On the Sea of Galilee

“And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were also with Him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow; and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest Thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What “manner of Man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:35-41).

If you were to ask me, “What has your visit to Palestine done for you that you appreciate above everything else?” I think I would have to answer, “It has made the Person of the Lord so much more precious to my soul.”

There is something about frequenting the haunts of one of whom we have read and heard that fixes things in the heart and mind in a way that is not otherwise the case. I suppose that like most folk of Scotch extraction I have had about as much interest in and admiration for Scotland’s plough-boy-poet, Bobby Burns, as any other person who knows how to burr the r’s. But recently I went to Burns’ birthplace and entered the little hut where he first saw the light of this world, and then walked about the “Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon,” and saw the kirk where Tarn O’Shanter had his wild time, and I feel that Robert Burns will never be a kind of a mythical figure to me any more. He is almost like a personal friend. Well, for forty-five years the Lord Jesus has been a wonderful Saviour to me, but oh, I can say thoughtfully, sincerely, He never was so real as He is since I have walked the streets that He used to walk, since I have gone over the hills that He once went over, and since I have sailed on the lake that He crossed so many times.

One thing that a visit to Palestine does for a reverent believer in the Word of God is to make him see everything else in the light of it. I find myself almost unconsciously, after looking out on a body of water, saying, “It is nothing to the Sea of Galilee,” or maybe, “It reminds me of the Sea of Galilee.” Or if I am on a railroad and crossing a river, and I see a lovely little stream with the trees hanging over it on each side, I find myself saying, “It reminds me of the Jordan; it looks something like the place where the Lord Himself was baptized;” or, if, as I travel through the hills a beautiful mountain looms ahead, saying, “It looks like Mount Tabor,” or some other eminence I saw in Palestine.

I think that most travelers, whether they have any piety or any love for Christ, or whether they believe the Bible, or not, are charmed by the scenery surrounding the Sea of Galilee. It is a very unique body of water. I do not know why it is called a sea, for it is a small lake. Its length is about thirteen miles, and its widest part about seven miles, yet it is unique among all the lakes in the world, for it is 680 ft. below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, which is about fifty miles away. The Jordan descends rapidly from its sources about thirty miles farther north, down, down, down into this deep gorge, and then widens out and forms the Sea of Galilee. At the deepest part, to the north, it is nearly 900 ft. to the bottom, but generally between 200 and 300 ft. The Jordan leaves it again at the south end and continues on its downward way. The very name “Jordan” means, “the Descender,” the river that goes down. And it goes on down to the Dead Sea, 1300 ft. below the level of the Mediterranean.

We spent part of two days at Tiberias. It is a thriving city still as it was in the time of Christ, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. We saw the fishermen bringing in their fish in the morning. As in Bible times, they fish in the night. You do not see them going out fishing in the day-time, and so we could well understand Peter’s almost incredulous expression, when the Lord said, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught” (Luke 5:4). But Peter said, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net.” The Lord did not tell him to let down the net; He told him to let down the nets. But they let down the net and immediately inclosed such a multitude of fish that the net brake. If he had let down the nets as the Lord told him to, he might have saved them. And that spoke to Peter’s conscience. He knew he was in the presence of the Creator of the wealth of the seas, and he threw himself down at the feet of Jesus and exclaimed, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” As much as to say, “I am not fit to be in Thy presence, Thou infinitely holy Creator, but I am not going away unless Thou shalt send me away.” And Jesus spoke peace to his soul. No one ever approaches Christ in that way to be sent off. He is waiting for people to say, “I am a sinful man; I am a sinful woman,” and He will receive them in grace and save their souls.

It is a singular fact that of the six or seven kinds of fish in the Sea of Galilee (we saw only two kinds) some of them are found in only one other place in the world, so far as is known, and that is in Lake Tanganyika in Africa. It has been thought that there must be some kind of a subterranean connection between that lake and the Sea of Galilee. Although this sea has been fished and fished for these thousands of years, the fishermen still go out nearly every night and come in laden with them in the morning. It is a kind of standing miracle.

The sea itself is a lovely gem. We caught our first sight of it before we were near it. As we were driving we came over an eminence, and our guide said, “There is the Sea of Galilee.” It was just like a beautiful blue-green jade, in the midst of the surrounding hills as a setting, and we could enter more fully into the old hymn than ever before:

“Each cooing dove and sighing bough,
That makes the eve so blest to me,
Has something far diviner now,
It bears me back to Galilee.

“Each flow’ry glen and mossy dell,
Where happy birds in song agree,
Through sunny morn the praises tell
Of sights and sounds in Galilee.

“And when I read the thrilling lore
Of Him who walked upon the sea,
I long, oh, how I long once more
To follow Him in Galilee.”

I do not think we were in Tiberias an hour before we were wending our way down to the shore to go for a sail on Galilee. Every tourist wants to say, “We have sailed the sea where Jesus quelled the storm and walked on the waves.” Our oarsman was a great big burly Arab, and he pushed out and began to row down south and out into the midst of the sea. The scenery on every side was most interesting. The Horns of Hattin, on the west, and on the other side the mountain where Jesus is supposed to have fed the five thousand, the hot springs of Tiberias where Herod went to be healed of his miseries, and the little town called Magdala where Mary Magdalene came from. Farther north we could see Bethsaida, and still farther north Capernaum, and yonder the mount where the blessed Lord stood when He preached that wonderful sermon recorded in Matt. 5, 6, and 7. Beyond it all was Mount Hermon rising in majestic grandeur.

We were surprised when this Arab turned to us and said, “Now sing American Galilee song.” I am not noted for singing and so I parried a bit. I thought I knew what he meant, but said, “What is the American Galilee song?” And then with rich voice he sang:

“O Galilee! Sweet Galilee!
Where Jesus loved so much to be;
O Galilee! Blue Galilee!
Come, sing thy song again to me.”

Over and over again he sang it, and it all began to come back more and more vividly to us as we thought of that night on the lake when the blessed Lord had taken ship to go to the other side. He had left the eastern side to go to Gennesaret and Capernaum, and a great storm arose. The waves beat into the ship and the disciples were so alarmed and so distressed; but He, the blessed Lord, wearied in His search after lost sinners, lay in the hinder part fast asleep—asleep, we are told, on a pillow. It is a striking thing that this is the only time in any of the Gospels that we ever learn that He had a pillow. I wonder where He got it. I have my own idea about it. I think one of those holy women that ministered unto Him of her substance said to herself, “The blessed Master must often be tired and weary, and I am going to make Him a nice cushion so that when He sleeps on the mountain-side, or wherever it may be, He will have it as a pillow for His holy head.” And God has not forgotten whoever it was that provided it, for it is recorded, “Asleep on a pillow.” There was nothing that disturbed Him, because He was not only Man in perfection but God, the Creator of all things, and, “The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm” (Nah. 1:3). But those disciples were so much like you and me; we get so troubled and distressed by the storms of life.

Many of you have been exposed to them until your courage is beginning to fail, and you have wrung your hands and said, “If there is much more of this, life is hardly worth living.” That is what they are saying all around us today, and we read of one after another going out of this world by self-murder, going out to meet a holy God with their hands crimsoned in their own blood, thinking to escape from trouble here but plunging into certain judgment beyond, for, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). But life is for many a stormy sea, and numbers of you may feel as though you are pictured by those disciples in the little ship tossed and driven on the sea. You do not see any hope; you do not know what to do; you are at your wits’ end. Well, then; do what they did. They went to Jesus about it.

I think I see them coming and laying hold of that sleeping Man, and rousing Him and crying, “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” They did not need to talk to Him like that. Of course He cared and He was not going to let them perish. He had said a little while before, “Let us pass over unto the other side.” They should have remembered that when the storm came. They should have said, “He did not say, ‘Let us go into the middle of the lake and get drowned/ but, ‘Let us pass over unto the other side;’ so we can trust His word; He will get us through.” But they forgot and said, “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” “And He arose and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, Peace, be still.” Greek scholars tell us that the word for “still” is really the word that we use to a mad dog, “Be muzzled.” Those waves were lashing up like mad dogs, threatening to destroy the ship. He rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Be muzzled.” In a moment they recognized the Master’s voice, and the wind and waves did as He told them, and the disciples feared exceedingly and said one to another, “What manner of Man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

What manner of Man is this? He is the Creator of the wind. “Who hath gathered the wind in His fists” (Prov. 30:4). He is the One who brought the sea into existence; in fact we are told, “He hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand” (Isa. 40:12). He did not look like the Creator; He was lying asleep in that little boat. But the peace of Jesus that night was the peace of God, and He says to those who are troubled and distressed by the storms of life, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

Just as He stilled the tempest on the Sea of Galilee that night so He can still the tempest in your poor heart. He can give you the deliverance for which your soul craves. He can give you the peace that you have never been able to find in this poor world. Do you remember the hymn:

“Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.”

And notice how it traces down all the different things that trouble and distress us.

“Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

“Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

“Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.

“Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know and He is on the throne.

“It is enough: earth’s struggles soon shall cease,
And Jesus call us to heav’n’s perfect peace.”

What I would like to do is just to introduce you to that Man of Galilee, to the One who stilled the storm, to the One who walked the waters of that little inland sea so long ago, and who tonight “sit-teth o’er the water-floods and guides each drifting wave.” You do not know what you are missing if you are turning away from Him. You do not know what you are losing if you lose the sense of His love and companionship as you cross the sea of life in your frail little bark. He wants you to take Him aboard; He wants you to give Him the direction of your life. Won’t you do it? He has shown His love by dying for you on the cross; He has shown His concern for you by bearing your sins in His own body on that tree. And now He who died to redeem and lives to keep, says to a weary, sin-stricken world, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Won’t you come? Why should you turn from Him?

An old Scotch woman, of whom I heard when I was a boy, could not do much work for Jesus, but there were always after-meetings in the church, and when the sermon had been preached, there would be singing, and the folks would go about “fishing,” as they called it, speaking to this one and that one trying to bring them to Christ. She would watch for folks who were hardening their hearts against the Gospel, and she had only one question, “What ails you at Jesus?” That is, “What have you got against Jesus?” That is a serious question: “What ails you at Jesus?” What have you got against Him that you won’t trust Him? He never did you anything but good, and yet you spurn Him, and turn from His love and grace and refuse His love and mercy.

“Oh, my friend, won’t you love Him forever?
So gracious and tender is He!
Won’t you fall at His feet and adore Him,
This Stranger of Galilee?”

Come with all your sorrows, come with all your sins. He says, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.”