Chapter 19.1 "Peace, Be Still!"
Autumn of A.D. 27 to spring of 29 (about a year and a half)
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, original oil painting on canvas by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669, size 63 x 50 inches, 1633
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, original oil painting on canvas by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669, size 63 x 50 inches, 1633 (CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore near Capernaum. There was a large crowd along the beach so he got into a boat, sat down, and spoke from there. When the Teacher had finished, it was evening and he decided to leave for the Decapolis on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee where many Jews lived. This federation of ten heathen cities within the territory of Israel was almost entirely Grecian in their architecture, language, and religion. They had their own government and were independent of Israel.

Knowing that somewhere among those hills another soul was in torment and had great need of him, he told his disciples, “Let us cross to the other side of the lake.”

The apostles by this time were accustomed to Christ’s quick decisions, and obeyed him without question or delay. Since he was already in the boat, they immediately sent the crowd of people away and started out across the lake, taking him tired and hungry and with no cloak, even though night was coming. Leaving the crowds behind, they faced a sail of eight miles southeast to the shore at Gergesa (Khersa) in the country of Gadara where the Savior’s love and strength were so desperately needed.

Stilling the Tempest

It was now what the Jews called the “first evening,” the time when the sun was declining in the heaven, but before it had actually set, the latter time being the “second evening.” Since it would take a while to cover the distance, Jesus considered this a heaven sent opportunity to sleep. Such opportunities did not come his way very often and he lay down in the stern of the ship on the low bench where the steersman sometimes takes rest. Weariness, faintness, and hunger exerted their mastery over his true humanity, and he immediately fell into the fathomless sleep of exhaustion. John covered him with his own cloak, and they all settled in for a peaceful sail across the lake.

However, this deepest manifestation of Christ’s humanity was soon to be accompanied by the highest display of his divinity. While he was sleeping, the wind began to rise. A fierce storm developed, threatening to swamp them. The scene was unspeakably sublime in its contrasts. Jesus was asleep in the stern of the ship while the heavens darkened. Wild wind swooped down those mountain gorges, howling with angry rage over the trembling sea; waves rose and tossed, lashed and broke over the boat, beat into it, and white foam washed at his feet.

The roar of the gale increased and the waves mounted higher, tossing the little boat up and down. Cold spray dashed in the fishermen’s faces, half blinding them, and the boat was filling. They were experienced sailors and all knew they were in great danger. Fear came upon them in the darkness of the clouds. Yet neither the tumult nor tossing of the ship woke the Lord and he slept peacefully on. The men who watched were tempted to regard the peaceful rest of Jesus not indicative of divine majesty because they did not fully realize who he was.

The apostles cried out to him in terror, but the wind took their voices and carried them away. Then as terrified children, they stumbled to him and woke him up, their reverence for the sleep of God forgotten now in sheer panic. They were even indignant with him for sleeping so peacefully while they were so terrified, “Master! Master! Don’t you care that we perish?”

Christ, waking peacefully, could see no reason for all this panic. Certainly there was a bad storm raging, but they were in the care of God. If it was his will that this storm should open to them the gate of paradise, then drowned they would be; but if he had work for them to do upon the other side of the lake then he would bring them to that work—storm or no storm. It was quite simple. “Why are you so fearful?” Jesus asked calmly. “How is it that you have no faith?”

But he saw that they were very frightened. With his tall figure towering up in the boat he cried to the wind and the waves, his voice ringing out powerfully above their uproar, “Peace; be still!” Wind and waves were creatures that he had made, and immediately the wind was bound, the crashing waves broke into stillness, and a great calm of rest fell upon the lake. The setting sun came out again and was mirrored in the lake. It was now the “second evening.”

Filled with awe, the disciples said among themselves, “Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?” Their faith was still a vague undefined belief in unlimited possibility through Christ; gradually emerging but still partially clouded with only the dim outlines visible. Day by day he had lived with them as their friend and brother; then suddenly shining through their daily life came the flash of power, revealing heights and depths beyond their understanding. They were trembling as they set sail again; then that terror passed, for the strange deep calm they were moving through was the peace of God.

Healing the Gergesene

That day of wonders was not yet ended. The Savior and his disciples landed on the eastern shore at Gergesa in the late evening. A huge silvery moon shed her light on a weird scene about to take place, and laid her halo around the shadows cast upon the sea by steep cliffs that came down to the shoreline. The whole country around was burrowed with limestone caverns and rock chambers for the dead, such as those which were the dwelling of the demonized.

Just as Jesus was stepping from the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit ran out from a cemetery to meet him. Homeless and without clothing, he had lived among the tombs for a long time and could not be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to control him. All day long and throughout the night, he would wander among the tombs and in the hills, screaming and hitting himself with stones.

When the Savior was still some distance away, the man ran to meet him. Falling down before the Lord, he gave a terrible scream, with the words of the demon shrieking from his lips, “Why are you bothering me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!” For Christ had already spoken directly to the demon, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit!”

Then Jesus asked, “What is your name?”

The demon replied, “Legion, because there are many of us here inside this man.” Then the spirits using the man’s voice begged him again and again not to send them into the Bottomless Pit. There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. “Send us into those pigs,” the evil spirits begged.

Christ gave them permission, and the evil spirits immediately came out of the man and entered the pigs. He ceased to writhe and mutter and lay still; but up on the hill the entire herd of two thousand pigs plunged down the steep slope into the lake, where they drowned. Their herdsmen, feeling the rush of evil possess the hillside, fled in terror from the dreadful place to the nearby city and into the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran.

Suddenly it was over. The weird scene which the moon had shed her ghostlike light was past. The evil that had gripped the land and made the disciples shudder was gone. The terrible Legion had vanished. Now the man upon the ground was as sane as one of them. Once again in his right mind, he took up his rightful Greek name Leonidas, a Spartan king of past centuries. Leonidas was now harmless, pitiful, and needful of their care; and they gladly gave it.

The disciples fetched water from the spring to bathe his sores. They put their own clothes upon him, brought food from the boat, lit a fire and cooked breakfast. It was the Savior who bathed the wounds and got the chain off, while his hands healed the pain of the flesh and his steady voice quieted the startled and bewildered man. For he was like a child waking up from a nightmare and the Healer steadied him saying, “Peace; be still!”

In the early morning, everyone rushed out to see this miracle for themselves. A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, but they were frightened when they saw Leonidas sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane. Those who had seen what happened to him and the pigs told everyone about it, and they began pleading with Christ to go away and leave them alone. It seems incredible, but that’s what they did. If the people had let him, he could have changed every single one of them as he had changed the happy man sitting at his feet. But they did not know what such a change might cost them, and they were afraid. So, according to their wish, Christ went quietly down to the shore and got back into the boat.

But to Leonidas, who had passed through his old life and come out made new, the thought of being separated from his Savior was something he couldn’t bear. He waded out into the water and clung to the boat, imploring the Master to let him come too, begging and praying him to let him be with him always.

The Lord knew all about him and what was best, and gave him a commission, “No, go home to your family and friends. Tell them what wonderful things God has done for you and how merciful he has been.” In the beautiful Greek town a few miles inland there was a home waiting for him, a wife who loved him, and children who needed him. He must go back to them in the place where he belonged.

Leonidas obeyed. He looked his last in this life upon the face of Christ, let go of the boat, and turned away. He went home clad in the garments of a disciple, wearing John’s coat (the same one he had put on Jesus in the boat) and Peter’s headscarf. With newfound faith, the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to tell everyone about the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. In doing so, he found he had not lost his Master after all, for one who praises God is filled with his love and there is no room in his soul for anything else.

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