Theme: Two Responses to Christ
This week’s lessons show both the positive and negative changes that an encounter with Jesus can produce.
Scripture: Matthew 8:28-34
Last week, as we considered the story of Jesus and the centurion, I referred to the different kinds of knowledge, taken from J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. I want to briefly review that because it is helpful in seeing how the different characters in this week’s passage responded to the knowledge of Jesus that each had received.
First is the kind of knowledge of God that is mere awareness. It is what unbelievers have and on the basis of which they are condemned, as Paul teaches in Romans 1.
Secondly is the type of knowledge that comes from the study of a subject. It’s the kind of knowledge a theologian might have, for example, who examines the Scriptures and can then go on to teach what the Bible says about God and his ways. This, of course, is a step further from mere awareness, and it is important; but that in itself is not saving knowledge.
Third is a kind of knowledge that we arrive at by experience. People today think very highly of this knowledge because we are so absorbed with judging whether or not something is true based on whether we have ever experienced it. Spiritually speaking, an experience of the presence of God is a real thing. But it is possible to become so interested in subjective experience that one misses out on salvation because the person is not actually focused on Christ as he is revealed in the Bible.
The fourth kind of knowledge is personal and leads to genuine and lasting change. Packer makes the point that nobody has ever come to know God without being changed himself or herself, because at the very least to know God as the Holy One in that personal way is to have an awareness of the fact that we are sinful and we don’t have that apart from that encounter. We just compare ourselves with other people, and we really don’t know what sin is all about. Nor do we understand righteousness or grace or wisdom or any other of God’s attributes. And when we see these things, we are humbled. We are brought to the point of confession, and we find in Jesus Christ as our Savior that grace which flows from God’s character.
There’s some stories in the Gospels that have a great introduction from the story that immediately proceeds them. One of them is this story we come to from Matthew 8, the story of the healing of two demon possessed men. Immediately before this we have the story of Jesus’ calming of the storm. The disciples were very much taken aback by this and amazed at the power of Jesus, and the story ends with their question: “What kind of a man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Their question is actually answered by the demons who possessed the two men, when they asked Jesus, “What do you want with us, Son of God?”
As we said last week, we have in these reports various encounters of Jesus with the people of his day, encounters in which the individuals involved are changed. Different aspects of the changes are presented to us. Generally, the changes are positive. As they meet Jesus they come to see their need. Then they’re drawn to faith, and pass from death to life. That’s the most important kind of transformation that can take place, which we saw last week when we looked at the story of the centurion. We find something of that same nature in the story we’re looking at this week.
Also some of these encounters are negative. We’re going to see that this week as well. When the sun shines it can do one of two things. If it shines on the ground where seeds have been planted, it can cause those seeds to sprout and produce life. But at the same time, the same sun that brings forth life from the seed in the ground can harden clay. And we’re going to find as we look at these stories that those who will not respond to the grace of Jesus Christ are hardened, changed in that way by the encounter.
Review J. I. Packer’s four kinds of knowledge to which Dr. Boice refers.
How is this story of Jesus and the two demon possessed men introduced well by the story that precedes it?
Reflection: When one receives a knowledge of the grace offered in Jesus Christ and is further hardened by it, what are some reasons why this negative change is produced?
For Further Study: To better see how both the calming of the storm and the healing of the demoniacs point to the need of a right response to Jesus, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message “Jesus, Storms, and Demons.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)