A few years ago when my (Pauline) father was very ill, a close friend told me that they had a strong sense that I was going to go ‘through the rapids’ but that Jesus would be with me in the boat. They were right as the following months were very difficult, but I look back at that time and can see how God blessed us through it, not least because of my dad’s own faith and the way God gave my mum all the support and strength she needed. I was reminded of this experience when I read Matthew 14:22-33 as part of my daily reading. The disciples see Jesus walking on the water towards them and think he is a ghost, but he says ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’. Peter of course wants to walk to Jesus, who bids him ‘Come!’, but when Peter sees the wind and waves he gets scared and begins to sink. He cries out ‘Lord save me!’, and we read that Jesus immediately reaches out his hand and catches him, saying “You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Jesus then climbs into the boat with Peter and the wind drops, much to the awe and wonder of the disciples.
Looking closely at this story I found much to encourage and challenge us. Jesus is not some shadowy spirit gliding over the water but a real robust flesh and blood participant in our humanity, so he knew the threat those waves held. The disciples still had to take courage, so there was an act of will involved, but all that was necessary was for them to see that it was really Jesus and recognise his presence. I love the way that Jesus tells Peter to come to Him, knowing that this was a man of good intentions but sometimes too hot headed to follow them through, and I wonder if Jesus knew what was to follow. As soon as Peter cried out for help, He reached out his hand and caught him, so even though Jesus questions Peter’s lack of faith He didn’t leave him to drown while he waited for the answer! Instead, He takes him into the boat and calms the storm, no doubt with Peter trembling, shaken and soaking wet, but alive and safe.
What an amazing story this is. Right now we are all surrounded by a storm in varying degrees of intensity and some of us are clinging to the sides of the boat. Others of us are taking tentative steps on the water but the surrounding waves are taking our eyes off Jesus. How marvellous to know that Jesus shares and overcomes the danger, encouraging us to see that it is really Him, so that we can cry out ‘Lord save me!’, confident that He will reach out his hand to rescue us before getting into the boat with us to continue the journey together. We might be trembling and shaken, and still conscious of the storm around us, but we know that those wind and waves are subject to His command and that He truly is the son of God.
We are about to start a new sermon series on the theme of persevering, and I find it very encouraging that the man who sank in the waves in spite of having the living Word of God right there with him, still held on to the hope of salvation right to the end of his life. Years later, Peter would encourage his readers to ‘humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ Let’s learn from Peter’s voice of experience and recognise Jesus’ presence when He says ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid’.
With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline