"Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. 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. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened."
Mark 5: 45-52
I spent my senior year of college as an exchange student at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. I love new cultures, British history and literature, and scones with clotted cream, so this was an all-around win! One day on the train into London, I noticed several billboards with a simple, clear message; TAKE COURAGE. How interesting, I thought, that someone has paid to post these messages of encouragement to a weary world. Many of the billboards were located in decaying, poverty-stricken neighborhoods. I was stunned by the care given to their placement. It seemed kind--providential.
I can't remember if it was a trip to my local or an English friend who set me straight, and jolted my quaint musing. Courage was actually a brand of beer served on tap in public houses throughout the country. The encouragements to "take courage" were very different than I imagined--they were advertisements, placed in particular neighborhoods to inspire alcoholic escape.
Jesus' pronouncement in Mark 5 is very different too. After feeding 5,000 people, Jesus sends the disciples out in a boat. He desire quiet to pray, and they are exhausted. The stresses and shocks of a miraculous day wiped them out. In the early morning (the fourth watch of a night was between 3 and 6 am), the winds pick up and the disciples strain to keep the boat afloat. A mysterious figure appears in the distance and they scream out in raw fear. It must be a ghost!
It is not--it is Christ Himself. Jesus says, "Take courage==it is I. Don't be afraid." He gets into the boat with them, the winds die down, and they all sail back to shore on calm water. Mark records that the disciples were completely amazed by this turn of events-- they did not understand about the loaves because their hearts were hard.
What did they not understand? Who Jesus was. In other words, the disciples saw Jesus break five loaves and two fish into a feast that fed 5,000 men, and multitudes of women and children, but they didn't get it. They didn't get that He was GOD! Their hadn't let the truth of that incredible miracle sink in. Maybe Jesus should have said, "Take courage--it is I and I AM GOD." Maybe. Maybe they needed a more direct revelation. Maybe they needed a good knock on the head!
Maybe so do I. No, not maybe. Actually! Why do I ever let fear control me when I fully understand Jesus' divinity? Why do I let worry and doubt sink in when I know what Christ has done for me, and understand that He lives? Why do I spend more hours afraid of hard situations, others' opinions, and uncertain outcomes than I spend honoring my Savior's divine power to overcome all? If I truly understand who Jesus is, and give Him the priority He deserves in the bandwidth of my heart, there's no reason to be afraid. Fear will be replaced with faith.
Jesus calls me daily to see He is God, He is good, and He's got me. He is my miraculous, mysterious, mind-blowing Messiah. I know His wonders personally, because only such a Messiah can free me from the miserable mire of my sin. It is high time to take courage.