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Grown-Up Bible Stories                                                                                                                                              Jesus and Peter by the Lake

Nature and Super-Nature

Humans live in the natural world. We are equipped to readily interact with this world. We know the things we see, feel, and hear. We fit this natural world so well that we tend to doubt anything lying beyond our five senses. We perceive nature quite well, but cannot so readily cope with its powers. The forces of nature--heat, cold, wind, water, fire, earthquake, etc.--overwhelm us rather easily. While we try our best to understand our environment and often love it, there are days when we are but tiny things swept before it.

Nature is impersonal and impervious to joy, despair, hate, or love. It is raw, unfeeling and unyielding force.

Limited by our physical senses and doubts though we are, humans have always carried a sense of something beyond our ability to observe. Experience brings an uneasy awareness of forces more personal than unfeeling nature. We call these forces supernatural. The powers of the supernatural leave our very physical selves totally at their mercy, and the situation is compounded by the fact that these forces possess personality. Ever curious, we take our limited physical senses and probe the edges of the supernatural or, as we often say, the spiritual. Most of human history has included a quest of the spirit world.

This search has led to very different results. Some people have found incomparable love. Others have come away ruined by unsurpassed hatred.

Peter and his contemporaries were familiar with both the realms of nature and spirit. Science had yet to discover many truths in Peter's day, yet he and his friends knew nature's power from direct experience in small, low-tech boats on a big lake. As people living in a spiritually sensitive mixed culture, they had first-hand knowledge of the quest for spirituality. Their own religion, and especially John the Baptizer, had shown them the loving side. They had also seen numerous people whose lives had been destroyed by the hate-filled power at the end of too many spiritual searches.

In light of this experiential knowledge, Peter and his friends had their senses and their sensibilities challenged over and over by Jesus Christ. Jesus fitted the natural world extremely well, but He claimed to be from the spirit world. Peter and his friends believed in Jesus and His claims, but like many believers for much of history, they didn't always recognize all the implications of their beliefs. They were students of the one Man who uniquely brought the loving side of the spiritual world into the physical world. It should come as no surprise that their faith and minds didn't always keep up.

Take for instance the day Jesus requested a boat trip to the other side of the lake. While they often traveled by boat, this trip was a bit different than many of their voyages. Most such trips began and ended on the west and northwest shores of Lake Galilee. This familiar Galilee was safe politically, culturally, and religiously. The east shore was foreign territory. It was idol country. It was the kind of place where a religious person could be defiled, and a not-so-religious person might be forced to consider the significance of worship. This time Jesus directed his friends to the east, toward a landing in the foreign territory ruled by Herod's brother Philip. They really were going to the “other side”.

In keeping with Jesus' popularity, other small boats followed His boat across the big lake. Without weather forecasts, radar, or other modern advantages, navigating such a large body of water often proved hazardous. Sudden storms too often caught innocent boaters by surprise. The small group of Judean boats would soon find itself in serious trouble.

Jesus, tired after hours of ministry, found a pillow and laid down in the back of the boat. He soon fell into deep sleep. As He slept, His disciples renewed their acquaintance with the power of nature. The wind came up and blew hard. The waves did more than rock the boat. They breached it. The wooden vessel filled with water. As boats lose buoyancy, they become less stable. The ride was getting wilder. The odds of surviving threatened to sink with the boat. Peter and his friends had a miracle worker aboard, but He was fast asleep.

Finally, in desperate frustration, Jesus' friends woke him. Well, OK, they jarred him awake. “Lord, save us! We're going to die!” [Quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.]

Jesus awoke. Standing in the sloshing, unstable craft he spoke to the wind and the sea. He is said to have rebuked the elements, but the only words recorded from this rebuke were those He aimed at the sea: “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). One man stood in a boat that was about to sink and talked to the inexorable forces of nature. One man stood against the power of wind-blown water. The desperate boatmen had appealed for help. Jesus didn't organize them to fight for their lives. He didn't call out to another boat for rescue. No, He chose to speak to the impersonal natural forces all men are powerless against. Jesus, knowing nature as well as anyone, stood in the face of it, and said, “Peace, be still.”

Peace, be still.” The wind died. The waves sagged into calmness. One man spoke a few words, and nature not only heard. It obeyed.

Then, Jesus turned to His friends. “Why were you afraid?” He asked simply. “Where was your faith?” Jesus knew nature's controlling force and expected those who followed Him to know that Force as well.

Jesus' friends had been watching Him do unusual things for a long time. Still they had to stand back in their water-logged boat with awe in their hearts. “What kind of man is this?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey Him!” Peter, the nature-wise fisherman joined the others in recognizing the sheer nature-transcending power of this One who called Himself both Son of man and Son of God.

Thanks to Jesus, the boats reached the foreign shore. As the small group of men headed inland after their nature adventure, they were met by overwhelming supernatural forces. Of course, they didn't see the spirit beings. They saw a man who had opened himself to the dark side of the spirit world. He was absolutely terrifying. He came naked from the above-ground tombs of the local cemetery. A terror to the community, this wild man did more than jump out of the cemetery and intimidate passersby. He lived a life of personal torment. A cutter, he routinely damaged his body with sharp stones. He constantly cried out in agony. The community, threatened by a crazy man with extreme physical strength, had tried to secure him with chains. He broke the chains. The spiritual was overcoming the natural, but in a way very different from Jesus' approach.

Equally confident in the face of natural and spiritual extremes, Jesus recognized the core problem. Evil spirits had blended themselves with the spirit of the man. They now controlled his mind and body. This situation seems like fantasy from a horror movie today, but in places where spirituality takes the wrong direction, demon possession remains a reality even in the twenty-first century. Then as now, the results have never been pretty.

Unlike the locals, Jesus didn't avoid the man. Instead, He ordered the evil spirit to leave.

The weird and dangerous foreigner recognized Him. “Jesus, Son of God,” he called out. “It isn't the judgment day yet. Don't torment us.”

Jesus spoke to the evil spirit directly. “What is your name?” He challenged.

Perhaps using the vocal chords of the tormented man, or perhaps with an eery voice from within the bruised and cut body, the spirit answered. “My name is Legion, because we are many.”

A legion was a military unit of a thousand soldiers. The spirit turned out to be an overwhelming amalgamation of many spirits. No wonder the locals couldn't control the man.

The demon army began begging. “Please, if you're going to kick us out of this man, don't send us to Hell. Please, see that herd of pigs over there by the lake? Let us go into them! Please, don't send us to Hell yet!”

Jesus said, “Go.”

The demons had set their sights on something big. A two-thousand-hog herd would represent a large farm even today. Two thousand pigs cost a lot of money. Yet, driven by their own evil natures, the demons showed no mercy. They didn't even show common sense. As soon as they entered their new homes, they inflicted horror. The hogs stampeded down the steep bank and drowned in the lake.

Jesus had showed His power over the natural world. Now He demonstrated His power over the spiritual world. While we aren't told the reaction of Peter and his friends, we do know what happened to the man Jesus had helped. He managed to find some clothes. Then he sat near Jesus, listening to His words. For the first time in who knows how long, he was sane and at peace. If one part of the spirit world had ruined him, the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ had saved and restored him. Jesus had earned a disciple.

Unfortunately, the rest of the local population reacted differently. They dabbled with the spirit world themselves. They didn't care about the guy who'd met disaster in their familiar spirituality. Instead, they found themselves frightened by the One with power to set them free. Maybe their concern was potential lost income from hogs in the natural world. Perhaps their concern was potential future ruin from the offended “gods” who had killed their pigs. Maybe they lacked faith to turn away from the hateful spirits they worshiped and follow Jesus to the loving Spirit of God. Whatever their thinking, they came and begged Jesus to leave the area.

Interestingly, Jesus agreed. As He turned back to the boat, the man He had set free begged to come along. It is also interesting that Jesus didn't take him. Instead, He said, “No, go back home. Tell everyone what God has done for you!” It may seem as if Jesus was leaving someone who needed Him, but that idea isn't fair. Jesus was big enough to hold back the evil spirits from clear across the lake.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

This story is the third in a four-part series: "Jesus and Peter by the Lake." For the previous story, click here: Faith Beyond Nature

For the next story, click here: Follow Me. For an essay based on the second part of this story, click here: Thoughts from the Gadarene Cemetery.

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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