Calvary Road Baptist Church

September 23, 2014 - 319 West Olive Avenue, Monrovia, California 91016 (626) 357-2711

“A PICTURE OF STRIVING”

Mark 6.45-51

Calvary Road Baptist Church is a congregation of born again, scripturally baptized believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who are banded together for the purpose of worshiping God and obeying the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior. With our commitment that the Bible, the Word of God, will be our only rule of faith and practice, we seek to bring individuals to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by means of the glorious gospel. We further seek to administer believer baptism to converts, and then begin the lifelong process of teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Christ commanded, Matthew 28.18-20.

What is evident to anyone who reads history, particularly history as it relates to the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and the ministries of such anointed men as George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Asahel Nettleton, Robert Murray McCheyene, and Charles Spurgeon, accompanied by a familiarity with the dreadful impact on the Christian faith since then of such men as Charles G. Finney[1] and Horace Bushnell,[2] is that certain practices advocated in God’s Word and understood in days gone by have fallen into disuse in our day, to the point that there is no longer any familiarity with concepts that were taken for granted by good and godly men before the terrible influences of Finney (the revivalist) and Bushnell (the antirevivalist) were felt.[3]

So you will not feel like I have lured you out onto thin ice to leave you in peril, allow me to reassure you about things we who are Calvary Road Baptist Church embrace as central to the Christian faith. There is no doubt that God’s inerrant and infallible Word clearly shows that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works of righeousness which we have done.[4] How does a sinner come to faith in Christ, the eternal Son of the living God who paid the ransom price for sin by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead? Faith is given by means of the preaching of God’s Word, Romans 10.17: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” However, this is not a mechanical process, but involves the Holy Spirit of God Himself, Second Corinthians 4.13: “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken.” Thus, the sinner comes under the ministry of the Word, is dealt with by the persuasion of the Holy Spirit, Who is the Author of saving faith as He applies Bible truth to the mind and heart of the lost individual, and that lost person then becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, Romans 10.10: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” Thus, justification is accomplished when the faith that God gives a sinner is placed in the only saving Object of faith, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Oh, if our dealings with sinners were only and always so very straightforward as to seem this simple. Let me assure you that there is only one Savior, and that no one comes unto the Father but by simple faith in Him, John 14.6. However, the Bible teaches and the experiences of Christians who bear fruit reveals that sinner’s hearts are sometimes so very hard, consciences are so seriously seared, spiritual eyes are so tragically blinded, that great difficulties arise when seeking to persuade them that the gospel is in fact very simple and straightforward. Oh, my goodness, how some people’s mental barriers and heart objections make bringing them to Christ so complicated. It was understood once upon a time, back in the days when the Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth, and even in the days of such men as Edwards, Nettleton, and Spurgeon, that dealing with difficult situations required something more than simply repeating the gospel message again and again and again to the sinner who had heard it many times before without response. Finney, it can be observed, dealt with difficult to reach sinners by using an anxious seat, by which he brought to bear the peer pressure of an assembled congregation on a “hard case” until the poor fellow “surrendered” under the emotional weight of the pleadings to God of those who were crying over him and their crying out on behalf of him to God. Variations of that approach are used to this day by the spiritual heirs of Charles Finney.

The Lord Jesus Christ, however, advocated none of that manipulative nonsense. Neither would such truly godly and discerning men as George Whitefield, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Asahel Nettleton, or C. H. Spurgeon. Those men were entirely Biblical in their approach to evangelizing the lost, showing their real faith in Christ in that regard. We ask then, what is to be done for someone who has heard the gospel message again and again, without a saving response? We turn to God’s Word, where that issue was raised in Perea shortly before our Lord’s crucifixion, when it was noted that despite numerous opportunities to respond to the preaching of John the Baptist and Christ’s disciples, few were saved. Luke 13.22-24 brings to light the Savior’s prescription for hardened sinners who had wasted or neglected previous opportunities to respond to the gospel:

22     And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.

23     Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,

24     Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

The word strive translates a Greek verb, agonizomai, an imperative verb meaning to engage in an athletic contest, to fight, to struggle, to strive.[5] It is fair to ask, does this mean the particularly stubborn sinner must work for his salvation? Absolutely not! The Savior would never propose such a thing, because salvation is ever, always, and only by grace and through faith. To strive, therefore, as the Savior intended, must mean something other than working for one’s salvation.

For a picture of striving, one can certainly turn to the patriarch Jacob’s wrestling at Peniel in Genesis 32.24-30, where he wrestled with the preincarnate Christ and, after a struggle with Him, was saved and given a new name. However, another, and to my mind clearer, picture of striving is found in Mark’s gospel, 6.45-51. Turn to that passage, and stand for the reading of God’s Word when you have found it in your Bible:

45     And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.

46     And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.

47     And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land.

48     And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.

49     But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:

50     For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.

51     And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.

Keeping in mind that God’s Word makes use of events that take place in people’s lives to illustrate truths that are taught, consider the three portions of these men’s lives that provide a striking illustration of the striving taught to the Savior’s disciples long before the question posed in Luke 13.23 was asked:

First, TAKE NOTE OF THE SAVIOR’S COMMAND

45     And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.

46     And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.

Earlier in Mark chapter six we learn that the Lord Jesus Christ had recently returned to Nazareth for the first time since the beginning of His public ministry, meaning we are situated near the beginning of His three year public ministry.[6] He also sent out the twelve apostles for the first time, two by two, with power over unclean spirits as they went abroad preaching.[7] We also learn, in Mark 6.14-29, of John the Baptist’s death, further evidence that we are in the early stages of our Lord’s earthly ministry.

Being new to the demands of this itinerant ministry, the apostles were soon exhausted. So the Lord brought them to an isolated venue for a bit of rest and relaxation.[8] However, the multitudes of people who were excited by the Savior’s new miracle working ministry ran after Him. Being “moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd . . . he began to teach them many things,” Mark 6.34. Hours passed, the hour was late, the people were hungry and had no way to obtain food to eat, so the Savior fed 5,000 men with five loaves and two fishes, yet there were twelve baskets of food remaining after everyone had eaten his fill. That was an entire basket of food for each of Christ’s apostles.[9] What spiritual lesson would they learn from that?

Remember, the disciples are still exhausted from their preaching tour. But instead of resting, they had been followed by thousands before the Lord taught the multitudes and then fed them all. Imagine how much more tired the apostles are now. That is the context as we come to our text:

45     And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people.

46     And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray.

The Savior commanded His twelve, very tired, men to get into the fishing boat they had come in, and sail across the Sea of Galilee, while He dispatched the multitudes and sought solitude in a mountain to pray. What do you think He prayed for? Who do you think He prayed for? I am convinced that among others, He prayed for these twelve men pushing off from shore on what should be a fairly quick trip across the Sea of Galilee. Their journey without Him has begun. With experienced fishermen among them, they are weary but confident.

Next, TAKE NOTE OF THEIR PROGRESS

47     And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land.

48     And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.

Verse 47 informs us that between the setting of the sun and darkness the twelve had made pretty good progress and were well out in the water. The Savior, Mark’s gospel pointedly observes, is alone on the land. There is a message here. The Savior is here, they are there. That is significant.

Verse 48 contains a great deal of information that is frequently overlooked by the casual reader. “And he saw them toiling in rowing” Why were they toiling in rowing? They were toiling in rowing, these already very weary men, because “the wind was contrary unto them.” Sometime after they had pushed off from shore they had encountered a head wind and had to row to reach their destination. However, the wind was too strong and they had made no progress. Why didn’t they just pack it in and go back to where they had been to spend the night? Remember, the Master “constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side,” verse 45. These men were under orders and they were committed to discharging their obligation to obeying the Master. So they rowed, even against a head wind, even though they were very tired. “and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them” What? The fourth watch? Folks, the fourth watch is between 3:00 and 6:00 AM![10] If they set sail about 5:00 and didn’t face a head wind until 6:00 PM, they conceivably could have been pulling on those oars with all their might for eight to ten hours! Imagine, ten hours of giving it everything they had after they were already tired when they got into that little fishing boat. Giving it all you’ve got, yet making no progress. That is a picture of striving. That is the progress of someone without the Savior, even with determination and help. “He cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.” He was not walking directly toward them. It is likely that the Lord Jesus Christ, walking on the water, was walking directly toward the destination He had directed them to reach.

Do you see how this unfolding drama wonderfully illustrates the striving of a lost sinner? They are given a destination and the means to make the journey, so they set out with confidence. Yet they are without the Savior when a contrary wind comes up and blows against them. Already tired, faced with a contrary wind, but doing their best to please the Lord and do what He urged them to do, they find that even working as a team, despite their absolute best efforts, they are failing. Without the Savior, they failed to reach their destination. And so it is.

Finally, TAKE NOTE OF THE SAVIOR’S COMPANY

49     But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:

50     For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.

51     And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.

How amazing is the Savior that He has such power that He can walk on water, yet it is reported as nonchalantly as if He were strolling across the street. It was not His physical appearance that frightened the disciples, but the fact that someone was approaching them far from shore walking on the water. As soon as they shrieked, He said “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.” Is it not the case that so many find themselves in the midst of struggles they cannot overcome, are approached by the Savior by one means or the other, and their response is fear? Some guy is a complete loser with marriage, family, personal life, career, without peace of mind or heart, and yet he fears the Savior. He cannot possibly mess up his life any more than he already has, yet he fears the Savior. He cannot be a worse husband or more harmful example as a father, yet he fears the Savior.

What does such a man think Jesus Christ is going to do with his life? Make it worse? How can it be worse than it already is? He is already dead in trespasses and sin. He has already robbed the wife of his youth of the life and marriage he owed her. He has already deprived his children of a proper example in their formative years. How can the Lord Jesus Christ possibly make his life worse? These guys are rowing for their lives in the middle of the night, making no progress and probably praying like crazy that they don’t tip over in that little boat and drown, yet they are initially afraid of the Savior.

However, as soon as He stepped into the ship “the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.” My friend, I think this wonderfully pictures the salvation experience of someone who has strived. As soon as the Savior is on board, the storm and the contrary winds stop. No wonder the twelve were, despite their aching and mind-numbing fatigue, “sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.” For the rest of their natural lives these men would remember, in the midst of violent storms of persecution and suffering, that the Lord Who can walk on water can calm any storm, can quiet any waves, can bring peace to any situation. To be sure, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, Second Timothy 3.12, but in the midst of the most violent and painful experiences, they would understand what their Master meant when He said to them in John 14.27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Their rowing was a wonderful illustration of striving, in that it was hard, hard work, bringing them to exhaustion, yet notice that they had made no progress toward their destination. As well, their rowing did nothing to bring them to Christ. So it is with striving, which has no effect to gain merit for the sinner, or to make progress toward Christ, but can be effective as a means of softening the hard of heart. Learning from the illustration of their fruitless rowing, Christ came to them after they had strived. As is the case with striving to enter in at the strait gate, their hard and prolonged rowing did not save them or in any way deliver them.

Why did the Lord Jesus Christ send His disciples through that harrowing and agonizing experience? Was it because He enjoyed watching them suffer? Not at all. Remember from Mark 6.34 that He is moved with compassion. He never puts anyone through suffering or heartache needlessly. The key to understanding is found in Mark 6.52: “For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.” Keep in mind that our Lord’s disciples were very tough men, used to living an extremely hard life. And their hearts were not tender, but very hard.

Therefore, He took them when they were tired, and led them through the hours of toil associated with the feeding of the 5,000 (arranging the men to sit, distributing the food, and collecting what was left over), and then He subjected them to agony on their own to achieve an objective. They had already exercised authority over demons on their preaching tour. They had also witnessed His miraculous ability to feed thousands with five loaves and two fishes. However, they apparently learned very little from Him. He had compassion on the multitude, while their hearts remained hard. Therefore, the Master put them through that grueling nighttime sailing and rowing experience so they would learn firsthand what failure was like. They gave it their absolute best effort, yet they still failed to achieve their objective.

Therefore, we learn here the purpose of striving as well as we learn it anywhere else in the Bible. There is benefit from failure for the hard of heart. How much failure does it take to soften a hard heart? It depends upon the person. How much failure will it take for you to abandon your ridiculous fear of the Savior? When will you invite Him into your little dingy to bring peace, tranquility, and salvation to your soul? What is to be done with the gospel hard sinner, whose heart is like stone? It falls upon him to strive. He is commanded to do so by the Savior, Luke 13.24. The remedy is not that which is so often employed these days, some form of anxious seat, or other type of manipulation that in no ways addresses the hardness of the sinner’s heart. The matter is a matter of the heart, that the striving sinner learns after much external exertion that he discovers produces no spiritual progress but a corresponding softening of the heart from a perception of profound failure. It must be so. Real conversion is, after all, a matter of the heart. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” Romans 10.10.

Come to Christ my hard-hearted friend.



[1] Charles G. Finney’s legacy bears little resemblance to the pertinent facts about the man. See Michael S. Horton’s, The Legacy of Charles Finney, http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=625 3/20/2014 and also his Charles Finney vs. The Westminster Confession, http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/articles/charles_finney_vs_westminster_confession.shtml 3/20/2014

[2] Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), minister and theologian, is sometimes called “the father of American religious liberalism.” Influenced by Emerson, Coleridge, and Schleiermacher, the controversial Bushnell thoroughly critiqued the emphasis on the conversion experience so popular among the Christian revivalists of his time. Christian Nurture was the first of his more controversial publications. The book contains one of Bushnell’s most stringent denunciations of the views of his evangelical contemporaries on the process of becoming a follower of Christ. Becoming a Christian did not happen overnight in a burst of emotion, he argued; instead, one must train oneself up in the ways of the church as long as one lives, and only then can one claim the title “Christian.” In particular, Bushnell advises parents to train up their children in the faith from the beginning of their lives. - Kathleen O’Bannon, Christian Classics Ethereal Library Staff http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bushnell/nurture.html 3/20/2014

[3] It is a serious error to think that either Finney or his opponent Bushnell were orthodox Christians. While Finney had a devastating effect on 19th century evangelism, Bushnell had a devastating effect on 19th century Sunday School ministry. Neither aspects of ministry have recovered from the influence of either man.

[4] Romans 5.1; 11.6; Ephesians 2.5, 8-9; Titus 3.5

[5] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 181-182.

[6] Mark 6.1-6

[7] Mark 6.7-13

[8] Mark 6.30-32

[9] Mark 6.35-44

[10] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1983), page 131.



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org