TAKE COURAGE! IT IS I.
Key Verse 6:50b
Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
Franklin Roosevelt once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” If that were true, why are so many people afraid? If you go to phobialist.com, there are 530 medically documented fears. For example, some of you may have anuptaphobia. That’s the fear of staying single. I hope you don’t have bibliophobia. That’s the fear of books. Thank goodness none of you has kathisophobia. That’s the fear of sitting down. All of us know what it’s like to be afraid. Jesus wants to teach us to overcome our fear, and ultimately to drive it out completely.
By driving out demons, healing the sick, raising the dead, and in this passage by walking on the water, Jesus wants us to see him, not as a kind man, an excellent doctor, or even a prophet, but as the Son of God, savior of the world. In him we can put our confidence and trust. Let us take courage in knowing that this Son of God loves us like a good shepherd loves his sheep, and has the power to free us from all of this world’s temptations and fear.
I. Jesus prays (45-46)
Let’s read verses 45-46. Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Jesus spent the whole day taking care of people. He taught the crowd many things, fed them with as much as they could eat, and now dismissed them all by himself. It took a long time because the people didn’t just leave. They hung around to thank Jesus, shake his hand, ask him for advice, or take a picture with him. It took hours before they were all gone.
Caring for others is a tiring experience. If you served our international guests after the Purdue conference, you know. Hundreds of people came through our Bible center. You cooked for them, cleaned for them, gave them room in your homes, and you welcomed them with a warm smile and lively conversation. After the last guest had left for home, how did you feel? I felt relieved. The first thing I did was take a nap, and clean up my house. But what did Jesus do? He was tired. He needed some rest. But he decided to pray. If I had decided to pray after all those guests had left, my prayer would’ve been, “Thank you God that they’re gone!” I doubt that was Jesus’ prayer.
Instead of being relieved, Jesus was concerned that the people still didn’t believe in him. So he prayed for them. Jesus’ mission was to seek and to save what was lost, to bring sinners to repentance. Like the good shepherd, he never stops seeking and calling out for his lost sheep. Even when he’s tired or in need of some rest. It’s the persistent prayer of Jesus that moves to repent and believe. We need to have this same persistence in prayer for our Bible students to be changed and believe.
Jesus also prayed for his disciples. They needed a lot of prayer. Verse 52 tells us that even after the feeding of the five thousand their hearts were hard and they couldn’t understand what Jesus was doing. The disciples had been given the combination to unlocking the secrets of the kingdom of God. They saw Jesus’ miracles, heard his teaching, and experienced his healing power. But still they couldn’t fully believe. Jesus is very persistent and committed to praying for their spiritual growth and maturity.
Jesus prayed for himself, too. He prayed to be faithful to his mission and asked God to protect him from temptation. The people wanted to make him a king. But Jesus prayed that God’s will be done and that God’s glory, not his own, would be revealed. He also gave thanks to God for answering his prayer in feeding the five thousand. This is an important aspect of prayer that I forget to do. Give thanks to God. When we’re desperate and really want something, we will plead and beg for it. But once we’ve received it, we barely utter a thanks to God. We have to pray just as earnestly in giving thanks to God as we do in asking God to help us.
Jesus began and ended his day with prayer. We need to learn from Jesus in making prayer an important part of our daily routine. For Jesus, it was morning, day, and night. Just as we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner without having to think about it, he prayed and got his strength from through prayer. John McCain might be our next president because he is a maverick. Because he did his own thing. But as Christians, we can’t be spiritual mavericks. There is no my way. Only God’s way. We need to be plugged in to God through prayer. Let us learn from Jesus to pray earnestly for ourselves and for others. Let us remember to give thanks to God for what he has done and what he will do in us. May we follow Jesus’ example and become Christians for whom prayer is as essential as eating and sleeping.
II. Take courage! (47-56)
Let’s read verses 47-48a. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. The disciples were straining and struggling because the wind was against them. We can learn a valuable lesson here. The wind is a metaphor for the future challenges that lie ahead. Jesus prayed a lot for his disciples because he knew that one day the whole world would be against them. Emperors and religious leaders would beat them and kill them. They would become prisoners. They would experience suffering and hardship. When these things happen, Jesus wanted his disciples to be ready to stand firm and to fight back.
Christians today also need to stand firm because even today the world hates Jesus’ disciples. I went to Google News and did a search for Christian persecution. These are the headlines I found within the last week. 10000 Christians flee Hindu persecution. Religious persecution continues in Tajikistan. Vietnamese Christian escapes to Cambodia, repatriated to death threats. Two Christians kidnapped, then killed in Iraq. Somali Christians struggle in Kenya. A pastor in Nigeria put it best when he said, “We should study the persecution of many apostles of Christ and understand that every Christian must have the mind to suffer, especially when it comes as a challenge.”
In America and on our campuses the challenge is great. Try to stand up and live as a disciple of Jesus. You will find that hurricane force winds are against you. No death threats or imprisonment. Instead, you will be outnumbered, seen as out of touch because you don’t participate in the sex, drugs, and alcohol that are acceptable and normal behavior. In class you will find post-modern teaching and no absolute truth. Mentioning God or Jesus to others is the quickest way to be labeled strange or “uncool.”
Most of us when we were little probably played a game called follow the leader. In it there are two kinds of people. You’re either a leader or a follower. I hated being a follower. We need to be leaders and lead people to Jesus. Jesus calls us the salt of the earth. It’s because even a little salt can change the entire flavor of this generation. Though we are few, with Jesus let us stand up and change the world. To give in to the world is easier. But if we stand up, Shakespeare put it best when he wrote, “From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered- We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” When we stand up to the wind, Jesus will help us.
How did Jesus help the disciples? Let’s read verse 48b-50a. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Jesus walked out to them on the lake. When the disciples left the crowd and started across the lake, they knew Jesus would join them later. They thought he’d get a ride on another boat, or walk around the lake to meet them. But they never expected him to show up by walking on the water. Because walking on the water is impossible. Ridiculous. Unimaginable. The only creature that can walk on water is the basilisk lizard, nicknamed of course the Jesus lizard. It lives in Central America (including Belize).
By walking on the water Jesus shows us that he is the Son of God. He defies all physical limitations and impossibilities. Jesus can come to us in impossible ways that we never imagine or expect. Jesus is can do the ridiculous and unimaginable. When Fredrick left India for College Park did he expect a balding missionary with glasses to become his Bible teacher? When James Ocita left Uganda for College Park did he expect a different balding missionary with glasses to become his Bible teacher? No way. Did Anne Taufoo expect to come from Hawaii and find her church would the church right next to her house? When M. Allison Haga in Taiwan was sick, we needed to raise $20,000 for her surgery. I thought it was impossible especially after our special offering only raised a couple thousand. But then that small amount began to multiply, others decided to match our contribution, and suddenly God had raised even more money than we had prayed for.
When I was in law school, one month before graduation someone stole my leather bag from my car. Usually not a big deal except this time it had the only copy of my 30-page graduation paper. I thought my life was over. How was I going to explain to people that I wasn’t going to graduate. But guess what? When I got home the police called me. While the thief had taken my leather bag, my favorite CDs, and some loose change, he decided to leave my papers and my floppy disk on a park bench. God had sent me the kindest most thoughtful robber in history. Ridiculous. Unimaginable.
It’s important to believe in the power of Jesus to do the impossible. Our global ministry is praying for 100,000 missionaries to be sent out by 2041. It sounds impossible, but we need to believe that God can use us to do the impossible. There are 40,000 students on the campus of the University of Maryland. Can we reach out to all of them? Stealing from Obama, yes, we can. If we believe in the power of Jesus. Can the heart of your roommate, classmate, or family member be changed? Yes, they can. It may seem impossible on your own. But with Jesus it can happen. Let us open our hearts to Jesus’ power to use us and to work powerfully in our lives.
When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified. What did Jesus say to them? Let’s read verse 50b. Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." The disciples thought they were going to die. They started screaming and crying. For men who had driven out demons and healed sick people, this seems like an extreme reaction. Their fear subsided only when Jesus said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Growing up one of my favorite cartoons was Mighty Mouse. His theme song was, We're not worrying at all/We just listen for his call/ "Here I come to save the day!"/ That means that Mighty Mouse is on the way. No matter what kind of trouble the people were experiencing once they heard this song all of their worry and despair. They knew they were safe because Mighty Mouse was there to save them. Their confidence in Mighty Mouse was based on the fact that Mighty Mouse was strong and had saved them before.
We take courage from capable and strong people. Or we take courage from people who have proved themselves before. For example, if I’m playing football at the park and need some help, who’s going to lift my confidence. Rebekah Kim or Landry. If I’m having trouble with my Calculus homework, who will take away my fear? Eighth grader Sammy Brogi or Matt Clubb, math major.
Our courage is directly related to the ability of the one who comes to our aid. Jesus is the Son of God. There is no one better or more able to come to help us. He is the one who rebuked the wind and the waves, and changed water to wine, and raised the dead. When Jesus says take courage because I am here, all of our fear is washed away. All of us will face times where we will be afraid.
This verse should encourage us because it teaches us how to overcome our fear. We overcome our fear by putting our confidence in Jesus. He is able to save us from our situations, and ultimately from sin and death. This is true even when Jesus seems far away or when we can’t see him or hear him. The power of fear is that it lies to us. It blocks our view of Jesus and makes us doubt his presence in our lives. It makes us think that there is no hope for a solution. Jesus is telling us even now, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” He is with us and will never forsake us.
When we take courage in Jesus he won’t disappoint us. When we trust him and put our confidence in him we can never fail. Our generation needs to take courage in Jesus to beat back the influence of the world. This is why our Livingstone, Mustard Seed and Young Disciples of Jesus meetings are so important, to help equip this generation to stand up to the world with faith in Jesus. Tony Pham said something very courageous in our Friday night meeting. He said that last semester it was crazy for him to take time out to come to YDJ meeting. He should’ve been studying. Or worse he should be out partying, or getting into trouble. But when he did something crazy like trusting in Jesus God blessed him to get a 4.0 last semester. We need more “crazy” young people who will stand up to the world, take courage in Jesus, and change the world by the power of Jesus.
The beginning of a new semester brings exciting new opportunities. It also brings new challenges. Each of us will face different challenges. Whatever we face, we should trust in Jesus’ power to sustain us. Many of you are praying for new Bible students or for your current ones to grow. Maybe you face hard classes. Physical sickness. Kids going to college. Jesus says, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” My prayer for YDJ members this semester is that each of us would overcome the mid-semester letdown and be faithful, consistent, and grow in spiritual maturity. I know that this gets particularly difficult in the middle of the semester. The excitement of a new semester is gone. Midterms are beginning. The days are shorter. The weather is colder. I remember struggling with consistency and faithfulness, too. How can we overcome it? By remembering Jesus’ words. His words are a spiritual pep talk, and a promise that Jesus is with us to help us and protect us.
I pray that through today’s passage we may come to fully believe in Jesus, the Son of God. May we place full confidence in the power and promise of Jesus to love us, protect us, and help us. This semester may we remember Jesus’ words and pray earnestly that we may stand up to the world and be courageous people. Let us look forward to the endless possibilities of God to use us to do ridiculous and amazing things. Let’s read the key verse.