“They still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the multiplied loaves, for their hearts were hard and they did not believe.” – Mark 6:52
It has been said that a professional football game is an event where eleven men in desperate need of rest are criticized by a crowd of people in desperate need of exercise. Criticizing is considerably easier than participating.
It is a whole lot easier to criticize the first disciples than it would have been to live their lives. But their story is included in Scripture for our edification, so we must be careful not to miss the lessons we should learn from their mistakes. After all, learning by making mistakes is a common educational method, but it is a lot less painful to learn from the mistakes of another!
Jesus sent the disciples on ahead of him after feeding the five thousand. But while crossing the Sea of Galilee, they ran into a major storm and feared for their lives. Jesus decided to walk home by the quickest route—over the water.
As he drew level with their boat and “started to go past them” (Mark 6:48), his disciples saw Him but thought they saw an apparition of some kind. When “they scream in terror, thinking He was a ghost,” he tuned to them and said, “It’s all right…I am here! Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat and the wind stopped (6:49-51).
Clearly, the disciples had been eyewitnesses to another miracle, but there are two strange aspects to this story that require exploration. First, why did Jesus “start to go past them” in their hour of need? Second, why does Mark record that: “they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the multiplied loaves, for their hearts were heart and they did not believe” (6:52)?
The psalm writer, talking about the Lord’s dealing with His people in the wilderness, wrote, “[God] gave them bread from heaven. They ate the food of angels! God gave them all they could hold” (Psalm 78:24-25). The psalmist also wrote, “Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters” and gave them “food of angels…all they could hold.” Jesus was actually performing before their eyes the incredible things their Scriptures told them were the activities of God!
The truth is, the disciples did not yet believe that Jesus was actually God with them. Their understanding of Him was still in embryonic form. That’s why their faith still needed to be stretched. The disciples had no shortage of data about Jesus—just a shortage of application. They were thoroughly conversant with what the Scriptures say about God.
They believed that God could do marvelous things. Their history told them that he had regularly shown himself strong on behalf of their forefathers. But they had trouble believing he was actually with them in the storm and that His presence should banish their fears and infuse them with confidence.
Can we criticize them so freely or should we be learning from them quickly? Which of us does not struggle at this point?