Bible Study

The Deeper Problem

“How does Jesus make this heart need clear? He is pointing to a deep spiritual need that none of us find easy to deal with.” by Dr. Bill Ury

Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four. His brevity demands that we must be looking for the insights that are dropped like theological grenades. A breathless pronouncement tells us this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). But what should be clearly obvious and undeniable is not. At every point Jesus must dynamite our narrow perceptions of reality. We cannot conceive truth without His revelation. 

We have been exploring the famous story in Mark 4 of Jesus and the storm. We have seen how crucial it is in Mark’s theology. How the disciples reacted to the storm and how Jesus responded shows us how He brings His followers to a place of heart commitment. That goal requires a lot of dynamiting. We will cover our need with religious activities. We are artists at telling Jesus just where He “fits” into our lives. In this Bible study series, we have seen that, like us, the disciples were full of self-sufficiency and pride until it was almost too late. 

Only after the storm grew more and more threatening did they cry out, “Master, help us!” And the amazing thing is He demonstrated His redemptive power by ordering the storm to cease. 

That is what He offers in resurrection life and power. They turned to Him, nearly cursing and yet, He graciously responded. When He arises, He always brings calm, order, restoration and security. But the real problem was never the storm. Waves require one small word from Jesus. The problem is found in the hearts of these disciples. There is a fundamental reason why we choose self-sufficiency and pride. Jesus will not stop until He has uncovered and detonated every false idol we have set up.

The Probing Question

His responding to our apparent needs always brings a deeper probe, exploding every defense against His total Lordship. He turns and says, “Why were you so afraid?” (4:40). When Jesus moves, it is only to bring a full salvation at the heart level. Only He is patient enough to work at the level of our hardest obstinance. Another translation might be, “Why were you so anxious?” (4:40). It is the exact same word used when Paul reminded Timothy that he was not to have a “spirit of fear” or a “spirit of timidity” (II Tim 1:7). Jesus is not rebuking the natural human response to a real threat. He is pointing to a tendency in all of us which often results in self-sufficiency and pride. He sees why the disciples waited so long to plead for help. He knew why they did not like others to know that He alone was the supplier of their needs. So Jesus probes, “Why are you filled with a spirit of anxious fear? Don’t live in a fundamental fear. You must know Who I AM. I can handle any situation. I can handle any relationship, if you let Me be present in that situation in My fullness. Don’t take control, don’t take over, don’t stop praying, don’t stop reading the Bible. You trust me, whatever the circumstances. And, just like you have experienced, when I come, I will do exactly what I want to do.” 

Jesus, Boats and Our Fundamental Problem

You may ask if this dealing with anxious fear is really as basic to the relationship between Jesus and the disciples as claimed here. It may be helpful to note that in every chapter from Mark 1-8 there is a nautical expression, some reference to the sea, seashore or boats. In chapters 4-8 there are three major boat stories. They seem to all point to the same thing. The first one is what I call the first boat story. We’ve gone through it. These men pretty much failed the test. Even so, Jesus responds even as the strains of their rebuke of Him recedes, and He calms the storm before turning to their most fundamental spiritual sin.

The Second Boat Story: Mark 6

In the next boat story, Jesus attempts to take a retreat by boat, but the needy crowds ruin that plan by running around the Sea of Galilee to the place of disembarkation. The miracle that follows as Jesus has compassion for those pursuing Him is that probably 15,000 people are fed with only five loaves and two fish. What an amazing miracle. Afterwards, the Lord says to His disciples intriguingly, “You go ahead to the other side of the lake and I will meet you there.” Mark tells us that meanwhile Jesus went into the hills to pray. I think what He was doing was discipling, He was teaching. He was saying, “You blew it last time in the boat, now let’s check it again. Will you cry out, self-sufficient as you have been, prideful as you have been? You saw where that got you. Let’s try it without Me physically in the boat.” 

What did they do? What all of us do. They freaked out! “It’s a storm. This is a small fishing boat. I could die!” So Jesus comes toward them walking on the water and, since they are still unable to discern His presence, they think He is a ghost! We are told that they “had not understood about the loaves” (6:52). 

Every time I read that verse, I think He’s talking to me: “Bill, you’ve learned nothing from the loaves. Why are you ever anxious? Why are you ever attempting to work any broken relationship out on your own at any point? You’ve tried it and you’ve failed. What you attempt in your own power only gets more broken. If you let Me handle this My way there is hope for calm. If you do it alone, expect chaos.”

The Third Boat Story: Mark 8

The third boat story is in chapter 8:13-21. There we find thousands of people, seven loaves, seven baskets of overflow. This time Jesus lovingly gets back in the boat. Apparently, it is too difficult for the disciples to comprehend the need of the presence of Jesus when He’s outside the boat, so here, He is back. I have often wondered if Jesus wanted to see their response without a storm like the one that arose in the account in chapter 4. What a marvelous teacher He is to us infirm and weak human beings. Natural disasters can wreak havoc on our emotional lives. Our attention is easily focused on storms. So, in this section, Mark tells us that there is no external conflagration. He’s just fed what was likely to be nearly 12,000 people. My rough estimate is that 1,700 people were fed per loaf. There are seven baskets of food left over. There is no apparent difficulty—just Jesus and them in the boat. But there is a problem. We soon find that the disciples had not learned from their previous boat encounters. They have much to learn about the presence of Jesus Christ. But did you ever notice what problem crops up in this chapter? 

Mark tells us they had one loaf in the boat (8:14). One loaf for 13 and they are worried about lunch. Jesus had asked them previously, “Do you still have no faith?” (4:40). We are told that their hearts were so hard that they did not understand the miracle of the loaves or what Jesus did with the storm (6:51-52). It’s astounding to me how God takes the time to teach us that the fundamental point that all of life is found in His presence. 

Somewhere in your life He is saying, “Let Me in there. Let Me be woken up by your faith. Let Me stand and spread My calm-giving power through your heart and mind and soul. Where I am recognized as the Son of God, all sinful anxiety is dispelled.”

How does Jesus make this heart need clear to His disciples? He is pointing to a deep spiritual need that none of us find easy to deal with. Jesus is saying to the disciples, “I need to do something more in your life. You do not clearly see who I am.” To His own who He commanded to preach He was clear. “You can preach all over and still not know who I am at all. It is possible to attend Bible conferences and camps and still have no clue who I am.”

These stories point to the deeper work of sanctification that every disciple needs. Jesus touches us in saving grace and we begin to see something of His glory, but He must come again, in a distinctly transformative way so that you can see clearly who He is.

It does not matter what terminology you use, but those who are willing to be absolutely honest know the same kind of conviction the disciples felt here. I’ve lived with too many mockers of sanctification (one of which I used to be) and I know, from experience, you find there self-sufficiency and pride. And Jesus says, “When will someone wake up in this boat and when will you be selfless enough to cry out “Jesus, help me, I need You. I’m done with me, I need You.””

When that awakening realization happens, He always responds. He will always dig deep. The amazing thing is if you keep reading the Bible, He can come to the place in our lives where that touch means you know His presence in its fullness and your life is lived in light of the resurrected and ascended Lord. 

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