The Fourth Watch
Today we’re going to look at a familiar story from Mark 6, so let’s jump right in and look at the story of Jesus walking on the water starting in verse 45.
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to
Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the
mountain to pray.
Imagine this scene with me. This insane story that we’ve grown up hearing was not the first
crazy thing the disciples had experienced in a short amount of time. This episode with Jesus
came on the heels of the murder of John the Baptist and the feeding of the five thousand. I can
only imagine the emotional and spiritual turmoil they were already processing.
Their leader’s cousin brutally murdered. A small army of people waiting to be fed by the hands
of a carpenter and his bumbling disciples. The hurried exit from the mountainside (why was
Jesus in a hurry?) Finally, a boat. Familiar surroundings at last. But peace was to come at a price
And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw
that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.
I can only imagine the terror of riding out the storm. I get seasick in mild conditions, so this
episode sounds like pure torture. Again, it wouldn’t have been unfamiliar to them, but no less
Have you ever been in a similar situation? The disciples knew they were where they were
supposed to be—after all, Jesus had hustled them aboard the vessel himself. So why was the
journey across the lake so difficult? Why were they “making headway painfully?” Do you ever
feel like your headway (if it can be called that) is all levels of painful?
And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass
by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for
they all saw him and were terrified.
But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And he got
into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded. (Mark 6:45-51
In ancient methods of keeping time, the night was divided into watches, borrowing from military
methods. The fourth watch, added during the time of the Roman rule, was 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.
It was a watch that included the deepest depths of the night but also the dawning of the new day.
We studied this passage in Sunday school a couple of years ago and I was deeply moved at the
image of a pitiful boat making headway against stiff wind (okay, a stiff wind is everyday life for
us Oklahomans but you get the idea). I could just see it in my mind. Dusty robes quickly
becoming damp, then soaked from the spray, the slap-slap of the hull against the water, shouted
directions becoming lost in the wind. The endless dark with no sign of the shore.
Have you found yourself in a similar boat on a similar choppy lake? Have you found yourself
thinking, this is the time that rescue isn’t coming?
Only you know how long you’ve been struggling. Holding on, just trying to stay in the boat
Holding out for any letup in the storm, in the fourth watch.
But even more moving is the significance of when Jesus came. The fourth watch of the night: the
darkest watch, yet the watch in which dawn appears
In your darkest hour, when all around chaos IS spawning chaos, I want to encourage you that He
will come. He comes striding on the waves—Your darkest hour becomes your hour of
When our circumstances, the world, and the enemy would love for us to believe that we have
finally reached the ocean of abandonment, our deliverance appears in the watery mess. Let me
say it again for the people in the back: the darkest hour is often precisely when the Lord comes.
And while your circumstances may not change as instantly as theirs, I pray that his presence
would immediately calm the anxious winds in your heart. I pray that the phrase “Take heart; it is
I” would ring out loud over the chaos in your mind. And that you would not grow so callous as
to forget to be astounded at his deliverance.
For a worship song echoing these themes, check out Hillsong United’s Prince of Peace.