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Tony's Reflection 61
Back in the early 70s, my favourite Friday night family treat was watching Look – Mike Yarwood, the impersonator’s hit TV series which regularly pulled in almost 20 million viewers.
His impersonations were so famous, they became as instantly recognisable as the celebrities and politicians he was mimicking. The moment we saw expansive shoulders shaking with laughter we thought of Conservative leader Ted Heath; a hunched up little figure, smoking a pipe and talking to “Mary” was Labour supremo, Harold Wilson; hair splayed everywhere, bulging eyes and buck teeth was comedian Ken Dodd.
In today’s episode from Mark (
) we see Jesus doing an “impersonation”. Jesus does something that only someone else can do and we are meant to recognise who that person is. And what that “impersonation” says about Jesus. This was no comedy mimicking, either – it was absolutely for real.
As the curtains open, we find ourselves right at the end of last week’s scene, the feeding of the 5000.
The crowd have just been fed. Word has spread like wildfire that Jesus had made basket after basketful of bread and fish appear out of thin air. Excited murmuring has turned into a clamour of adulation. The disciples are enjoying the fame of the moment, basking in Jesus’ reflected glory. They are loving the attention and looking forward to regaling eager listeners with stories about Jesus.
Jesus, though, is in a desperate hurry. He rounds up the disciples as fast as he can, pulling them away from conversations and pushing them back into the same boat they had arrived in. He pushes the boat into the lake, ordering them, “Get away now, while we still can.”
He then sends the crowd on their way. On his own at last, Jesus retreats up into the hills to be alone with his Father and to pray.
Earlier on, when Jesus wanted peace and quiet he had stayed to teach… and a lot more besides! Now, he is determined to send the crowd home, as quickly as possible. Why the sudden change of heart?
Mark doesn’t tell us. John, another eyewitness and one of the 12 forced into the boat, does. John says Jesus’ stunning miracle had sparked Messiah fever. Who but God’s Special One could “magic up” food out of nowhere, in such a wild place? That was perfectly true, but they had wanted to take Jesus and make him King by force. Violence and mass bloodshed were the last things Jesus wanted. That was why he had to defuse things quickly and was so desperate to take refuge in a “secret place” of prayer with his Father.
The sun has now long set and night fallen. After hours with his Father, Jesus can breathe more easily now the violence and bloodshed has been averted. He has come down from the mountain and is enjoying the emptiness, where there had been nothing but the maddening hub-bub of the crowd half a day earlier. A strong gale is blowing off the lake and the last fragments of loaves and fishes are hurtling across the windswept grass. Jesus relishes the exhilaration of the wind in his hair, blowing away all exhaustion and tiredness.
It is about 3 AM in the morning and the full moon lights the lake delicately. Jesus can just pick out the boat the disciples are rowing. Buffeted by the ferocious wind, they are 3 miles offshore, rowing for all they are worth, yet making precious little progress.
What can Jesus do to help? His heart goes out to them, struggling valiantly but fruitlessly against the wind, but he is on the shore and they are “all at sea”.
Mark then relays the most extraordinary miracle. It is one of those occasions where we long for detail, but he gives us only a few words:
“He went out to them, walking on the lake.” (6:48)
Through the storm spray, the disciples see a shadowy figure, walking across the water towards them. They freeze in terror. They had all heard the stories about the ghosts of the dead, who walked the water, in ferocious storms. This ghost had come to claim their souls for the dead and shipwrecked, whose bodies lay long buried under the deep water. The grown men scream hysterically, like terrified schoolgirls.
“Cheer up. It’s me…” shouts Jesus over the billowing wind.
The disciples can barely hear him over the noise of the storm and the boat tossing wildly on the waves. Jesus, though, is stood on the crest of the water about to crash into the boat and for him it’s just a short jump and he is there in the boat with them.
The moment he lands his feet into that boat… silence. An eerie, soul-disturbing silence. Ferocious waves, threatening to overwhelm the boat crash down to water level. The wind is gone. The lake is millpond quiet.
The disciples had coped with the storm. They were terrified by the “ghost”. In the sudden silence, they are gibberingly insane, out of their skins with shock and amazement.
Jesus has just “impersonated” God before their very eyes. From little children, these disciples knew from the Scripture that “only God could walk on water” (Job 9:8). Now Jesus had done just that. Just who was – and is – this Jesus?
Just like the 12 that night, we are never lost from his sight or beyond his help. When he comes to our rescue, he does so with the awesome power of one who is God himself.
Maybe you have known him rescue you. Perhaps you have been as amazed and astounded as those first disciples were when the silence broke through the storm.
There was still more for them to realise. Bigger lessons about Jesus, which for now they simply didn’t get (6:52). There is so much more to knowing Jesus, than being amazed at his power, or even realising he is God. Mark will show us, as his story unfolds…