At first glance, Mark 6 narrates a string of chronological, but otherwise unrelated events. A closer look, however, reveals a theme that unites the chapter. Mark uses these events to show us the identity of Jesus of Nazareth, and how everybody misses it, including the disciples.
“Isn’t this the carpenter? The son of Mary? We know his brothers and sisters!”
The inhabitants of Nazareth aren’t the only ones who downplay the identity of Jesus. Others explain away his miraculous powers with more exalted but still inaccurate titles: “Elijah,” “a prophet,” or “John the Baptist raised from the dead.”
Explicit biblical references to the true identity of Jesus begin at verse 34, where we read that Jesus “saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”1 This is God the shepherd as described in Ezekiel 34.
After some discussion with his disciples, Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 men, besides women and children—possibly some 20 thousand people. This is the God of Exodus 16 who rains bread from heaven.
The disciples have a callous attitude toward the divine identity of Jesus. When Jesus walks on the rough sea, these can only imagine that they are seeing a phantom. To this, Jesus replies most pointedly: “I AM.” He backs this claim by supernaturally stopping the wind.
The disciples betray their rebellious hearts by responding with astonishment—such a reaction is incompatible with believing the divinity of Jesus. Spurgeon notes, “If the disciples had considered the miracle of the loaves they would have observed that Christ is grand in emergencies. When there were 5,000 people to be fed and no towns and villages near enough to supply them with bread and the people must faint by the way before they could reach the markets, then Christ was ready, full-handed in time of scarcity, prompt to dispense His liberality, able to meet the emergency […] perfectly…”
Lest we only see the failings of the disciples, let us also remember that during this time Jesus is working an effective ministry to them. Matthew’s account indicates that after Jesus gets into the boat and the wind ceases, the disciples finally worship Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”2
Mark 6 finishes with a picture of the healing and restoring God of Psalm 107, “the sun of righteousness… with healing in its wings,”3 as Jesus heals many on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
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In conclusion, let us return to Nazareth for a moment. Brad White of the HeartCry Missionary Society suggests that the Nazarenes have the problem of familiarity breeding contempt. They grew up with this Jesus, and so assume that they know Him, and that there is nothing special about Him. White is concerned that those of us who grew up under Biblical preaching might suffer from the same problem—we might fail to have a sense of awe and majesty about Christ, thinking we’ve got Him all figured out.
Against all ignorance, apathy, and rebellion, we must confess that this Nazarene carpenter is more than a prophet, more than a risen John the Baptist, more than Elijah, and certainly more than a phantom—He is God the shepherd, provider for His people, commander of the universe, and our Redeemer.