TAKE COURAGE IT IS I
Key Verse 14:27
“But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’”
After the amazing miracle of the five loaves and two fish that Jesus had just performed, Matthew tells us another story about who Jesus is, and what faith in him is all about! Look at verse 22. Now the day was over, and the crowd of perhaps 10,000 had eaten their fill. So Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side of the lake. Then, all alone he dismissed the crowd. It must have not been easy for him to dismiss this huge crowd all by himself. But he did so out of his compassion for his own disciples. They had spent the whole day distributing food to the hungry crowd. And in the process they had learned so many things. They had literally witnessed the work of God happen right before their eyes. It had been an impossible work! It had been something that cannot possibly be done through human skill or ability. It was something that could only be done by the hand of God through the power of faith! But how much of this teaching had actually entered their hearts and taken root there? Jesus’ question from earlier was never as urgent as it was now: “Have you understood all these things?” (13:51) Only those who understand the nature of God’s work and the way the work of God can be done can actually do the work God gives them to do! And so Jesus also knew that they needed to take some time out alone in order to reflect on what they had learned. They also had to reflect carefully on his words: “You give them something to eat!” A disciple of Jesus without a sense of responsibility to serve the needs of God’s flock is virtually useless to the kingdom work. So Jesus sent them to the other side hoping that they might have some quiet time of reflection and mature in their faith.
Read verse 23. “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Of course, Jesus himself was exhausted from the events of the day as well. In his situation, however he was thinking about his disciples’ spiritual well being and sent them ahead of him to the other side of the lake. Then, exhausted as he may have been, he undertook the task of dismissing the crowds. I’ll say that again— it wasn’t easy. There were some 10,000 people there— people full of expectations. When they had witnessed this miracle of the five loaves and two fish, they should have learned something. They should have seen the love of God in this. They should have known that God wanted them to depend on him in all things. And there was something else they should have learned. They should have seen this clearly— that Christ is there with them to nourish their soul with his word, even if their bodies suffered from physical hunger. And they should also understood that God would supply all their needs if they would only trust him, rather than beg for handouts. But they never understood how precious they were to God. They were a people so deeply infected with the victim-disease!
This is the disease that damages more souls than anything else— I’m a victim of my circumstances! My situation is lousy! I am stuck in the system. And for this reason, everyone who is better off than me, people, family, friends, strangers, society, even God himself owes me pity and a handout— they owe it to me to make my life better. It’s their fault. And that’s the victim’s diseased mentality. And that was the crowd’s mentality which Jesus so desperately tried to heal! The victim mentality paralyzes people to a life of fatalism and keeps them in despair. This crowd, although they witnessed the hand of God among them learned nothing from the miracle of love and grace that was performed among them. Instead, because of their diseased mentality they learned that they would never have to work again nor cook another meal again as long as Jesus would continue to supply them with bread and fish. We cannot imagine what Jesus must have suffered to see the crowds he loved and served in such a state of human and spiritual degradation. As I said, it wasn’t easy to dismiss this crowd who expected to remain there for breakfast and then lunch and dinner and on and on and on. They had terrible and unholy expectations, and they were tenacious. When man thinks only about solving his immediate problem such as the bread or hunger problem, he is surely in danger of losing his soul, because he becomes no more than a scavenger! But Jesus managed to dismiss them and to retreat to a quiet place in order to pray.
Matthew does not tell us what Jesus prayed about But it is not hard to imagine what was on Jesus’ mind and heart at the time. The spiritual condition of the people troubled him much. They needed to see beyond the loaf of bread and the dead eyes of the fish, and see God and his kingdom instead. They needed to take responsibility for their own lives, both physical and spiritual. And Jesus knew most of all that these people had no shepherds to teach them the truth of God. They had no one to teach them their self worth, nor the love of God for them, nor of the urgency of salvation for their souls. Jesus was troubled that their shepherds were not shepherds at all, but were nothing but wolves who preyed on them— and when they could no longer profit from them abandoned them to this cruel world. So, what else was on Jesus’ mind and heart at the time he went to pray alone? His own disciples were on his mind. They too needed to study the word of God until the word of God took root in their hearts. They also needed to apply what they learned into their lives. And they needed to learn how necessary it was for them to raise others to serve the people with the word of God. So, with all these things on Jesus’ heart, Jesus prayed for the people, and he prayed for his disciples as well. He would raise them in the truth of God. But only they could accept or reject the truth. And only God could change their hearts to that effect. So we believe that Jesus prayed about such things.
Look at verse 24. The boat was now a considerable distance from the shore. Suddenly, out of nowhere came the winds and the waves that tossed the boat about. That storm lasted at least through two watches of the night— that is, more than six hours— and we are sure that once again the disciples were exhausted from fighting the storm. From what Matthew tells us, it seems that regardless of how hard they struggled against the storm, they could not overcome it. Some were skilled fishermen. But none of their skills could help them now. The storm must have really distressed them out— I think even to the point of death. And we can see the full effect of that storm on them in verses 25 and 26. Read verses 25 and 26. “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.” The disciples saw Jesus walking towards them and they were terrified! They had been so fearful of the storm that they had now become terrified. When they saw the beautiful and majestic Jesus coming toward them, they were in such a heightened state of fear and anxiety that they could not even recognize Jesus. From the Bible’s point of view, they were blinded by fear. They were paralyzed by it!
Now the storm on the sea that the disciples encountered is very much like the troubles and difficulties of life that we have in our own lives at times. And there is no control over the natural storms of life, so also none of us has any control over the storms of life that come our way. Most storms usually come without warning. The storms then toss our life so violently that in most cases fear grips our heart. And when fear sets in, everything seems vague and unclear. Fear distorts even the imagination so that those who are fearful imagine what is not there. They see what is not usually there. A harmless smile might be interpreted as scorn and contempt. A blessing might be seen as a curse. A glorious responsibility might be interpreted as a burden or a curse. Most of the time, fear when it sets in the heart, distorts our senses so that we cannot even see the unconditional love and protection of Jesus in our lives. This is what happened to the disciples when they struggled against the storm and allowed their own hearts to be mastered and controlled by fear. We must be very careful in our spiritual lives not to allow fear to take a hold of us.
Let’s see how Jesus helped his disciples in this situation. Read verse 27. “But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” When Jesus saw that they were gripped with fear, exhausted from struggling with the storm, he began to calm the storm raging about them. How did he do it? The first thing he did was to shed light on the darkness that had wrapped itself around their hearts and dampened their spirits. He said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” In other words, Jesus gave them confidence that he was present with them and among them. He encouraged them not to be afraid but to have faith instead. It was really an amazing way of taking charge of the storm, and calming it! Jesus actually calmed the storm with the truth of God. And the truth of God was that where Jesus is, there is no reason to fear. It’s a wonderful truth to know and to hold on to.
The word of God Jesus had given them was really no different than the many encouraging words God had given his servants throughout history. There was a time when God calmed Abraham’s storm when he was gripped with fear. He had said to him: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Gen 15:1) God calmed Joshua’s storm once when he was afraid of shepherding the great people of God into the promised land. He had said to him: “Be strong and courageous.” (Joshua 1:6) In the same way Jesus simply calmed his disciples’ storm by shedding light on the darkness that fear had brought about. He said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” These same words should be enough for you and me, to calm all our struggles and our sufferings in a world of storms. With Jesus’ words you can calm and conquer your fears, your disappointments, your insecurities, your doubts, and all the emotions and thoughts that toss us about in the storms of day to day living. Without the word of God and faith in the word of God, you wouldn’t be able to ride even the smallest storm in life, and that’s the truth.
Read verses 28 and 29. “‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” Peter was like everybody else. He was afraid and defeated by the storm. But when Peter heard Jesus say, “It is I, don’t be afraid”, what did he do? He accepted Jesus’ words and then courage and faith came into his heart. The storm was still raging outside. But in Peter’s heart where the worst storms usually are, the storm of fear had calmed and subsided. He had accepted Jesus’ words and was now ready to put his faith into action. Peter is amazing! He was quick to believe and to accept the word of God in spite of the situation. So, when Peter put his faith in Jesus’ words, Jesus challenged him to take that faith a step further and to do the impossible. And Peter accepted the challenge. Peter got out and started walking on the water. It was really the picture of what faith in action is all about. And that’s something we all should learn. God wants us to take a step of faith believing his word, even while the storm is raging. Often people say, “When things settle down,, I’ll do it.” But God says, “No, step into the water first, take a step of faith.” People want the storm calmed or controlled before they act out their faith. But it is not God’s way! Most people say, “Let’s have some financial stability first and then we will honor God with what he gives us.” But unless one depends on God by faith for security and takes that step of faith in the middle of a storm, true security cannot be achieved. We must learn from Peter who dared to step into the water because he believed Jesus by faith and trusted his word.
Read verse 30. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” Peter was overcoming the raging storm as long as he had his eyes on Jesus. In other words, Peter was riding the storm as long as he trusted that Jesus would help him through the storm— as long as he believed the words of Jesus by faith— as long as he turned his heart away from the troublesome storm to Jesus and leaned on Jesus for strength, for faith and for courage to ride the storm. Most of us know this famous verse in the Bible: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb.12:2a) Here’s a perfect example of what it means! Peter needed to keep his eyes fixed on Jesus. But then something happened. Read verse 30. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” As long as Peter fixed his eyes on Jesus he could overcome the storm. But he began to look again at the wind. The storm actually never changed. It was still fearsome and deadly— and beyond any one’s ability to overcome. So, the moment Peter turned his heart and thinking back to the storm, again fear took over— and he began to sink. It is truly amazing that even though Jesus was right there with Peter, Peter still became afraid and was overcome by the storm. His life was not in danger because Jesus was there! Nothing could harm him anymore, because Jesus was there! But his heart was now sinking in the storm. He made the mistake of looking at the wind instead of Jesus. Every spiritual storm is violent and deadly, from the smallest to the greatest. But no storm can harm you if Jesus is with you. But our hearts sink when we take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our storm. I think that we must decide day by day and storm by storm to live by faith in Jesus.
When Peter saw he was sinking he cried out, “Lord, save me!” It was his prayer at a critical time in his life. And Jesus reached out, caught him and saved him from the storm. “Lord save me” may be the most important 3 words a sinful person could ever utter in their life. Human life is usually very stormy. And the sins that people commit against God and against each other on a daily basis overwhelm their souls. They are overwhelmed in a raging sea of guilt and shame until they are consumed by the storm. What God would have them do is simply come to him and repent of their sins, and out “Lord, save me”. But instead so many people try to find shelter from the storms of life instead of coming to God. Some try to shelter in education. They think that a heightened intellect can save them from future storms. Others seek shelter from the storm through hard work, thinking that money can save them. Others just burry themselves in their own imaginations hoping for some relief or escape. Some even try to find shelter from the storm in other human beings who are as weak and sinful as they are. And still others look for shelter from the storm in dead philosophies or unusual religions. But no shelter can save a man or woman from the storm of sin. Sin rages like a storm in the hearts of all people, until they are consumed with fear, lust, greed, hypocrisy, anger, hatred and bitterness— all of which lead to the death of their souls. What can we do in the raging storms of life and of sin which assail us? Every human being with a conscience should cry out to the Lord in the storm of their life, “Lord, save me.” As for the Christian he or she must occasionally also humbly ask, “Lord save me!” “
Read verses 31-33. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” Jesus reached out and saved Peter. And Jesus rightly rebuked him for his unreasonable fear in the presence of the Lord. “You of little faith, why did you doubt” are the words we must hear from day to day as we live the Christian life. Jesus assures us that there is no need for doubt. Doubt is the devil’s tool to stumble those of us who serve the Lord in our pilgrimage to his kingdom. Doubt is unreasonable as long as Jesus is here with us and has promised to be with us in all things and to the end of time. When Jesus climbed into the boat with Peter and the rest, the winds died down, the storm subsided and all was calm. Then the disciples worshiped him and made a confession of faith saying: “Truly you are the Son of God.” Jesus is the Son of God and worthy of worship. He is the one who calms the storms of life and is ready to help us overcome every storm by faith. We only need to turn our eyes to him and keep our hearts fixed on his word. Then we can learn how to ride any storm that comes to us in life by the power of the faith. Remember these words “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” and hold onto them. Amen.