I spent the last few weeks leading a group of members from our church on a tour of the Holy Land. Walking where Jesus walked takes the black and white stories of the Bible and projects them with breathtaking color. Faith becomes sight when our cold, flat familiarity with Scriptures gives way to the warm, multi-dimensional biblical realities in the land of Israel. Every time I visit, I wonder what everyday people like you and I must have thought when the Lord of Heaven and Earth visited their town.
On this trip, though, my focus was more on the perspective, even the frustration of Jesus as He journeyed with a group of disciples who repeatedly failed to grasp the significance of His identity and agenda. The gospel of Mark continually emphasizes the misguided thinking of Jesus’ closest followers, even referring to the hardness of their hearts (Mark 6:51-52). Lest that seem harsh, we should note their ongoing blindness to the heart and agenda of Jesus. Even when Jesus’ miracles repeated themselves, worldly thinking clouded their judgment.
Take, for example, the disciples’ rescue from violent storms on the sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41). During the first episode of testing their faith Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat. In fear, these experienced fishermen cried out to the Lord, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” After rising from His slumber to rebuke the storm, Jeus wondered aloud, “How is that you have no faith?” Even if we sympathize with Christ’s first followers, we imagine that they will never fear such a storm again!
Yet, just a few chapters later in Mark’s record, Jesus compels His disciples back into a boat in order to cross the Sea of Galilee again (Mark 6:45-52). Predictably, another storm assails their vessel, leaving them fighting against the wind for at least seven hours. This time, however, Jesus is on the shore away from His followers. Wishing to reassure them that He is the God of Moses, Jesus walks on water and intentionally passes the disciples by (Mark 6:48; Ex. 33:21-23). The intended message was lost on His pupils, though, who were once again ravaged by fear as they perceived Jesus to be a ghost. Again, our instinct is to defend their confusion, but Mark diagnoses the problem as a hardness of heart due to their repeated failure to learn from the Lord, specifically His miraculously feeding 5,000 people (Mark 6:52).
Therein lies another example of just how blind the disciples were in their early years of walking with Jesus. The Lord fed 5,000 Jews with just five loaves of bread and two small fish somewhere along the shores of Galilee (Mark 6:33-44). Soon after, Jesus fed 4,000 Gentiles, this time in the region of Decapolis (Mark 8:1-9). Not only were the disciples witnesses of these miracles, but they were also active participants who distributed the Lord’s provision each time. Nonetheless, as soon as they departed they begin to discuss among themselves the fact that they had no bread to eat (Mark 8:16).
Are you kidding me?
Unexplainable fear of storms is one thing, but how do you watch God’s Son feed multitudes out of nothing and then worry because you don’t have something to eat? Rather than hide His disappointment, Jesus offered this loving rebuke, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?” (Mark 8:17-19)
The obvious implication here is not that the disciples were unbelievers. To the contrary, these men left everything to follow Jesus. Still, as they grew in their faith, they sometimes behaved like those who did not know God. The significance of Jesus’ miracles was often lost on them. Far too frequently, they walked by sight and not by faith. As much as they tried to yield their lives fully to Christ, their growth and maturity was a slow process that did not happen overnight.
The same is true for us. Far too often we miss who Jesus is and what He is doing in our lives because we care too much about bread. When the storms of life come, we cower in fear rather than rising in faith. We don’t always learn from our mistakes the first time. Spiritual maturity and sanctification come far more slowly than we would like to admit. Thankfully, our Lord is patient with us and gracious toward us. This motley group of disciples who stumbled through the infancy of their faith would later turn the world upside down with the gospel. Perhaps the God will be just as merciful to use people like you and me for His kingdom as well. Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.