“Mystery, Healing, Salvation” (Mark 6:45-56)

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After watching a cartoon, my daughter asked, “Are ghosts real? I’m scared of ghosts.”

In today’s Bible passage, Jesus’ disciples see him walk on water and freak out because they think he’s a ghost. I mean, humans don’t walk on water, right? Unless they’re Japanese ninjas!

Anyway, through this supernatural incident, Jesus shows that he is indeed no ordinary person. Let us pray and then read the story.

[Read Mark 6:45-55]

Another boat story

One of my sermons this year was about a similar story: in Mark chapter 4, Jesus’ disciples were traveling by boat when a storm almost sunk them.

In ancient times, boats were more fragile and navigation technology was less advanced. Bad weather was often fatal to people traveling by boat. They were truly at the mercy of nature.

So the disciples panicked. But Jesus calmed the storm and they were left feeling awe and fear towards him, wondering who he really was.

In today’s story, there might not have been a storm—though there were strong winds. This time, the disciples panicked because they saw a human figure walking across the water. It seems that, even after seeing so much evidence of Jesus’ power, they still did not grasp his identity.

Not grasping Jesus’ identity

Jesus called out to them and said, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” When he said “It is I,” Jesus used a certain phrase: eigo eimi. This is the Greek translation of a divine name of God. It is the same phrase God used in Exodus 3:14 when he revealed himself to Moses, calling himself, “I AM.”

It was as if Jesus said to the disciples, “I am God. Do not be afraid.” In other words, he was not just a mighty prophet like Moses or Elijah. He was God in the flesh.

Jesus does only what God can do. He is king over storms, waves, and wind. He feeds thousands of people by using only five loaves of bread and two fish.

Verse 51 says, “[The disciples] were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”

“Their hearts were hardened” means that they could not understand who Jesus was—Israel’s God. In that way, they were similar to the Pharisees. Mark 3:5 uses the phrase “stubborn hearts” to describe the Pharisees’ inability to recognize Jesus’ authority.

Committed to learning from Jesus

But the difference between the disciples and the Pharisees was this: The disciples genuinely wanted to learn from Jesus, even though they did not fully understand his words and actions.

They allowed Jesus to expand their understanding and experience of God. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did not accept a Messiah who didn’t fit their expectations. They ended up seeing Jesus as a threat and wanting to kill him.

We often criticize the disciples for their slowness to understand, but perhaps we should give them more credit: despite their uncertainty, they committed themselves to learning from Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him when they could not understand his tough and provocative teachings. Jesus asked his twelve closest disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67). Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). Though he doesn’t fully understand Jesus, Peter is determined to follow him because he recognizes truth in Jesus’ words and goodness in his actions.

Peter recognized Jesus as the “Holy One,” the Messiah. But it’s understandable that he still struggled to grasp that Jesus was God. Before meeting Jesus, I don’t think Peter imagined meeting God in the flesh—someone who eats, drinks, and uses the bathroom. And if it is hard for Peter or for us to understand a complex idea like the Trinity—God as three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we can imagine how hard it is for most people to accept.

But in the midst of these mysteries and impossibilities, I encourage you not to give up learning about God, Jesus, and the Bible. It’s okay if you don’t fully understand. I don’t. It’s okay to have doubts and questions. We can still continue our journey of knowing God through the person of Jesus.

Healing in Gennesaret

Now, let’s look at the healing Jesus did in Gennesaret. This healing story has two similarities with previous chapters.

First similarity: This is Jesus’ second time entering Gentile territory—that is, areas where non-Jewish people lived.

Jews at that time did not befriend Gentiles, because the Jews believed it would corrupt them morally and make them unclean. By keeping themselves pure, they thought God’s kingdom would come more quickly to liberate them from the Roman Empire. But Jesus showed that God’s kingdom was for everyone—and he brought the kingdom of God to this Gentile land called Gennesaret.

God’s kingdom is not only for certain races, certain social statuses, certain genders. In Japan, that might seem atari mae or common sense. But the general human tendency is to exclude certain people or treat them as inferior. So it’s worth always reminding ourselves that God welcomes all people and sees us as equal.

Second similarity: This is the second time in Mark where people get healed just by touching Jesus or his clothes.

I want to focus on verse 56, which says, “They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.” This phrase “healed” is the same phrase that Jesus said earlier, to the woman who was bleeding for 12 years. He said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you” (5:34).

This word “healed” is the Greek word sozo, another form of soteria, which is translated as “salvation.” Depending on the context, sozo can mean to heal, to make whole, to rescue from danger, or to save. In other words, this word for salvation can be used for both spiritual and physical healing.

Indeed, Jesus’ mission as Savior is not to address only our spiritual problems or only our physical problems but both.

When God doesn’t heal

The topic of healing always raises the question: Why does God heal some people but not others?

We don’t know the answer behind each individual case. The circumstances behind each person’s illness is like a piece of a large jigsaw puzzle. There are missing pieces. We don’t know all the answers.

However, we do know something about the overall picture. The Bible tells us what the finished picture will look like for the humanity as a whole.

Right now, we live in an “in-between” time when God’s kingdom has come into our world but not reached its full culmination. That’s why we see both healing and sickness, both good and evil. God doesn’t say when he will eradicate all sickness and evil, but he tells us very certainly that he will.

The finished picture will be beautiful, though it may seem impossible when you look at the current pieces. And the final picture will be beautiful for each individual person who asks and trusts God.

Meanwhile, even if God is not healing us, he is still working in us. He is always working to transform us into his image. Our physical pain tends to feel more urgent and important, but the fact is that we are also spiritually ill. There are times God makes use of illness and suffering—which are already present in the world as a result of human sin—in order to draw attention to our ailing relationship with him.

I think of one poet (Scott Cairns) who wrote about how his father changed after a journey with cancer. His father was a very impatient, bad-tempered man. But God made use of that suffering to change his heart. Although he passed away from cancer in the end, by the end of his life he was calm, more loving, and prayerful. He had experienced God’s comfort.

Another writer (Anne Lamott) talked about how she continued to struggle with mental illness and alcoholism despite being a Christian with a supportive church community. But because of her weaknesses and how she experienced God’s grace through many people, her books are able to help others—including many non-Christian readers—who feel anxiety, depression, and self-hatred.

What is salvation?

Coming back to the word “salvation,” I wanted to talk about how the Bible’s idea of salvation is holistic.

Salvation is not just saving our souls so that we can go to heaven and avoid hell. It is for our minds, hearts, and bodies too. Salvation is not just a future event or one-time event. It is also happening now and continually.

Furthermore, God intends to renew not only individual people but the world as well. Our planet, our societies—God is interested in all aspects of creation.

So what does this mean for our daily life as Christians? Here is one idea. When we think about evangelism, are we only thinking about helping people get to heaven? Or do we care for their other needs on earth too?

It can be difficult to talk about topics like sin and the Cross with non-Christians, especially if you’re not close to them. But I believe people are always interested to hear about healing—even if they don’t agree that your healing was God’s miracle.

When my non-Christian students ask why I became a Christian, I usually tell the story of how Jesus helped my broken family. We have a history of mental illness. If I had not become a Christian, I would not be in an emotionally healthy place now. Although my story hasn’t mentioned the idea of sin and the cross yet, it certainly describes one aspect of God’s salvation in my life. I pray that my personal story will draw people to consider the existence of God and their own relationship with him.


Let me end by summarizing today’s ideas. Jesus does what only God can do, because he is God himself. He came not only to save one group of people but to seek out all kinds of people. He came to save us from sin as well as physical and mental illness. However, we don’t always experience complete healing, because it is not yet God’s appointed time. The future is certain, though: God will one day bring complete restoration to the world and to those who desire his salvation.

Sometimes we have trouble reconciling these beliefs with what our eyes see. We see Christians suffering and dying. We see them fighting and hurting others. And there are things we read about in the Bible, asking, “How can this be true?”

But I hope that, like the disciples we read about, we will continue the journey of trying to learn from Jesus, even when we are troubled by these things. May we not give up being God’s hands and feet to bring healing in the world.

Let’s pray.

O God, who revealed your divine presence through Jesus walking on water, we acknowledge your plan of salvation for all people. In your salvation, you restore us in body, mind, and spirit. Grant us the grace to receive and embrace this wholeness. As recipients of your salvation, empower us to serve as your ambassadors, sharing the good news and being agents of restoration in the world. May our lives reflect the love and grace of Jesus, as we seek to bring healing to the brokenness around us, to honor and glorify your name in all that we do. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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