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Matthew 14:24-33 NET.

24 Meanwhile the boat, already far from land, was taking a beating from the waves because the wind was against it. 25 As the night was ending, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” 29 So he said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they went up into the boat, the wind ceased.33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Earlier this month, Penny and I went on another big hike in the Uwharrie National Forest. When we decided to take off for the hike, we pulled out our boxes of hiking supplies to pack our backpacks. Every time we do that, we find items that we had forgotten we had in our storage boxes. We dig into the boxes looking for one thing, and we find something else.

Reading the Gospels is like that too. If you want to know who God’s enemies are, you will encounter them in the Gospels. If you want to know about how God works in history, you can find it there. If you are looking for what it means to repent and be a part of the kingdom of God, it’s in there. If you want to know who Jesus is, it’s in there. If you want to know more about his coming back, there’s teaching about that too.

But we have been studying the Gospels with a particular focus. We want to know what Jesus has commanded. He gave his commands to people back then, and they still apply to us now. So, we are taking another look at Jesus’ commands in the context in which they were given.

Sometimes his commands come in long lists within the context of long sermons, like the sermon on the mount. Other times, the commands come within the context of conversations Jesus had with individuals, like the woman at the well or Nicodemus at night. In today’s text, we hear Jesus commanding his disciples within the context of a strange event. Jesus comes walking on water out of nowhere amid a frightening storm at 3am in the morning and the disciples are so terrified they don’t even recognize him.

Jesus’ command coming out of this even is “have courage.” This is not the only context in which Jesus says these words. Jesus had looked down at the paralyzed young man who had been brought to him on a stretcher by some friends. He told that young man to have courage because his sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2). It didn’t matter what those sins were. What mattered was that the Savior had come, and he was forgiven. Because Jesus was now part of the picture, that young man could know forgiveness and healing.

Jesus had also said these words to the woman with the hemorrhage who had come up behind him and touched his tassel. He said “Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was healed from that hour (Matthew 9:22).

The disciples had also used these words. When Jesus had told them to go get Bartimaeus, they called him and said “Have courage! Get up! He is calling you.” No matter what your problem is, Jesus is calling you to come to him. You can have courage because there is no problem too hard for Jesus to solve.

When Jesus was teaching his disciples about the future, he told them that in the world they would have distress, affliction, trouble, oppression, anguish, and persecution. But he also told them to have courage because he has overcome the world.

Jesus even told the apostle Paul the same thing. Paul had just testified before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and his enemies were so mad at him that they were plotting to ambush him and kill him. But the Bible says, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Have courage, for just as you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Jesus wanted Paul to know that his mission was not done yet, and no amount of opposition could stop it.

So, when Jesus appeared walking on water and told his disciples to have courage, we can be sure that he wants us to respond the same way when we face unexpected difficulties.

In today’s text, Jesus says it this way: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” Every single word of that statement is very significant. Courage is defined by the absence of fear in the presence of things that would normally produce fear. An unknown figure appears walking on water at three o’clock in the morning during an intense all-night storm. The natural reaction is fear. But Jesus says, don’t fear, have courage. Why should the disciples not fear? Because – Jesus says “It is I.” In fact, the words he says are even more significant. Matthew records his words as translated into Greek are ἐγώ εἰμι.

  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the bread of life” (John 6:35).
  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the light of the world” (John 8:12).
  • Jesus had taught “Before Abraham was, ἐγώ εἰμι” (John 8:58).
  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the door of the sheep” (John 10:7).
  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14).
  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
  • Jesus had told his disciples that he was going to be betrayed and crucified. He said, “I am telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that ἐγώ εἰμι” (John 13:19).
  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the true vine” (John 15:1).
  • Jesus had taught “ἐγώ εἰμι the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5).
  • When they came to arrest Jesus, they called out his name, and Jesus said “ἐγώ εἰμι” (John 18:6).
  • Paul, having been struck down on the road to Damnascus, looked up and said “Who are you, Lord?” What did Jesus say? He said “ἐγώ εἰμι Jesus whom you are persecuting!” (Acts 9:5).
  • When John saw Jesus in a vision on the isle of Patmos, he said, “When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! ἐγώ εἰμι the first and the last” (Revelation 1:17).

We learn three lessons about courage from today’s passage. The first lesson is that …

Courage comes from being able to recognize Jesus in the storm (24-26).

The disciples had no reason to be afraid of Jesus. He was their master and lord. They had dedicated their lives to serving him, learning from him, and obeying him. But they were afraid because they did not recognize him when he appeared amid the storm. They were used to seeing him preaching in the countryside. They were used to him healing the sick. They were used to him turning the water into wine. They were used to him breaking the bread and fish to fill their baskets with food so they could feed the crowds.

They had been fighting a storm all night. They had struggled against the wind and the waves. They were wore out. They still could not quite get to land. All they could think about was their own exhaustion and exertion. When they saw someone or something walking on the water toward them, they said it’s a φάντασμα; an entity that discloses itself in a mysterious manner. On top of all they were struggling with, here comes some supernatural phenomenon. So, they were thinking “that’s it, we’re dead, there’s no way we’re going to survive this.”

But this was no ghost. This was not a harbinger of death. This was the lord of life. He was not here to destroy them. He was here to rescue them. And, brothers and sisters, Jesus comes to us amid the storms of life. If we are not careful, we will fail to recognize him too. We can get so caught up in the hurry and hassle and struggle and strain that we can fail to see Jesus.

The second lesson is that …

Courage comes from being obedient through the whole storm (27-30).

Peter at least tried to be obedient. He said, “I can handle this.” He rustled up enough courage to speak to this φάντασμα and tell it: Lord if that’s you tell me to join you out there. Jesus said one word: “Come.”  And getting out of the boat, Peter walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

So far so good. But then Peter got his eyes off Jesus, and he saw that wind that he had been struggling against all night. Courage is not something that is helpful in small doses. True courage does not just begin the fight, it stays in the fight until it’s over. True courage does not just get out of the boat, it stays on the water until it reaches Jesus. When Jesus commanded his disciples to have courage, he didn’t say that because the storm was over. True obedience is obedience over the long haul. It is obedience through the whole storm.

The third lesson is that …

Courage comes from putting our faith in Jesus, not ourselves (31-33).

The text says, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter had a lot of self-confidence, and that got him out of the boat. But that self-confidence could not get him where he needed to be. He had a lot of self-confidence but a little faith. It was a little faith because it was directed toward the wrong object. He was trusting in his own power to do what Jesus told him to do.

True courage comes from putting our faith in Jesus, not ourselves. It comes from knowing who Jesus is, and acting on his commands, and letting Jesus do what only Jesus can do. When Peter stepped out of the boat, he was trusting in Peter’s little faith. But when Peter thrusted his hand into the air and reached for Jesus, then he was saved.

Every true Christian eventually realizes that deliverance is not going to come from inside. There are no self-made Christians. Our faith is too small. We need a Savior, and only he can save us. The good news is that once we realize this, Jesus is immediately there to thrust his hand in ours and pull us up. He’s not going to wait for us to go under. He’s going to catch us while we are still sinking.

I want to ask you today – what kind of courage do you have? Do you have “I can handle this” kind of courage? It will not be enough. The only courage that will save you is the courage to cry out for the Savior to rescue you. Have the courage to do that today.