Testing

Reflections on Mark 6:33-52

The disciples had just been given authority to cast out demons and heal sicknesses, and sent out on a mission to preach the gospel.  They were wildly successful, drawing the attention of King Herod.  They were quite impressed with themselves, overconfident, proud, and cocky.

In God’s eyes, our hearts are inherently prideful and prone to hardening. Left to itself, our heart will become callous, refusing to believe God exists, refusing to believe God’s importance, refusing to consider God’s opinion when making decisions.

The disciples’ hearts were hard (Mark 6:52).  This was not where Jesus wanted the disciples to be.

So, He proceeded to test them, taking them through two distinct trials.  These were intentional learning opportunities.  Jesus’ plan was to teach the disciples — and us — to beware of the hard heart.

First, he got 5,000 people gathered on a deserted, grassy hill, and kept them there over the lunch hour.  The disciples looked at the masses and fretted.  Where would these people get any food to eat?  It would cost a fortune to carry-out 5,000 happy meals from the local grocery. But Jesus got it done, right before their eyes, to the utter astonishment.

Then, He sent the disciples out to cross the Sea of Galilee, promising to meet them on the other side after He finished praying.  A sudden storm blew through, and the disciples were caught in the middle of it.  They strained at the oars, despairing for their lives.  Jesus once again saved the day — He walked on the water, right past the boat.  The disciples saw Him approaching and screamed in fear.  Jesus embarked, then casually told the wind to cease.  The disciples were once again astonished.

It is at this point that Mark tells us why he included these two crisis situations in his book.  The disciples’ astonishment, though understandable, revealed the unacceptable state of their hearts–their hearts were hard.  They did not believe in Jesus.

Jesus had already made it clear that He is the Son of God.  He had already demonstrated this though His ability to defy the laws of science multiple times.  Yet somehow, not long after, the disciples already did not believe Jesus could do it again.  Mark says they didn’t believe because their hearts were hard.  They may have recently cast out demons and healed sicknesses all over the place.  But because their hearts were hard, they were susceptible to fear, anxiety, and panic.

 

Isn’t it great that Jesus doesn’t want His followers to be panicky?  Jesus wanted more for them.  He wants more for us.  So He tests us to show us the hardness of our hearts.

We are more than willing to accept that Jesus can calm a raging sea.  We see very plainly in Mark 4:35-41 that Jesus calmly rebuked the gale, with a simple uttering, “Hush, be still.”  We get it — He can calm storms.  But are we willing to accept that this same Jesus is also capable of starting storms?  We know for certain that He “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), and He wants us to believe in Him, not have hardened hearts.  Sometimes, the only way to break through our hardened hearts is for Him to scare the begeebers out of us, to make us realize our need.

I think when Jesus sent His disciples away into their boat (Mark 6:45), He was already planning what was coming — He was whispering a command for the wind and waves to kick up.

Jesus is like His Father, who also uses various means to refine His people, to make us see the frivolity of our idolatry.  God even uses a malicious, powerful heathen like Nebuchadnezzar to perform His work of refinement, which He unabashedly admits in Jeremiah 6:27.

In the end, Jesus wants us to experience the fullness of joy, peace, and righteousness in this life.  That only comes from a soft heart that wholly trusts in Him, not a hard, conflicted heart that feigns allegiance to Christ while holding on to false securities our world so effectively promotes.

Let us not be dismayed when the trials of life are severe.  Know that the testing is from God’s hand.  Cry out to Him for strength to endure, to be patient, and let the test have its intended result of a softened heart, that believes God is who He says He is.

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