But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
Jesus spoke these words to His disciples as He walked out to them in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Today, He speaks these words to us: “Be of good cheer.” That is to say, take courage, be firm and resolute in your adverse circumstances. Truly, there is nothing to fear knowing that Jesus cares for us. When the storms of life bring us low, causing us to wonder if we can stay the course, we need to fix our eyes of faith upon Jesus and be of good cheer.
After Jesus had finished feeding the five thousand, the people wanted to force Him to be their king. In response, Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a boat and go before Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
While the disciples made their way to the other side, Jesus sent the multitudes away and went up into a mountain to pray. What exactly Jesus included in His petitions to God the Scriptures do not say. But we can well imagine what He might have prayed. Likely, He prayed that God would be glorified and that the kingdom of heaven would be established. And, knowing Jesus’ care for His disciples, we can be sure that He prayed for them as well, even as they made their way to the other side of the sea.
Striking, then, that while Jesus prayed, a storm should arise on the sea. Jesus must have known there was a storm. Could He not have commanded the storm to cease as soon as it had arisen? Alternatively, could He not have kept the storm from arising in the first place? Surely, He who had rebuked the winds and the waves on a previous occasion (cf. Matt. 8:26) could have done the same again in order to expedite the disciples’ crossing of the sea. But Jesus did not pray for the disciples to be kept from the storm. If He had, the storm would never have arisen.
That troubled sea still speaks to us today. As we look at God’s dealings with His people in that day, we learn something about the way God deals with the church in all ages.
Note, in the first place, that being a member of the church of Jesus Christ is no guarantee that we will escape the storms of life. The Scriptures do not teach a health-and-wealth gospel. They do not teach that believers will have a life of ease. Far from it. In fact, Jesus warns His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Count on it, you will experience all sorts of troubles that inflict distress upon you. “But,” Jesus says, “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
In the second place, even though Jesus had constrained the disciples to cross the sea and they were doing so in obedience to Him, the wind was still contrary. So, too, we may be walking in obedience to the command of Christ, and yet, for all that, still experience troubles and turmoil. Even though Jesus prays for us in heaven, troubles still come. That doesn’t mean that He is too weak to keep hardship from coming. Rather, we can be of good cheer knowing He has a greater purpose in mind for us. The troubled sea became an occasion to strengthen the disciples’ faith. But first, it manifested their weakness of faith.
When Jesus saw the disciples toiling against the wind, He went out to them walking on the sea. Instead of rejoicing to see Jesus, the disciples cried out in fear, “It is a ghost!” Even if it had been a ghost, they still had no reason to fear; for God was watching over them. In their fear, they were not trusting God as they should have. Amazing! Jesus Himself was coming to help them, and yet they cry out in fear.
We manifest the same fear at times. Even when God is approaching to help us, we don’t recognize His nearness. So we fear all kinds of situations. In hard economic times we ask, “How will we provide for ourselves without a job?” Or, “What will happen to the house?” When God takes a loved one from us, we ask, “How in the world will I manage?” Or, when God is coming to deliver us from this valley of tears, the very thought of death strikes fear in our hearts. We believe; help Thou our unbelief.
Even more striking than the disciples in the boat is the example of Peter’s weak faith. When Jesus said, “Come,” Peter actually went out to Jesus walking on the water. However, when Peter noticed the boisterous sea, he was afraid and began to sink. He took his eyes off Jesus and began to focus on the stormy sea. He forgot that he was standing in the presence of Him who had complete authority over the wind and waves. Instead of trusting Jesus, he feared the wind. Yes, Peter had faith; but it was weak.
Too often we are just like Peter. When storms come and winds blow, we don’t keep our focus on Christ. Instead, we fix our thoughts on the wind and waves. Sometimes we focus on the horribleness of our sin and its consequences. Other times, seemingly unbearable circumstances press upon us. In the midst of our distresses, we tend to think too much of the turmoil at hand, and forget to look to Christ, who rules over the turmoil. Focusing only on our troubles, we start a downward spiral that leads to despair. How little is our faith. How we need to consider the presence of our Lord and be of good cheer. When Peter began to sink in fear, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Though Peter’s faith was weak, by God’s grace he recognized that his help was in the Lord. A lord is someone who has authority and power over someone or something else. Peter knew Jesus was the Sovereign, who was able to save him.
When we begin to sink under the burden of our problems, we need to call upon Him who has supreme power to help us in all our circumstances. Psalm 50:15: “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Not that calling upon God earns His help. But God has promised graciously to help us when we call upon him. God is the Sovereign One, who is surely able to help us. In addition, His willingness to help us ought to be evident from the fact that He already sent His only begotten Son to die for us.
Jesus showed His sovereign authority over creation in a number of ways. In the first place, the winds and waves did not keep Him from going out to help His disciples. He simply walked out to them on the sea. This miracle shows that the laws of nature are, in fact, God’s laws. He rules over every aspect of creation.
When Peter saw Jesus’ lordship over the winds and waves, he believed (for a moment) that with Jesus’ help, he too could walk on the water. When we know God’s sovereign rule over our circumstances, we too can be of good cheer, knowing He is able to equip us to serve Him.
In addition, Jesus showed His lordship over the situation when Peter called out to Him. “Immediately, Jesus stretched forth his hand and caught him.” From that we learn that no force of nature, no enemy, no circumstance, nothing at all in the whole of creation puts us beyond the loving reach of our sovereign Lord. Someone says, “But you don’t know the mess I have gotten myself into.” “You don’t know the horribleness of my sin!” Maybe others don’t know our turmoil. But God knows. And He is sovereign to help us.
How strong is our Lord? When Jesus and Peter climbed into the ship, the wind ceased. If Jesus is sovereign to control that part of Creation, surely He is sovereign over all our troubles. I Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” That’s the Savior we serve.
Therefore, be of good cheer. Jesus is at hand to help us.