Jesus walked this earth for 33 years living out his life among the people of the street in a part of the world that was bitterly divided, actually it still is. In those days it was Judea, Samaria and Galilee on one side of the River Jordan and the Ten Cities of the Decapolis on the other side. Today it is Israel and Lebanon on one side and Jordan and Syria on the other with the contested West Bank right in the middle. Back in the day, all kinds of religious disputes meant that people really didn’t move around all that much. That’s one of the reasons Jesus was so unusual and so controversial.
The four Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are like four different newspapers writing about the same news, to different types of people but they all make it clear that Jesus crossed boundaries and borderlines to reach very diverse communities. He broke the rules and caused offence in his relentless mission to demonstrate that people really matter to God. So, let’s zero in on one of those dramatic crossing over moments for Jesus and his followers. This is how Luke’s Gospel explains it but Matthew and Mark talk about it as well.
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So, they got into a boat and started out. As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. Suddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!” So, they arrived in the region of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee.
Now this stretch of water is notorious for storms. Even today, there are signs in the car park warning sightseers that their cars might be flooded if the Heavens open, so to speak. But this was no regular storm, it’s unexpected and terrifying. So much so that it causes tough experienced fisherman to genuinely fear they are going to drown. So what’s going on, what’s the deal with the storm on the lake, where’s it come from and what’s the meaning behind this very famous Bible story? Maybe the Jesus Boys would have stayed in bed if they’d have had even the slightest idea what this crazy sailing trip was going to involve.
Up to this point, Jesus has operated exclusively in Galilee but now he’s crossing the water and the battle lines are being drawn, the clash of two opposing forces. The power of Heaven that’s in Jesus and the power of death and destruction that’s trying to stop him. This violent storm targets Jesus as the Devil lays a trap to kill him. It almost seems like the disciples are innocent bystanders caught up in the crossfire. Maybe that goes some way to explain some of the storms that hit us too. You see, whatever you think about God, he is very clear what he thinks about you. But there’s an enemy who hates God and is hellbent on destroying his image on the earth. The Bible tells us that we are made in God’s image and that’s why we’re in the firing line.
Storms and waves hit us throughout our passage through this life, the key is not to deny their existence because even Jesus said they would come. But what he also said was that he had overcome the storms. So, the key is to make sure you’re in the right boat. Being on a superyacht with an idiot is probably more dangerous than being in a fishing boat with someone who knows what’s going on. So, this vicious storm breaks over the boat, the water is coming in, Jesus takes a nap and his disciples frantically give each other the last rites. Then Jesus wakes up, tells the storm to clear off and angles in on the others clearly suggesting they are chickens and should have had more faith.
In 1986, the remains of an ancient fishing boat were found on the banks of the Galilee by two fisherman during an unusual drought. Experts established that it dated back to the first century. Now, there’s nothing to say that Jesus was on that particular boat of course, but you never know. People often say the Bible is a collection of fairy stories, each to their own I guess. But here’s what people often don’t get told. Many exhibits have been unearthed in the part of the world where these events took place and not one of them has even contradicted what the Bible says, not even one. Back to the story. The freak storm has been put firmly in its place by the Son of God but now the Jesus boys are about to discover it was merely a foretaste of a second storm waiting for them on the other side. Oh Great. The storm they are sailing into next is what this leisurely boat trip is really about. This storm is not a dangerous weather front, it a dangerous person.
Maybe you have a picture of the guy you most fear turning up to one of your meetings. Well, this lot are about to find out that he’s not coming to the meeting, he is the meeting. I’ve met some really troubled people in my time and some of them have been transformed by Jesus. One or two of them have ended up working with me. The Bible tells us that this poor chap was being tormented by demons. Now, I realise that sounds a bit over the top today unless it’s on a daytime chat show where troubled celebrities talk about their problems. Why is it, that actors, rappers and rock stars struggle with their demons while the rest of us just have boring old problems and hang ups?
Now, for the second time that day, Jesus takes on a vicious storm at the peak of its strength, this time in the shape of a one-man terrorist organisation? His stress levels don’t seem to have increased much since he was back in the boat dealing with the first storm and giving the weather a firm talking to. He sets the guy free and then something beautiful takes place as the guy begs Jesus to give him a place on the team. Perhaps he’s be the perfect addition based on his transformation but Jesus has other ideas. He tells him to go back to his family and his community and spread the news of his encounter with Jesus, the son of God.
What happened is what usually happens when someone with life controlling problems finds freedom in the Gospel of Jesus, the rescued becomes the rescuer. We won’t know this side of Heaven the unwritten chapters in this particular Jesus story but I bet they’re pretty impressive. Jesus didn’t promise that we would never experience difficult circumstances on the long and winding road through this life. But he did promise that he would never leave us and he’d get in our boat if we stopped long enough to invite him in. The greatest point of crossing we ever experience is when we finally realise we are profoundly loved by our Creator and that life only make sense when we connect with him and his divine plan for our lives. If you’ve never done that, you can do it now. It’s the best and most sensible thing you will ever do.