July 25, 2010

Follow the Leader

A Walk to Remember

Mark 6:45-52



Did any of you see the movie, “A Walk to Remember”? It’s a really sappy chick flick, and it’s one of my son, Andy’s, most hated movies. I told him that I named this talk “A Walk to Remember” just for him.

After Jesus fed the 5000, He sent the disciples in a boat to the other side of the lake, while He went up on the mountain alone to pray. In the middle of the night, Jesus saw that they were stuck in the middle of the lake, rowing against the wind, going nowhere. So He walked across the lake to help them, and in the process, scared the bejeebers out of them! It was a walk to remember. Today, we’re going to learn from that story about following the leader.


Offering and announcements:

One Day’s Work (back of tear-off):  join with hundreds from Life Center to serve our community.  Registration deadline is Monday; sign up online or at the Info Center.

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Music Drama Day Camp happened last week. Over 300 grade school children participated and learned about the needs of children around the world—particularly in the places where are establishing partnerships—and how they can make a difference. Take a look. Video.

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I’m going to say something that I hardly ever have to say: our offerings the past few weeks have been way down. We know why: our attendance has been way down because of Hoopfest Sunday, July 4 Sunday, and our outdoor service. We need your tithe and offering to make budget this month! Thanks again for your generosity and faithfulness in giving!



This summer, we’re working our way through the gospel of Mark. We’re calling it “Follow the Leader” because we want to learn more about Jesus so we can follow Him better. It’s all about Jesus. He’s our Leader. Last week, at our outdoor service and picnic, we read the story of the feeding of the 5000. Here’s what happened next.

Mark 6:45–56

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.

After Jesus miraculously fed the crowd with a Happy Meal, an interesting thing happened. John tells us that the crowd wanted to forcibly make Jesus king. They thought that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah, a military-political savior who would toss out the Roman occupation and make Israel free and great again. They were fomenting political insurrection, making Jesus king and tossing out the Romans. The miraculous feeding didn’t result in repentance and a desire to do Jesus’ will; instead it had the opposite effect: the crowd wanted to force Jesus to do their will.

Jesus didn’t want His followers infected with this misguided messianic fever, so He made them get in the boat and sent them off across the lake. I’m sure one of the disciples asked, “What about you; aren’t you coming?” I wonder if Jesus said, “Not now; I’ll catch up with you later.” Maybe one of them laughed and said, “How are you going to do that? Walk on water? Ha!”

After Jesus dismissed the crowd, He went up on the mountainside to pray, and spent most of the night talking with His Father.

Meanwhile, the disciples were in the middle of the lake, rowing hard and going nowhere because of a strong wind. “About the fourth watch of the night”—Mark is using Roman time-keeping (another sign that he is writing for a Roman audience); the fourth watch of the night was from 3 AM to 6 AM. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Jesus walks across the lake to help his beleaguered disciples.

Imagine these guys: they’ve been rowing all night and going nowhere. They’re stuck in the middle of lake and the wind is blowing them in the wrong direction, opposite of where Jesus sent them. They’re exhausted, frustrated, and stuck—does that describe anyone you know? Then Jesus shows up, and they’re…terrified! They freak out! They think it is a ghost—the Greek word is phantasma—we get “phantasm” or “phantom” from it—and it means the same thing in Greek or English: a ghost, an apparition.

They’re terrified, so Jesus assures them that it is Him, and when He climbs into the boat with them, the wind dies down and it’s calm. Now they’re not terrified, they’re amazed, astonished; the word can mean, “confused”; they don’t know what to think. And then Mark adds this little explanation: for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

They are amazed, astonished and confused; they didn’t understand because their hearts were hard. The significance of the miracle of the feeding that had just happened—they didn’t get it. For that matter, the significance of all these events escaped them:

  • Jesus calming the storm—something only God could do.

  • Jesus freeing the demonized man—something only God could do.

  • Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead—something only God could do.

  • Jesus multiplying food—something only God could do.

  • Jesus walking on the water—something only God could do.

Do you see a common theme here? They didn’t. But in fairness to them, you know the end of the story and they didn’t. You have grown up with the idea that God has a Son and that God’s Son, Jesus, is God too. But they were strict monotheists and it would have never occurred to them that God would come to them as a man. So they watched miracle after miracle and never got it…until after the resurrection.

Mark, the author of our gospel, doesn’t want you to make the same mistake, so he piles up the evidence, story after story, of Jesus doing what only God can do. If Jesus is doing what only God can do, then Jesus must be God in the flesh. And if that is true, Jesus deserves your allegiance, your obedience, your devotion and love.

There’s the story. It’s all about Jesus. We want to follow the Leader. Here are some things to note.


1. Our Leader got alone to pray. 45-46

After sending off the disciples and dismissing the crowd, Jesus went up on the mountainside to pray, and He was there until He went water-walking sometime after 3 AM. In other words, He prayed a long time.

Mark shows us Jesus praying three times; the first is in the beginning of his gospel.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

The second is in the middle of his gospel, here in today’s story. And the third is at the end of his gospel, in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mark 14:35–36 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Did Jesus only pray three times? No—of course not. Luke tells us:

Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus did this often—He regularly got alone and prayed. Mark tells us about three times, once at the beginning, once in the middle and once at the end to show us that Jesus prayed regularly, from beginning to end and in the middle. And in each of Mark’s three instances of prayer, Jesus was facing difficulties and was making decisions related to His mission. In other words, these were big moments, and Jesus met them on His knees, talking with His Father.

Our Leader got alone to pray. He did this often—it was His habit. He did this when facing big decisions, in life’s big moments. Our Leader got alone to pray. So follow the Leader.

Do you regularly get alone to pray? Do you respond to life’s big moments by getting alone to pray? When was the last time you got alone to pray—not do anything else, but just to pray and seek God and listen for His leading?

I confess: this is hard for me. I pray on the run, while I’m doing other things. I pray in the car, or while I’m jogging, or riding my motorcycle—one of my favorite places to pray. I shoot up “arrow prayers” all during the day—quick one-sentence prayers. “Help me, Jesus.” It’s not that these prayers are wrong, or that I shouldn’t pray this way. But I’m praying while I do something else. I’m multi-tasking rather than just praying, giving God my undivided attention.

Does your spouse or your friend appreciate you multi-tasking while you are talking with them? I doubt it. Studies have shown that when you multi-task, you don’t do anything well, and don’t remember much of what you did. To do something well and learn from it, you’ve got to focus.

I think this was the point of Jesus getting alone. He got away from all the noise, all the busyness, all the other voices, so He could hear His Father’s voice. He focused. Usually, I try to pray in the midst of all the noise.

This week, I was listening to Francis Chan’s book, Forgotten God. He said that two things keep us from depending on the Holy Spirit: comfort and volume. By volume, he meant the loudness and busyness of our lives. Our lives are so full of noise and activity that we struggle to hear the still small voice of God, the gentle whisper of the Spirit. That’s volume. I heard that and I thought, “That’s me.”

I don’t focus well in prayer. I’m too antsy. I’m too much of an activist—a doer. I start praying and I have spiritual ADD—I get distracted by everything. It’s hard for me to stay focused on God. I read here that Jesus got alone with God and prayed…for hours! For hours! Maybe until 3 AM! I have trouble praying for one hour, sometimes for half an hour! Jesus asked the disciples once, “Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?” I have to say, “No. Not often.”

But when I do, it’s so good. When I force myself to wait on God, to focus on God, to listen for His voice, it’s always good. I come away freshly connected to my Father.

ILL: We have quick shallow conversations with lots of people, but every now and then, we have a deep conversation with someone. We get focused and go deep. We talk about things that really matter, what we think and feel in the deepest places of our hearts. And how do you feel after a conversation like that? You feel very connected to that person, very close.

That’s what we’re talking about here. Get alone with God and spend some time and have a deep conversation.

I don’t want to stop shooting up arrow prayers, or praying while I’m doing other things. Any prayer is good, and we’re told to “pray without ceasing.” But I want to follow the Leader and get better at getting alone with God and giving Him my undivided attention.

Here’s your assignment: at least once this week, follow the Leader and get alone to pray. Get focused, go deep and see what happens.


2. Our Leader sent them into trouble…and left them. 45-48

This trip across the lake should have taken little more than hour. But hours later, the disciples are stuck in the middle of the lake, rowing against a strong wind, going nowhere. How did they get there? Jesus sent them. Jesus sent them straight into trouble, and left them there for hours. He did come to their rescue, but at 3AM, after they had been rowing all night!

What’s my point? Many people think that God’s will for us is comfort or ease or safety. Think of our prayers. Here are two of the most often prayed prayers.

“Lord, keep us safe.”

“Lord, bless us.”

But what if God’s will is not to keep you safe, but to make you dangerous! What if God’s will is not to bless you and make you happy and comfortable, but to send you off rowing upstream, against the current and the wind!

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pray those prayers. Last week, I went on a five-day motorcycle adventure with seven buddies and we prayed every morning that God would keep us safe. There’s nothing wrong with that prayer…provided it’s not your highest prayer or priority.

I don’t think your safety and comfort are God’s highest priority. I think God’s glory is God’s highest priority; and it ought to be ours too. I think we are called to follow Jesus where He leads, and to bring glory and honor to God, whatever it costs us. And it won’t always be easy, or comfortable or safe. Listen to what Jesus said:

Matthew 7:13–14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

The way that leads to life is hard. That is the way Jesus calls us to. That is the way of Jesus. “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” The way that leads to life is hard, but we want it to be easy, comfortable and safe. But that’s the other way…the way to hell.

Instead of praying, “Lord, keep me safe; bless me, make me happy,” maybe we ought to be praying, “Lord, use me to bring honor to You, whatever it takes. I give you my life for Your purposes. Do what You want with me.” We ought to make God’s glory our highest priority, not our safety, comfort or happiness.

Let me give you an example.

I get so grieved when Christian couples divorce. God’s reputation takes a hit. Their kids, their pre-Christian family and friends and neighbors and coworkers all see that and say, “Look! Jesus didn’t make any difference in their lives. Why should I believe and be a Christian?” God’s reputation takes a big hit. When Christian couples tell me that they are not happy and that they deserve to be happy, I tell them that they sound like anyone else walking on the broad and easy way to destruction. We live in a world of selfishness; it’s all about me and my happiness; that’s the easy way that leads to destruction. As Christians, we’re not going that way; we are rowing against the wind. We are walking a hard way that puts God’s glory above our own happiness. I challenge you to put God’s glory above your own happiness. I challenge you to walk the hard way that leads to life. Here’s the cool thing: when you do, you bring glory to God and you find life yourself.

Matthew 16:25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

Do you want to find your life? Lose it for Jesus? Do you want find happiness? Lose it for Jesus? It’s all about Jesus.

Our Leader sends us into trouble…and leaves us there. He calls us to follow Him, to take up our cross, to lose our life, to walk on the hard way, to row into the wind. That’s the way to life!


3. Our Leader terrified and amazed them. 49-50, 52

Terror and amazement: these were their emotions when Jesus came walking on the water and climbed into their boat. They were terrified and amazed! Jesus regularly did things that blew their minds, that left them astonished, amazed, confused, or even terrified. Terrified and amazed: does that describe your experience with Jesus?

I think we’ve domesticated Jesus. We’ve reduced Him from the Lion of Judah to a tame little pussy cat. If a lion came prowling in here, how would you feel? Terrified! What would you do? Run! But if a kitty wanders in, how do you feel? “Oh, nice kitty.” How would you feel if Jesus came in?

We’ve domesticated Jesus. We’ve reduced Him from the consuming fire of Hebrews 12:29 (“Our God is a consuming fire!”) to a campfire for roasting marshmallows and making smores. If the whole church were suddenly engulfed in a consuming fire, how would you feel? Terrified! What would you do? Run! If you see a campfire with people making smores, how do you feel? “Can I have one?” How do you feel when you think of Jesus?

I think about the story in Acts 5 of Ananias and Sapphira, a married couple in the Jerusalem church, who were more concerned about their own reputation than they were about God’s glory. They sold some property to give the money to the poor. But then they lied; they said they were giving it all, when really they were keeping part of it for themselves. The problem wasn’t that they kept some for themselves, but that they lied about it, and they lied to make themselves look better than they really were. They lied to Peter, they lied to the church, and here’s the scary thing—in lying to them, they lied to God and to the Holy Spirit. What happened? God struck them dead! That would put a damper on your worship service! Is that the God you know? Or would “your god” never do something like that? I think that sounds like a consuming fire! And what was the church’s response? They were terrified! “Great fear seized the church.” Yeah; I would think so.

ILL: Annie Dillard writes:

Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews.

We’ve domesticated Jesus.

All I’m saying is that we need to make sure we’re following the Leader—the real Jesus, the Jesus that sometimes left people terrified and amazed. Beware of our modern idolatry of making Jesus our pocket genie, a manageable god who does what I want and is here to meet my needs and make me happy. The real Jesus, our Leader, made people terrified and amazed; I think He still does. Follow the Leader.

And here’s the other side of the coin:


4. Our Leader calmed their fears with His presence. 50-51

When Jesus saw that they were terrified, He reassured them by saying, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” And when He got in the boat, the winds calmed, and so did the rattled disciples. He calmed their fears with His presence.

The words “It is I” are literally, “I am” and call to mind the divine name that God revealed to Moses. I am that I am. God made Himself known to Israel as I AM, the eternally existent One. Jesus refers to Himself by the same name: I AM. In John 8, when Jesus refers to Himself as I AM, the Jews picked up rocks to stone Him for blasphemy. They understood clearly what He was saying. Here, Jesus is saying:

Don’t be afraid! I AM is here.

Over and over in the Bible, God says, “Don’t be afraid.” And most often He adds this reason: “For I am with you.” Don’t be afraid; I AM is here. Don’t be afraid, God is here. Don’t be afraid, God is with you.

When Augustine was writing about this incident in the fifth century, he said, “He came treading the waves; and so he puts all the swelling tumults of life under his feet. Christians—why afraid?”

What are you afraid of?

  • Bankruptcy?

  • Losing your job?

  • Losing your house?

  • Losing a child?

  • Losing your spouse?

  • Old age?

  • Sickness?

  • Death?

Don’t be afraid; I AM is here. God is with you. And if you fear God, you don’t need to fear anything else.

ILL: In March of 1999, six guys went snow camping. We drove to Sherman Pass; at 5500 feet it’s the highest drivable pass in the state. From there, we skied in about 5 miles, to a cabin near Snow Peak at about 6400 feet. My sons Jeff and Michael were with us—Jeff was 15 and Michael was 10 at the time. In the middle of night, it’s pitch dark in the cabin, and suddenly I hear Michael yelling in fear, “Where am I? Where am I?” Since he woke me out of a deep sleep, I couldn’t think of anything else to say but, “You’re right here, son.” He said, “Okay Dad,” and immediately went back to sleep. Obviously it wasn’t the brilliant answer that reassured him; it was simply my presence.

I’ve thought about that many times since. I have a Father who loves me far more than I love my son. And when I cry out in fear, God says, “I’m right here, son.”

Christian—why afraid? Don’t be afraid; I AM is here.