What are you afraid of? There are so many phobias out there, it is too hard to count. What do you think is the number 1 fear in the world right now? Death? We might think that because of everything that is happening. But death doesn’t really scratch the surface of what you are afraid of. Death didn’t make the top 10 in one list I looked up. No, the top fear that is common to everyone is life. People fear pain more than death. What fills you with fear are the dreadful
possibilities of life, not death. (Helmut Thielicke) Fear always refers to something definite. You are afraid not to wear a mask because of the complications the virus can cause you or someone you love. You are afraid of political complications in view of the current climate. You are afraid of growing immorality and godlessness. You are afraid of what may happen to the church because of the demographic represented in the leadership and the pew. You are afraid of the future for your children and grandchildren. You are afraid of what may happen this year in school. You are afraid of what other people may think or say about you. You are
afraid of missing out or being rejected. You are afraid of being found out for who you really are. We all fear life way more than we fear death. When left unchecked these fears can destroy you inside and they can destroy the relationships around you. Jesus assures the disciples and us today, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he backs up his words with action. Jesus won’t let you go. You are a child of God that has a Savior who loves you, was willing to die for you on the cross, and who took away the punishment from sin. He won’t let you go. We begin the text from Matthew immediately after last week’s Gospel, The Feeding of the 5000. Matthew begins vs. 22 with “Immediately.” The 5000 who had been miraculously fed drew the conclusion, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (Jn 6:14). Although they were right, they were also wrong. Their dreams of a political messiah prompted them to make plans to force Jesus to become another king of this world. As this groundswell of support for the movement to make him a bread king gathered momentum, Jesus took swift and decisive action to thwart it. 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. Jesus separated the disciples from the crowd to the idea of an earthly kingdom didn’t infect their egos. He separated the crowd from each other so they were unable to make plans and act upon their misguided desires to make Jesus merely another earthly leader. Then he separates himself from the temptation to take the easy way out. 23 After he had
dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Like the Satan’s desert temptation to obtain the kingdoms of the world through a simple action of bowing down to the Devil, Jesus could have received rulership without suffering. He was well on the path towards gathering the populous support without the cross, but he knew it was not part of God’s plan. The plan to save the world and taking back his heavenly throne was through death on a cross. So he separated himself from the temptations of the crowd and was alone with the Father in prayer. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Although being a far way off, Jesus also recognized the difficulty of the disciples who were caught in a storm on their boat ride across the sea. 25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. This happened between 3am and 6am. If Jesus dismissed them after a full day’s preaching, it would have been about 6 pm when the disciples set off. They have been rowing for 9-12 hours. They must have been exhausted from battling the storm, beating back against wind and wave, tossing bucket after bucket of water overboard, sopping from head to toe with little sleep to help them through the difficult task. Jesus strolled on the water.
26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. The dark of night, frustration in the storm, exhaustion in boating, and superstition augmented their vision to think they saw a ghost. They were afraid, not of death but of what they experienced while alive. Fear is only amplified when your energy is low. Nighttime is not only the time of darkness but it is the time of exhaustion. This is when your fears get the best of you. This is when you need the Savior most. Jesus recognized the dire need of the disciples. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Immediately. The second time Matthew uses this word. Jesus didn’t wait for their fear to take hold. He spoke. There is much in all three of those phrases but we will focus on one. It is I. This is almost a direct quote of how God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. I AM. I am the God of faithful love. The opposite of fear is love. There is nothing like hearing “I love you.” in a critical, fearful moment. It is something that brings hope and certainty. It is God’s declaration to you.
It was at the center of Jesus commands to his disciples in the boat which brought about the power to accomplish what he decreed. Courage swept in and fear went away at Jesus’ statement of “I AM.” Thus Peter responded.
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Peter wasn’t afraid. He trusted it was his Lord. Jesus didn’t warn, “Be careful. Watch your step. I am not sure this is a good idea.” But simply, “Come.” Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. The love of his Lord that gave him courage also
made it possible for Peter to walk on water. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Peter was afraid of the wind and the waves, not of death. Matthew would have said, Peter thought he was about to die so he cried out.
Matthew, who was there in the boat watching all this happen and verified its amazing story, relayed it was the wind and the waves that caused Peter to fear.
Love stepped in again, this time with more than just words. The completion of love is action. 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Jesus first acts in love. Now the third time Matthew uses “immediately,” it is for Jesus action to reach out and catch Peter. Jesus reaches out to you. He doesn’t wait for you to hold onto him but he catches you. He takes action. Even though a sinner, he grips you in all your fear and he saves you. I need have no fear of the darkest forest when I know he holds my hand. There is no place for doubt when he holds onto me.
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.” The only correct response to God’s saving work is worship. Their words identify the heart of worship: acknowledgement of who Jesus is. He is the Son of God. You have the Son of God who holds on to you and will never let you go. Fear? Not anymore. My oldest son, when he was about 2 or 3, wanted to teach me a lesson. He wanted to hold my hand. His little fingers could hardly get around three of mine. I saw a patch of ice on the sidewalk ahead and said, “How about I hold on to
you.” He slipped. If he were holding onto me, he probably would have fallen. But I was holding onto him so he stood. It is the Son of God who is holding on to you. So what are you afraid of? Most fears are of life and what may or may not happen in the future. Who holds your eternal future? The Son of God bought and paid for your eternity. Do you think he is going to let you go? Never. Jesus won’t let you go, not for your lifetime and not for all eternity.