Theme: The People’s Response
This week’s lessons show both the positive and negative changes that an encounter with Jesus can produce.
Scripture: Matthew 8:28-34
Now the point I want to make is that it is necessary that the Lord Jesus Christ have authority in the most powerful sense if the demon is to be driven out. And if we’re to go and preach the gospel and have any hope of success, it must be by that power and authority of Jesus Christ as well. You see, sometimes we hear people talking of winning other people to Jesus Christ and they say things like, “Well let’s just love them into the kingdom.” Now I understand what’s meant by that. It means to show something of the character of Jesus Christ in your relationship to them. And that of course is perfectly right. But you see, what I want to say on the basis of this story is that loving them isn’t enough, in the same way that making the Word of God clear to them isn’t enough. A person can well understand the Word of God, and what he should do in response. And he can well understand the love of a Christian that reaches out in compassion and still be unconverted.
What is needed is that authority of Jesus Christ over sin and evil by which the evil spirit is driven out. Or to put it in theological terms, one who was dead in trespasses and sins is made alive by Jesus Christ, regenerated and brought into the kingdom. You see, when we’re talking about this matter of encounter that’s what’s involved. And of course, that’s what Jesus Christ did. He reached out to this man not only in his compassion for him and in his power, but he reached out in such a way that that man was delivered. These men in the story were delivered from the demons, who, we are told, went out and entered into a herd of pigs that were nearby, causing the herd to rush down the hill and drown in the lake.
So on the one hand we have the demon possessed men and, on the other hand, we have Jesus. But in this story there is a third category of individuals involved, and that’s the people of the town. Indeed, the real point of the story seems to hinge on them because of how the story ends. The story does not end with the two men, but with the people of the town. When the possessed herd of pigs drowned in the lake, the person who was responsible for taking care of the pigs went and told the people what had happened. They then came out to where Jesus was. And when they met him, instead of asking for Jesus’ blessing, since Jesus obviously had the authority to give it, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
Now isn’t that interesting? Why did they do that? Well obviously, they preferred the pigs to the people. We look at that say, “Well, you’re not supposed to do that.” But, after all, that is the way most of us operate most of the time. It certainly is the way the world operates. I think of one other example of that. You recall that in the sixteenth chapter of Acts we’re told of the work of Paul and those who were with him in the city of Philippi. While they were in Philippi there was a girl there who, similarly to these men, was possessed of an evil spirit. In her possession she was able to divine the future, and brought those who controlled her a lot of money. She followed after Paul calling, “What do we have to do with you, you servant of the living God?” It was almost a parallel situation to what we’re told of here. Then Paul turned around and in the name of Jesus, who alone had the power to drive out evil spirits, commanded the evil spirit to leave her.
After it left her, the experience was the same. Suddenly she was in her right mind. The spirit was gone, and she no longer had the ability to foretell things. Those who made their living off her demon possession were most unhappy. When they complained a riot resulted, which in turn led to Paul and Barnabas were confined in prison. So in both Matthew 8 and Acts 16, people were more concerned with things, whether pigs or profit, than they were with those who were delivered from their sin.
Now I wish I could say that this was only true of the world, but I can’t. We know that this is true even of us as Christians, at least some of the time. It is true that when the Spirit of Jesus Christ comes into a person we do think differently and we see things differently, but much of the world is still with us. We find ourselves preferring many, many things to the wellbeing of other people. Often when I speak about the kind of commitment we need in our day I speak of putting people before programs. And certainly that is true. We have the programs to serve the people rather than the people to serve the programs. We have to get that straight. But often we also go from there and we put our own livelihood first. If that is true of us, if we are so caught up in the world and its values that we put our livelihood or things or the comfort of our life before the wellbeing, especially the spiritual wellbeing, of other people, what is it going to take to get us straightened out? Now it may be that the Lord Jesus himself can straighten us out in an easy way. But I want to suggest two things that sometimes happen.
Why is merely making the Word of God clear to someone or showing them the love of God not enough to convert someone?
Who else plays a major role in the story? How did they react to Jesus’ authority, and what does that reveal about them?
Key Point: What is needed is that authority of Jesus Christ over sin and evil by which the evil spirit is driven out. Or to put it in theological terms, one who was dead in trespasses and sins is made alive by Jesus Christ, regenerated and brought into the kingdom.