All true Christians and many other people from a great variety of religions and cultures would say that they want to be like Jesus. But most people don’t make much progress. Why? How does someone love God and other people like Jesus shows us? How did Jesus become the man we see on the pages of the Gospels?
This is the question I was thinking and praying on as I was preparing to teach a class on “Practicing the Disciplines of Jesus to Become like Him.”
Lord, Make my Life a Miracle!
God led me to take a fresh and in-depth look at the stories of when Jesus calms the storm and when he walks on water. But not for the reason you might think. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to learn how to perform more miracles. I certainly didn’t have any illusions of walking on water or calming thunderstorms!
My reason for investigation was to progress further in realizing the greatest miracle of all: becoming more like Jesus in character, filled with his love, joy, and peace and overflowing to others. My prayer was the one I learned from my beloved spiritual father, Ray Ortlund, Sr., “Lord, Make my Life a Miracle!”
My primary text was Mark 6:44-52, but I also made use of the other Gospel writers’ accounts of Jesus walking on stormy waters and a few related Gospel texts that give the context for this miracle. My study and meditations led me into two days of drawing closer to Jesus. I felt like I was one of his twelve disciples!
Come Away with Jesus
The story of Jesus walking on water occurs midway through Jesus’ public ministry so the disciples have been with him over one year. He’s preached the gospel in many places. He’s taught the Sermon on the Mount and many parables. He’s healed the sick, delivered people of demons, and he’s raised the dead. Also he’s calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41).
John the Baptist had just been brutally beheaded. As soon as Jesus heard about this he wanted to withdraw by boat to talk to the Father in private (Matthew 14:13). Surely he was greatly disturbed and grief-stricken and he needed Abba’s comfort. Probably he had questions about what to do.
The disciples had just returned from their first mission trip of preaching the gospel and healing people in Jesus’ name and they were eager to talk to Jesus all about it (Mark 6:12-13). But there were so many people coming to Jesus that they had no space to relax and share freely. Jesus recognized the disciples’ need to debrief with him and to be encouraged by him and so he set aside his own desired time of solitude, set a boundary on the crowds of people, and gave his disciples the most wonderful invitation, words that we all long to hear from our Lord: “Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).
The Interrupted Retreat
So Jesus took his disciples away by boat for some solitude, but many thousands of people (5,000 men plus thousands more women and children) from all the cities wanted to see Jesus because they’d seen or heard about his miracles (John 6:2). They ran ahead and were waiting for him when his boat landed on the other side of the lake (perhaps in Tiberias on the southwest side of the Sea of Galilee).
As happened so often, noisy throngs of people were pushing the disciples aside to press in on Jesus. Many needed healing. Others had questions. Some just wanted to touch him. No doubt the disciples just wanted all the people to go away! Their small group retreat had become a gathering of about 10,000 people!
Earlier when Jesus’ retreat was interrupted it was no problem for him. Leading up to this day he had been regularly making ample space for personal rest, prayer, worship, and living in a relaxed pace. So he was able to postpone his private retreat and still have plenty of love to share with his disciples and the crowds. The disciples, on the other hand, had not learned yet to live in Jesus’ easy yoke and so they were impatient with the crowds.
Who Will Feed the Hungry?
Jesus had compassion on the multitudes that had tracked him down and he began to teach them. The people were so eager to listen to Jesus that they skipped lunch and kept hanging on his words for hours. By late in the afternoon everyone was hungry. Jesus wanted to feed them, but he didn’t let on about this and instead he tested Phillip and all the disciples to see if they would have compassion for the crowds and whether or not they had confidence in him and his kingdom. He asked, “Where can we get bread to feed all these people?” (John 6:5-6).
The disciples wanted Jesus to send the people away to find food. When Jesus said they should feed the crowds they were incredulous! They had no thought that Jesus could supply food from his kitchen in the kingdom of God! Nor were they willing to go out and buy food for the hungry hoards (Mark 6:35-37).
Finally, Andrew found a boy with five loaves and two fishes. Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups of 50 (at least 100 groups of people). Jesus looked up to the heavens, blessed the bread, and broke it for the disciples to hand out. Everyone among the thousands of people was fed with the single lunch that Jesus multiplied and there were twelve basketfuls leftover, one in each disciple’s hands as a testimony of God’s abundant provisions available to those who trust in him (John 6:8-13).
The Agenda for Jesus
When the crowds saw Jesus using his miraculous power instantly to make thousands of meals of bread and fish out of thin air they were ecstatic! They wanted Jesus to be their king. They wanted him to feed them all the time. They wanted him to set them free from from Rome’s tyranny. They wanted him to make Israel the most powerful nation on earth! So they tried to make him king by force (John 6:15).
Of course, Jesus wanted nothing to do with their agenda for him. Immanuel did not come to earth to be a political or military king!
Sadly, it appears that the disciples got caught up in the frenzy to make Jesus fit the mold of the Messiah-King that Israel wanted. So Jesus insisted that they get into the boat without him and cross over to the other side of the lake to Bethsaida in the north. It was time for him to dismiss the crowds but the disciples were making things much harder for him! (Mark 6:45). So Jesus taught them a lesson they’d never forget.
Praying in Storms
Jesus climbed up a hill by himself for his retreat with the Father that he had previously postponed. At evening (sunset in the Hebrew calendar) a terrible storm hit. Jesus saw that the disciples were caught in the wind storm and were straining with great distress at the oars, but he let them continue to struggle while he kept praying all through the night. Then about the fourth watch of the night (just before sunrise) when the disciples were utterly exhausted and frustrated from rowing into the wind all night long Jesus walked on the water right beside them — they were terrified and thought it was a ghost! (Mark 6:46-50).
This was a deja vu moment for them. Not long before this they had been in a boat with Jesus in another storm. That time, just like this one, they were struggling at the oars and fighting for their lives as the boat was being swamped by waves — all the while Jesus was sleeping peacefully! When they woke him up he spoke sternly to the storm: “Peace! Be still!” and it was calmed (Mark 4:35-41).
In this storm Jesus walked on the water to his disciples and said, “Take courage! It’s me, don’t be afraid.”. At this point Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you ask me to walk on the water to you.” Jesus gave his familiar invitation to Peter: “Come.” And Peter walked on water! — till he looked at the furious waves at his feet and began to sink! He cried out, “Save me!” and Jesus reached out his hand (Matthew 14:27-31).
As soon as Jesus and Peter stepped into the boat the lake became completely calm. This time Jesus calmed the storm without even saying a word — just his physical presence with the peace in his body was enough to cause the wind to stop and the waves to die down (Matthew 14:32, Mark 6:51).
The Disciples’ Hearts were Hardened
Matthew says that the disciples, seeing Jesus’ power over nature, worshiped him as the Son of God (Matthew 14:33). But Mark records some very interesting and important words about their response: “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52-53).
What does this mean? “They had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Even though the disciples were amazed by Jesus and worshiped him as the Son of God their faith was immature, their hearts were not soft to God. When Jesus’ retreat was interrupted he had compassion for the crowds, but the disciples were irritated with them. When Jesus was caught in the storm he kept praying, but the disciples strained anxiously at their oars. Jesus was demonstrating the faith that the disciples lacked: rather than being self-absorbed and self-reliant he trusted in and relied upon the Father continually. Whereas the disciples were defined by their circumstance, Jesus lived in terms of the kingdom of God in his midst.
We see the disciples’ hard-hearted lack of faith again a little later when Mark records that they tried to deliver a father’s boy who had a demon that threw him into fits of convulsions. They were not able to deliver the boy so they brought him to Jesus and he delivered him. The disciples were discouraged: Jesus had commissioned them to heal and deliver people and they had failed in this instance. Why? Jesus said that in difficult cases like this they needed to fast and pray first. But Jesus was able to deliver this boy without even saying a prayer at that time — he just spoke directly to the demon and it left (Mark 9:24-32).
At this point the disciples didn’t yet have complete confidence in Jesus or his kingdom — even though for over one year on a daily, routine basis they had experienced his perfect love, divine wisdom, and miracle-working power. They were still living in terms of their natural abilities and visible circumstances rather then in terms of Jesus’ abilities and the invisible kingdom of God. It’s no wonder that Jesus affectionately chided them as “Little Faiths” (Matthew 6:20, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20, paraphrased).
But let’s not be too hard on the disciples — perhaps when it comes to living from the resources of the kingdom of the heavens in our midst we’re “Little Faiths” too!
Why was Jesus able to deliver the demon without even saying a prayer? Why was he able to calm the storm? Why was he able to feed the 5,000+ with just five loaves and two fishes? Why was he able to walk on water and calm the second storm without even speaking a word?
You’re thinking, Bill, that’s an easy answer: Jesus was the Son of God! Of course, that’s true, but it’s not a good answer to this question. The perfection and power of Jesus proves that he was the Son of God, but the fact that he was the Son of God does not by itself explain why he was able to do what he did. Jesus was also the fully human and tempted in every way that we are (Philippians 2:7-8, Hebrews 4:15).
Where did Jesus get his peace and power from? What was his secret? Jesus abided in perfect oneness with the Father continually (John 10:30). He lived in constant submission to the Father, never acting on his own, but only doing what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). Therefore, Jesus had the Holy Spirit without limit (John 3:34; Colossians 1:19).
Did you notice that before Jesus walked on water he spent the whole night in a prayer vigil? He was talking with the Father, sharing his heart and listening to him — loving on him and being loved by him.
It was the same in the other Gospel stories we’ve considered. Before Jesus calmed the first storm he was resting peacefully in Abba’s arms. (By the way the fact that Jesus could be so calm in a life-threatening storm was perhaps as big of a miracle as him calming the storm.)
Before Jesus was brought in to deliver the boy of the demon he had already done lots of fasting and praying which put him in a posture of trust in the Father.
Before he multiplied the loaves and the fishes he had learned that, “People don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuternomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4). Jesus knew that the Word of God is life-giving; it was a real substance that he feasted on his 40 days of fasting in solitude and throughout his life. In all that he did Jesus was sustained by his Father’s words. Joined completely with the Father it was nothing for him to create something out of nothing.
Jesus’ intimacy with the Father was the secret of his wisdom, compassion, and power. This intimacy wasn’t automatic for him just because he was the Messiah and Son of God. Luke tells us that, “Jesus grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Hebrews tells us that, “Jesus learned obedience through suffering” (Hebrews 5:8).
What Could you Learn to Do?
Do you think you could learn to be calm in a storm? Have an abundance of compassion for needy people? Heal the sick? Teach others with God’s wisdom and authority? Offer blessings to people who are mistreating you or being difficult?
You can begin to do the wonderful things that Jesus did in his public ministry if over time you do the things that Jesus did out of the spotlight. Jesus cultivated his intimacy with the Father and was empowered by him through faith and the practice of spiritual disciplines like spending extended hours with God in solitude, fasting and meditation on Scripture. Of course, we won’t reach Jesus’ level of perfect holiness and power in this world! Don’t expect yourself to be able to walk on water! But little-by-little we can grow in the faith of Christ and see more and more of the fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Is this the vision for your life? Do you see being with Jesus to become like as the best life possible for you today? If so then you will do as the Apostle Paul did and “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). Paul achieved tremendous growth in grace and God used him mightily to spread the Gospel of Jesus and he did this in the same way that you and I must: He saw the unseen risen Christ and relied on his kingdom in daily life and ministry.
When Jesus told us, “Abide in me and you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5) he was sharing with us the way that he lived. He was able to bear the fruit of heaven — routinely blessing those who cursed him and loving his enemies for instance — because he abided in the Father.
The more that we abide in Jesus Christ as he abides in the Father the more we will be like our Master. The Apostles and many other extraordinary Christ-followers over the centuries have shown us that it is possible to look like Jesus.
Yes, “Lord, make my life a miracle!”
To learn more about the Secret of Jesus’ Peace and Power, including guidance in using spiritual disciplines to grow in grace, read my book, You Can Live in Jesus’ Easy Yoke.