Our pastors have been preaching through Mark for the last few weeks, and in an effort to get the most out of the study, they have encouraged us to read along in the Gospel of Mark. My husband often says that it’s good to never stray far from studying Jesus. He’s right. And every time I read the Gospel accounts I’m reminded of how right he really is. Jesus never ceases to amaze me. And the fact that he walked this earth, died a sinner’s death, defeated sin by rising again, and left us with accounts of his work so we can love him more never ceases to amaze me. This time has been no different.
In Mark 6:45-51 Jesus walks on water immediately following the feeding of the 5,000. You would think that seeing a few pieces of fish and bread multiplied by thousands would stick with a person, but it didn’t. In fact, in verse 51 Mark says that the disciples should have understood this but they didn’t because their hearts were hardened. Essentially, Mark is saying they didn’t understand that Jesus was God, they didn’t understand his deity, and they didn’t put the pieces together that his authority over the meager rations of food was actually saying something deeply profound about who he was. It’s interesting that this story is sandwiched between two stories about his miraculous works—the feeding of the 5,000 and verses 53-56 where people immediately come to him for healing and relief. Everyone wanted to be healed and restored by Jesus. Often the disciples fell into this category too, begging him to heal the people around him or perform some miracle, yet failing to grasp his deity and purpose in it all. On a number of occasions he even tells them fairly straightforwardly what he has come to do—die on a cross and rise three days later—yet they consistently fail to see it. But they have no problem asking him to show them some miracle or heal a person’s physical needs.
It’s really easy to look at the disciples and criticize and condemn them for their foolish behavior towards the Son of God, but let us check our own hearts before we start throwing rocks at Peter, James, John and the rest. We, too, so often want the benefits that Jesus brings—his healing, peace, eternal life, blessing, redemption—but we don’t easily accept the claims his authority makes on our life. We are so much like the disciples saying “show me something great, Jesus” but when it comes down to giving up the sin that entangles us or taking up our cross daily, we struggle with those implications. A good deed done in the name of Christ is a lot easier to swallow than the challenge to turn from our sin and follow this Christ.
But Jesus never separates the two. To save us, he must be Lord. There is no such thing as a Christian who receives the healing of Jesus without having his or her life radically turned upside down by his powerful authority. He always coupled his miraculous signs with a stirring exhortation—repent and believe. His healing always included forgiveness of sins and the command to “go and sin no more.” He does not arbitrarily perform miracles for the sake of show, and he will share his deity with no other. The disciples missed this because they didn’t have eyes to see it yet. They missed it because they couldn’t grasp that these miracles were a call to receive Christ as the authoritative son of God who comes to take away sins and redeem a people for himself, rather than a prelude to the Messiah’s takeover of the powers that be.
And we miss it too.
The call of the kingdom of Christ is not one of miraculous works and restoring physical health. Rather it is a simple call to repent of our sins and trust that Jesus is the holy one of God. The miracle is in the changed life, not the physical healing.
Our natural tendency is to lean towards the miraculous. To ask for a show or sign that proves our faith is genuine or even worth believing in. But Jesus doesn’t ever go there. In fact, he calls those who seek a sign foolish and then points them to the only sign he is willing to give—he will die and rise again. Let us not be like the foolish ones who couldn’t understand Jesus’ words as they continually cried “show me the miracles.” Rather, let us be like the father who wanted desperately to believe that the claims of this Jesus were true. We believe, Lord, help our unbelief.