• 17/05/2022

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
The speech of Reverend Dr. Andrea Zaki, the President of the Protestant Churches. From the activities of the second day of the General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches:
"Your holiness, beatitudes, eminence, and sovereignty,
Honorable priests,
Ladies and gentlemen and attendees,
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the outset, I express my happiness with this meeting, the meeting of the General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches, which is hosted by our beloved country, Egypt. I also thank Dr. Michel Abs, Secretary-General of the Middle East Council of Churches, for inviting me to present this study.
Today, we reflect on one of the most beautiful situations recorded in the Gospels, the miracle of walking on water, and what it contains tremendous and deep theological meanings and useful life messages for every time and place.
We read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 14:
22. Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. 25. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. 27. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” 28. And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29. So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31. And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32. And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14: 22 – 32)
This miraculous scene comes after another miraculous one; feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. It also precedes other miraculous scenes of healing recorded by Matthew. He describes the situation at the end of this chapter, saying, “And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.”
These three miraculous scenes are interspersed with the prayer of Jesus alone, the disciples’ proclamation, and prostration to the Lord Jesus, declaring, “Truly You are the Son of God.” Therefore, the words of the Lord Christ, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” come fully connected with these three scenes.
These miraculous scenes have a messianic significance, reflecting the role of Christ, the Savior and Deliverer, even in the most severe and harsh conditions. They also emphasized the masses of Christ, and reflected the temptation on the mountain. So, if He refused to turn stones into bread despite His capability to do so, H blessed the five loaves and the two fish. He fed the thousands who came to hear His words. Then He came walking on the water at a time when the storm almost destroyed His disciples on the ship, which confirms His power and complete authority over nature’s elements.
The scene begins in a similar way to what appears in the miracle of silencing the storm in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter eight. There is a difference that Jesus did not accompany them on the ship from the beginning. Christ prays at night in private, setting an important example for us. And He teaches us that any call, mission, or great act must start from the prayer room.
"I am He"… Knowing God's Being and Identity:
Christ, the Lord, used the expression “I am He” many times and on different occasions. It is an expression that carries theological connotations that refer to the name of God by which God made himself known to Moses in the Book of Exodus, chapter three, verse 14, And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” The verb "to be" is used in the Hebrew language, 'haya,' this word shares the root with the noun Jehovah. The expression includes the verb "to be," as in "I am …who is." This explains why the high priest considered this expression, in Jesus' trial before his crucifixion, a kind of blasphemy, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 14,: "Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?”
Also, having the high priest tearing his clothes, according to many interpretations, is a well-known ritual movement indicating a rejection of blasphemy or rejection of a great matter. There are references throughout the Bible, such as in the book of II Kings, chapter 6, when the King of Israel tore his clothes after hearing two women talking about eating their children after a severe famine hit Samaria due to the siege.
Therefore, in this scene, in addition to His unlimited power over nature, the Lord Christ declares that He is the same God, "Jehovah," who spoke to Moses in the Old Testament. He is who brought his people out of the land of Egypt with miracles and performed a greater miracle by their crossing the sea. He is the same God who humbled himself and was incarnated, lived on earth, performed wonders and miracles, was crucified on the cross, and rose glorified. It is the same expression He used in His appearance to His disciples after the resurrection in Luke chapter 24: "Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see..."
In this turbulent scene and before a violent storm that almost claimed the lives of all those on the ship, and in His presence in the fourth watch, the Lord Christ intended to confirm His authority by clearly declaring His identity and divine being, to give confidence and peace and assure that things will not depart from His authority no matter what happens.
In recording different miracles in this chapter, such as; feeding the crowds, walking on water, calming the storm, which is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, chapter four, and raising the dead, especially Lazarus, all these miracles prove Christ's authority over matter and nature. These miracles deliver a clear message that all things are in His hand, for He is God, the Creator, the possessor of authority.
"Do not be afraid." is a commandment and a mission.
The disciples were tormented and wished that the Lord Christ had been with them to calm the sea, but He waited until the fourth watch, which is the last stage of the hours of the night, to strengthen their faith, patience, and waiting. But in the end, He appeared to them in a way they did not expect, for they know his appearance and His gait, but how He walks on water. They thought it was a ghost, so they were afraid and cried if it wasn't for his voice, which brought them peace and tranquility: “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
God's presence is linked to peace and overcoming fears. Here, when Jesus declared His authority and identity, He reassured his frightened disciples in the boat from drowning and death. Knowing God is a source of peace and tranquility.
On many occasions, we find Christ granting peace to His troubled disciples. The Gospel of John, chapter 20, tells us how the Lord Christ appeared to the disciples after His resurrection to rescue them from the spirit of turmoil and fear, as He says: "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you."
Like our world today is going through harsh conditions such as wars, epidemics, and economic crises, we are assigned not only to trust in God and His ability and authority but also to reassure others. The word "Do not be afraid" is not only a commandment from God, but it also bears a great mission and responsibility on us.
Our message is one of peace amidst challenges. If death is what frightens man the most, then Christ has triumphed over it and over everything that scares and threatens man. If no one can control nature, Christ walked on water and calmed the sea. Thus, we should never forget that God is there. He sees and feels what we go through and our challenges. Jesus comes amid closed doors, fear, and a severe storm from which we think there is no escape. He comes when we feel that things are out of control to confirm his power and authority, giving us peace and tranquility.
Today, we have a mission and a mandate, each in his position, to spread this peace and call for it to reach everyone who lives behind closed doors, suffers from turmoil, storm, fear, anxiety, poverty, need or doubt. We are called to carry the message of peace in all its forms to change humanity's reality.
The Lord Christ invites us, as a church, to go out to the world, carry his concerns, share his pains, and make peace a real message amid the troubled world.
Between faith and doubt
When Peter heard the voice of the Lord Christ, he said to Him: “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Sometimes, people may be confused by what Peter said, as he sounds to be tempting the Lord. In Christ's different situations, we find out that Jesus never responds to the request of performing the miracle when it is to try Him, as when the Scribes and Pharisees repeatedly requested Him, but He never responded.
But the Lord Christ - and He is God who knows what is inside the hearts - was well aware of Peter's personality. He was aware that Peter was a bit hasty but had a pure heart. Peter's question was not to ask for the sign but to confirm His Messianism. Peter was eager to meet the Master so that he might feel peace and tranquility.
Peter initiated and asked to walk on water, believing that he could do like his Master, acknowledging the authority of Christ not only to walk on water but also to make others walk on water. Peter did not move without the Master's answer, initiation, and calling. God's will is a dynamic action; Man seeks and asks with faith, and God responds and calls according to His good will. May we learn today from Peter's initiative to take new and unconventional initiatives toward our ministry and mission.
The Lord Jesus knew that Peter was not tempting Him, so he said to him: "Come." So, Peter went down and walked on water, looking at the Lord Christ. But when he looked around to see the waves and looked under him and found water, he began to drown.
Our inner fears and doubts cause danger to us, while faith is our way to strength and salvation. Faith is associated with believing, surrendering, and fixing our eyes on God. We can overcome all challenges, waves, and storms with this same capability.
Often, we have a history of dealing with God's power, authority, and help, yet some circumstances and situations still break us. Christ commanded us to deal with our doubts and fears. He rebuked the disciples in silencing the storm miracle: “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” He also rebuked Peter: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
When Peter's strong faith initiative was shaken, he cried out for help, but he learned the lesson and did not fall into the clutches of failure. We are all prone to slipping and shaking. So, this requires us to calm down a bit to think and learn from our human weaknesses. Asking for help may mean a change in vision, strategy, and role.
Jesus raised him and held his hand to save him. He does not want to leave us prey to weak faith and doubt. Christ dealt with Peter's personality very wisely. Jesus Christ led Peter from a fisherman to a fisherman of people, from impulsive and fearful to professing faith and witnessing before thousands of people without fear on the day of Pentecost (Acts of the Apostles 2: 14). What a transforming power!
The Lord Christ gradually dealt with the flaws in Peter's personality, leading him on a journey of change. A person cannot change suddenly, and no one can shockingly change others no matter how great he is. Christ touched the weaknesses of Peter's personality to turn them into strengths with the ability to influence. Christ, The Lord did not condemn Peter harshly for his shortcomings and wrong decisions but restored him with love.
Jesus later rescued Thomas, who was not present when Christ appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, stressing the need to see him himself. Our Lord Christ appeared with the doors closed and said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).
Christ changed Peter's personality from confusion and recklessness with love and wisdom. Christ dealt with Thomas' doubts with love and wisdom, giving him an eternal foundation of faith. Love and wisdom are capable of miracles. History is full of many who have been able to change people's lives thanks to the love and wisdom they drew from the character of Christ.
Getting out of the boat is a risk.
So, for Peter, the decision to get out of the boat was a risk. Risk is neither wrong nor harmful as long as it is calculated. Settling in a comfort zone without thinking about new horizons and different dimensions is the highest risk, while taking bold steps is required. But it requires calculating the costs, and the Lord Christ praised whoever calculates the cost well, represented in the wise man who built his house on the rock. He calculated the cost well, understood the surrounding circumstances, and made a sound decision.
And in another place, he says: "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?" This saying was in the context of calculating the cost of compliance to Christ Himself. He assured His disciples that submitting to Him was not easy and comfortable and that they would face trouble and perhaps death for His name. So, he instructed them to calculate the cost first. This is the calculated risk. Peter took this risk and asked to walk on the water.
Taking risks also requires flexibility and a willingness to deal with changes. The challenges surrounding us are as many as the waves and storms around the disciples' ship. This flexibility may require a change of direction, a re-reading of our thoughts, a willingness to change direction, and a complete surrender to God's work in shaping us and forming our experiences.
During the past decade, our entire region has passed through dangerous stages, which mainly affected the East's Christians. The Church has had this flexibility to deal with dangers and challenges and has confidence that the Lord will come amid these challenges to change these situations that seemed completely out of control.
Missionary between recklessness and a calling.
As long as we are called to the mission of peace, love, and wisdom, we must know that there are significant differences between calling and recklessness. The Bible, from its perspective, declares this idea clear; In the creation story, the call is characterized by creativity; God is the Creator, and man is created in the image of God. But God also gives man a role in such creative process; “So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.” By naming the assets, the goal is determined, and the identity becomes clear. The man is the one who gives things their value and meaning. And if sin has corrupted the matter, and man has gained his value from things, the change that God wants to make in our hearts is to give things their value and meaning in Christ.
When we return to the word of God, we find that there are many models of recklessness whose results have been disastrous, and some of these models can be addressed as follows:
- In the Fall story, the man wanted to be independent of God. The serpent deceived him, so he surrendered to the idea of becoming like God, knowing good and evil. It seduced him not to need God because he would be like him. Human recklessness led to the fall and human suffering with sin's consequences.
- In building the Tower of Babel, man also sought independence from God, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves,” pathetic thinking. That is the case of everyone thinks that a person can be independent of God or not need him. Every ministry and call that distances you from God and seeks independence from Him is a kind of recklessness, and it will not work.
- In several situations with Peter, we find him flying to failure, and we see him wavering between declaring his faith in Christ when Christ asked His disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then immediately after, he rejects Jesus' talk about the cross. At the moment of Jesus' arrest, he rushes to cut off the ear of the high priest's servant, then denies knowing his Master a few hours later. He despairs and thinks of returning to hunting again after the crucifixion of Jesus, but the Lord later recovers him with great love.
In Simon, the Magician’s story, we find the recklessness of power, the dishonest pursuit of prestige, and the purchase of the miracle with money. He seemed to be accepting faith, but faith did not work in his heart, and he did not act with this faith.
- In the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we can see the recklessness of their appearance, which led them to lie against the Spirit of God. They wanted to ride the wave without calculating the cost, and the result was death.
- In a disagreement among Paul, Barnabas, and Mark, we can see leadership recklessness. Barnabas was the leader, and Mark participated with Paul and Barnabas in their ministry. For some reason, Mark left Paul and Barnabas. When the leadership was transferred to Paul, he refused Mark's participation because he had left them previously. Paul and Barnabas quarreled and departed each other. Were it not for Barnabas' encouragement to Mark, the recklessness of leadership would have caused Paul to lose him. Later, Paul describes Mark as "For he is useful to me for ministry." Thanks to the encouragement and building that Barnabas did in Mark's life.
On the other hand, we find in God's word shining examples of the call that God led to perform miracles and change the lives of many:
- God's call to Noah to build the ark. God's goal was clear to save the world from corruption and evil. God used Noah for this goal. We are all tools in the hand of Almighty God, and we must submit to His power to shape and change us to transform the world. Noah built the ark on dry land, which seemed to his contemporaries to be a ridiculous and strange thing. Thus, God's call sometimes may seem to our human reasoning somewhat strange.
- God called Abraham to leave his land and clan to a land he did not know. Abraham trusted in God and believed in him, so he became an example and a model for faith, submission, blessing, and fruitfulness.
- The Lord Christ called His disciples from various professions and social and economic categories to deal with their misconceptions, expectations, and concepts until, after his ascension, they were able to change the world in a few years.
- The Lord called Saul of Tarsus, who was persecuting the Church of God. He was able to change his life's direction because he saw in him a chosen vessel. God can see the best in us even when we are in the most sinful and corrupt moments of our lives.
The call is a revelation from God to an individual or a group that requires an integrated system of actions and words. The call is a partnership between God and man as well as a shared responsibility. In God's call for us, we have a role and responsibility represented in our distinguishing and accepting its impact on our lives and behavior.
The call requires calculating the expense, as it is not an emotionally reckless decision without wisdom or discernment but rather deliberate and organized steps. God indeed deals with our shortcomings, confusion, and recklessness at times, but our role is to submit to God's hand to shape us according to His plan. The call is also an ongoing spiritual connection with God. Jesus was alone on the mountain to pray before this miraculous scene, and before any other incident, the Gospels record that prayer was the starting point. Continuous spiritual communication with God is the guarantee to guide us in our call and service. Without this communication, we lose direction, fullness, and wisdom, and we are overcome by failure.
So, it is evident that the calling and mission placed upon us in building the kingdom of God requires; first to work and change ourselves and, secondly, to examine our lives by God's pure standards. Our calling and mission are to serve God, the church, and society. Our role is to be the example of Christ, who went about doing good. It soothes the troubled and frightened of the stormy waves of the world and gives peace and tranquility.
The end of the scene. A declaration of faith
The ministry of Christ was not easy or free of troubles and challenges. We are before a turbulent political scene that Jerusalem experienced. Politically: there was a cruel colonizer who controlled all matters. Economically: poverty spread in society due to the plundering of these people’s wealth by the colonizer. Religiously: a state of corruption prevailed in the Jewish religious institution, so crafts were worshiped, the spirit of faith was lost, and extremists from the Scribes and Pharisees imposed their religious ideas and duality on the simple, while other sects, such as the Sadducees, devoted themselves to reap the gains of power, and other sects, such as the Zealots, sought to practice violence in an attempt to change the situation.
Amid this scene, people were left with no care, as Matthew described them in the ninth chapter of his Gospel: “They were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
The Lord Christ provided care for all of these, healed the sick and went about doing good, gave them actual bread to satisfy the multitude, and gave them spiritual bread in teaching and changing the prevailing wrong ideas. He refused to derive his authority from people because he alone is omnipotent and omnipotent over nature and all existing things.
In this miraculous scene, we find it begins with Christ declaring his divine identity and that he is God, the maker of miracles and the possessor of absolute authority over all the universe, commanding the sea and nature so they obey him.
The scene ends with Jesus entering the ship then the waves and the storm are calmed. As long as God is in our ship, it is safe, and as long as we are in a relationship and communicate with Him, we are not afraid of any disturbance, instability, or fear. As long as we fix our eyes on Him, we can walk over waves and challenges.
So that we can say like Jehoshaphat when he stood before the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem in the house of the Lord, pleading with God in the face of many dangers of invasion and destruction, saying: “Nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”
We do not know what to do in the face of challenges, but our eyes are fixed on God. Yes, we take the initiative, think, study the scene well, and think of solutions, but unless our eyes are towards God, we will not be able to cross it.
In recognizing God's identity, we find reassurance from fears, move from doubt to faith and certainty, and realize our calling and mission.
The scene also ends with the disciples prostrating and declaring their faith: “Truly You are the Son of God.”
God reveals himself and his identity, so we believe; we know in whom we believe. When we know in whom we truly believe, we are steadfast and not scared in the face of storms. In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul said: “Nevertheless, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
This scene shows how God supports us and is gentle with us. He deals with our questions and doubts. The storm of the lake indicates our weakness and urgent need for God, but at the same time, it brings a declaration of His authority over our lives.
In our confession and recognition of God’s power and authority, we submit all the challenges before Him, confident that He is above all, mighty and capable. If challenges have obscured his identity from our scene, let us make it an opportunity to draw close to him and see him. In knowing him, we are aware of his identity and our identity in him so that we can chant with the Apostle Paul: “I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”