Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: When Storms Come / Piercing the Darkness

I’m combining two lessons, because the stories are very familiar and Ray Vander Laan does a great job with each. There’s not a lot to add, and the two lessons fit together nicely.

The Sea of Galilee

The lesson is taught on board a boat on the Sea of Galilee. 

Nearly every vital event in the history of Israel occurred near a source of water. Jesus taught much of the time around the Sea of Galilee.

(John 21:4-11)  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

153 was taken by the early church as symbolic of all the nations. In other words, the church took the miracle as showing that the Kingdom would extend to all nations — without tearing the net.

In the Old Testament, large bodies of water were symbols for chaos and death — the abyss.

(Mark 6:45-53)  Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. 53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.

“Fourth watch” means the disciples had been rowing for 6 or 8 hours — against the wind. Maybe Jesus considered the struggle essential.

Jesus didn’t walk to them so much as walk by them!

Jesus then calmed the waters. But he wasn’t willing to do anything until the disciples had asked for help!

They landed at a place, Geneseret, that required a change in direction.

(Mat 14:22-34)  Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.

26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.

33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” 34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.

Peter had the courage to try it. Often we are reluctant to try something new, even though it’s what we know God wants.

RVL:  God has power over evil.

RVL: Note Peter’s courage — to step out and help in bringing the Kingdom

RVL:  Just like fishing, it takes practice to be good at it.

RVL:  And just like fishing, it’s sometimes futile. You don’t always catch a fish.

JFG: Even though Peter’s faith was weak, he didn’t drown. The weakness of his faith got him wet and scared, but Jesus still pulled him out of the water.

The Decapolis

The lesson is taught at the Decapolis (Ten Cities), founded by the Greeks. They considered the pig sacred, and practiced the fertility cult of Baal.

In Rabinnic tradition, this is where Joshua drove the seven nations out of the Promised Land (Joshua 3:10; Acts 13:9). And yet Jesus ministered both the Jews and to the seven nations.

Mark 6:39-43 takes place in Capernaum. Jesus fed the people with 5 loves and 2 fish. The disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftover bread and fish — meaning that Jesus was the bread of life to the 12 tribes.

In Mark 7:31, 8:6-8 Jesus fed 4,000 at the Decapolis, and 7 baskets were leftover — showing that Jesus is the bread of life even to the seven nations driven from the Promised Land.

The Rabinnic mind considered the Decapolis as unclean and the home of Beelzebub.

(Mark 4:35-41)  That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.

To the First Century Jew, traveling to an unclean, pagan land of people so filthy God had Joshua drive them out, well, they would have thought they were going to the devil’s homeland. They wouldn’t have been surprised to see a storm come up, as Baal’s power was over the storm and sea.

38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Jesus crossed the Abyss to where the devil lives. The storm was so severe that the boat was nearly capsized. But Jesus calmed the storm.

The disciples were terrified. Not only could Jesus control the creation, he could control the forces of evil.

(Mark 5:2-20)  When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4 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. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man–and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.

19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Again we see Jesus confronting the powers of Satan in the demoniac. “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

Why pigs? They were the sacred animal of the local fertility cult — symbolic of pagan idolatry.

And when Jesus freed this man from his demons, the people begged Jesus to leave.

Jesus deliberately confronted evil head on. He sought out evil.

RVL: We need to find evil where it is, and not wait for it to come to us.

RVL: People will resist the life lived in faith, because it requires them to change and give up things they value.

Jesus left but the demoniac wanted to go to follow Jesus. Jesus refused and had him instead go tell what Jesus had done.

But his message was simple. He was asked to tell his story — no theology degree required.

RVL: We just need to be able to tell what God has done in our lives.

When Jesus later returned to the Decapolis, a whole crowd came to hear and see Jesus, and they believed. Evidently, this one man made a dramatic difference.

Later, the Decapolis became a center of Christianity for many years. Through the ministry of one person, this area became a light to the rest of the world.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: When Storms Come / Piercing the Darkness

  1. Tom Lutke says:

    Jay,
    I think Vander Lann is on to something here. I read several blogs every day. Many of them are critical of one steam of Christianity or another. Recently, yours has had much to say about divisions involving instrumental vs. a cappella. Other denominations split over disagreements on other issues.
    In the gospel accounts, Jesus never tells us to worship him. He does tell us to obey him. He goes on to show his disciples of that day, as well as those of today, how to follow in such a way so as to be just like him. He was unafraid to confront the evil places of his world and he made it clear that his followers should do the same. In fact, he sent them on at least two occasions to do the very things they had seen him do. As he sent them, he asked the Father not to take them out of the world but to protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15)
    Rather than depending on the Father to protect us from the evil one, we have taken ourselves out of the world. We rarely get involved in anything bigger than ourselves and the result is that we don’t really need God or each other. In contrast, imagine the stories that the disciples must have told upon returning from these short-term mission trips. It would have taken their worship, prayer life and sense of relationship to each other to a completely different dimension!
    The reason that the church in the West is in conflict with itself is that we have lost our sense of purpose. To the extent that we do mission, it is through mission boards or organizations. That is, we pay others to do this vital function of the church for us. I am not saying that it is wrong to support mission organizations but the result is that the average Western Christian has no missional experiences. This is as absurd as paying a third party to worship for us!
    As we have lost our sense of “sentness”, we huddle nervously behind the walls of our buildings, arguing and dividing over theological minutia. Most of the things we divide over have no eternal significance except we have allowed them to fracture the bride of Christ, diminishing her witness to the lost.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Tom,

    I agree with every word.

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