Scripture Reading: Matthew 13:53-58, Matthew 14:1-36, Deuteronomy 8:3, Isaiah 43:10-13
“Have courage! It is I.”
When we read these words in Matthew 14:27, from the viewpoint of our modern context, it’s easy to miss their significance. It’s easy to dismiss them as a much needed encouragement, and little more. The disciples, after all, are frightened. They are stranded in a boat, far from shore, their vessel “buffeted by the waves.” Jesus “goes out to them,” walking across the water, which only stokes their fears more (vv.24-25).
To calm their anxieties, Jesus says, “It is I,” clarifying who He is. And immediately, Peter recognizes his teacher.
The climax of the story would seem to come later, when Peter joins Jesus in the waves. But the truth is, this verse is a bombshell. Jesus is making a statement of cosmic proportions, so it’s important not to miss what is happening.
In these five short words, Jesus is not merely identifying Himself, not in the usual way. This statement is not like announcing yourself at your parents’ back door: “It’s me! Just popping by!” Instead Jesus is making a monumental claim, one that Matthew’s Jewish listeners certainly would have noticed. Jesus is not just identifying Himself as the man they know and love. He is identifying Himself as God.
“It is I”—translated from the Greek words ego eimi, which literally means “I am”—is a clear reference to an Old Testament story. Thousands of years earlier, God identified Himself to Moses in exactly the same way (Exodus 3:14). Theologian Stanley Hauerwas explains, “Just as God names himself to Moses in the burning bush, Jesus identifies himself as ‘I am.’ This is the ‘I am’ of Psalm 77:19, the ‘I am” who provides a way through the sea, a path though the mighty waters.”
In other words, Jesus isn’t simply identifying Himself in the midst of the storm; He is identifying His place in human history. Jesus is not just another prophet. He is not just another priest. He is not just another rescuer. He is not just another king. Jesus is no ordinary “good person” who loves God and happens to know a lot about Scripture. Jesus is God Himself, the God who delivered the Israelites and parted the Red Sea. He is the God who is more than able to command the threatening waves below Him.
It’s an audacious claim, blasphemous even, had it not been true. And it’s a claim that continues to assert its power over our storms today, promising that Jesus is not simply with us, but as God of the universe He is reigning over all creation. We are guaranteed both the intimate presence of the Son, and the almighty authority of the Father.
Both then and now, we have this comfort and this truth. Jesus is not just our teacher, not just a good example, and not just a friend. Instead He declares, “It is I”:
I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am the God of Moses—the God who heard my people cry, and delivered them. I am the God who sees, who knows, and who cares. I am capable and faithful, steady and good. I am not the God who was, or the God who will be; I am the God who is—unchanging, unshakeable, unfailingly compassionate and near.
And I, Jesus, have another name: I AM.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mom, and she holds a PhD on women and calling. She blogs at SheWorships.com, and is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You.