Fear is real and rational when reality confronts us with what appears to be danger. However, when we perceive Jesus’ presence, our perception of reality changes. As followers of Jesus we can fight fear with faith by acknowledging that Jesus’ supernatural abilities are immediately available to us whenever he makes his presence felt. Consider Peter’s parable:
In Matthew’s story about Jesus’ walking on the water (14:22–33), we see that the disciples were so agitated they cried out in fear because they thought they saw an apparition. They were not afraid because they were rowing in a boat against a strong wind. Difficult as that was, they’d dealt with this situation hundreds of times; many of them were experienced Galilean fishermen, after all. Besides this, they’d already seen Jesus heal from a distance (8:13); still a storm they couldn’t handle (8:26); cast out demons (8:32); and make the lame walk (9:6). In each case his authority as the Son of God (one of Matthew’s driving themes) had become more and more apparent. Indeed, after more similar experiences, they became agents of kingdom power themselves (10:1). Then just before they sailed on this trip, Jesus again demonstrated his ability to influence the natural world for the benefit of his people by feeding 5000 from five loaves of bread and two fish (14:21).
No, the disciples feared because they thought a supernatural being might be a danger to them. Because Jesus had stayed behind to pray, they were alone; and, since they were four miles out into the middle of the lake, they didn’t see how Jesus would be available to help them if the apparition decided to harm them. Without access to Jesus, it was reasonable to fear. But Jesus did not leave them in the dark. When he appeared, he noticed their fear and identified himself with the powerful declaration: “Take heart! It is I! Don’t fear!” In his assertion we hear echoes of Yahweh’s comforting words to Israel: “Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your deity; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. … I am the one who helps you, Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 41:10–14). And, we hear the reverberations of all the other “I am” statements Jesus made to encourage their confidence, including his final declaration, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So, when they realized they weren’t in danger, the disciples let out a collective sigh of relief.
But Peter, the ever-exuberant-one, was not content just to let Jesus join them in the boat. He recognized another opportunity to experience more of Jesus’ supernatural abilities—and, maybe, a chance to do something none of the others had done. Jesus did not rebuke him for being presumptuous or silly. He just said, “Come,” with the expectation that Peter would join him in what he was doing.
When we see Jesus doing something in our lives and feel inclined to join him, he will say the same to us: “Come.” The question for us will then be: Will we allow the distractions of the world around us to change our perception of reality, so that fear overcomes our faith? Peter did. When he climbed out of the boat, he left the safety of his sturdy craft, exchanging it for a confrontation with a wild and contrary world, his perception of reality changed again. Jesus was right there, standing on the water, providing Peter power, but the pressure of the wind prevailed. The little bit of faith that he had sank out of sight, and he began to sink as well. Jesus answered his cry for help, but he didn’t pull his punches as he pulled him out of the water: “Why did you waver when you considered my power relative to the power of the wind and waves?”
Fortunately for us, Matthew did not conclude his story with the suppression of the wind, but with the collective affirmation that Jesus truly is the Son of God. As we recognize and affirm this reality, our fear will subside and our faith will prevail.