Fear can be crippling. As a kid, I was afraid of our dark basement. If I had to go down there alone at night, I would turn on all the lights, quickly do what I needed to do. Then in one final motion, I would turn off the light and race up the stair, taking three at a time, to get back upstairs before whatever might be lurking in the dark could grab me. Of course there was never anything lurking in the dark. It was a figment of my overactive imagination. But the fear felt real. The fear had my heart racing, and me acting a bit wild. Have you been there?
While my fears of the dark were unfounded, the truth in our world is that there are plenty of very real, very dangerous situations that cause us to have fear. What is a distinctly Christian response to the many fears we feel? In today’s post, we’ll read about some people who were terrified.
In our study this week of John 6, 1-21, what did the disciples do after Jesus miraculously fed the crowd and then left to be by himself? Probably the disciples fielded a bunch of questions from the crowd, responding, “We don’t know where he is! We promise. He left, and we’re here. We’re telling the truth. Go back to your homes. It’s getting late. We’re going home too.”
For the disciples, home base was the city of Capernaum, just across the lake. What seemed like a quick trip after a long day is anything but. Look at verses 16-18,
“When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough.”
Archaeologists have found remains of the kinds of boats that the disciples likely used. They are small. The Sea of Galilee can get really choppy, and those small boats were no match for the storm. That alone probably had them nervous, even the fisherman among them. This was their primary fishing location. They knew the lake very well. They were aware of what could happen in a storm. But what they saw next took things to another level. In verse 19, we read,
“When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.”
Come on. This is too much. There are videos on social media that make it look like people are walking on water. At first glance they look real, but when you look closer you realize that the people first installed clear platforms just below the surface of the water. You can barely see the platforms, or not at all, and it truly appears as if the people are walking on water. That’s not what Jesus did. He is actually walking on water.
That alone is unreal, but he is also walking on the water, steady, under control, in the middle of a storm. When we imagine him walking on water, do we imagine it as a flat lake. We shouldn’t though, because this was in the middle of a storm. Consider the waves and wind. The surface of the water is moving up and down with force. Was water drenching Jesus? Splashing all over him? Did he have to dive through waves?
The disciples see him, and they go from caution to terror. The only explanation for what they were seeing was, at least in their minds, a ghost. A spirit. In their culture, that was really bad news. A ghost was coming for them. I wonder if they tried rowing away.
But they weren’t seeing a ghost. In verse 20, we read, “He said to them, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid’.”
What important words. The world is full of terrors. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.” We know that he is not with us in the same way that he was with the disciples in the middle of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. He is with us through his Spirit who lives with us. The Spirit is even closer to us than a physical person could be. That’s a powerful truth we can dwell on. God the Spirit lives with us, to guide us, comfort us, and empower us. That’s how much God loves us. God the Spirit wants to fill our lives so that his Fruit might grow in us and flow from us. No matter what is going on in the world or in our lives, God is with us.
Imagine how the disciples felt when they realized that it was Jesus walking on the water toward them. I bet they felt good, but also maybe a bit freaked out. He walks on water? What in the world? What do they do? How do you react to that? Here’s how they reacted, as we read in verse 21,
“Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.”
Of course they bring Jesus into the boat, not because he needed rescuing, but because they needed him to comfort them. When Jesus enters the boat, John tells us immediately the boat reaches shore. Immediately? Immediately. Was that a miracle too? It sure seems like it. So the miracle was not simply that Jesus did was humans are not able to do, walking on water. Jesus also enabled the boat to find safe passage to shore. He protected all the disciples in the midst of the storm.
They didn’t need to fear because he was there. The same power that Jesus demonstrated that day is available to us. Not to multiply food. Not to walk on water. Not to have some kind of Star Trek immediate transportation. What is available to us is the presence of God to provide and care for us in the midst of life’s difficulties.
That doesn’t mean God will always provide what we want him to. He is not a genie who grants wishes. All humans will eventually die, and all humans will go through difficult times. But God is with us. When we struggle with fear, we have a God that is with us. He is in relationship with us.
But again, what about the disciples? They were the primary witnesses of both miracles we’ve looked at this week in our study of John 6:1-21. What did the disciples think? What did the learn? We’ll talk about that in the next post.
Photo by Frans Ruiter on Unsplash