Monday 20 July
“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid."
Many people believe that being a Christian is all about behaviour. Perhaps it comes from those school assemblies where the moral message of any story from the Bible is that children mustn’t run in the corridors and must always hand their homework in on time.
When Christianity is seen as a list of rules, it comes as a surprise to discover what the most common commandment in the Bible is. It’s an instruction that the Lord thinks we need to hear often. It is, “Don’t be afraid.”
Actually, the Bible does more than that. It doesn’t just tell us not to be afraid; it shows us how we can find courage in a world filled with fear. One episode in Mark’s Gospel speaks directly to that, showing what difference it makes to know and trust in Jesus.
It comes just after Jesus has miraculously fed 5,000 people. Night has fallen. Jesus has gone off on his own to pray. His disciples have taken a boat out over the Sea of Galilee on their way to the other side. The wind is strong against them. And then they look up, and they see Jesus walking towards them.
How would you respond if you saw that?
I was once with a group of children from Sunday School, telling this story and asking them what they made of it. I got out a big, deep tray and filled it with water. And then I invited the children to volunteer: Who thinks that they can walk on water? Who wants to give it a go?
I got some volunteers to take off their shoes and socks, and to step into the tray of water. One by one the children discovered that they cannot walk on water - despite what their parents might think of them!
Mark tells us how the disciples responded to seeing Jesus on the water. “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” (Mark 6:48-50).
Here is Jesus, in the dead of night before dawn, walking on water, and his disciples are terrified. They think that he’s sneaking up on them in the dead of night to give them a fright. But he sees things differently. He thinks he is coming to them to make himself known by his presence and with his power.
Jesus says to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” More literally, he says, “I am; no fear.”
This is a moment where Jesus reveals his identity. Throughout the Old Testament, one of the illustrations of the power and authority of God was that he made the sea and was able to walk on it. Job said of God, “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea” (Job 9:8). Here, Jesus uses God’s special name for himself, “I am,” and does what only God can do.
When the wind is blowing, and the disciples are straining against the oars, Jesus comes in power and authority. He says, “Don’t be afraid.” He climbs into the boat with them. And the winds die down.
That’s what happens when Jesus makes his presence known in the world, and in our lives. He steps in while trouble rages around us, and gives us confidence in the face of our fears. In the high winds and the choppy waters of life he does for us what only God can do, rescuing us from danger and delivering us to safety.
If the God of the universe, with all power and authority, has come to us and stepped into our boat... what reason do we have to fear? For those who trust in him, Jesus would have us hear these words each day: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Or, as Charles Wesley put it in his great hymn:
Jesus! the Name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tis life, and health, and peace.
Written by Alastair Gledhill, Resource Development and Online Engagement Consultant
Ali has previous experience working in digital communications, before more recently serving on the ministry team at All Souls Church. He has joined the team at CEM to help update resources and build engagement. He lives in central London.
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