"And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” - Mark 6:51b
We join the disciples today following the feeding of the five thousand, the only miracle aside from Jesus’ resurrection which is recorded in all four gospels, as they head across the sea, leaving Jesus behind to dismiss the crowd. They had just witnessed an amazing event - they had to understand who Jesus was, right?
Then, they witness Jesus walk on water, defying the laws of physics and doing something completely astounding - surely they know who he is now.
But Mark tells a different story. Even in the face of so many miracles, and in spite of Jesus' own teaching, they still do not understand who Jesus truly is.
If anything, this gives me hope.
Faith can be such a fickle thing. Hard to come by one day, overflowing the next. And Jesus, fully God, yet fully man, is a walking enigma. If even the people who were there, witnessing his miracles first hand had trouble at first understanding and believing in who Jesus was, how much harder it is for people today.
In the book of Hebrews, Paul writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). He goes on to discuss how faith brings understanding and leads God’s people to go forth in the face of fear. And what does faith flow through? And open and soft heart.
This is where Mark says the disciples struggled. In their lack of understanding, their hearts were hardened. They became closed off, on guard, unsure of who Jesus was and what his miracles meant.
And yet, they did not stay that way. So what changed? How were their hearts softened?
First, I’d be remiss to not acknowledge God as sovereign above all, and only he truly knows the how and why of this situation. Scripture over and over again states that only He has the power to harden or soften hearts.
From the example given by Jesus, who is for us the image of the invisible God, I’d say that relationship and time were certainly two factors. He spent his time with these men. He taught them, cared for them, and over time they came to know him for who he truly was.
It’s the same for us today. Only God has the power to soften and harden hearts, but He can use us as his hands and feet. We pray for our friends, spend time with them, and hopefully through our relationship their faith is strengthened, or even planted. As for us, when we feel that we are closed off from God, we can go to Him in worship, meet Him in His word, and pray the prayer found later in Mark, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:24 NIV).
If you are struggling with your faith right now, take heart. You are not the first, and certainly not the last Christian to do so. Know that even in your doubting, God is with you.
Heavenly Father, I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief! Build me faith, each and every day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.