“And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:50-51)
“The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. It is I; do not be afraid. Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” (John 6:18-21)
I was watching a reality TV show recently that documented the accounts of a couple and a single man who decided to live in the wilderness, with minimal help from the outside world. They hunt for most of their food; if they fail to bag prey, they will not eat. They use boats and planes like we use cars and bikes. Their contact with the outside world is mainly via short wave radios. I would imagine that there are some very great dangers in the wilderness, including wild animals, fire, lack of food sources, illness and injury. It takes either an especially confident or well-prepared person to live such a primitive life. Most of us are too fearful to contemplate living such a secluded lifestyle for even a short time, let alone for years. Most of us also won’t go skydiving, bungee jumping, skateboarding, kite surfing, or ice climbing. Fear is a powerful motivator, often stronger than love, faith, or hope. Fear doesn’t usually compel us to do something, but more often prevents us from doing the risky thing. However, in our passage today, Peter did draw his sword out of fear and the disciples in the boat jumped to an erroneous conclusion based on fear.
Peter was afraid that his mentor and Lord was going to be arrested and crucified, just as Jesus had predicted. Sometimes we also act on our own behalf, or others’ behalf, based on the fear that the worst case scenario may actually come to pass. A parent continually hovers over his child, fearful that she may fall in with the wrong crowd. A young woman shows up at her boyfriend’s apartment without notice because she is afraid he is seeing someone else. A grandmother constantly tells her daughter how to cook and clean, because she worries that with her help her daughter will fail to perform adequately. A diabetic senior eats whatever he likes and refuses to go to the doctor because he is afraid that he will learn that he is unhealthy and should take better care of himself. Like Peter, we act on fear instead of faith, and by doing so, we take the risk of getting into some real difficulties. Jesus was gracious to restrain Peter and immediately heal Malchus’s ear; otherwise, Peter would probably have been justly arrested for attacking a Roman soldier.
In the boat are disciples who were probably terrified of the storm and exhausted from battling it. Fear led to their quick assumption that Jesus was a ghost, causing them to forget or fail to consider that their Lord was coming to help them. Fear can make us forgetful of God’s help in the past or doubtful of his support in our distress. (1) We procrastinate and dodge that which we are afraid will happen, even if it is the most unlikely thing in the world. In all of the Bible, there is only one other reference to a ghost, and that is metaphorical. What are the chances that an actual ghost would walk on water to the disciples? What are the chances that your children will become addicts if you don’t hover, or that a faithful boyfriend will cheat if he is really in love? Will a son-in-law leave his wife because she ruins a meal or will that senior get worse by seeing a doctor and managing his diet? Of course, these are far-fetched scenarios but describe how some of us view life. Teenagers, in particular, live in constant fear of confusion, failure, and loneliness.
What did Jesus do to help his disciples? He immediately countered their fear with reality—he would, in fact, be arrested, as He predicted; it really was Him walking on water. Their faith was being tested by God’s supernatural and unlikely but sovereign plan. “Walking on the sea is not something Jesus did just to amaze the disciples, but rather it is a powerful, visible demonstration of Jesus’ sovereignty over the world that he created (Heb. 1:3, 10). In the OT, God alone rules over the seas…Jesus’ words, “It is I”…which in other contexts can be translated “I am,” [God’s covenant name]. Here it may allude to God’s self-identification as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14) and may thus be an indication of Jesus’ divinity.” (2) After Jesus confronted the disciples with reality, he immediately brought healing or peace to them, which he is also willing to do for us spiritually. The reality with Christ is a world where God is in control, sometimes expecting us to endure scary circumstances and dark times, and other times coming to us in ways we cannot anticipate.
What fears do you have about yourself, your loved ones, your current life, or your future? What reality are you not seeing clearly and accepting? Do you doubt God’s concern for your needs and His willingness to help you? Are you like the disciples, who later refused to believe that Jesus not only rose from the dead but was standing before them? “And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see.’” (Luke 24:38-39a)
(1) Life Application Bible, New International Version, John 6:18-19, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991.
(2) ESV Study Bible Notes, John 6:19-20, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
February 18, 2019