That evening Jesus' disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn't come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, "Don't be afraid. I AM* ..." (John 6:16-20 NLT).
Fear comes in many flavors.
- A child's fear of the dark or the fear of jumping off the diving board.
- The superstitious fear of stepping on a crack in a sidewalk or stepping on the foul line when running onto the baseball diamond.
- The everyday phobias that can be mild or life-altering.
- The queasy fear of needles and the fear of the sight of blood.
- The fear of losing everything when a business collapses, jobs are scarce, and money is gone.
- The fear of facing tomorrow when the one you love is gone — whether by distance, death, or desertion.
Then there are fears that are on a whole other level ... what might better be described as terrors.
- The terror of helplessness when your child is fighting for every breath in ICU.
- The terror of the battlefield when all your buddies lie dead and the enemy is checking for any signs of life so they can snuff it out.
- The terror of your own life and the lives of those you love being threatened by someone who has taken life before.
- The terror of a storm surge as the winds whip and batter your house and you realize you cannot get out in time before the flood tides destroy everything you know.
- The terror of the locomotive-rumble of a tornado destroying everything in its path and realizing you are in its path.
The command, "Do not fear!" or "Fear not!" or "Do not be afraid!" is one of the most frequent commands in the Bible.** Clearly, God knows that fear, in all of its flavors, is a problem for us mortals who inhabit this tiny blue planet. The world is big, the universe inexplicably vast, and we are small and powerless by comparison. Evil is despicable and vile, often engulfing us with a ferocious power that we feel helpless to survive. Our helplessness leads us to fear, and even sometimes, to full blown terror!
Sure, there are all sorts of sweet stories about parents calming the fears of a child with their presence, songs, and tender words. But, where do we go with our fears, our "terrors of the night"***? Our real adult world bumps up against our childlike terrors, but there is no one to rock us to sleep at night, no parent who can comfort and soothe away our terrors, and no fantasy world into which we can retreat and pretend it isn't so ... because it is very real. Where do we go with these adult fears? How do we trust, much less obey, the command, "Do not fear!"
For Jesus' followers through the ages, there have been a handful of stories that speak to these deep, underlying fears, we can't quite conquer.**** One event that sustained Jesus' earliest followers was the memory that was simply inexplicable. For at least the four fishermen in the group, the event is rooted in their experience on the Sea of Galilee — it is a fear of what they know is real and is too much for them to handle — a sudden storm that catches them in open water, leaving them vulnerable to perishing and helpless to do anything about it. In the middle of this storm, Jesus somehow comes to them on the frothy waters and with the roar of heavy winds and in the deepest darkness of the night.
They were terrified. They were in a situation beyond their control, getting nowhere trying to save themselves, and here is Jesus in some misty, mirage like, vision coming on the water. Yet despite all the reasons not to believe, not to hear their Savior's voice, and every reason to be afraid, they trust the words of the LORD Jesus: "Don't be afraid. I AM!" And despite every reason to doubt, despite every suspicion that this is their imagination, they do something amazing:
Then they were eager to let him in the boat, and immediately they arrived at their destination! (John 6:21).
Jesus is reminding them that he is I AM:
"... the Alpha and the Omega — the beginning and the end... the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come — the Almighty One." (Revelation 1:8)
Just as the Almighty God put on human flesh and came to live among us (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-7), he comes to us in the storms of our lives. Our Father God will not forget us in our times of trouble. Our Brother Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, even if every sign around us screams to us that we are forgotten, all hope is lost, and safety is beyond our reach.
"Don't be afraid. I AM!" Jesus says to us. He will get us to our ultimate destination and never leave our side. Rather than abandoning us in our storms, he comes to us. All he asks is that we receive him into our presence and let him bring us to our destination.
So what's your storm?
What's your fear?
What's the source of your terror? Share it with a godly friend. Don't live alone in the terror you won't name.
Yes, name it. Own it. Be real about it. Don't pretend you aren't afraid. Don't live in denial and let the poison of your fear bubble up in other areas of your life because you haven't addressed it. Call out to God, to Jesus, and ask for the I AM to come and meet you in the storm. Even if you don't have the words to speak, just try to be honest before the Lord and trust that the Holy Spirit will communicate your heart to the Father and look for Jesus to come to you through the storm (Romans 8:26-29). Only then can you obey the command to not fear.
Rather than abandoning you in your storm, in your fear, Jesus longs to come to you and help you home.
He says to you, "Don't be afraid. I AM!"
Invite him in. Trust his presence despite the reasons for doubt. Believe he will get you safely home.
He says to you, "Don't be afraid. I AM!"
|*||John uses a specific construction using the Greek words ego eimi that connects to the use of the name God gives Moses in Exodus 3:9-15. While this phrase can be naturally understood as "I Am here" as the NLT translates it or as "It is I" as in the NIV in John 6:20, it seems more likely to me that the wide use of this phrase in John to connect Jesus to the LORD, Yahweh, the I AM of Exodus 3, then it should be seen as this here, especially in light of the strong connections this event has to Jesus doing what only the LORD, God Almighty, can do (Job 9:8; Psalm 65:7; Psalm 89:8; Psalm 107:23-29).|
|**||My research suggests that it is at least in the top three most frequent commands. "Hear" and "believe" and their parallels are also very frequent commands in Scripture.|
|***||I love this phrase from Psalm 91:5 to speak of the sum of all my fears, the fears I know and the haunting dread of the fears of the evil unknown we know lurk in the shadows of real darkness.|
|****||Mark 5:1-43 has a series of Jesus events that speak to many of these fears and shows how Jesus can speak to each of them.|