As a teenager I got very sick while away from home. I ran a temperature of 40.5+ Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) and was genuinely fearful for my life. My friend’s mother comforted me with these words, “Dan, if the Lord spared your life a year ago, I’m sure he will spare you now” because one year prior I had survived the traumatic amputation of my leg in a farm accident. In essence she was saying, “Don’t be afraid.” Her words of encouragement became a kind of catalyst for moving me forward into ministry.
Similarly, Jesus does not want us to live in fear in the midst of our present chaotic circumstances.
In Matthew 14:22-33 (NIV) we read: 22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
There are at least three things we learn from this account. First of all, Jesus does not want us to be afraid or to live in fear. He says to his terrified disciples who suppose they are being haunted by some spirit, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Why was Jesus walking on the sea in the first place? In the Old Testament the sea was associated with chaos and the cosmic realm of dread and death. It was where great sea monsters live. The watery abyss was the place of the demonic (see Matthew 8:32). So in their terror the disciples were overwhelmed with the fear of death. Jesus walked on the water to prove his mastery over chaos, death and the demonic. He showed them they had nothing to fear because he is Lord over all!
Secondly, Jesus wants us to live by faith in him and his word. “He (Jesus) said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus”. We are a people of faith; faith that Jesus is the one who holds “the keys to Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18) because he has conquered the grave (1 Corinthians 15:20). In the coming days we are going to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection which is a declaration that death has been defeated. How should we then live in these days of Covid-19? Of all people we should be messengers of hope and courage in the face of all the fear and anxiety. We have a faith based on the victory of our Saviour.
Thirdly, Jesus takes hold of us when our faith falters. “But when he (Peter) saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt’.” Listen, I must admit that I fluctuate between fear and faith during this time. I am sometimes worried, at other times, confident. That is natural for all of us. This text is encouraging for the immediate response of Jesus to Peter’s cry for help. Jesus was not stand-offish or distant. Instead his response is immediate and decisive. He says to Peter, “I’ve got this, why did you give in to fear again?”
Several years ago I was enrolled in a SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) training for my place of employment. At the end of the theoretical portion the class donned the appropriate gear consisting of an air tank with full coverage mask. We were instructed how to begin the flow of air and how to properly ensure a seal on our masks so smoke or harmful gases could not infiltrate. Then we were led to the “smoke house,” a structure completely devoid of light where we had to feel our way through a maze of rooms and corridors. This exercise was to simulate what it would be like in a fire or blackout where we would have to enter to save a downed fellow worker. Being somewhat claustrophobic this exercise had me feeling quite anxious (read, terrified). I entered with the group and began to feel my way along the route with the rest of them, but before long rising panic set in and I had to back out and say, “I can’t do this.” The instructor was kind to me and said, “You and I will go in after the group; we’ll do it together, just the two of us. You will be able to do this.” When the whole group emerged and before we entered he said some profound words which I will never forget. He said: “I’ve been through this place a million times, I know where every light switch is in the entire length of the building. Any time you feel anxiety or panic rising, just call out and I’ll get the lights. You can do this!” Well, it was if God had spoken directly to me. Those words buoyed my confidence and I was able to complete the exercise. In fact I was so pumped, I did it twice.
Faithful disciples, Jesus knows where every light switch is. He’s got this! He will reach out his hand and take hold of you when you are beginning to sink.
Don’t fear, Jesus is present. Live by faith in Jesus and his word. Trust Jesus to take hold of you when your faith falters.