I shudder at shepherding 150 eternal souls. Right now, Austin City Life is about half way there. We’ve grown steadily through the summer, in gospel depth and number. My wife has taken a spiritual beating. If the structure is strong, take out the foundation, right? If you are a planter, you know exactly what I am talking about. Add to this weight the strong possiblity of double numbers, double services, and double the ministry in the Fall. All of these things are an encouraging sign that God is for us, for our city, and that Satan is against us. But as I consider the responsiblity of being accountable to God for 150 souls, I tremble, not enough, but I do. Then I read one of the familiar Gospel stories of Jesus walking on the water.
Jesus very deliberately sets this whole story up. He piles the disciples into a boat and sends them across the sea, where he will meet them later. He is desperate for some communion with God, alone. So he goes to the mountain to pray. (I wonder if getting our clothes dirty would be an issue for mountain praying? It probably depends on how desperate we realize we really are, for everything.) In anguish, the disciples painfully rowed against the wind. Then Jesus came walking on the sea, which couldn’t have been a catwalk. You would think this would comfort the disciples–King Jesus walking the turbulent sea, a place aquainted with death in the Semitic and seafearer’s mind. But they mistake him for a ghost and cry out in terror. Yes, Jesus let it get worse before it got better. He set them up for this. Why? We are told that Jesus immediately spoke “with them”, not “to them.” We are intended hear the empathy in Jesus’ voice. He then strengthens them with three phrases: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
- Have Courage: In other stories Jesus tells them not to fear, but here he exhorts them to have courage. Turbulent waves are just the beginning for those that would take up their cross and follow him. This word for courage is often translated “be of good courage.” Good courage? What’s the difference between regular courage and good courage? The good courage exhorted by Jesus is courage with good reason. This is not a groundless command—a buck up come what may—but courage because of the promise of the presence of God. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) With God in Christ leading the charge, we have every reason to be courageous. This is no misplaced courage. In fact, this echoes Moses’ charge to Israel with the Egyptians on the heels and the Red Sea above their heads: “Be of good courage: stand and see the salvation which is from the Lord, which he will work for us this day; for as you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall see them again no more forever” (Ex 14:13). Courage with the hope of redemption, gospel courage.
- I Am: The translation “It is I” is accurate, but the Greek is that simple yet profound construction used by John to underscore the deity of Christ–I AM. When the future is intimidating and we have trouble making out devils from angels, Jesus assures us of his unchanging presence—I Am. When circumstances and ministry demands are painful, overwhelming, and Jesus seems far away, remember—I Am. King of the storms, walker of the waves, messiah of the nations—Jesus is present in unflinching power and grace. Cling to him, cry to him, and he will come. He will come in those late nights and early mornings when you are slammed with untold emotional force and tears stream down your face, as you consider the gravity of your calling, the depth of sin, and the grace of eternal redemption proclaimed in and through your church. In those moments, call out to the I Am; he is ready to save.
- Do not be Afraid: With good courage flowing from the hope of redemption and faith in a messiah who is the I Am, we have every reason to not be afraid. Don’t let the trials of planting or discipleship harden your heart; instead, let them be occasion for you to receive good courage from Jesus with good reason. Take the blows, not as a man, but as a disciple. Lead the charge into hell with heaven at your back, and by the grace of God rip away the chains of sin with tenderness of the gospel. Don’t be afraid. He is ready to save.