He Meant to Pass By Them!
The present culture in which we live has nearly, if not completely, lost the capacity for true, unmistakable awe. Our neighbors and co-workers and friends are people, like we once were, who have subverted the transcendent. We live in a condescension world. There is no limit that we cannot set, meet and pass. So a recent commercial begins, “I think it is human nature to want to explore. To find a line and go beyond it. The only limit is the one you set yourself.” It closes with a fade out of these words, “Welcome to the world of Red Bull.” That is the slogan of the world—’summon up your inner strength and you are unlimited. You are god. Nothing transcends you.’ That is also the heart of sin.
That it is human nature to want to explore, to find a line and go beyond it, I do not doubt is central to what it means to be created in the image of God. We were made for the glory of God and of Christ, and the heart presses for this. The problem is that while this unquenchable press for transcendence is inherent to our nature, sin which rejects the God able to satisfy this unquenchable press for transcendence is also inherent to our nature. And in the place of God, we insert ourselves and whatever thrills we can conjure up to overcome and lay claim, inwardly then, to God’s place. That is what it means to say, “The only limit is the one you set yourself.” In other words, if nothing is transcendent to you, then you transcend everything. And that makes you god. And where there is no taste buds for true divine transcendence, no panting after God, there will be no savoring of the glory of Jesus Christ.
And one of the more alarming things is how this has crept into the mind and heart and life and worship of the church today, particularly as it relates to the stature of Jesus. The Jesus of the individual Christian, the Jesus in the local church is, so often, such a shell of the glorious Son of God and Christ of the Bible, that He is unrecognizable from the One Whom God has revealed to us. Mark’s Jesus is incalculably greater, infinitely more glorious, and massively more transcendent than the blond-headed, blue-eyed, hippy Jesus of popular culture. In the world of Red Bull, you still need skis to get across the water. In God’s world, Jesus walks on the water, to say nothing of wind and waves obeying His voice.
This is the Jesus of Mark. I think we can view this Gospel as a great mountain range with a few predominant peaks. And each one of those peaks are giving the same answer in different ways to the Gospel’s one great question—”Who then is this?” Who is Jesus Christ? The highest peak in this range is the cross, Mark 15.39. Another, the Transfiguration, 9.7. Another is Peter’s confession, 8.29. And another is found in our passage tonight.
Text: Mark 6.45-56.
Subject—Jesus Christ is unswervingly committed to the promotion of His glory. In this, hear a few things—Jesus came into the world to glorify God and nothing can derail Him from doing that. Hear also that the glory of God is no less His own glory and in His pursuit of God’s glory, He equally pursues His own. He is the Son of God, the sole Mediator between God and man, Whose glory it is to lay down His life as a ransom for many. And hear also that everything that Jesus does is to display His glory that, in seeing it, we might glorify Him. So in unpacking this from our text, let’s see, first, [Christ’s unswerving commitment to God’s glory and, then, let’s see the glory of Christ–His glory as the Son of God, His glory as the sole Mediator between God and man and the glory of His cross, and, finally, let’s see that He displays His glory to be glorified by us].
First Point: Jesus Christ is unswervingly committed to God’s glory,
Mark 6.45-46,“Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. And after He had taken leave of them, He went up on the mountain to pray.”
a] To this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has never been more popular with men. You’ll remember that He has just fed thousands of people in the wilderness with five loaves of bread and two fish, so that they all ate and were satisfied. If the people were thronging about Him before, what about now? And isn’t this what Jesus wants–people following Him?
b] But we find in our verses Jesus rushing the disciples out of the scene, dismissing the crowds and taking leave of them. Why? We find out in John 6.15. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” That doesn’t sound to bad, unless you are committed to the glory of God. They are following Him, praising Him, desiring to take Him and make Him king—for all the wrong reasons. They want the material bread, not Him Who is the Bread of Life.
c] Indeed, there is a real temptation set before Jesus in their rush to make Him king. It is the same temptation that He faced alone in the wilderness. Satan offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. The price tag, “worship me” (Mt 4.9). After Jesus taught His disciples that He must suffer and be killed and then rise, Peter “took Him aside and began to rebuke him.” But this is what Jesus says to him for all His disciples to hear, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mk 8.32-33). In each one of these instances, the temptation, the having your mind set on the things of man, is to have what is rightfully only His—glory and all the kingdoms of the world–but without the cross! It is to reign by comfort rather than a cross. The irony of it all is that Christ crucified is the blazing center of the glory of God. It is by the cross that Christ will defeat all His enemies and reign forever. And therefore the temptation from which He flees, is one bent on making Him settle, one aiming to drag Him off the glorious course, to thwart the saving design of God, and to divorce Him from His glory and His zeal for God’s. The glory of God in Christ drives to and through the cross.
d] So we discover an immensely important move on the part of Christ in 6.46. As a display of this truth, that Christ is unswervingly committed to God’s glory, He, one the one hand, took leave of them and, on the other, “went up on the mountain to pray”–to be with His Father, to be, I surmise, fortified in His will and for His glory all the way to the cross.
And because Christ’s commitment to God’s glory is a commitment to His own, He acts to display and promote His glory.
Second Point: Jesus purposes to put His glory on display [and it’s not ego-maniacal; it’s the most right, God-centered, and loving thing He could purpose]. So let’s see it and rejoice in it together,
Mark 6.47-52, “And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Now as we read that, I think we were meant to see three inseparably related but distinct aspects of the glory of Jesus Christ—His glory as God, His glory as Mediator, and the glory of His cross.
a] Jesus purposes to display His divine glory, His glory as God the Son. Or, as Mark would have it, the Son of God (1.1). We believe that Jesus is God, that as the second Person of the eternal Godhead, He has existed forever, and that at the right time, He was born of a woman for the sake of our salvation. We believe that on the basis of unchangeable, inerrant, rock-solid biblical testimony, found in texts like this one. In fact, there are three ways, here, in which Mark testifies to us that Jesus is God, that Jesus purposes to put His divine glory on display for us.
i] Verse 48, “And (Jesus) saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.” He is not swimming, or treading water, or oaring. He is pad of foot on water walking on the sea. And we are made to ask, “who can walk on water?” Of the many Old Testament passages we can choose from, let’s go to Job 9.
In 9.8, Job extols God as the One who “trampled the waves of the sea.” This God, Job says, also “removes mountains” (9.5). He “shakes the earth out of its place” (9.6). He “commands the sun, and it does not rise” (9.7). He “seals up the stars” (9.7). He “alone stretched out the heavens” (9.8). He “made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south” (9.9). This is the Creator that Job is speaking of.
So when Mark tells us that Jesus walked on the sea, He is declaring to us “this is the One who literally moves mountains, One who shakes the earth, commands the sun, seals up the stars, stretched out the heavens, made the constellations, etc.” He is saying that, even as to God, all this is attributable to Jesus. Jesus is God. The second testimony that Mark gives us is in,
ii] Verse 50. Jesus calms their fears with these words, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Those words, “it is I,” are a translation from the Greek words, “ego eimi,” which can also be translated, “I AM,” which is the self-revelatory Name, the divine Name, which God makes known to Moses in Exodus 3.14. And, given our context, there is little doubt that in those words, Jesus is claiming that He is the “I AM.” And this is stunning. It almost gets Him stoned in John 8.58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” So Jesus is aware of the possible consequences of His actions, but it is Who He is. He is identifying Himself [not just with but] as the one true, eternal [so, never came into existence, will never end], infinite, the human mind cannot conceive of my immensity and being so I will condescend to reveal Myself to you, Creator God Who made Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and everything else that has had, has or will have existence!—Jesus is God! The third testimony that Mark gives us is back at the end of,
iii] Verse 48, “He meant to pass by them.” Of all the gospel accounts, Mark’s is the only one to mention the intention of Jesus in this event–”He meant to pass by them.” Jesus didn’t walk on the water to His troubled disciples only to neglect them. That was not His intention. Those words get at something much more divine. This—passing by them—is what God does to reveal Himself in new ways to His people.
So Job 9.11, “Behold, He passes by me, and I see Him not; He moves on, but I do not perceive Him.” So 1 Kings 19.11, God said to the prophet Elijah, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’–and then we read, “And behold, the Lord passed by.” And, perhaps most fundamentally, as it relates to God’s self-revelation, Exodus 34.6-7, where God is responding to the desperate request of Moses, “Please show me Your glory” (Exod 33.18). We read, “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.’” So when we hear that Jesus meant to pass by them, the whole event finds its purpose—to put the divine Person and glory of Jesus on display. It is to say that Jesus, though a man like Job and Elijah and Moses, is infinitely more. He is the Lord God Who passed by Job and Elijah and Moses, displaying, then as here, to display His divine glory.
Now to this point, all that I have said of the glory of Christ I could equally say of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t cheapen His glory in the least. It magnifies it! That He walks on water, bears the divine Name and reveals Himself by theophany is to see that He is rightly glorified as God, God the Son. But there is a glory, a brilliance, a radiance, a transcendent beauty that is distinctly His! It is that for which the Father sent Him into the world and it is that which the Holy Spirit now illumines—when the eternal Son put on flesh, He became the one and only Mediator between God and man. And it is the glory of Christ, the Mediator, that I want us to see now. It is the sight of the God-man that transcends the senses of His disciples in this moment, leaving them inwardly bankrupt of fodder for expression.
b] Jesus purposes to display His glory as the one Mediator between God and man [this is gospel].
i] When God passes by Job, He reveals Himself to a suffering and persecuted man who is crying out for a Mediator—”Would that there were an arbiter [Mediator] between us, who might lay his hand on us both” (Job 9.33). When God passes by Elijah, He steps in to relieve the depressed and despairing prophet—Do not fear Elijah, not all is lost. I have preserved a remnant of grace. When God passes by Moses, He displays His glory to a man wondering how in the world can God continue to dwell with sinful people—Moses, at the blazing center of my being, the epicenter of my glory is a cross! I’m sending my Son into the world as sovereign mercy incarnate to mediate between Me and sinful man!
ii] And we get a picture of this in our passage. Jesus is on the mountain, His disciples in the boat and we read in verse 48, “He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.” And just as God condescended to the suffering Job, the despairing Elijah, the desperate Moses, so Jesus came to the aid of His struggling disciples.
iii] And in the man Christ Jesus, the God Who drew a line in the sand and rightly warned sinners, “cross at your own peril,” now comes down the mountain, walks atop the sea, speaks to them with the voice of a man, tells them not to be afraid [the very thing sinners are in the unmediated presence of God], gets into the boat with them, stills the wind, eases their torture and brings them safely to shore [and that’s not all, He’s going to die on a cross for them as well]! To display His divine glory, yes! But also to display the glory of His office and role in salvation—ultimate condescension, God being born a man, in order to reconcile men to God.
iv] What befuddles and overwhelms the rationale of the disciples, then, is not mainly their experience of God as men, but their experience of the God-man for them [for us]! They witness the redemptive doings of God in Jesus of Nazareth. They see the revelation of the glory of God in the bearded, weather-beaten face of Jesus Christ. How do we conceive of the infinite and eternal God confined, if you will, to the quite restricted and limited body of a man like Jesus? And yet Paul writes, “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1.19). It’s like taking all the water from every ocean of the world and putting it in tea cup, times a billion! And yet, here, Jesus Christ, God of very God, “got into the boat with them,” and, in a word, saved them. This is the distinct radiance of the glory of Jesus. He is the one Mediator between God and man. And it has a climactic display of it’s own.
What we have seen to savor to this point is the divine and mediatorial glory of Jesus in part. It has the warmth of the sun in it, but as it stands here, it is not the blue-blazing center of the Sun. It is a display of His glory but it is not the epicenter. In relation to the center of God’s glory, this is, if it can be, an outlying ray of His radiance. The blazing center is yet to come—Christ crucified! So let’s consider,
c] The glory of Christ crucified.
i] We see this in the connection that Mark makes between the miraculous provision of the loaves and this display of His glory on the sea, verses 51-52, “And He got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” In other words, if you get the loaves in the wilderness, you get the crossing of the sea. Which begs the question, what were they to understand about the loaves? Two things—first, the One Who breaks five loaves to satisfy thousands is God in the flesh and, secondly, the breaking of the loaves signified a provision infinitely greater in nature–the breaking of Christ’s body for the forgiveness of sins. So here, the One who delivers them from the sea is God and this deliverance, as glorious as it is, as rich as it is in the display of Christ’s glory, bids us look from here forward, directs our hearts and lives to a deliverance infinitely greater in nature–Christ crucified, Jesus putting one hand on God and another on us in order to reconcile us to God by His blood. In both cases, Christ crucified is the blazing center of His glory. So let’s go there,
ii] Mark 15.33-39—”And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, He is calling Elijah.’ And some ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to Him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take Him down.’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing Him, saw that in this way He breathed His last, He said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’
When the Roman centurion beholds Christ crucified, it is revelatory of Christ’s glory as God and Mediator–Truly this man was the Son of God! The cross of Christ is not a depression of the glory of Christ. It is the blazing center!
iii] This section of Mark began on the sea, 4.35-41, and that event, where the wind and waves obey His voice, ended with this critical gospel question—”Who then is this?” And now, at the end of this section, we are again on the sea and we receive our answer—Jesus is the glorious Son of God, Whose glory it is to lay down His life as a ransom for many.
Third Point:The reason that Jesus displays His glory is to be glorified,
Mark 6.51-56, “And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.”
It is displayed, not just to be seen, but having been seen, savored, exulted in, treasured, glorified. This display on the sea is granted to invoke our praise! The terror of sin and unbelief is that Christ’s glory can be seen and not rejoiced in. The disciples beheld His glory, but did not rejoice in it because, as Mark tells us, “their hearts were hardened” (6.52). Only soft hearts savor the glory of Christ, and Mark is calling us to give Him glory. What does that entail?
a] It means repenting of vain glories and earnestly believing upon Christ. You see verse 56, “And wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment. And as many as touched it were made well”–that is a call to repentance and faith in Christ. Those words, “implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment” are familiar words to us. Mark is closing this section by intentionally referring back to a series of people who had come to experience the bankruptcy of the world of Red Bull and fled from it in blood-earnestness to Christ. The Gerasene demoniac, Jairus, and the woman dying with a discharge of blood knew this–we are incredibly limited, inside and out. Satan, demons, sin, sinners, disease and death unveil our weaknesses with pleasure. And nothing, not strong men, or popularity, or special social connections, or time, or great doctors, or great wealth, or mighty morals, nothing that we typically trust in, consult with, invest in, or utilize can deliver us from these things. The glory of them all is a vain glory. They cannot save. And when this is found out, these three people, having heard the reports about Jesus, forsake everything else in the world in order to lay hold of Him. And the demoniac is set free, Jairus’ daugher is raised from the dead, the woman is healed, and each one of them earnestly believes in Christ. They see His glory, that it is not vain, that it is restorative and redemptive, and in leaving all else behind, they glorify Him! And Mark holds them out to us as exemplary!
b] It entails understanding that the glory of Jesus is not impractical. Seeing the glory of Christ was not impractical to the suffering Job. It was not impractical to the persecuted prophet, Elijah. It was not impractical to the strained and stretched Moses. Seeing the glory of Christ was not impractical to the thousands fed in the wilderness. When the sand of the shore rides in between the toes of the disciples in our passage, the glory of Christ is not impractical. The glory of Christ is impractical if faith is impractical, if eternal life is impractical, if fullness of joy is impractical, if sanctification is impractical, if gospel ministry is impractical. John Owen didn’t find Christ’s glory impractical when He was writing a 450 page treatise on the subject. William Burns, as we discussed last night, surely didn’t find Christ’s glory impractical when he was calling sinners to take cover in Christ from the just wrath of God. Diane Schreiner didn’t find Christ’s glory impractical when she testified to the reasons God spared her life. You get the point!—His glory is preeminently practical. Therefore, let His glory be the tuning fork of your life, the standard pitch to which everything else is tuned.
c] Related to this, if one thing is fundamental to every believing heart it is this–a love for promoting the glory of Jesus Christ in all things. That is Mark’s heart. When Jesus and His disciples got into the boat to go to the desolate place, we read in verse 33, “Now many saw them going and recognized them.” But after the wilderness feeding and the sea deliverance, we read beginning in our verse 53, “When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized Him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored Him that they might touch even the fringe of His garment. And as many as touched it were made well.” The disciples disappear and only Christ remains! Mark wants to do nothing but promote the glory of Christ.
And so, brothers and sisters, there is no more neighborly thing we can do for one another than help each other love the glory of Christ more than our own. There is nothing more in keeping with the heart of God than that at Starbucks, I work for the glory of Christ, than that, with my wife, I labor for the increase of her love for and conformity to Christ, than that, with my children, I labor for their faith in Christ, than that, with the dying saint, I encourage their hearts by the imminent sight of Christ’s eternal glory, than that, to the lost, I preach the gospel of the glory of Christ, and that with you, now, I exhort you to make the blazing center of God’s glory, Christ crucified, the blazing center of your life!
Unleash us for the glory of Christ in Newton, I pray, in the glorious Name of Jesus. Amen.