Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To Believe and Know

After Jesus fed the 5000, he sent his disciples on ahead in the boat, while he went up alone on the mountainside to pray. He let them struggle against a hard wind until the fourth watch of the night, when he walked on the water to meet them. They were terrified when they saw him, but he said, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he entered their boat, the wind died down, and they were amazed “for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
(Mark 6:45-52)

This last verse has recently stood out to me while reflecting on the feeding of the 5000, and I’ve wondered. What was it they didn’t understand? Why were their hearts were hardened? And did they eventually learn the lesson(s) that Jesus wanted to teach them?

The disciples estimated that it would cost 8 months wages to buy enough bread to feed the 5000 plus who had come to the remote place to listen to Jesus. “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (6:37b) they questioned their Master. Surely not, they were thinking. If they had been in Gaoli village, they might have said, “There’s not enough time for the villagers to make all the food preparations. The people are hungry now. So it’s best just to send them away to nearby villages so they can buy their own food. Let them take care of themselves.”

But Jesus had a different plan. After having the disciples calculate the human effort required, he performed an unexpected miracle. A miracle that included the disciples’ participation. They were to make the people sit down in groups of hundreds and fifties, and watch while Jesus took the human contribution of five loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and broke the bread. Then their job was to distribute the abundance of food to the masses of hungry people, and to collect the twelve basketfuls of leftovers.

The number of leftovers was important because Jesus would later rebuke them, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the 5000, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” They replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the 4000, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:17b-21)

The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

The angel Gabriel told Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) And she believed.

The Apostle Paul would later write to the Ephesians, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us…” (Ephesians 3:20)

The disciples worried about having enough bread and about how much it would cost them to feed the masses when Jesus was in their midst, and all they had to do was to look to him and believe that his power was abundant. Unlimited. Nothing was impossible for him. Like most of us, they naturally looked at life from a worldly perspective and had to learn to see their circumstances with eyes of faith. Like Mary’s example of faith in Jesus at the wedding, when she told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) And because the servants followed Jesus’ instructions, they became participants in Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine.

Faith to believe that He can solve every problem that we face. Eyes to recognize Him and how He’s working. Willingness to participate in whatever way He chooses to answer our prayers for His help. And the ability to embrace His mystery when His answer does not match our hope or expectation.

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they stood boldly before Nebuchadnezzar and said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18) Believing with no conditions placed on Him.

John’s account of Jesus walking toward them on the water notes that only after Jesus spoke to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid,” were they “willing to take him into the boat.” While they were struggling at the oars, they had not recognized Jesus. Once they did, and let him into boat, the wind died down and “immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.” (John 6:20-21)

Eyes of faith to recognize Jesus. Willingness to take Him in and stop struggling in human effort and fear. Be still and know that He is God. Rest in Him.

When the crowds found Jesus on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “What must we do to do the works that God requires?” And Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29) It’s not about doing. It’s about believing. In Jesus.

He went on to say, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:47-51)

“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:66-69)

They got it. Once, straining at the oars in human effort, unable to recognize Jesus. Now, they see Him for who He is. The Holy One of God. The Bread of Life. Their hardened hearts are soft. They believe and know. They evaluate not with earthly standards but with heavenly ones. They understand that Jesus’ words are “spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63b)

In contrast to the story of Charly’s and my racing to catch the train in Beijing, our week of drama over whether or not we could stay in the village did not require much physical effort on my part. Charly was the one who put forth the physical and emotional effort in all required interaction as he worked toward the resolution of our problem. He wrote our email prayer updates, and we definitely felt uplifted by others' prayers on our behalf! I prayed and requested others’ prayer through text messages. But mostly for me, it was a week of watching and waiting to see what God would do.

God has definitely gifted Charly in being able to handle situations like this—in his Chinese language ability and cultural sensitivity, in his graciousness and respect toward those in authority, in his patience and ability to handle questions and ambiguity, and in his finding the right balance between deferring to others and being assertive. I don’t think he could have handled the situation any better.

Eyes of faith to see what God was doing. Ears to hear His instructions. Willingness to participate in the way God chose to solve this problem. Believing that He was in control, not us.

Sometimes birds flap their wings loudly while flying from one rooftop to another, seeming to require great effort on their part. And sometimes, their wings spread wide in order to catch the current and they glide effortlessly through the sky.

If we follow Jesus’ example and respond to whatever problem we have by first looking up and giving thanks to our Father, we can see more clearly what He is doing. He will give us eyes of faith to believe that with Him, nothing is impossible. He will keep us from worry and anxiety so that we don’t rely on human effort to solve the problem. He will give us a willingness to participate in His plan with the effort and ability that He requires of us. And that He provides for us. May we spread our wings wide and catch the current of God’s grace and power. Finding both our rest and our strength in Him.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
“Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
“You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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