By J.R. Miller
"That day when evening came, He said to His disciples--Let us go over to the other side." There were marked days in the life of Jesus--days in which He did special things or said special words, days that were made bright and memorable by unusual manifestations of grace and love. "That day"--was one of the great days of our Lord's ministry. It was a day of teaching by parables, a form of His teaching now introduced for the first time. Nothing in nature or in common daily life was left unused by the great Teacher. The light, the darkness, the plays of children, leather bottles, foxes and birds, patched and new garments, and even the homely barnyard hen furnished illustrations for His teachings. Thus He brought the great heavenly lessons down into the everyday lives of the plain, common people.
At the close of this busy day, Jesus said to His disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Probably His object was to get quickly and quietly away from the crowd, that He might obtain rest. The people gave Him no opportunity for rest while He was within their reach. They pressed upon Him ever in rude and unmannerly ways, so that He could not get leisure even to eat, and scarcely was permitted to sleep. That he was very weary that evening, is evident from what follows in the narrative. "Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat." That is, they left at once in the same boat in which He had been teaching, not waiting for any preparations. The object, probably, was to get away unobserved, that none of the throng might see Him departing and follow Him.
"A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped!" The storm seems to have come up unexpectedly after they put out to sea. It was one of those sudden storms that so often sweep down from the surrounding hills upon the Sea of Galilee. This storm was very violent. The waves poured into the boat, which seemed as if it would be swallowed up by them.
Notice that the presence of Christ in the boat with His disciples, did not prevent the coming of the storm. Sometimes people think when they are in trouble, that Jesus has forsaken them, or they would not have such hard experiences. If he were with them, they say, He would not permit them to suffer so. But Christ never has promised to keep us out of trouble. When He was about going away, He prayed the Father to keep His disciples--but only from the evil of the world. He did not say evils--but "the evil." There is only one evil. It is not suffering, nor loss, nor persecution--the only evil in the world is sin! If Christ is with us, we shall be kept from sin--but not from storms, from sufferings, from bereavements and trials.
The most remarkable thing in the story of this night, was the sleeping Master. The tempest howled and the waves swept over the boat; but during all the storm--on the cushion in the stern lay Jesus asleep. This tells us, for one thing, how weary He was after the long day's work, so weary that even the terror and the danger of the storm did not awaken Him. He slept through it all. But it tells us also of the peace of His heart, which kept Him in quietness and in confidence in the most trying experiences.
This peace the Master would give also to us. He would have such a peace in our hearts, that we shall not be disturbed nor alarmed by the greatest of dangers or calamities. If Christ is with us, nothing can harm us. That little boat never could have gone down in the waves with the Master on board. The boat was the emblem of the Church. Indeed; the whole Church was in it that wild night. Christ is always with His Church, not only in its days of sunshine and prosperity--but also in its days of trial and in the midst of fiercest storms. Never can the Church be destroyed. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
The disciples in their terror awoke their Master. They even seemed to chide Him for sleeping when they were in such danger. "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He did care. His heart was awake and watching, while He slept so soundly in His weariness. We need never fear in any time of darkness, suffering, or perplexity--that Christ has forgotten us or that He will allow us to be harmed.
In another storm on the same sea (Matthew 14:25-27), when the disciples were also in great peril, Jesus was absent; He was up on the mountain in the darkness. But while away from them, He kept His eye upon them all the night. He saw them distressed in their rowing. Then, in due time, He came to them, walking on the water, and delivered them. Always we are remembered and thought of, in heaven. We never can drift beyond Christ's love and care.
While with peace in his heart, Jesus slept in quietness and in the fierce storm, undisturbed by its roar and by the sweeping of waters over the boat--He heard the first call of the disciples when in their distress they called to Him. There may come times in our lives when Christ appears to us to be asleep. He comes not with deliverance in our danger. He is not disturbed by the mighty storms, which to us seem so fearful. But in the wildest fury of circumstances, He hears the faintest prayer of those who cry to Him for help and deliverance.
Christ's power over the forces of nature is illustrated in the way He answered the cry of His disciples that night. He arose from the cushion where He had been sleeping so sweetly, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" Instantly the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. It ought to be an immeasurable comfort to us--to know that our Savior is indeed Master of wind and wave, and of all the forces and powers of nature! We need never be afraid in peril of flood or earthquake or storm--for He who is our Friend--is Master of all the elements! No wild tempest ever gets away from His control. A Christian woman who was undisturbed in an earthquake said to a friend who wondered at her composure, "Why, I am glad that I have a God who can shake this old earth!"
When Jesus had quieted the storm on the sea, He turned to His trembling disciples, whose spirits were swept by a storm of fear, and asked them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" It was time they had learned to have faith. They had seen enough of His power and authority--to teach them to trust and not be afraid in even the most extreme dangers. But how is it with us? Are we alarmed by life's perils? Have we not yet learned to trust?
"When Jesus got out of the boat--a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet Him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones!" Mark 5:2-5
In this demoniac, we have a sample of the work of Satan--when he gets full control in a man. He destroys every beautiful thing in the life, and leaves only ruin! No chains could bind this demoniac. When sin is on the throne, all other influences and constraints become like spiders' threads in comparison! No chain is strong enough to bind the man--who has yielded himself to the sway of the Evil One! The love of a godly mother is a strong bond--but many a child tears off this holy chain and rushes into wayward and evil paths! Home ties are strong--but these too are broken asunder, by the victim of Satan's ungodly rule.
One feature of this case, was that the demoniac cut and gashed himself with stones. This illustrates what in many ways Satan's captives always do. They may not literally go about cutting their flesh with knives or bruising their bodies with stones; but they do gash and bruise their souls! Sin always wounds the life--and one of its fearful consequences is the self-destruction it works. Every sin one commits leaves an ugly scar! We grieve God by our wrongdoing, and we harm others when we sin against them; but we always injure ourselves--by every evil word we speak, by every wrong act we commit, even by the evil thoughts we think in our hearts. The self-hurt of sin is one of its saddest consequences!
Demons are afraid of Christ. "Swear to God that you won't torture me!" The torment this demon dreaded, was in being deprived of the opportunity of tormenting the man of whom he had possession. Demons find their pleasure in working mischief, in destroying the beautiful work of God's hands, and in ruining lives. Godly men count that day lost--in which they have done no act of kindness to another. Demons count the day lost--in which they have stained no pure soul or led no one into sin!
We ought to tear off Satan's mask and show him as he is! Evil comes to us pretending to be a friend. It holds flowers in its hands and whispers entrancing words, promising rich rewards: "Only do this--and it will bring you pleasure, honor, wealth and joy!" That is the way sin talks. But this is all false. Sin is never a friend to man. It never does good to anyone--but always harm. However plausibly Satan may present his temptations, under the guise of pleasure--his secret aim is to destroy the soul he tempts. Nothing gives the Evil One so much pleasure--as to see a fair and beautiful life--stained and debauched!
It is most comforting to us, to find that Christ is able to dislodge even the most obdurate and persistent demon! No one could bind this demoniac, nor resist his superhuman strength. But at His word--the foul spirit was compelled to leave the man he had possessed for so long. No human hand can break the chains of sinful habits. No mere resolution can free one from Satan's bondage. Only Christ can set the devil's captives free! Those who have long been trying in vain to reform, to break away from evil practices--see in Christ the Friend who alone can deliver them and save them. No demon-power can resist His command. Only Christ can free the poor slaves of Satan! He alone can free them, drive out their enemy, and save them from his terrible sway!
"Jesus gave them permission. So the evil spirits came out of the man and entered the swine. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned!" Mark 5:13
In the swine, under demoniac possession, rushing down the steep cliff and perishing in the lake--we have another illustration of the end of all Satan's ruinous work. It is with men--as it was here with the swine. It never yet has been known that Satan impelled anyone upward to a better life or to anything noble and lofty; he always drives down steep ways into choking floods. God's ways leads upward--it is always uphill to Christ and to heaven. Every divine impulse is toward something higher and better. Christ never yet sent a man downhill. But the devil always drives downward. These poor swine, demon-possessed, rushed down the steep bank, into the lake--and perished. Just so do human souls, demon-possessed, rush down sin's precipitous course and perish! It would be well to keep this dreadful picture in our mind when we are tempted in any way by the devil; for if we follow him--this is the way it will surely end with us!
It is strange how the people were affected by this miracle. Jesus had come among them to bless them. He would have gone on, working other miracles, if they had been willing. But the loss of their swine was too much for them. There always are people who hate Christ's religion, because it interferes with their wrong business and cuts off the source of their sinful gain. Saloon-keepers oppose revivals, because when the devil is cast out of men they do not patronize the saloons any more.
But it is always a perilous thing to ask Jesus to go away. He did now as these people asked Him to do--He would not stay where He was not wanted. He went away; carrying with Him the blessings He had brought and meant to leave. So the sick remained unhealed, the lame still continued lame, demoniacs remained demon-possessed. We must be careful never to ask Christ to go away from us. We see Jesus sailing away from this coast, to come back again no more. May He not do the same if we ask Him to leave us?
Jesus knows where He wants His saved ones to witness for Him. This ex-demoniac wished to go with Him--but there was other work for him to do. There are different ways of serving Christ. Some of His disciples, He asks to leave home and friends to follow Him into distant lands. Others He wants to stay at home and bear witness among those who have know them to the grace and love of God. Each one of us may be sure that if we truly put our life into the hands of Christ--He will give us our work where it will do the greatest good.
If He wants one young minister to go the foreign field as a missionary, he must go. But he must not blame his classmate who does no go to the foreign mission field--but enters the mission field at home. The home mission service is just as honorable as the foreign one. The only question with anyone should be, "What does Christ want me to do? Where does He want me to work for Him?" We serve Christ best--when we serve in the place and in the manner in which He directs us!