Have courage; keep eyes focused on your goal

If a farmer wants to create straight furrows, he sights a distant point on the horizon and aims at that. When a swimmer starts across a lake, a point of focus is needed to stay on course. We see that concept throughout the gospels in many events surrounding Jesus’ life.

It was late in the evening as the disciples prepared to cross the Sea of Galilee. Their imaginations were running wild because Jesus had just fed 5,000 people. Jesus’ power could mean that no one would ever be hungry again.

However, even while the disciples focused on the power and success that lay before them, Jesus had been dropping bombshells such as, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” John 9:21. It was as if Jesus was focused on something beyond them.

As the disciples started across the lake, Jesus stayed behind to send the now-fed crowds away and spend time in prayer. He always encouraged the disciples to pray more. Sometimes they did, but their minds were fixed on the many demands of life.

The Sea of Galilee was large; 64 square miles. That would be about four Lake Darlings. However, it was a lovely evening and the breeze was at their backs. As it began to get darker, the wind shifted. Waves, some more than 20 feet high, washed across the boat. They rowed until their muscles burned. Focusing on their fear, they asked themselves, where Jesus was now when they really needed him? Then they saw something in the darkness. This “something” drew closer and closer till they shook with the realization that it was a person, walking on the water in the midst of a storm. They knew that no human could do that so terror overtook them!

Then, above the storm a calm voice said, “Take courage! It is I, don’t be afraid.” Peter recognized Jesus and said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus simply replied, “Come.” So, with eyes fixed on Jesus, Peter climbed out of the boat and stepped onto the water. What a feeling that must have been. He took a few steps but then began to sink. Why did Peter sink? Was it because God was not strong enough? I believe that the key is in the statement, “But when he (Peter) saw the wind, he was afraid” In order for Peter to “see” the wind, he had to have changed his focus. However, Peter quickly made a focus switch when he turned his attention back to Jesus by saying, “Lord, save me!” The Bible says that “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.” Help was there. Peter only had to ask for it.

It was shortly after this event that Jesus headed toward Jerusalem. Jesus’ focus is very clear in Luke 9:51. The King James version says that “he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The message says that “he gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.” The NIV says, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The NASB says, “He was determined to go to Jerusalem.”

Why do all these versions use words like determined, steeled, steadfastly and resolutely as they describe Jesus’ focus? Because, while the crowds waved palm branches and shouted his praises, Jesus was focused on the fact that he was soon going to be accused, beaten, shamed, disgraced, dishonored and humiliated. This was a less than appealing focus but, because he was obedient to God’s plan, he remained steadfast.

When we go into church on Sunday, we should consider what Jesus knew that first Palm Sunday. In order to be obedient to God we need to ask, “On what is God asking me to fix my focus?” Then, at all times, we need to keep our focus on Jesus.

Helen McCormack writes the Reflections column every six weeks. She and her husband, David, serve with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Germany.