Ghost Or God?


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 want 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 (Mark 6: 45-52).

Another well-known story, so well-known in fact that we ignore a phrase in Mark’s narrative that makes it a revelation, not just a story.

It was Jesus’ purpose to reveal who He was to His disciples. Before He left them to return to the Father, these twelve men had to be convinced that He was the Son of God, so convinced in fact that they would obey His instructions implicitly and serve His loyally, even to death for the sake of the message they were to deliver and the work they were to do. These men were first-century disciples, not wishy-washy “Christians” like so many are today. That meant that they were learning to be accurate replicas of their rabbi in everything He was in His character and everything He said and did. Anything less disqualified them.

Mere intellectual faith was of no value for the Hebrew person if it did not issue in a response. For the disciples to believe in Him meant to stake everything on who He was and to become like Him. Simply telling them that He was the Son of God would not have been strong enough to convince them. He had to show them, and not just by doing supernatural things. What He was, and what He said and did was to match the Old Testament revelation of God. Jesus took every opportunity to convince them by using the circumstances to reveal His glory so that He could reflect the Father’s glory to these men.

Here was a golden opportunity to add another piece to the growing weight of evidence that He was a man but much more than a man. Since New Testament scholars tell us that Mark used Peter’s memoirs or Peter’s preaching as the basis of his gospel, Peter must have understood the significance of Jesus’ action and recorded it in words that give us the clue to Jesus’ intention.

We will miss the phrase “pass by them” if we are not familiar with its use in the Torah – the five books of Moses which form the basis of the rest of the Bible. Mark wrote, “He was about to pass by them”, the only gospel writer to use the phrase. What did he mean? It makes no sense for Jesus to walk on the lake to go to His disciples and then to walk past them as though He had missed them in the storm.

Let’s look for the use of the phrase in the Torah.

It was a significant moment for Moses. God’s people had broken the covenant. They were dancing around a golden calf and calling it “God”. Moses was up on the mountain pleading with God to forgive them and receive them back as His people. He had persuaded God not to abandon His people in the desert but to accompany them to the Promised Land. Then he asked God a favour. “Show me your glory” and God agreed. Moses was going somewhere with this request.

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the Lord. And He passed by in front of Moses, proclaiming, ’The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin . . . (Ex. 34: 5-6).

Did you get that? God “passed by” – a euphemism for revealing Himself to Moses. This was a significant action because it formed the basis of Moses’ intercession for his people. If God revealed Himself as compassionate and forgiving, Moses had grounds for asking God to forgive His people and renew the covenant.

If Jesus’ disciples were familiar with the Torah, they would have picked up the clue.  Jesus was saying by His action that He was the very same person who had revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. After all, did He not infuriate the Pharisees by declaring, “Before Abraham was, I AM”?

But they missed it. Instead of recognising Jesus’ beautiful revelation for them, they panicked. They cried out in terror. “It’s a ghost, a ghost!” What was meant to be another moment of faith for them became a moment of fear.

How like the disciples we are! When Jesus “passes by” in our crisis, we think He’s a ghost, not God – so near and so ready to reveal His presence in our problem. Where Jesus is there, everything falls into place but often, like the Twelve, we don’t recognise Him because our hearts are hardened. Fear blots out our recognition of the Saviour’s presence and we lose the joy of receiving another piece of evidence that He is God and we can trust Him, after all.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Luella Campbell

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