In the Fourth Watch of the Night - That is when it happened, perhaps at about 3:00 A.M.. It is that unique time when the extreme night owls are thinking of retiring and the extreme early birds are rising.
It is also at that time when "graveyard shift" workers are starting to yawn and requiring a second wind to make it through.
At such a time, a second wind came for the disciples in the boat Jesus sent on ahead of Him while He prayed. it was a big wind, the kid that beats and batters and threatens to beach even the most seasoned mariner.
In the hours leading up to this cataclysmic event, Jesus had been praying alone and the disciples had been trying to cross the body of water as the storm got worse and worse.
We really don't know exactly when the storm came, but when Jesus looked in on the disciples, they had only moved about three and a half miles and they were straining at their oars, desperately trying to survive. Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6 give essentially the same accounts, but Matthew records more of the dialog.
They see Him and He looks ghostly. At least they suspect He is a ghost - even more so when He starts moving toward them walking on the water.
Question: What beats your boat?
What winds are against you? What has got you nearly swamped? What forces are so overwhelming that you are making little or no progress? What are you rowing against that is defeating you?
To you, in your present situation, Jesus speaks three words and then a fourth and finally a fifth. First, "take courage; it is I; do not be afraid."
1. Take courage. The original Greek meaning was to lift or carry and came to mean endure, dare, suffer, and be bold. Thus, it is to have courage, to bear up under the great burdens, hardships, threats, and challenges that we face in spite of our fears and apprehensions and the odds against us. When we take courage, we refuse to throw in the towel and quit. We keep rowing when we think we are going nowhere.
2. It is I. Mark said that even after Jesus crawled into the boat with them, they were amazed, lacking in understanding, and hard of heart. Yet, knowing it was Him ought to have and did give them some comfort. It should strengthen our hearts and encourage our souls to know that in the midst of the storm it is Jesus walking toward us, above the storm and above the waves.
3. Be not afraid. He will calm our fears so that we will not be crippled or driven by them. We have many choices available to us. It is those we make based on terror or fright that will usually be shortsighted and poor.
It is at that point that Peter had a streak of boldness and made an audacious request. He asked Jesus to call Him out of the boat and into the water. "If it is you, bid me come to you on the water."
I admire the fact that Peter is unwilling to leave the boat if it is not Jesus and if Jesus does not call. That is wise.
Mark does not record this and Peter had Mark's ear. Matthew "tells on him."
Jesus utters the fourth word.
4. Come. It is a gracious word. It is inviting, affirming, and challenging. It is still the word He speaks to us in crisis. He is always, in the storm or in the calm, calling us to Himself to meet Him and to experience Him in a new way. We could hope for no better outcome.
Yet, Peter loses focus and then faith and falters. Ray Steadman said, "If your faith fizzles before the finish it was faulty from the first." Peter had what we used to call in Virginia "a ways to go." In his defense, he was the only guy willing to get out of the boat.
Peter cried out for Jesus to save Him and Jesus effortlessly reached for him and lifted him up. This gave occasion to His third word for the stormy moment.
5. You of little faith. Why did you doubt? I have heard this and said this before. Why did you stop? You were doing so well. You were almost there. You could have made it.
We get so close and then we stop in panic, retreat in horror, or slink away in a loss o confidence. The storms are real, but just a moment before, we were rising above them. We have lost our focus, our short term memory, and our faith. We have "a ways to go."
But none of that stops Jesus. He comes to our boat, we invite Him in, He climbs in, and eventually (or sometimes immediately) the winds subside. It is then that we declare again, "Truly You are the Son of God."
In 1925, Gertrude Ederle sought to swim the English Channel . "She had less than seven miles to go when her trainer, Jabez Wolffe, who thought she was too tired to keep going, pulled her from the water."
Some have said that it was because she could not see the shore that she grew weary.
The next year, she would not be deterred. She captured a vision of the prize in her mind and kept going. She became the first woman to swim the channel. More people have climbed Everest than have accomplished this.
For us, it is the vision of one who walks on the water in the fourth watch of the night who becomes the focus of our faith. We may not be able to walk on water, but we can certainly ride out our storms in the boat with confidence and courage as we take Him on board.