“When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke with them and said, ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever experienced that moment where your hero became human? Some people have; some people haven’t. It’s a tough moment if you’ve lived it. You were looking up to someone as a model for how you wanted to be living your own life and then they did something to reveal they were nothing like you thought them to be. That can be devastating to a person’s entire worldview. Now, I hope you’re not expecting me to somehow say this is somehow Jesus. It’s not. Ever. But what we see in this next part of the story of Jesus’ walking on water reminds us of how good and wise the Scriptures are. They keep our focus on picking the right heroes over the wrong ones.
We live in a world of increasing cynicism today. There are many reasons for this, but I would argue that one of the reasons – at least in my culture – is the loss of the Christian worldview. In the absence of a belief in a sovereign God, we will naturally fill that hole in with something else. It’s just what we do. We don’t often look to ourselves as the ultimate and final authority on what’s what. Where that happens it is usually the result of a genuine psychological disorder. Instead, we look to others.
The problem with looking to others to fill the spot once rightly occupied by God is that others aren’t God. And because they aren’t God, they aren’t going to be like God. They aren’t going to be faithful and consistent and good and righteous and just and holy and loving and merciful all the time. Eventually they are going to fail. And when they do, cynicism is the result.
If we have that letdown happen to us many times – sometimes it only takes once – we begin assuming that everyone will eventually fail us. We start looking for the worst in people. We start assuming the worst about people. Trust declines culture-wide. That causes a general breakdown in basic relationships between people. It becomes harder to makes friends and find real romance and do business and the like. We divide into factions that war against each other, but only themselves last until their charismatic leader falls. Then the cynicism deepens and the downward spiral continues.
The evangelical world has been hit by this yet again in the last year. Apologist and evangelist Ravi Zacharias was a dominant figure in the evangelical world for several decades. His thoughtful, piercing insights on culture and the Christian faith have led many thousands of people to embrace it over the years. He was a stalwart defender of the reasonableness of Christianity over and against various other religious worldviews. He could speak both to the mind and the heart with equal eloquence. In the last few years there were a few bubbles of scandal surrounding him and his ministry, but these quickly popped and appeared to be little more than secular efforts to try and unfairly discredit him.
Then he died and a whole flood of information started to rise to the surface. It turns out he had been a systematic abuser of women and a serial adulterer for years. This time it wasn’t the scandal bubbles that burst, it was the bubble of his credibility. Does this somehow make the message he preached all his life false? Not even in the slightest way, but it will result in his legacy being one of scandal and not faithfulness. All of his terrific life’s work will come to nothing because no one will now use him or his arguments to point other people to Jesus. The dam of sin he was holding back by force of personality while he was living finally gave way when he wasn’t there to hold it anymore and it poisoned everything he had ever done.
Thankfully, Ravi Zacharias is not our example. We find that in the Scriptures. The guys who wrote it made sure we could. When guys like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were writing their accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, they were in a really unique position. Their position in the early church was dominant. They could have easily written themselves into the story in such a way as to increase their fame and influence even more than it already was. They could have held themselves out as consistent examples of getting Jesus right. They could have written themselves in as the heroes of the story with Jesus as an afterthought. That’s certainly the temptation any other writers would have faced in their sandals.
Instead, they included details in their stories like we find right here. Here they were in the middle of the night having spent the last several hours fighting the wind and the waves as they struggled to get their boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were exhausted and frustrated and a gnawing sense of fear was starting to grow in their hearts. Suddenly they see someone walking out to them on the water. Now, if they were writing the story the way we might have done it, they would have presented themselves as courageously pressing on against the obstacles in their path and upon seeing Jesus, recognized Him immediately and worked all the harder to impress Him with their faith and faithfulness.
But that’s not what happened.
The disciples saw Jesus walking out to them on the water and what did they say? “Look, it’s Jesus! We’re saved!” “Oh, Lord, we are so glad to see you! Help us get to the other side!” “Jesus, where have you been? We’ve been struggling all night and now you come and join us?” Nope. None of those things. Instead, they said, “Ahh! A ghost!” These experienced sailors who had already seen Jesus stop a storm with a word saw their Lord walking to them on the water and they completely lost their stuff. They freaked out. It wasn’t just a little freak out either. They thought they had died and were seeing ghosts. They thought the spirits of the lake were playing tricks on them in an attempt to get them to jump overboard so they could claim their lives as their own. They thought they were goners. Jesus had to call to them so they heard His voice and would stop panicking. Matthew includes the additional bit that Peter didn’t believe even this much and tested the vision by asking to join Him out on the water if it really was Jesus.
In other words, the disciples who were writing this story down to share with the church didn’t edit things to make themselves look better for the sake of reputation. They told the honest truth that they came off looking like a bunch of clueless cowards. They looked like they were the butt of the joke. These were not the guys you wanted to look to as an example of how to be living. There was only one person who fit that bill. He wasn’t in the boat. He was out on the water.
And that’s the point here. There is but one person worthy of our attention and devotion. That person is Jesus. He is the only one who will not fail us or forsake us. He will not leave us or lose us. He will remain with us and His character will never change though all the world around us gives way. If you’re looking to anyone else in your life, they will eventually let you down. It is in our nature to fail. It is not, however, in Jesus’ nature. Look to Him and find the hero you’ve always wanted.