seemingly absent Jesus could meet it? Did it ever occur to them to pray?
Perhaps he intended to pass them by for the same reason he told the two on the road to Emmaus that he’d walk further when they got home: he wanted them to ask him to stay.
Or perhaps he intended to repeat what happened when Moses asked to see God’s glory. Moses he hid himself in the cleft of a rock and God covered his eyes until he had passed by. Moses got a glimpse of God’s backside, and that was as much glory as he could stand.
A seminarian once told me that when God appeared to Isaiah, where the English translations say the train of his robe filled the temple, the Hebrew says his buttocks filled the temple. Isaiah and Moses got the same view: as much of God’s glory as any mortal can stand to see. Perhaps that’s what Jesus wanted to show.
In any case, the disciples cried out in panic. Whatever else Jesus may have planned, he came to them and rebuked the wind and the disciples were amazed. Why? Because they still did not understand the miracle feeding.
They showed their small faith and hardness of heart. Smallness of faith means failure to apply our knowledge of God and experience of his power in the past to our present problems. Hardness of heart is a lack of spiritual perceptiveness and readiness to learn.
We all stand guilty of both. In the disciples’ case, they did not remember the first time Jesus calmed the storm and they didn’t understand what Jesus had just demonstrated back on shore. He had to repeat that miracle for them, too. If we don’t get a lesson the first time around, we have to repeat it.
One key lesson here: Jesus’ way of delivering us from trouble is not what we would imagine and often far later than we would like. The only way out of repeating the same troubles over again comes from developing strong faith and a teachable heart.