Miraculous Protection
Mark 6:45-56
And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before to Bethsaida…


1. Almighty power. Every one who has glanced over the early pages of English history is familiar with the story of Canute the Dane. That king wished to reprove the fulsome flattery of his courtiers when they spoke of his power as unlimited. He ordered his chair to be set by the seaside as the tide was coming in. He peremptorily commanded the waves to withdraw, and waited a while as if for their compliance. He seemed to expect prompt obedience, and watched to see them retire; but onward, onward came the surging sea; its waves kept steadily advancing, till the monarch fled before it, and left his chair to be washed away in its waters. He then turned to his courtiers, and solemnly reminded them that that Sovereign alone was absolute whom the winds and waves obeyed - who controlled the former, and set bounds to the latter, saying, "Hitherto shall ye come, but no further." The sacred writers claim it as the peculiar prerogative of God to gather the wind in his fists and bind the waters in a garment. Job, in celebrating the attributes of the Almighty, applies to him the sublime and striking sentence, "Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea."

2. Comparison of two similar miracles. There are two miracles of our Lord which have a close resemblance to each other, and at the same time considerable dissimilarity. One of these is that recorded in this passage, and called his "walking on the waters;" the other is distinguished by the name of his "stilling the storm" (Mark 4:35-41). By comparing these together, we find that the circumstances of the disciples were much worse, and their distress much greater, at the time referred to in this passage than on the former occasion. we may glance

(1) at the stilling of the storm, which we purposely passed over at its proper place in the fourth chapter. Combining the words of the three evangelists who describe that former miracle, we cannot fail to be struck with the exceedingly graphic nature of that description, and that in so few words. We are, in fact, made to see it as though the whole were transpiring before our eyes, so truly pictorial is the recital. There is first the sudden squall (λαίλαψ, St. Mark and St. Luke), its severity (μεγάλη, St. Mark), its rapid descent upon the lake (κατέβη, St. Luke), the agitation that ensued (σεισμὸς, St. Matthew), the waves as they kept sweeping over the deck of the small craft (ἐπέβαλλεν, imperfect, St. Mark), their beginning to fill with water (συνεπληροῦντο, St. Luke, and γεμίζεσθαι, St. Mark, but (καλύπτεσθαι, St. Matthew), the peril in which the passengers found themselves (ἐκινδύνευον, St. Luke); while Jesus remained all the time fast asleep in the hinder part of the ship on a pillow (προσκεφάλαιον, St. Mark). Then follow the alarm of the disciples, the twice-repeated appeal of "Master, master" (ἐπιστάτα ἐπιστάτα, St. Luke) evidencing their trepidation and terror, their eager cry for instant help (σωσον, aorist imperative, St. Matthew) in their present perishing condition (ἀπολλύμεθα, SS. Mark, Matthew, and Luke), the quiet dignity and self-possession of the Saviour, his rebuke to the spirit of the storm (σιώπα πεφίμωσο, only recorded by St. Mark); or perhaps we may regard the former word as a command to the sea and the latter to the wind, as if he commanded the roar of the water to be silent, and the howling of the wind to be still, the spirit thereof being muzzled, as the word literally imports; while the imperative of the perfect implies that the work was instantaneous - completed soon as the word was uttered. Then we have the storm falling as suddenly as it rose - at once spending its force, wearing itself out and ceasing from very weariness (ἐκόπασεν, St. Mark). The calm that ensued was as great in proportion as had been the storm, with the milky whiteness of the foam that now alone remained from the storm, on the tranquil waters (γαλήνη), if we derive the word from γάλα, milk; or with the "smile that dimpled" the face of the deep, if we derive the word from γελάω. All these incidents are not so much narrated as exhibited. It may be added, as an interesting circumstance in the respective descriptions of the evangelists St. Mark and St. Matthew, that while the former, in his usual graphic and pictorial style of description, represents the waves as pitching or beating, or actually throwing themselves on the vessel so that it was filling (γεμίζεσθαι), the latter describes the boat as covered (καλύπτεσθαι) with the waves. Hence it has been inferred, with good reason, that St. Matthew's point of view was plainly from one of the other vessels that, we are told, accompanied, and from which he saw the waves hiding out of sight, the boat in which the Saviour was; while St. Mark, or rather St. Peter, from whose lips he had the description, was evidently in the same boat with our Lord, and from inside the vessel observed the waves rushing up against her sides, and filling her. Besides, the word πεφίμωσο reminds us of the use of φιμοῦν, to put to silence, literally muzzle, used by St. Peter in 1 Peter 2:15. But

(2) though the storm may have been equally great in the case of the miracle just described as in that of the passage before us, yet there were several modifying circumstances in the former that are not found in this latter case. On that occasion we read that "there were also with him other little ships;" at the time specified in this passage the ship in which the disciples sailed was alone. On the former occasion the Saviour was with them and in the boat; on this he was both absent and distant. On the former occasion they had the advantages, no inconsiderable ones, of day and light about them; on this they were surrounded by the darkness and dead of night. On the former occasion they were not, it would seem, far from land - they had just launched forth (ἀνήχθησαν), as St. Luke informs us; on this they were in the midst of the sea (μέσον). On the former occasion the storm had come down on the lake, and, for aught we know, was bearing them rapidly forward towards their destination; on this, we are expressly told, it was against them - "the wind was contrary (ἐναντίος) unto them." These points of comparison prove the extreme peril which the disciples were at this time. Great as had been their danger before, it is greater now.

3. Cause of these dangerous storms. Such sudden dangerous storms are still of frequent occurrence on that small inland lake. The best comment on all this physical commotion, and the best explanation of the nature and cause as well as scene of this miracle, may be found in Thomson's 'The Land and the Book.' There, after his notice of a storm which he had witnessed on the lake, we find the following account: - "To understand the causes of these sudden and violent tempests, we must remember the lake lies low - six hundred feet lower than the ocean; that the vast naked plateaus of Jaulan rise to a great height, spreading backward to the wilds of the Hauran and upward to snowy Hermon; that the water-courses have cut out profound ravines and wild gorges, converging to the head of this lake, and that these act like gigantic funnels to draw down the cold winds from the mountains. On the occasion referred to we suddenly pitched our tents at the shore, and remained for three days and nights exposed to this tremendous wind."

4. The difficulty of the disciples. Their difficulty was equal to their danger. They were toiling (βασανιζομένους, literally, tortured, baffled, tested as metals by the touchstone) in rowing, and we cannot but commend them for their conduct. They were using the proper means, and that is ever right to do; but the means did not avail. They were employing every energy; but it was to no purpose. They were putting forth all their strength; but it was utterly fruitless, and without result. The wind was still against them. Whether it was blowing a gale, as it does when it travels at the rate of sixteen miles an hour, or whether it was blowing a high gale, when it goes with the rapidity of thirty-six miles an hour, or whether it was blowing a storm, which it does when it sweeps with the speed of sixty miles an hour, or proceeding with hurricane fury at ninety miles an hour, - whatever may have been the velocity of that wild wind, it was rude and boisterous; and, what made matters worse, it was directly opposite - right ahead. There they were struggling, toiling, tugging; but all in vain. There they were working with all their might; but still their frail barque was the plaything of wind and water - tossed by the waves and the sport of the storm. They themselves were every moment expecting to find a watery grave in that tempestuous sea.

5. Another source of distress. There was another source of distress, and one which aggravated their difficulty and added to their danger. That was the continued absence of the Master. When he had sent them away - in fact, "constrained" (ἠνάγκασε) them, as though reluctant to go without him - he remained alone on the land. But why leave them at all? Or why leave them so long? Or why especially leave them at such a critical juncture? Or why, at least, delay his coming in their great emergency? They would naturally think of the storm that once before had befallen them on that self-same sea. They would think of the glorious Personage that then sailed with them in the self-same boat. They would think of the sound slumber he enjoyed,, as he lay on the cushion in the stern. They would think of his calm composure when he awoke. They would think of the short but stern command he uttered, when he rebuked so effectually the tempest, and hushed it into a calm. They would think of that gracious presence that curbed the winds and calmed the waves and checked even the swell of the waters. They would think, "Were he with us now, he would still the storm, and we should soon be safe on shore." They would think of the petition they presented to him, the prayer they prayed, the fervency of spirit that inspired it, the faith that dictated it, the frailty that cleaved to it when they said, "Lord, save us.!" - there was faith; "we perish!" - there their faith was weak. Ever and anon, as they regarded the war of elements that raged around, they would sigh for their absent Lord, and long for land. No wonder, for had Christ been in the boat all would have been well.

6. The Saviour's presence is safety. Nearly half a century before Christ, a great conqueror attempted to cross the stormy Sea of Adria in a small boat. The waves rolled mountains high. The courage of the sailors failed them. They refused to venture further. It was a sea in which no boat could live. Soon, however, they were reanimated and encouraged to renew their toil, when the conqueror discovered himself, and told them who and what he was, in the characteristic words, "You carry Caesar and his fortunes." With Christ in the boat, the disciples might have flung their fears to the winds, for One infinitely greater than Caesar would have been there - One who could have stirred their hearts and raised their courage with the emboldening words, "You carry Christ and his Church."


1. His omniscience. He saw it all - their difficulty and danger and distress. His eyes were upturned to heaven in prayer, yet he saw all that was transpiring. The night was pitchy dark, yet he saw that small speck tossed like a cork upon the waters of that stormy sea. He had constrained them to embark, but he kept his eye upon them. He saw their fears, but he meant to teach them a new lesson of faith and confidence. He saw them from the distant mountain to which he had retired apart to pray. It is positively stated that he saw them. He saw them, though he was on the mountain-side and they were on the sea; he saw them from a distance which the ken of no mortal eye could reach; he saw them through the darkness of the night; he saw them in their panic terror; he saw them and all their embarrassments; he saw them when they did not, and when they could not, see him. "Be of good cheer!" he said. I did not forget you; I did not forsake you; I had you on my heart; I had you in my eye all the time. I did not fail to look on you, though you failed to look to me; I did not shut up my compassions, though you restrained prayer. You were neither out of sight nor out of mind. I was resolved you should not perish, nor a hair of your head fall. Boisterous as the wind was, I had charged it not to presume to harm you; rough as the sea was, I had commanded it not to dare to destroy your frail craft or damage one of the crew. Absence does not limit my power; distance does not separate you from my presence; danger and difficulty and distress only make you dearer, and call forth my more tender care.

2. His love is unchanging. Jesus is the same Saviour still, "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." "Be of good cheer!" he said. These words, though addressed to the first disciples, have sent their echo down along the centuries, and bring comfort to disciples still. In them Christ addresses you, reader, and myself. By them he says to every faithful follower, "Mine eye is on thee; it has been on thee hitherto; it will be on thee to the end. You may rest assured I will never fail thee - no, never forsake thee." Again, the words of the Saviour, "Be of good cheer!" are backed by another fact which presents itself to us in this passage, and that fact is the purpose for which our Lord had retired to the lone mountain-side. He was passing the night in prayer, not specially for himself but for his disciples - his disciples then and now; yes, for his disciples in that slight ship and on that stormy sea. They toiled and rowed; he prayed. They were suffering; he was supplicating. They were struggling; he was interceding. They were buffeting the waters; he was bearing them, as High Priest, on his heart before God in the holy of holies of that mountain solitude. They were ready to faint; he was praying for them that they might not faint, and that their faith might not fail. They were longing for the Master; he was exercising his love on their behalf.

3. A true picture of the Christian's life. It is so still - as it was it is, and ever shall be, on the part of our dear Redeemer and his redeemed ones. We have before us a true picture of life-of human life, of the Christian's life. We are toiling in this world below; the Saviour is employed on our behalf in the world above. We are in circumstances of peril and pain; the Saviour bids us "be of good cheer!" and look up to him; "he has overcome the world." We are afloat on the sea of life; our barque is fragile, the wind is high, the storm scaresome, the sea raging, and we are tossed upon its waters; but Jesus is over all, and looks down on all, and will save through all,' for "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him."

4. The suitable season for succor. Once more he says, with yet another meaning, "Be of good cheer!" I did not come, it is true, when the storm began, nor when the first night-watch set in. I knew you would have wished me then, that you would have been glad to see me coming then, that you would have hailed my arrival then. But you knew little of the difficulties that beset you then, little of your own inability to cope with them then, little of the impotence of your own efforts then. You knew not, at least not sufficiently then, that the power of man is weakness, and the wisdom of man is folly. You knew comparatively little of your need of a higher hand and a stronger arm to save you then, and little also of the great mercy of deliverance. For the like reason I came not in the second watch, nor even in the third. The fourth watch had commenced, and still I saw reason to delay my coming. It was half run and more before the proper moment arrived. I did not postpone nor defer an instant longer than was meet. Soon as the minute-hand pointed to the right moment on the dial-plate of time, I came, and came at once, without further or any unnecessary delay.

5. God's time is the right time. Gods time is not only the right time, but the best time. By his coming the time he did, the Saviour said in effect to the disciples, and through them to us, when we, like them, are tossed by the down-rushing winds and the upheaving waves of a troublesome world, Had I come sooner, it would have been premature on my part, and not expedient for you. Had I come sooner, it would have been pleasanter, but not so profitable for you. Had I come sooner, I should have consulted your feelings more than your interests. This fourth watch, and this last part of it in particular, is the season of your extremity and the time of my opportunity. Thus it is still. When you, reader, were saying, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Is his mercy clean gone for evermore?" his grace and mercy were drawing very near. When you were ready to give up all for lost, and about sinking into despair, then the Saviour said, I have come to give you confidence, to impart to you consolation, and inspire you with hope; in a word, to impress on your heart these words of comfort that now fall upon your ears. I come, therefore, as is my custom, at the moment best for the Creator's glory and the creature's good. Further, by the words," Be of good cheer!" he reminds us of the fact that we never enjoy rest so much as after long hours of labour, we never enjoy safety so much as after a time of danger, we never enjoy sleep so much as after a day of toil, and we never enjoy a calm so much as after a time of storm. Some of us can attest this by personal experience. We have often been to sea, but only once in a storm. And never did we so thoroughly enjoy the land, or rest so sweetly on the shore, as after that terrible storm.

6. Application to ourselves. Thus will it be with all the dear children of God. After the tempests of earth, we shall enjoy the tranquillity of heaven all the more. After weary wanderings and a sorrowful sojourn in this vale of tears below, we shall relish far more keenly the rest and home above. Not only so, there is no common measure by which we can gauge the true relative proportions of these storms of earth and that sunshine of the skies. The great apostle of the Gentiles felt this when he said, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."


1. A mistake. The announcement of the Saviour's presence is contained in the words, "It is I." When he did come the disciples mistook him. First they see through the gloom of night the dark object at some distance, then they discern the outline of a human figure standing out amid the darkness of the night and against the lowering sky. They never for one moment supposed it was the Saviour. "What can that phantom form be?" they thought within themselves. They had doubtless many conjectures, but sin gave its gloomy interpretation to the scene. It is a phantom - a spirit! they said; a spirit of evil, a spirit of woe, to take vengeance on the guilty! So it was with Herod; and so it was with Joseph's brethren, as we have seen; so it was with Belshazzar. So, too, with ourselves many a time. Not unfrequently we mistake our own best blessings; we think them distant when they are close at hand. Nay, we often mistake them altogether; we regard as a curse the very thing that God meant to prove a blessing. The dark cloud of his providence "we so much dread," even when it is "big with mercy," and ready to burst with" blessings on our head." We continue our mistake, until God becomes "his own Interpreter, and makes his meaning plain." It was thus with the disciples here, until Jesus revealed himself in a manner not to be mistaken, and said, "It is I. Often and often in time of trouble, of trial, of toil, of difficulty or danger or distress, of adversity or affliction, we have said individually, All these things are against me;" all these things are tokens of Divine displeasure; all these things are messengers of wrath. Jesus draws near and whispers to the soul, Not so; that trial, that cross, that bereavement, that sickness, thus distress of whatever kind, came from me; it was my doing; it was I sent it; I was the Author of it; I sought by it your good; it is I, and you are to recognize me in it; it is I. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."

2. A calm succeeds the storm. When all is storm around, when all is dark within, when of all human sources of consolation we are constrained to say with the patriarch of Uz, "Miserable comforters are ye all;" just then, it may be, a happy thought occurs to us, a ray of heavenly light shines down upon us, a gleam of comfort comes to cheer us. We fear we are imposing on ourselves. Not so. Jesus comes in a way not to be misapprehended, and says to us, "It is I;' you need not be afraid. The winds have fallen and the waters subsided. It was I, says Jesus; they did it at my bidding.

3. The real source of succor. Relief comes. We are rescued from danger; from sickness we are restored to health; out of a situation of discomfort and unrest we are relieved. At such times we are apt to speak of the immediate instrumentalities in the case, and to attribute the change to second causes. This passage corrects that error. In it Jesus says, "It is I;" in other words, that medicine that proved so effectual derived its efficacy from me; it was I directed to it. Those friends that were so kind in the day of your trouble were moved to sympathy by me. It was I prompted them; it was I put it into their heart; it was I placed it in their power. "While some trust in horses, and some in chariots, we will make mention of the Name of the Lord." Thus, in all that betides the Christian, Jesus takes a part; in all the variety of change, and scene, and condition, and circumstance - that wonderful co-operation of all things for our good - we trace the presence of the Saviour. In the painful things and the pleasant, in the heights and depths, in the ups and downs, in the joys and sorrows, we are assured of the Saviour's power and presence; he is conducting us through all to the goodly land afar off.

"When the shore is won at last,
Who will count the billows past?"

4. Jesus with us all the way.

(1) When the hour of our departure is at hand, when the last conflict approaches, when the darkness of death is beginning to envelop us, when we are passing through the dark valley of death-shade, the same Friend is at our side, the same friendly hand is on our shoulder, and the same fond voice sounds in our ears. It is the voice of Jesus, saying, "It is I;" death is my minister, my messenger; he can do you no harm; I have removed his sting. My rod and staff will comfort you; through me you will be more than conqueror, and will be able to challenge Death himself, and say, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" "This God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto [rather, over] death."

(2) Again, on the resurrection morning, when all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God and come forth, the same voice will reverberate through the graves of the poor and the tombs of the rich with the words, "It is I;" "I am the resurrection and the life;" "My dead men shall live; together with my dead body shall they come;" or, more literally and more correctly, "my dead body shall they come." There is not merely conjunction, not only union - all this is true, and all this is much; but more is meant, for the words "together with are in italics, and so we are notified that they are not in the original. Thus there is identity; our Lord identifies himself with the dead in Christ. He is the Head, they are the members; and thus, one in life, one in death, they shall be one in the resurrection, and one through all eternity; therefore it is, My dead body shall they come."

(3) Also in the day of judgment, when "we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ," the same loving tones will cheer us. The Judge on the throne will stoop down and say to his people," It is I." The same Saviour that shed his blood for you - in whom you believed, whom you obeyed, whom you followed, loved, and served - is now your Judge. It is I that said to you on earth, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is I, your Elder Brother, who say to you now in heaven, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world."

5. Words of courage as well as comfort. Words of courage are also spoken by him. He adds, "Be not afraid. Be not afraid of temptation, for with every temptation he will prepare a way of escape. Be not afraid of trials; they enlarge your experience: the trial of your faith worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." Be not afraid of tears; they will soon be wiped away: even now the tears you shed cleanse the eyes, so that you see spiritual things more clearly. Be not afraid of toils; they will soon be past, and then "there remaineth a rest for the people of God." Be not afraid of troubles, for "through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God." Be not afraid of the perplexities of the wilderness; he will "guide you by his counsel" all the way. Be not afraid of the dark night of storm; for the dark clouds will scatter, and the feet of Omnipotence will come walking on the water. Be not afraid of the storms of persecution; "blessed are ye when all shall persecute you for the Saviour's sake." Only make sure you are his, and all the blessings of the covenant will be your portion.

6. The feeling of danger a precursor of safety. "He would have passed by them." Why was this? Just that they might fully feel their need of his help, and earnestly apply for it. Salvation is the response of heaven to man when, in his misery, he cries for it. We have read of a young prince who toiled much and traveled much, who was often in danger, many times in perplexity, frequently in difficulties. But he was never left alone; a faithful friend called Mentor was ever at his side - his counsellor, caretaker, guide, and guardian. How much greater is our privilege, to whom Jesus says, "It is I; 'I will be with you all the way; I will be with you at every turn of the way; I will be with you in every time of need; I will be with you in every place of peril; I wilt be with you in the darkness of the night and amid the terrors of the storm! In calm majesty he will come, walking on the surface of the foam-crested wave; nor will he pass you by, but provoke your confidence, and prove your faith, and pour into your ears the inspiriting words, "Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid."

"Thus soon the lowering sky grew dark
O'er Bashan's rocky brow;
The storm rushed down upon the bark,
And waves dashed o'er the prow.

"The pale disciples trembling spake,
While yawned the watery grove,
We perish, Master - Master, wake!
Carest thou not to save?'

" Calmly he rose with sovereign will,
And hushed the storm to rest.
Ye waves,' he whispered, 'Peace! be still!'
They calmed like a pardoned breast." J.J.G.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.

WEB: Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat, and to go ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he himself sent the multitude away.

Jesus Walking on the Sea: Interpreted of the Church
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