Passing by, but not by-passing!

Even after a long lifetime’s devotion to Scripture I still find lovely surprises that hitherto have ‘passed me by’ – the very phrase I would like to highlight in Mark’s account of Jesus’ walking on the sea. (For the full story, compare Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21.)  In Mark 6:48 we are told, ‘He meant to pass them by.’ A footnote in my Study Bible grabbed my attention, and I had to check it out in my Greek OT and NT.

The note assured me that Jesus, crossing from his night of prayer alone on the mountain, did not intend to ignore the disciples or abandon them to their plight as, after nine to twelve hours of straining, they continued at the oars with still nearly half the lake to row across. But I had always thoughtlessly assumed that he intended to by-pass them and reach the shore to be ready to welcome them later.

Now, hold it right there! Is that really the Jesus I have come to know so well in nearly seventy years of walking with him? Is he going to desert them in the dark (John 6:17), now gibbering with terror because haunted with the thought that they had just seen a phantom (the actual Greek noun used here)? No way, Jose! Mark has already assured us in the same verse of Jesus’ concern for them: he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And … he came to them walking on the sea.’

Mark certainly intended to instruct his readers that Jesus is here displaying his deity:       (1) as the Creator who can stride the waves of the sea, for he virtually quotes the Greek (Septuagint) version of Job 9:8 (from Job’s speech in honour of God, Job 9:2):

‘…who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea (compare Psalm 77:19-20; Isaiah 43:15-16).

He continued to emphasise his deity:

(2) by re-assuring them, ‘Take heart; I AM (literally).’ Next,

(3) he entered the boat (with Peter who had ventured out to escort him, Matthew 14:28-32) and re-asserted his creatorial prerogative by stilling the storm (Psalm 29:10-11; 89:8); (4) then brought them instantly ‘to their desired haven’ (Psalm 107:30, see Psalm 107:23-32).

‘Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going’ (John 6:21). 

Those last three miles or so took just the blink of an eye, after a whole night of hard slog!

Oh, I nearly forgot that Study Bible note: in Exodus 33:19, 22; and Exodus 34:6 YHWH revealed himself in all his glory to Moses, hiding him in the cleft of a rock and covering him with his hand, as he ‘passed him by’. Check it out – that’s what the beloved Master intended to do, and in fact what he did; he revealed his glory.

No wonder then that the disciples, despite still being a bit dense (Mark 6:52), declared that Jesus was truly God’s Son and worshipped him (Matthew 14:33).

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