(Please forgive me. I don’t usually write such long posts, but Jesus grabbed my heart with His incredible words this morning and I just couldn’t stop staring at the beauty of it until I wrote it down. I know it’s kind of long, but please read it. I hope that the correlation of these Old and New Testament passages hit you in a new way like they did me. Beautiful imagery in poetry meets beautiful reality in Jesus. My life is a little bit changed today by what He just did in my heart as I wrote this.)
Gosh, I love it.
I just love it.
I love how that God’s character is so constant and unchanging that it shows up the same in every different circumstance throughout the Bible. And He ends up showing me in brand new ways that I had never really looked at before. Combinations and melding of Scriptures that I had connected before. A delicious, savory mix of different delicacies.
This morning I was reading the story in John 6 and Mark 6 about Jesus feeding the five thousand and the events following that miracle.
I couldn’t get past the correlation between those passages and Psalm 23. They seem unrelated at first glance, but with a little closer look, they carry the same message of God’s love, compassion, presence and character. Always the same.
Here are the John and Mark versions of the same story:
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Here is a picture that I found of the area where this story takes place:
The hill overlooking The Sea of Galilee. Lake Tiberias. The hill where Jesus taught and healed and ministered to and, in this case, FED 5,000 people with a boy’s small lunch. The place where Jesus prayed for his disciples and watched them as they sailed off. A place where He and His Father spent much needed alone time.
My focus today is not so much on the miracles in this account. The feeding of a huge spontaneous crowd or the fact that Jesus showed up out in the middle of that body of water WITHOUT A BOAT to help His beloved friends in their struggle against the wind.
I love those things and could write for days about all the deep glory of those stories. But today I couldn’t get my eyes off of the word GREEN used in both passages. The reference to REST and QUIET.
When Jesus brought His disciples to this place it was to help them find a place of rest and peace and quiet from the crowds and the rigor of the ministry. He wanted to take them to a lush, beautiful place to breathe deeply and just enjoy His presence. His COMPASSION for them, so evident.
But, of course, the crowd catches up with them and instead of being irritated Jesus once again feels compassion for these people that are like “sheep without a shepherd”. But He knows that they are tired and hungry as well as it’s late in the day. So He has them sit in GREEN grass in front of these STILL WATERS of the Sea of Galilee and then He feeds and ministers to them.
And I just couldn’t help but think of Psalm 23. God’s character of love and compassion for us told in David’s song:
Psalm 23 –
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…
God loved David like that in the Old Testament. He loved the disciples and the other Jesus followers and seekers like that. He loves YOU and ME like that. He calls us to green pastures and still waters where He can refresh our spirits and souls with His presence and love.
But the story doesn’t stop there. Jesus knows how busy his friends have been in serving this multitude of people, that they are spent and hungry and ready for some quiet time that had previously been interrupted. He sends them out on the boat. But He stays on shore. He says goodbye to all the people He has just fed, no doubt sending them out with encouraging words and blessings.
And then He walks up the hill a bit to pray. To spend time with His Father and pray for these friends who just getting to really know Him and who He really is. I’m sure He was praying about their hearts, their increased understanding, and their response to what was about to take place. That God would use it to grow their faith and make them more certain of how much God loved them and would never leave them.
It’s now late and His disciples are out in the middle of the water. He sees from that hill these men whom He loves dearly struggling now against a wind that has come up and waters that are no longer still. The scene has changed. It is dark. It is difficult. Green pastures and quiet, still waters are no longer in their memory or line of vision. But Jesus sees it all. And He waits until almost DAWN and a long, hard night to walk up to their boat in a very literal way and make His presence known.
They are terrified at first. They don’t recognize Him. They don’t see Him for who He is and for what He is offering to do. And then He says the words, “ “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Hey Guys! It’s just me. Don’t be afraid. I’m right here.”
This is what it took for them to really see Him for the first time for who He really was. Not just a miracle maker. Not a ghost. But God, who was their loving and ever-present friend. There to lead them beside quiet waters and join them in the stormy ones.
Look at Psalm 23 again :
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…
He was there for David in the darkest valley. He was there for the disciples in the darkest waters. He is here for us in our darkest times.
The great news is that they arrived at their destination. But not before they saw Jesus for who He was and experienced His presence for what it was. And I ‘m convinced that once they reached the shore, Jesus thanked His Father for the answered prayer that He had prayed on their behalf on that hill.
Jesus is here. Whether your seas are calm or stormy. Whether you’re in green pastures or rough waters. And He is praying on your behalf, right alongside you. Rest in the reality of His presence, His compassion, His wisdom and love. He sees the storm from the hill and the shore from the storm…