Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
This passage is so powerful for anyone who struggles with fear and anxiety from time to time, or perhaps all the time. The full passage goes as far as verse 36 in this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, but this is as far as I made it this morning.
Spend a bit of time actually imagining this scene. See if you can enter into the boat with the disciples and be tossed around with them by the sea. It’s pretty scary. There is something about the waves and wind that can make it seem as though the sea has a mind of its own, a personality of its own. This personality of the sea – the sea god, we might say – is out to torture these men in the boat. The fear caused by this sea god can be crippling, even for these men who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s almost as though this scene provides for the disciples a test of faith: Who is your God? Is your God Jesus, as you say he is, or do you believe this body of water has more power to control your life than the person of Jesus? If it weren’t for the storm, I’m certain the disciples would quickly and easily claim Jesus as Lord of their lives, but this storm seems so powerful here and now. It doesn’t seem to be such an easy decision anymore, even though they have encountered such powerful grace from Jesus Christ. This is something I think we can all relate to: Fear so easily distracts us from keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. We need so much more faith! When fear is not present, we know the decision is clear and obvious: Jesus Christ is Lord. Nothing and no one comes close. But when fear is present, things become cloudy. Yet look at what Jesus does.
Jesus comes to them in the middle of their fear and speaks to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” He allows the struggle to go on and then speaks his divine Word into the situation, his Word which brings new life and new faith in him. How often, when we are afraid, do we try to run from the fear? Yet Jesus wants to speak to us in the midst of the fear. He wants to build our faith in him by destroying the false god our fear has created. He doesn’t make the storm go away, but instead destroys the false god by revealing his overpowering presence in the midst of it.
This is powerful. Spend some time today praying in those areas of greatest fear; see if Jesus has any words of encouragement or consolation for you. Ask him to build your faith in his divine power by destroying any false gods your fear has built up.