Have you ever experienced a miracle? An unlikely healing? An interruption of natural laws? I can’t say that I have personally experienced a miracle, although I know people who were healed when physicians said otherwise. Responses to a miracle today are likely just as varied as they were 2000 years ago.
Matthew 8 recounts several of Jesus’ miracles. He calms the storm, heals leprosy, casts out demons. The disciples respond with amazement, the Roman officer shows astounding faith, the word spread and many brought their afflictions to Jesus. This, Matthew says, fulfilled the words of Isaiah that Jesus would take our sicknesses and heal our diseases.
Not everyone was so excited about this movement.
When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes, two men who were possessed by demons met him. They came out of the tombs and were so violent that no one could go through that area. They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before God’s appointed time?” There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding in the distance. So the demons begged, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” “All right, go!” Jesus commanded them. So the demons came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the whole herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water. The herdsmen fled to the nearby town, telling everyone what happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.Matthew 8:28-33
There are many details of this account we could debate. Why did Jesus not care about the herdsmen’s livelihood and send the pigs to their death? Were the villagers more comfortable with these violent men than they were with Jesus? What about this made the entire town ask Jesus to leave? How is this showing us who God is?
I don’t know those answers, but these verses remind me of another such incident in the Old Testament. This isn’t the first time people stood in the presence of God and asked him to leave.
“But when you heard the voice from the heart of the darkness, while the mountain was blazing with fire, all your tribal leaders and elders came to me. They said, ‘Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice from the heart of the fire. Today we have seen that God can speak to us humans, and yet we live! But now, why should we risk death again? If the Lord our God speaks to us again, we will certainly die and be consumed by this awesome fire. Can any living thing hear the voice of the living God from the heart of the fire as we did and yet survive? Go yourself and listen to what the Lord our God says. Then come and tell us everything he tells you, and we will listen and obey.’Deuteronomy 5:23-27
Standing in the presence of God is an awesome, terrifying experience. Some are amazed, some are drawn to him, some ask him to leave. As I ponder this, I wonder if I am truly open to a powerful move of God. Would I prefer he stays “on the mountain” speaking to me through a intermediary? Or am I brave enough to allow him to come close? Would I, like the townspeople, have said, “that is really cool what you did. But could you go to another village?”
What do you say? Are you asking Jesus to leave or asking him to draw near?