When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 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, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed … (Mark 6.47-51)
It was between three and six o’clock in the morning. The previous evening, Jesus had fed a crowd of 5,000 and more with just five loaves and two fishes but had then gone up into the hills to pray, insisting that his disciples went across the Sea of Galilee by boat. But they encountered rough weather and were still in the middle of the sea and making no headway. So Jesus came to them, walking on the water. But — and this is what catches my attention this morning — “he was about to pass by them”.
Now, on the face of it, that makes no sense at all. Why go to them if he was going to ignore them and avoid them when he got there? To test their faith? Hardly. So why?
I think that the answer lies in two Old Testament stories. The first tells how, on Mount Horeb, Moses asked God to reveal himself. “Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’ Then the LORD said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by‘” (Exodus 33.18-22, my italics).
The second concerns Elijah who, having just defeated and killed the prophets of Baal, is on the run from Queen Jezebel, and arrives at Mount Horeb (the same mountain as in the previous story), full of self-doubt. And God speaks to him. “‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19.11-12, my italics again).
In both stories, God’s “about to pass by” announcement heralds an epiphany — a revelation of himself to the one he is about to pass by. And so it is here on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is about to reveal something new about himself to his disciples, and it is a revelation of his divinity. His words, “It is I” when they cry out in terror, are actually, in the Greek, ego eimi … “I AM” … which is the way God introduced himself to Moses at the burning bush. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3.14). Ego eimi is the very name of God. No wonder the disciples were “completely amazed”!
And what is this to me this morning? Simply a reminder that at times when “the wind is against me” and I seem to be getting nowhere, I have a Lord Jesus who sees me and comes to me and will, if I have eyes to see it, use my difficulty as an “about to pass by” moment — an opportunity to give me yet another epiphany … a fresh revelation of himself as the great I AM … the one who can quieten the strongest wind and will get into the boat with me to see me safely home.
Lord Jesus, come to me today, please, over the waters of my life and show me something more of your greatness and glory. Amen.