We are ten days into the new year and I thought it was time to post a devotional blog, focusing on a passage of Scripture. Spending my morning in Matthew’s eighth chapter, I was struck at the difference between how this chapter begins and how it ends. Look at this with me:
Matthew 8:1 – “When He came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him.”
Matthew 8:34 – “And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.”
Although these two verses took place at different moments and in different areas, the polarized responses to Jesus by the people in these two verses captures my thinking. One moment, they are chasing Him down, enraptured by the wisdom He shared in His sermon from the hillside (chapters 5-7). They long to be with Him and to hear more. Then, inexplicably, the chapter ends with people begging Him to leave their presence. Humanity is revealed as desiring Jesus passionately in one moment, then outrightly rejecting Jesus the next moment.
So, what happened in between verses 1 & 34? What activity do the verses in between reveal? Observe what the Holy Spirit moved Matthew to write down in these verses:
Jesus touched and healed an unclean leper. In doing so, He broke a religious rule that forbids anyone from touching an unclean leper. (8:1-4)
He exalted the faith of Gentile military man over the blood-ties of Jewish brethren. He affirmed the Roman officer’s faith, and then taught that many who were not Jews by race would be in the eternal Kingdom, while many who are Jews by race would be excluded from the eternal Kingdom. Jesus affirmed a Gentile while exposing the presumption of His Jewish brethren. This was a huge no-no among the Jews. (8:5-13)
He healed scores of people from their sicknesses while delivering many others from demonic possession. There was no real scandal about this work, but it would not have been nice, neat, nor religiously tidy. There would have been sights, smells and sounds associated with the multiple deliverances. Demons don’t go quietly, and people who are miraculously healed do not typically give a quaint, quiet nod of thanks. This would have been gloriously dramatic! (8:14-17)
He refused those who presumed to casually follow Him, citing that discipleship was an issue that must trump all lesser loyalties. Jesus reveals that discipleship is not casual, but costly. This is still an unpopular message. (8:18-22)
He mightily displayed His full authority over nature by causing a storm with a word from His mouth. This was the climax of the chapter. The One who defied social and religious expectations, who went for the least, the sick and the demonized, who commanded that nobody approach Him with casual follow-ship…was the same One who successfully commanded nature to sit down and shut up. (8:23-27)
What ultimately led to the people evicting Jesus from their town was that He showed compassion to the two town bullies of Gadara who were notorious problems for others. In delivering them, He also allowed for His plan to cause a financial hardship for some pig-herders. The deliverance of the two men costs the townspeople something and they were so displeased that they asked Jesus to leave. While Jesus was treasuring souls, the townsfolk were treasuring swine. (8:28-33)
So, after Jesus does repeated miraculous works of power and authority, the strongest desire of some was to distance themselves from Him. In the end, He was too much Savior for them to be comfortable with. This still happens today, unfortunately. When Jesus was just talking, the crowds ran after Him in big numbers. However, when He started messing with the system, breaking religious taboos, calling people to costly discipleship, entering into loud and messy ministry, pouring into the lives of Gentiles, lepers and demon-possessed people, the people asked Him to move on to somewhere else. There is something to think about in all of this.
Jesus is the Truth and the Word, therefore preaching will always be important. Yet, Jesus is also the Light and the Life and the Way. Because of this we need to anticipate spiritual heat, spiritual breath and spiritual movement. As Paul once testified that he did not come in word alone, but in demonstration of power, we should expect no less in our own lives and churches. Jesus is determined to move. When He does, please do not ask Him to move on.
By the way, Jesus never went back to that region. He went there once, expelled demons, was asked to leave…and He did. When Jesus walks in, honor what He comes to do. If we do not, He is not above walking out. Where He is welcome, He will work!
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