How Jesus Changed My Life on a Boat

This is my re-telling of the powerful and life changing events that happened in Matthew 8 from the perspective of one of the disciples who was with Jesus– with contributions from Angie Grigaliunas. It helps if you listen to Coldplay’s “swallowed by the sea” while you read. Here we go:

What a long day! It started like most others, but almost immediately I could tell that we were in for some kind of awakening. The events of today would change my life forever. We made our way into a town called Capernaum with Jesus, and we hadn’t been there but an hour when a Roman soldier came running up to Jesus panting, as if he were out of breath (although he didn’t come across as overly anxious).

“Lord, my servant is lying at home; he is paralyzed and in great pain. Please do something!”
Then Jesus nodded slightly and said, “Okay, I will come and heal him.”

“No Jesus,” the man replied, shaking his head quickly, “I am not worthy to have you come to my house. But I know that if you simply say the word, my servant will be healed.” Then he started talking about how he understood what it meant to have authority over things because he has authority in the Roman government and that he could control certain things and blah, blah, blah. I’m not sure I understood the whole conversation and I didn’t pretend to care. All I know was that I was waiting for Jesus to say something to make this man rethink his idea of God (like he often did), and for this Roman to turn around realizing that he had it all-wrong in some shape or form…but Jesus didn’t.
Instead, Jesus told him, “Because of your faith, your servant is healed.”

What happened next though would shock me and make me rethink some things. Jesus turned to all of us, His friends, His faithful followers --- the ones who disregarded our family businesses, our reputations, and our very lifestyles to follow Him --- and said that this man --- a Gentile; more than that, a Roman soldier --- had more faith than anyone in Israel.

What?

Later on that day, we headed over to Simon’s house (I believe you call him Peter). These weren’t the best of times there. His mother-in-law was really sick and Simon’s wife was pacing around nervously, not knowing what to do and just hoping that she would get better. As soon as Jesus walked into the house he made his way to the small room where Simon’s mother-in-law was bedridden and just stood in the doorway looking at her. Now, you have to understand that when Jesus looked at people, He did it with these tangibly compassionate eyes that were unlike anything I had ever seen, and when He touched people they were immediately changed. So when Jesus entered the room and took her hand, she immediately became well. So well in fact that she cooked us dinner; I liked that.

After dinner, townsfolk brought all kinds of people that were sick and Jesus healed them all. This was a pretty common night for us. But that’s when some strange things started to happen…

Jesus had just told us that he wanted to get into the boat and head across to the other side when a scribe came up to us and said that he would follow Jesus wherever He went. I thought this was a great thing because the scribes had been putting up a big fuss against Jesus. Maybe now they were beginning to see that he is the real thing, I thought hopefully.

But instead of inviting him to come along with us, Jesus looked at him squarely in the eyes and said, “Foxes have holes and birds have little nests in trees, but I don’t have any place to sleep…are you sure you’d like to follow me everywhere I go?”

The scribe looked at him for a moment, rather speechless, then he took a few steps back, turned, and walked away. He wasn’t ready to drop everything to follow Jesus.

Shortly after that, another man who had been following Jesus with us for a while said, “Jesus, it has been a year since my father passed away, and so I need to go back and perform the ceremonies over his grave.”

We had a custom that you would perform the burial service twice, the second one coming on the one-year anniversary of the death. Jesus told him that he should let the dead perform the ceremonies for the dead. I thought about it, and I couldn’t come up with much of a reason for why it was such a big deal for this guy to head back home for a while to pay his respects to his father and to spend some time with his family.

These were the types of things I failed to understand.

Like I said, we were all about to head across the water that night, so we climbed into the boat and started our venture. We were all pretty tired, especially Jesus because He had expended so much energy caring for the people, so as soon as we got into the boat He walked to the back, laid down, and fell asleep. While He was sleeping we started recalling the day, how amazing it was that He healed so many people and how crazy some of the things He said were… We asked each other that night, “Who is this man?”

If you have even been out on the boat in the middle of the night you understand how calming and relaxing it is; it’s like nothing else in the world. I remember the joy we had that night, we laughed so hard (Nathaniel is seriously hilarious). But as we shared stories and laughed, things started to become a little unsettling. You know how it is when storms are starting to rise up; you can feel them in the air. We felt it coming that night, but since we were in the middle of the water, there was nothing we could really do.

The waves started getting bigger, each one crashing against our little fishing boat. Thunder rolled across the midnight sky, followed by flashes of lightning in the distance. Light rain started to fall at first, then the drizzle turned to real rain, and the rain turned into torrential downpour. We were all tired, but a storm can become a dangerous and even deadly event when you’re out on the water. So all of us were fighting off our fatigue while wrestling with the wind, yelling at the top of our lungs just so we could be heard. We all shouted commands to each other, trying desperately to ensure safety. But this was starting to make me nervous; it was one of the worst storms I had ever seen. You could hear the urgency and even fear in every one of our voices. Just then we realized that Jesus was still sleeping near the back of the boat. I wondered how he could have continued to sleep undisturbed through the shouting and the rain falling on his face and the echo of the thunder as it rolled out over the sea.

“Look at him just laying there!” someone shouted.

“JESUS!” we all roared almost simultaneously. He didn’t stir. He was deaf! “JESUS!!” several yelled again, while I and a couple of others hurtled ourselves across the wildly-rocking deck, frantically reaching out for Him.

He rolled over onto His back as they got to him, casually rubbed His eyes, and said, “Come on guys, I’m trying to sleep.”

“Don’t you know that we are about to die?!” Thomas demanded in panic and astonishment. I could barely hear him over the screaming deluge and the thunder, but his words echoed the question in my own heart. “This storm is terrible, and the boat is filling up with water, the waves are getting bigger and bigger and the wind is ---”

“Oh, you guys don’t have any faith at all,” Jesus interrupted.

No faith?? Is he joking?? What does he mean?

Suddenly, in the midst of the raging storm, with rain pouring down on my head and lightning flashes illuminating the waves and the countryside, I closed my eyes, ashamed as I remembered the Roman Centurion. “No one in Israel has this much faith…”

No faith? Me?

And just then, Jesus stood to His feet, lifted His hands --- and with power and majesty in His voice, He shouted, “Be still!!”

The boat was tossed a few more times by the waves and then after a very brief moment, the water became perfectly still…incredibly peaceful. There were no words. When he said, “Be still,” I was. The others were. Everything was. The night was completely quiet as the words that King David recorded in the Psalms echoed through my mind: “Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth.” And you are, Jesus...YOU are.

It was then that I began to see clearly. The Roman soldier knew that His words were meaningless if he didn’t really believe. He didn’t play it safe by asking Jesus to come just to be sure that his servant was healed. Instead, he trusted in the power of Jesus Christ so much that when he turned around to walk away, he knew that it was done.

I realized in that moment that true faith is more than listening to His words, but actually believing that they are true? It means living on the edges, not playing it safe? I wondered what would He would do with me if I did more than follow Him around and actually surrendered my life to Him? And what if I let Him shape my opinions and views and thoughts and motivations and actions and words? Could I change my friends and family? Could I change my city? Could the guys on this boat maybe even change the world…??

…And the rest became history.

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