From an often-overlooked verse in Mark’s Gospel, we can learn something very valuable about Jesus’ character, and about ourselves. Here’s the verse:
Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them (Mark 6:48).
The incident almost seems a bit comical. The Twelve were simply trying to accomplish the task Jesus had given them. We can read just a few verses earlier: “Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida” (Mark 6:45). And off they went. As they obeyed, however, they ran into opposition. “The wind was against them.”
From the land, Jesus saw His disciples “straining at the oars.” He was fully aware of their predicament. He then stepped onto the water and began walking towards them. If Mark hadn’t added His commentary about Jesus’ intentions, we’d all have thought that He was doing a miracle to rescue His struggling buddies in the boat. But the fact is, Jesus was just walking towards Bethsaida—to get to where He was sending them! Mark wrote that He “intended to pass by them” (Mark 6:48)! If they wouldn’t have noticed Him walking by, He would have just kept walking, leaving them to strain against the wind!
I’m sure you know the story. At first, they thought that they were seeing a ghost (it was “the fourth watch of the night, between 3am and 6am), but Jesus assured them that it was actually Him. Before long, Peter was enjoying the same miracle as Jesus, walking on the water towards Him. When he began to doubt, however, Peter lost what he had previously gained by faith. That’s an entirely different lesson about faith—that unfortunately often overshadows the first lesson.
That first lesson is this: Jesus is a perfect gentleman, and He most often does not stick His nose in people’s business unless He’s invited. Tragically, many of us are “straining at life’s oars” and Jesus is walking right by. He’s fully willing to help, yet He’s ignored. He’d love to be invited into our boat and calm our storm, but we are determined to make it to the other side by our own strength. And so, He leaves us to fruitlessly keep rowing.
Woe is us! The scenario is even more pathetic when we are actually obeying Jesus, just as the Twelve were that night on the Sea of Galilee, doing exactly what He’s told us to do, but still, we are determined to make it on our own strength. So we keep rowing…and going nowhere. Meanwhile the Miracle Man is walking right by, and probably shaking His head in wonder.
The moral to the story? Drop the oars and call out to Jesus. “Be strong IN THE LORD and in the strength of HIS MIGHT” (Eph. 6:10). Invite Him into your boat. He would love to help, but He doesn’t want to impose!