Some of the disciples made their living fishing in the waters of Galilee (Matthew 4:18). They were comfortable navigating the seas at night. But this was different; the more they strained to get to the other side, the more the sea held them back.
Jesus' Power Over the Sea
The Sea: Chaos and Disorder
The sea often represents chaos and disorder in the Bible (after sin and death are banished in the new heaven and earth, there will be no more sea, according to Revelation 21:1). In Exodus, the Red Sea was split by God so His people could pass through, escaping the bonds of Egypt and ultimately entering into the promised land.
Here in Mark’s gospel, God’s people—Jesus’ disciples—once again contended with the sea. Once again, the chaos could only be overcome through the merciful intervention of God.
By the way, “the fourth watch of the night”—the hours between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m.—is a horrible time to be in a storm. Imagine that it’s 4:30 a.m. and instead of sleeping, you’re drenched, your hands are pruny, sore, and cut from pulling rough ropes. Then, when you finally see Jesus, He’s about to pass you by. What would you do?
Jesus put the disciples on a boat (Mark 6:45) in the chaos of the sea and then went to pray. Do you wonder about what, or whom, He was praying?
Maybe Jesus was praying for the storm to help the scales drop from the eyes of the disciples.
Maybe He prayed that the disciples would not merely see Him, but they would know who He was. Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid,” a proclamation that, throughout the Bible, preceded intervention—supernatural good news (6:50).
Jesus had to announce Himself to His disciples because they still didn’t see who He was. He had just turned meager loaves and fish into an impossible feast, but His provision in that crisis wasn’t sufficient for them to recognize His power, or His love.
So, when the storm hit, the disciples didn’t call on Him. They strained and pulled all night, and would have continued to do so if Jesus didn’t make His way to them. He got in the boat with them, while they were too terrified to recognize Him.
Can you relate? What’s your knee-jerk response to a crisis? Do you get spiritual amnesia, forgetting all the times that the Lord rescued you in the past? Do you believe Him for your crisis now? Or do you strain to steer your life through the storm on your own?
Please don’t miss the huge irony in this passage. The disciples didn’t think to call on Jesus, but the people on the shores of Gennesaret certainly did. “Immediately,” Mark wrote. Mark 6:54–55 says, “when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized [Jesus] and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was” (emphasis added).
They recognized and ran. Immediately. And they received healing.
Oh, that this would be our response in a storm. Maybe we’re straining when we ought to be still and cry out for God’s help.
What’s your first instinct in a crisis? Do you “strain at the oars” or call on the Lord? How can you remember to call on the Lord in the chaos, in your own storms?
My first instinct is to try to figure out the solution on my own! I strain on my own small insufficient power until after I become exhausted with defeat do I call out to Jesus to take the wheel! I like the idea of a prayer journal and have a quiet time with God to talk to Him about my fears and thank Him for calming my storms and for His miracles in my life.
Despite the countless times that Jesus has rescued, sustained, comforted, and healed me, my human tendancy is to revert back to my innate thinking that I can work my way out of a crisis. I rely on myself and what I think is best, but how thankful I am that the Lord continues to run back to me each and every time ready to pick me up and love me back to joy. Oh, that one day this heart and mind would turn first to Him for guidance amidst the storms and valleys.
I definitely strain at the ores. I think I can control the situation, find the right doctor, go to the right hospital, find the right experimental procedure. I try every day to give that control up, I wish it were just that easy. I feel like the video, I have the scarcity mentality. I have needed so much help, life and death help, over the last 15 years that I figure I have used up all my tokens. Usually it takes for me to get to the end of my rope before I just sit and be still and tell Him I can’t do it by myself. If I can just calm myself out of the panic I can usually remember to go to Him.
Well dang, yeah unfortunately, I strain for the oars more often than I’d like to admit.
Keeping my mind mediating on God is what I think will help me to call on Him; my straining for the oars often is as a result of my lack of focus on God. Whether that be starting my day in prayer, reading a quick bible verse, doing my Devo earlier rather than later I think shifts my focus back to Him.
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