Good Cheer From Christ’s Real Presence
“ Immediately He constrained His disciples to get into the boat, and to go before Him to the other side to Bethsaida,
while He sent away the people. And when He had sent them away, He departed into a mountain to pray. And when evening was come, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and He alone on the land. And He saw them toiling in rowing,for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking upon the sea,and would have passed by them. But when they saw Him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and
cried out: for they all saw Him, and were troubled. And immediately He talked with them, and said unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I, be not afraid. And He went up unto them into the boat, and the wind ceased: and they weresorely amazed among themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle ofthe loaves: for their hearts were hardened.“Mark 6:45-52.
WE have here a word of comfort given to a shipload of Believers who were where their Lord had sent them. They hadbeen unwilling to put out to sea, though it was probably calm enough at the time, but they did not wish to leave the Lord Jesus. He constrained them to go and thus their sailing was not merely under His sanction, but by His express command. They were in their right place and yet they met with a terrible storm. The little inland sea upon which they sailed lies in a deep hollow and from the shore there pours a sudden downdraft of tremendous wind for which it is not possible to be prepared. By one of these whirlwinds the whole sea was stirred up to boiling, as only those little lakes can be. So, though they were where Jesus bade them go, they were in desperate peril, and you, dear Friends, must not think that you are in a wrong position because you are in trouble. Do not consider that adverse circumstances are a proof that you have missed your road, for they may even be an evidence that you are in the good old way since the path of Believers is seldom without trial. You did well to embark and to leave the shore, but remember, though your Lord has insured the vessel and guaranteed that you shall reach your haven, He has not promised that you shall sail over a sea of glass. On the contrary, He has told you that “in the world you shall have tribulation”–and you may all the more confidently believe in Him because you find His warning to be true!
Their Lord had bid His disciples make for the other side and, therefore, they did their best and continued rowing all night, but making no progress whatever because the wind was dead against them. It was with difficulty that they could keep what little way they had made and not be blown back again to the starting place. Probably you have heard it said that if a Christian does not go forward, he goes backward–that is not altogether true, for there are times of spiritual trial when if a man does not go backward, he is really going forward. “Stand fast” is a precept, which, when well kept, may involve as much virtue as, “press forward.” A master of a steam vessel will put on all steam and drive right into the teeth of a hurricane and remain perfectly satisfied if the good boat can only keep from being driven on shore. The Apostolic crew rowed, and rowed, and rowed–and it was no fault of theirs that they made no progress, “for the wind was contrary unto them.” The Christian may make little or no headway and yet it may be no fault of his, for the wind is contrary. Our good Lord will take the will for the deed and reckon our progress, not by our apparent advance, but by the hearty intent with which we tug at the oars!
Often, when a Believer groans in prayer and cannot pray, he has offered the best prayer. And when he tries to win men’s hearts and does not win them, his zeal is as acceptable as if it convinced a nation–and when he would do good and finds evil present with him–there is good in the desire. If he threw up the oars and drifted with the wind, that would be another thing, but if our Lord sees him, “toiling in rowing,” albeit no progress is made, He has never a word to say against His servant, but He will bid him, “be of good cheer.”
It does not appear, from the narrative, that the disciples had any fear about the storm except such as might naturally arise even in the minds of fishermen when they were dreadfully tossed upon the sea. They probably said to one another, “Did not our Master constrain us to set forth on this voyage? Though we met with this storm, we are not to be blamed.” Certain Believers who have lately been brought to know the Lord, have been great losers in temporal things by becoming Christians. What then? Let them not be terrified by this fact–even Christ’s boat is tossed with tempest. Let them row on against the wind and even if the storm increases in fury, let them not lose heart. One who knew the seas right well exclaimed, “Though He slays me, yet will I trust in Him.” And in so doing he glorified God and before long found himself in a great calm. Does Jesus bid us make for the shore? Then let us row on, even if we cannot make headway, for Jesus knows all about it and orders all things well.
Why, then, did our Savior, when He came to this shipload of Apostles who had been toiling and rowing, say to them, “Be of good cheer”? They were bold, brave men, and were not at all afraid of the sea. What, then, did they fear? He would not have so spoken unless they had been afraid of something–and on looking at the text, we see, to ourastonishment, that they were afraid of Jesus Himself. They were not afraid of wind and storms and waves and tempests,but they were afraid of their best Friend! That is the point which He aimed at by saying, “Be of good cheer: it is I, be not afraid.” We will first think over
the cause of their fear. the method by which Jesus
cheered them. .
- First, then, dear Friends, consider with me THE CAUSE OF THEIR FEAR.
If we had not sailed over the same lake–I mean if we had not suffered the same experience–it might have surprised us that they were afraid of their Lord. He was appearing for them and coming to their rescue. He was about to still the tempest for them, yet they were afraid of Him–of Him whom they loved and trusted. So blind were their eyes, sohardened were their hearts, that they were afraid of their Lord and afraid of Him when He was giving them the best reasons for trusting Him. Before their eyes He was displaying Himself as Lord over All–Master of wind and wave–and yet they were afraid of Him. The greatness of His power would have comforted them had they understood the Truth–but they did not consider the miracle of the loaves and, therefore, they were in a state of perplexity and were sorely afraid.
Meanwhile Jesus was acting in great gentleness to them. He was displaying His power, but it was not in a dazzling and overwhelming manner. Admire the sacred gentleness which made Him move as though He would have passed by them. If He had suddenly appeared in brilliant light in the middle of the boat, He might well have astounded them and driven them to fright. If, in a moment, He had shone forth just at the stern, or alighted from the heavens upon the deck, they would have been petrified with alarm! But He began by showing Himself on the crest of the billow–and one cried to his fellow, “Do you see that strange light yonder?” They watch and Jesus comes nearer! They can discern a figure. They can see a man step from wave to wave with majestic tread. In tenderness He will not flash upon them all at once. As when the morning breaks by slow increase of light, so Jesus came to His timid followers. Even then He moved as though He would pass by them, that they might not be alarmed by His appearing to bear down upon them as an adversary. Even thus He manifests Himself to us in the riches of His Grace in all wisdom and prudence!
The fears of the trembling crew were sufficiently aroused by even seeing Him at a distance–they were so afraid that they cried out thinking that they saw a ghost. What would they have done had He not, in gentleness to their weakness, manifested Himself gradually to them and set Himself in a sidelight? Take what way the Master might, His disciples were still afraid–and we are not much wiser nor much more courageous than they were. The manifestation of the Christ of God to us in all His Glory will have to be by degrees as long as we are in this body and, perhaps even in Heaven. It may not be at the very first that we shall be able to endure the fullness of its joy. Even there He may have to lead us to fountains of water which at the first we did not discover and guide us into more and more of that superlative knowledge which will utterly eclipse all acquaintance that we have of Him now, as the sunlight puts out the stars!
To return to our subject. The disciples were afraid of Jesus when He was revealing His power to help them, afraid of Him when He was acting in the gentlest possible manner toward them and treating them as a nurse does her child. Ah me, that we should be afraid of Jesus!
The Lord, after all, was doing nothing more than they knew He could do. Twenty-four hours had not passed since they had seen Him perform a work of creation, for He had taken bread and fish and multiplied them so as to make a feast for five thousand men, besides the women and children, and to leave far more, when all had eaten, than had been in store when first the loaves and fishes had been counted! After this miracle, they ought not to have been surprised that He could traverse the sea! To walk on the waters is to suspend a law, but to make loaves and fishes is to exercise the supreme power of Creation which must forever remain with God, Himself! Knowing this, they ought not to have been astonished–not so soon, at any rate. The memory of that feast ought not to have vanished quite so quickly from their most forgetful minds. Yet when they saw Him, only doing what they knew He could do, only doing something not a jot more difficult than He was accustomed to do–they cried out for fear!
Was it not because they dreaded contact with the spiritual, the mysterious and the supernatural? Although we arenow talking about them and, perhaps, half saying in our minds, “If we had been there, we would not have been afraid of Jesus and have cried out,” we do not know what we say–it takes very little of the supernatural to make a man’s flesh creep, let the man be who he may. When Belshazzar saw the handwriting upon the wall, he trembled most because of the mystery involved in a moving hand with which no visible body was connected. The unseen is the birthplace of fear. Imagination exaggerates and conscience whispers that some great ill will befall us. We are nearing the confines of the mysterious world where God and spirits dwell and, therefore, we tremble. Yet, Beloved, the spirit-world is the last thing which Christians should tremble at, for there can be nothing in the supernatural world which we have cause to dread! If there is such a thing as a ghost walking the earth, I, for one, would like to meet it–either at dead of night or noon of day!
I have not the least particle of faith in rambling spirits. Those who are in Heaven will not care to be wandering in these foggy regions! And those in Hell cannot leave their dread abode. From where, then, shall they come? Are they devils? Even so–and what then? A devil is no new personage. We have fought with devils full often and are prepared to resist them, again, and make them flee! The Lord will tread Satan, who is the master of evil spirits, under our feet shortly. Why, then, should we be afraid of his underlings? Nothing supernatural should cause any Christian the slightest alarm. We are expressly forbidden to fear the fear of the heathen and that is one of their greatest horrors–their dread of witchcraft, necromancy and other supposed manifestations of evil spirits! We who believe in Jesus are to be ashamed of such superstitions, lest a lie should have dominion over us!
If saintly spirits and holy angels can appear among men, what then? It would be a joy and a privilege to meet them! We are come to an innumerable company of angels–they bear us up in their hands lest we dash our feet against a stone.
Brothers and Sisters, I am more afraid of the natural than of the supernatural! And far more fearful of the carnal than of the spiritual. Yet the disciples were afraid of Jesus because they were fearful of the supernatural–and when a person falls under that dread, he will be afraid of anything. We have known such persons to be frightened by cattle, alarmed by a cat and distressed at the croak of a raven. Some foolish ones have even died with fear at the click of an insect in an old post, for they call it a “death watch.” Let us shake off all such childish folly, for if we once fall into it, we may even go the length of these Apostles and be afraid of our Master Himself!
II. Let us consider, secondly, THE METHOD BY WHICH OUR MASTER CHEERED HIS FOLLOWERS WHEN THEY WERE AFRAID OF THE SUPERNATURAL.
First of all, He assured them that He was not a disembodied spirit. He said, “It is I,” and that, “I,” was a Man whodid eat and drink with them. A Man of flesh and blood whom they had seen and heard and touched. They were comforted when they knew that it was really no disembodied spirit, but a Man in flesh and blood.
I beg you always to remember, dear Friends, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, that He is not to be regarded as an unclothed spirit, for He wears a body like our own. It would greatly detract from our comfort if we doubted the real Personality of Christ and the truth of His Resurrection. Our Lord has taken into Heaven our human Nature in its entirety–body as well as soul–and He ever lives not as a spirit, but as a Man like ourselves, all sin excepted, and He lives there as the pledge that we shall be there, too, in the completeness of our manhood when the trumpet of the resurrection sounds.
As a real Man, Jesus reigns above! He is no phantom, no ghost, no spirit, but a risen Man, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, who pities us and loves us, and feels for us! And in that capacity He speaks to us out of the glory of Heaven and He says, “It is I; be not afraid.”
Another thought lies on the surface of the passage, Jesus comforted them by the assurance that it was really Himself.They were not looking upon a fiction, they were looking upon Christ Himself.
Friend, be sure of the reality of the Christ you trust in! It is very easy to use the name of Jesus, but not quite so easy to know His Person. It is common to talk about what He did and not to feel that He lives just as truly as we do–and that He is a person to be loved and to be trusted in just as much as our own brother, or father, or friend. We need a real, living, personal Christ! A phantom Christ will not cheer us in a storm–it is rather the cause of fright than hope. But a real Christ is a real consolation in a real tempest. May every one of you, my Hearers, truly know the personal Savior to whom you can speak with as much certainty as if you could touch His hand!
The Christ of 1900 years ago worked out our salvation, but the Christ of today must apply it, or we are lost. Seeing that He always lives, He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him. Believe in His true Manhood and never allow your idea of Him to become thin and unsubstantial. Those are substantial Christians to whom Christ is substantial.
But the pith of the comfort lay in this–He said, “It is I; be not afraid,” which being interpreted means, it is Jesus, benot afraid. When our Lord met Paul on the road to Damascus, He said to him, “I am Jesus.” But when He spoke to those who knew His voice and were familiar with Him, He did not quote His name, but said, “It is I.” They were sheep that had been long enough with the Shepherd to know His voice and they had only to hear Him speak! And without a name being mentioned, they perceived that it was the Lord. To this conclusion they should have come at first. But as they blundered, and said, “It is a spirit,” the loving Master corrected them by saying, “It is I–it is Jesus.” It is not possible for me to convey to you what richness of consolation lies in the thought that Jesus is Jesus, which is, being interpreted, a Savior! That one character and office is cheering, but the same is true of all the names He wears. All the glorious titles and the blessed emblems under which He is set forth are rich in good cheer!
It is Jesus who walks the water of your trouble and comes to you–Jesus the Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Head over all things to His Church–the All-in-All of all His people!
When Jesus wished to encourage John, in the first Chapter of the Revelation, the comfort He gave to him was, “I am the First and the Last.” The comfort of the Lord’s people lies in the Person and Character of Jesus. Here is their solace, “IT IS I.” But what a big, “I,” it is! Compound in one all that is conceivable of goodness, mercy, Grace, faithfulness and love–add perfect Humanity, infinite Godhead and all the sovereign rights, powers and possessions of the Highest–and these are all contained in the one little letter, “I,” when Jesus says, “It is I; be not afraid.”
You have not reached the bottom of it yet. “ I Am.” Literally rendered, the word which Jesus said was not, “It is I,"but "I Am.” When He would cheer His ancient people, the Lord bade Moses comfort Israel by saying, “I AM has sent me unto you.” The self-existence of their God was to be the joy of the tribes. When Jesus said to those who came to take Him in the garden, “I Am,” they fell backward. Such was the power of that word–but when He said to these, His cowering disciples, “I Am,” they were drawn towards Him–and yet they lost not the awe which must always go with that incommunicable name, “I AM.”
Believer, Jesus says to you, “I Am.” Is your wife dead? Is your child to be buried? Have your possessions failed? Is your health departing? Are your joys declining? Alas, it is a dying, fleeting world, but there is One who is always the same, for Jesus says to you, “I Am; and because I live, you shall live also.” Be comforted–whatever else is gone, wherever else the arrows of Death may fly, your Jesus still lives! “I AM.” Blessed word of rich comfort to be heard amid the darkness of the night by weary mariners whose spirits had been sinking within them!
The glory of it all was brought out by the fact that “Jesus went up unto them into the boat.” And as He stood amid them, the stillness all around proved that the “I AM” was there. Had He not moved upon the face of the deep, as once the Spirit moved there? And did there not come order out of the tempest’s chaos even as at the beginning? Where the great “I AM” is present, the winds and the waves perceive their Ruler and obey Him!
Then the disciples knew that Jesus was not only “I AM,” but, “Immanuel, God with us.” “I AM” had come to their rescue and was in the boat with them. Here, dear Friend, is your comfort and mine! We will not fear the supernatural, or the unseen, for we see Jesus and in Him we see the Father–and therefore we are of good cheer.
III. Our third point for consideration is this–THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE SHALL BE LIKELY TO NEED SUCH COMFORT AS THIS.
Jesus spoke this message to Believers tossed with tempest–and we need it when we are depressed by thesurroundings of these evil times. In seasons of depressed trade, great sickness, terrible wars and public disasters, it is balm to the spirit to know that Jesus is still the same. Sin may abound yet more, the light of the Gospel may burn low and the Prince of Darkness may widely sway his destroying scepter, but nevertheless, this Truth of God stands sure, that Jesus is the “I AM.” At certain periods diabolical influence seems paramount, the reins of nations appear to be taken out of the hands of the great Governor and yet it is not so. Look through the darkness and you shall see your Lord amid the hurricane, walking the waters of politics, ruling national convulsions, governing, over-ruling, arranging all, making even the wrath of man to praise Him and restraining it according to His wisdom! Above the howling of the blast I hear His voice announcing, “It is I.” When men’s hearts sink for fear and the rowers feel their oars ready to snap by the strain of useless toil, I hear those Words which are the soul of music–“It is I; be not afraid. I am ruling all things. I am coming to the rescue of the boat, my Church–she shall yet float on smooth waters and reach her desired haven.”
Another time of need will surely be when we reach the swellings of Jordan. As we shall get near the spirit-world andthe soul will begin to strip off her material garment to enter on a new form of life, how shall we feel as we enter the unknown world? Shall we cry out, “It is a Spirit!” as we salute the first who meets us? It may be so, but then a sweet voice will destroy death’s terror, end all our alarms and this shall be its utterance, “It is I; be not afraid.” This new world is not new to Jesus! Our pains and dying throes are not unknown to Him! The disembodied state, wherein the spirit sojourns for a while unclothed, He knows it all, for He died and entered into the spirit-land and can sympathize with us in every step of the way. In what sweet company shall we pass through the Valley of Death-shade! Surely its gloom will turn to brightness, as when a cavern, wrapped in blackness, is lit up with a hundred torches and myriads of gems sparkle from roof and walls! Passing through the sepulcher, its damp darkness shall flash and glow with unexpected joys and marvelous revelations of the Ever-Blessed because Jesus will be with us and, “the Lamb is the Light.” If, in that dread hour, we shall feel the least trembling at our Lord as the Judge of all the earth, that dread shall vanish as He cries, “It is I.”
This comfort may serve us when we suffer great tribulation. May you, my Friend, be spared this trial if God so wills.But should it come, you will all the better understand me. They that “do business in great waters” know that our troubles are, at times, so pressing that we lose our heads and are not able to cope with our trials. Forebodings fill the air and our sinking spirits chill the very marrow of our life. We become like distraught men or, as David put it, we reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man and are at our wits end. Then, ah then, the voices of our comrades in the boat are of little value–and even the echoes of former words from the Lord are of small account–nothing will serve but the present and sure consolations of the Lord Jesus. We must hear Him say, “It is I,” or we shall faint outright. Then is the soul braced to breast the next billow and while she cries, “All Your waves and Your billows have gone over me,” she is still able to add, “Yet the Lord will command His loving kindness in the daytime; and in the night His song shall be with me.” When Jesus is with a man, troubles have lost their power to trouble him!
We shall need this same word of comfort whenever the Lord graciously reveals Himself to us. His Glory is such thatwe are not able to bear much of it. Its very sweetness overpowers the heart! Saints have had to ask for a staying of the intense delight which seemed to overbear their natural faculties. Those who have enjoyed those transporting manifestations can quite understand why John has written, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” An awful delight–or shall I say a delightful awe?–throws the man upon his face. John had lain in Jesus' bosom and yet, when he had a clear manifestation of his glorified Savior, He could not bear it till His tender Friend laid His hand upon Him and said, “Fear not.” So will it be with each of us when we are favored with the visits of the Well-Beloved–we shall greatly need that He should say to us, “It is I, your Brother, your Friend, your Savior, your Husband! Be not afraid. Great as I Am, tremble not in My Presence, for I am Jesus, the Lover of your soul.”
Once more, there is a day coming when the Son of Man will be revealed in the clouds of Heaven. We know not whenit will be, but we are solemnly warned that when men look not for Him, He will suddenly appear. He will come as a thief in the night to the mass of men. But as for Believers, they are not in darkness that that day should come upon them as a thief–to them He comes as a long-expected Friend. When He comes there will be seen tokens–signs in the heavens above and in the earth beneath–which we shall recognize. We may then, perhaps, be distressed by these supernatural portents and begin to tremble. What, then, will be our delight when we hear Him say, “It is I; be not afraid!” Lift up your heads, you saints, for the coming of the Lord draws near and to you it is not darkness, but day! To you it is not judgment and condemnation, but honor and reward! What bliss it will be to catch the first glimpse of our Lord on the Throne! Sinners will wring their hands and weep and wail because of Him, but we shall know His voice and welcome His appearing! When the last trumpet rings out clear and loud, happy shall we be to hear that gladsome sound, “It is I; be not afraid.” Rolling earth and crumbling mountains, darkened sun and blackened moon, flames of fire and shocks of earthquake, gathering angels and chariots of God–none of these things shall amaze us while Jesus whispers to our soul, “I Am,” and yet again, “IT IS I; BE NOT AFRAID.”