Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
I want us to notice something about Jesus’ daily ways of being and doing life. He stays in constant contact with his Father. No sooner had the disciples picked up the leftover bread, when Jesus hurries them into the boat and back across the lake. Only he did not go with them. Why did Jesus not go with the disciples?
After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Like me, you may be wondering why Jesus didn’t take his disciples with him on his mountainside prayer retreat. I have a theory on this. Let me preface it by pointing out the speculative nature of it. As I noted yesterday, I don’t think Jesus ever intended to take the disciples to a quiet place to get some rest. That was a ruse. Jesus knew the mob would follow them. He had the miracle of the fish and loaves already planned. Come on. This is Jesus we are talking about. Jesus was setting the disciples up for an inescapable experience of his divine nature. We must remember, while it comes easier for us to think of Jesus in the category of the divine, those early disciples saw a bona fide human being when they looked at Jesus. Put yourself in their shoes. How on earth could they have understood him as the God of the universe? To perform acts of healing and deliverance were one thing. But it didn’t follow that he was God. To feed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish could be considered a marvel, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean he was God. Think about it. It would take a lot to convince you that a person you knew was the God of the cosmos.
Mark’s gospel is a bit of a “Who is this guy?” mystery. The demons knew immediately and he silenced them. He didn’t want the disciples to learn of his identity from Satan. In the end, we will see a Roman centurion get the revelation. Through it all Jesus was somewhat systematically leaving a trail of revelatory bread crumbs for his disciples so they might awaken to the reality of his divinity. He wanted them to get it.
The same is true today. He wants us to get it, not by acquiring knowledge but through the Holy Spirit revealing him to us. The trouble is that we have a hard time learning what we think we already know. As I reflect on my own experience, it strikes me that I had a lot of knowledge about Jesus long before I actually knew him. And the more knowledge I accumulated about Jesus the harder it became to admit that I did not know him.
Here’s an example. I could become the most-renown expert in the world on avocados without ever eating a single avocado. I could tell you everything about an avocado except what it was like to taste one. But the minute I taste an avocado all of a sudden something I could never have known is revealed to me in the experience. In fact, the experience of eating an avocado would likely illuminate so much of what I had already learned about them that I could share with you even more about avocados than I thought I knew before. At the point of tasting, my commitment to being an authority on avocados would transform into a surprising love and devotion to them. I would move from an avocado authority to an avocado evangelist. I’ll pause the analogy there because I think you see the point.
Many things can be learned about and from another human being, but a human being is actually God’this can only be revealed. This is why Jesus taught in parables. Parables created a context where truth could be revealed and experienced rather than merely learned and controlled. The truth is, from way back then to the present day, nothing has changed except that we have the benefit of hindsight. Still, our hindsight is at best only knowledge about Jesus. The crux of the matter comes down to this question: Have we experienced the reality of the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ by the revelation of the Holy Spirit? I’m not asking if you know the date and time when you received salvation. I’m asking if you have actually tasted the love of God in Jesus Christ through the person of the Holy Spirit? “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
There are many people who have rejected Jesus because they have never actually tasted his goodness. In fact, they have a bad taste in their mouth from their experience of people who may have known a lot about Jesus, but probably didn’t actually know him themselves. This, in part, is the dangerous phenomenon of Pharisaism. We were not made to learn a lot of stuff about God, as helpful as that can be, but to know God intimately in our everyday experience. That’s why Jesus goes to the mountainside to pray, to enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with his Father.
Paul captures this idea in his prayer for us. Read this text carefully.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge’that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:16–19)
The great danger for the disciples of Jesus, then and now, is to become too prideful to admit that our knowing (experience) has not caught up with our knowledge. It produces the problem Jesus was trying to break through: for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Getting back to the matter at hand, I think this sending of the disciples to cross the lake was another setup. He knew they hadn’t gotten it back at the big meal; that they had probably filed the event as a superhuman marvel. He knew it would take them all night to get across the lake, which would give him plenty of time to process this situation with his Father on the mountainside. Something tells me Jesus knew he needed to speak to his Father a lot more about his disciples before he spoke a lot more to his disciples about his Father.
Throughout the Bible, from the opening waters of chaos in Genesis 1, to the parting of the sea for Israel, to the raging waters referenced throughout the Psalms, to his most recent calming of the storm—a hallmark of divine sovereignty is the demonstration of control over nature (particularly the seas). Jesus walking across the waters was yet another attempt to reveal his divinity to his disciples, to create an inescapable revelatory experience of his God-ness (and goodness).
All of this has me asking about the state of my own heart. Is it revelation-proof? Or might I find the humility to make an offering to Jesus of all I have learned about him, asking him for the grace to transform my knowledge into knowing?
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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