Mark 6:45-52 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. 47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Proverbs 28:14 “Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.”
So who comes to your mind when you hear the words “Hard Heart.” the Pharaoh of Egypt, right? It’s easy for us to understand how the phrase “hard heart” gets attached to someone who was wicked, self-serving and who even in the face of miracle after miracle as God sent plagues in Egypt, still couldn’t yield to God. You would have to be hard-hearted to enslave an entire nation and treat them as cruelly as he did. Several places in Scripture it says that “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” How can that be? How can God cause someone to sin? Is God the One who is behind hard heads and hard hearts? It might be easy to blame God for Pharaoh’s condition until you read verses like Exodus 8:15 that say: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.”
Or how about Exodus 8:32: “But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” A hardened heart is simply the result God allows when people won’t be responsive to His miracles, His love, His words, and His ways. God didn’t “harden” Pharaoh’s heart. He simply allowed it to become hardened due to Pharaoh’s lack of responsiveness. Still, in our minds it is easy to equate someone like Pharaoh with a hard heart. He wasn’t God’s man. He wasn’t living to lead God’s way.
We also can accept Jesus’ indictment against the Pharisess. He confronted their hardness of heart on more than one occasion. Their hearts and minds weren’t open to a dynamic relationship with God, disciplined, yes. Dynamic, no. Bound to tradition and self-effort, yes. Free to follow Christ and love and serve others? No. Like Pharaoh, their hard hearts are easy to see. But what about believers? What about God’s people? Can they have hard hearts?
In Mark’s Gospel here in chapter 6:52 we read that the disciples’ fear was a result of hard-heartedness. What in the world did the writer mean? How were they hard-hearted? They were walking with Jesus. They were living with Jesus. How could it be alleged that their hearts were hard? The comment about them being hard-hearted was connected to the previous story in chapter 6 where Jesus fed over 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. “For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
Early in chapter six the disciples are reporting to Jesus, telling them what they had been up to and what they had been teaching people. Recognizing they needed to get away for a while to sort of process all they had been doing, Jesus gathered them and suggested they get into a boat and go to a quiet place. Quiet places were hard to come by. As soon as Jesus and the disciples landed there was a huge crowd of people. Verse 34 reveals the heart and character of Jesus that was always on display. He was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They just had no direction; no answers for their lives. So, He started teaching them.
Well, it got late, and the people were going to need to eat. The disciples suggested to Jesus that He should send people away to go get something to eat. However, Jesus didn’t take their suggestion. J He’s kind of funny that way. J Instead He made the decision that the people should stay. And when Jesus makes a decision about a person’s circumstance or destiny, He will ensure that what is needed to bring it to pass will happen.
He told the disciples that they should feed the people. Instead of asking, “How would you like us to go about doing that, Jesus?” they argued that it would be impossible using some sarcastic comments about how it would take eight months to pay for enough food for all of the people to have one meal. Jesus continued to teach and instruct them about what it means to follow God’s commands and plans. He asked them what they had in their possession.
Too many people get wigged out about following Jesus because they think they have to do something or become something that they aren’t capable of doing or becoming. God just wants us to be faithful to follow Him where we are with what we have. Hard-headed and hard-hearted people want to give God every reason why what He has in mind won’t work and why it isn’t a good idea; and it’s not usually because they don’t believe God could do a miracle, but they aren’t even thinking that is one of God’s options!
The disciples weren’t thinking spiritually. Their minds were on the natural and the problem that they were facing and not on the possibility of a miracle. They put the focus on themselves and their resources rather than on God and His resources. (Are you tracking with me this morning?) Do you think God will ever ask you to do something that He won’t also help you accomplish?
Jesus asked them in verse 38, “What do you have?” I can see the disciples looking at each other, turning the pockets of their robes inside out and shrugging their shoulders as if to say, “We got nothing!” Jesus then said something profound at the end of verse 38. “LOOK!” “Don’t just stand there. Look around. Perhaps there are resources right around you. In a crowd this size, surely someone has something that could be used to solve this problem!” Could it be that hard-headed and hard-hearted people don’t want to look around? They don’t want to engage other people in their quest for answers? They don’t want to ask for help? I’m just askin’! J
Well, the disciples looked, and they discovered they had five loaves and two fish that could be used. Jesus told them to direct the people to sit down in groups of fifty and in groups of one hundred. Jesus blessed the small amount of food, and incredibly, it multiplied. 5000 men were fed plus women and children who would have been with them. Wow!
It is on the heels of this miracle (vs 45) that Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Jesus MADE the disciples get into the boat and told them they were to go to Bethsaida and that He would meet them there.
When I make my children do something it’s for one of two reasons: 1. I need help! 2. It is for their own good. I want them to learn something. I want them to grow. I want them to experience something they wouldn’t choose to do on their own so I make them do some things. It’s good for our kids to be pushed into experiences that help them mature whether it is ordering their own food at a restaurant, making their own doctor appointment by calling to schedule it, or taking initiative to talk with their teachers about homework or project questions. If we step in and do everything as parents for our kids how will they learn? How will they apply what we have taught them to be true about how to get along with others, how to get ahead, and how to get answers for life’s questions?
I can’t prove it, but I think Jesus was making the disciples get into the boat by themselves on the heels of the miraculous feeding because He wanted them to apply some stuff they had just learned. It was going to be good for them to be in the boat without Him. They had some miracles under their belt. They had seen Jesus do amazing things. They had been in a boat with Him during a storm in chapter four of Mark’s Gospel-just two chapters earlier. Jesus took care of the wind and waves for them. So now, two chapters later, Jesus makes them get into the boat without Him, and He tells them He is going to meet up with them in Bethsaida. It was time to test the development of their faith. It was time to see if they could apply what they had learned. It was time to see what they would do when they were faced with a circumstance they couldn’t control themselves.
Remember, when Jesus makes a decision about a person’s circumstance or destiny, He will ensure that what is needed to bring it to pass will happen. Jesus had said He would meet them in Bethsaida.
Well, the winds were howling and the text tells us that the disciples, several who were experienced fisherman, were straining to row the boat against the wind. Remember, they were already tired. They were looking for rest before the crowd of 5000 showed up, so it had been a long day. And the Scripture says that Jesus saw them straining. They were in the middle of the water and were struggling to make more progress. And at the fourth watch of the night between 3 am and 6 am Jesus came walking on the water. They freaked out and started screaming like little girls (that’s the MP translation). They thought He was a ghost so He told them who He was and climbed in their boat. And when He got into the boat, the wind died down, and all was well.
And the writer said they were completely amazed because they hadn’t understood the loaves and fishes miracle due to having hardened hearts. The implication isn’t that they couldn’t understand, but they hadn’t soaked it in. They hadn’t let the miracle impact their understanding of Who Jesus was and what He could do. “5000 plus people fed with a few loaves and fish? Ok? Let’s move on.” They hadn’t talked about it and processed it. It was like “water off a duck’s back” in the sense that it happened and they moved on. They didn’t let it impact and affect them the way it should have. It didn’t have the lasting impression it should have had on them. If Jesus could multiply five loaves and two fish to feed thousands, surely He could guarantee their safety to Bethsaida.
How many encounters does it take with the miracle of God, the presence of God, or the power of God to really make a difference in our lives? How many should it take? How many before we truly “get it?” How much does He have to say and do, and how much does He have to repeat what He has said and done before we will embrace Him and believe Him to be present the next time?
Every encounter is to mature us and prepare us for what is ahead, but if we resist learning, if we resist growing, if we won’t take the time to allow God to impact us in a way that leaves us changed, we will continue to be afraid of the wind, we will continue to question what is possible, and we will continue to miss the lessons God wants us to learn by making us go through certain circumstances. Where God guides, God also provides and protects.
We have to let every encounter, including this message right now from God’s Word, shape us, impact us, and transform us into people who trust God enough that even when He sees us rowing against the wind as He stands on the shore that if He said He would meet us in Bethsaida He has a plan to get us there. Where were the disciples’ heads? Their minds were on the wind. Their minds were on how tired they were. Their minds were on the fact that they couldn’t see Jesus physically present. How do I know their minds were off track? Because it shocked them to see Jesus. They weren’t even expecting Him. They didn’t recognize Him when He came walking on the water to assist them.
I mean this was the fourth watch, right? They had already given up hope. If Jesus was going to help them He would have done so by now, right? Just get into their heads with me for a minute. They believed it was all over. They had been struggling for a long time. A long struggle with no sign of relief? Why that must mean the struggle will win, and we will lose. That must mean the wind will win, and we will lose. No, Sir! No, ma’am. When Jesus gives you His Word on something it doesn’t matter how late the hour is getting into the circumstance, you can expect Him to step into the boat at any minute.
Yes, hardness of heart is sin against God. Hardness of heart is wanting to live our own way apart from God. Hardness of heart is a decision to remain stubborn, defiant, and in control. But for a believer, hardness of heart can creep into our hearts in the form of resistance to learn and apply spiritual truth. It can also be manifest in a lack of faith, in fear, and in worry.
When we develop a hardness to our hearts, the sermons are always for someone else. The altars are always for someone else. The challenge is always for someone else. The “Lord, Speak to me through this message,” is always for someone else. The application to call someone or tell someone you’re sorry or to reach out to someone to tell them about Jesus, they are never followed through by the person with a hard heart. But people whose hearts are fully surrendered and are pliable to be coached and challenged and emboldened, those are the people who go on to live lives of great victory, joy, and peace. They are the ones who think spiritually and who are always on the lookout for Jesus to show up even while they are rowing their hearts out!
People with spiritual minds and Spirit-led hearts accept that everything isn’t going to run smoothly when we follow Jesus. It isn’t going to run smoothly when you don’t follow Jesus either, so don’t be misled into thinking that going your own way will somehow keep you from the wind and the rain. It won’t. And if I have to face wind and rain, I’d rather face it knowing Jesus can do something about it in a moment’s notice than try to run in my own strength while trying to hold up some self-efforted umbrella to protect myself from the wind and rain.
Let me show you something. In John 6, the same story is recorded. There the writer tells us that the disciples had rowed three to three and a half miles from shore. Mark 6 tells us Jesus saw them. How could He see them with physical eyes if they were three to three and a half miles from shore? It’s impossible, right? However, Jesus didn’t have to see them in the natural in order to see them. Jesus saw them in a spiritual context on a spiritual plane. Listen, whether God is physically present with us right now in this room is irrelevant. You and I are never out of God’s sight. “If His eye is on the sparrow, then I know He watches me!”
But the disciples were so panicked, so out of sorts, so out of whack emotionally that when Jesus did appear they couldn’t even recognize Him. They had been rowing, alright, but not with faith. Jesus had stilled their storm in Mark 4 just two short chapters earlier. They should have had deja vu not doubts and fear. Someone should have said to the rest, “Now boys, we have been here before. Jesus will see us through. Let’s look for Him. Let’s call out to Him,” but nowhere in the passage does it say they called to Him or looked for Him. In fact, when He came to them to see them through didn’t recognize Him, and they almost missed Him entirely. Verse 48: “About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them.”
Do you think they had forgotten what God could do? Had they already forgotten what Jesus had just done for them two chapter earlier? When we forget what God has done for us and we don’t allow those blessings to be carried forward into the subsequent phases of our lives we are in danger of creating hard spots in our hearts. Jesus could be passing by, and we might miss Him! “Pass me not, O gentle Savior! Hear my humble cry!”
How is your heart? Do you give God reasons why what He is asking of you won’t work? Is the possibility of a miracle an option for you in your dilemma? Are you looking around for spiritual answers and spiritual wisdom to help meet needs in your life or are you just looking within yourself and then concluding you can’t impact any change in your life? Do you want help? Do you want a miracle? Are you willing to swallow your pride and look around to see what possibilities exist outside of yourself? Could there be a reason for the wind in your life right now? Has Jesus put you in a situation on purpose on purpose so He can watch you row and test your faith? Have you given up or are you calling out to Him? Are you expecting Him to do something? Do you leave this place week after week knowing you should have done something in response to the message whether coming forward to the altar or making a change in your life when you leave here but you put it out of your mind and minimize your need for change? Jesus is here today. Don’t let Him pass you by!
Here is a checklist for you to consider. If you check “yes” to any of these questions you may have some hard spots in your heart.
- You find yourself saying, “I know I shouldn’t, but I am going to anyway.” When we know that we know that something we are engaged in doesn’t please God and benefit us, but we choose to do it anyway we are dealing with a hard spot in our heart.
- Is there a lack of concern for spiritual things in your life? By that, I mean do you come to church but then live separated from spiritual principles and applications throughout the week? Is church just something you attend rather than being a Christian someone you are?
- When someone produces evidence from God’s Word about something that needs attention in your life you ignore it. I have had people tell me that God spoke to them repeatedly about parts of their lives for years and they knew it. They heard songs on the radio that convicted them. They claimed I was reading their mail and was targeting them in sermons; that somehow I know their personal struggle was preaching just to them. Those same people will see billboards and FB posts that address their need in a personal way, but they continue to bury their head in the sand and ignore the truth God is trying to speak into their lives.
- Do you know there is sin in your life that needs addressed, but you have found a way to desensitize yourself from it? Rather than dealing with the sin in your life do you just come to church in hopes it will offset your ungodly choices?
- Is their pride in your heart that keeps you from being real and from making real spiritual progress?
- Do you make deals with God? God, if you just fix this one area of my life, I promise I will serve you.
- Do you look for spiritual solutions to earthly problems? Is it to the Lord or to yourself that you look when something that is broken in your life needs fixed?
Hard-heartedness is dealt with by confessing it and repenting from it. God wants to change our hearts. Ezekiel 36:26 tells us what God wants to do with each one of us. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Are you willing to get vulnerable this morning? Are you willing to pray the prayer David prayed? “Search me O God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24). I am talking to believers. Let’s allow God to remove any hard spots from our hearts this morning.
And to any non-Christians here. Tomorrow isn’t promised. God wants to transform your hearts first of all by freeing you from the power and penalty of sin. That only happens when you willingly confess you are a sinner in need of a Savior. Hebrews 3:7-8 says, So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” The danger is that every time we harden our hearts against God the chance of us ever surrendering our lives to Him grows weaker and weaker. Not settling our eternal destiny with God is disastrous.
The truth is we are all hard-headed and hard-hearted sometimes. We get our minds made up and our wills cemented in concrete. Today is a day, whether believer or non-believer, that God wants to bust up that concrete and make our hearts soft, pliable and responsive to His presence, His power, and His plans. Will you let Him give you a heart of flesh this morning?