Saturday, June 15, 2019

Judgment and Glory

When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters. The herdsmen ran away, and went to the city and reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region. (Matthew 8:28-34)

The surface details have been talked about often, but what about the big picture? We have two men in this scene who are ensnared by demons, who are prisoners of evil. Jesus Christ sets them free, getting rid of the demons, and making the area safe from the violent men, but also removing the financial means from the Gadarenes by allowing the demons to drown their profit supply (in another gospel we find out that this was over 2,000 head of swine).

However, the economic loss to the community appears to be the instigating factor but not the true repulsion of Christ. Some say that there is a choice being made between the world and God's salvation, and the Gadarenes choose the world.  Since Jesus has rid them of their profit, they demand him to leave, but the root of sin lies deeper than that. Verse 34 reads: "And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw Him, they implored Him to leave their region." The whole city: let that sink in. This is not a few entrepreneurs and capitalists coming forth to chastise Christ for ruining their income plan.  This is a sinful rejection of the power of Christ. Jesus has done something very intense by driving demons out of extremely violent men who blocked the way.  There is an irrational rejection on the part of the world toward the saving power of Christ.  Because the power screams judgment at them.

Now, many are drawn to Christ when he performs wonders, but many more are driven away.  Even then, the ones who are drawn to him are usually drawn to him for the wrong reason.  They are drawn to the miracle itself.  Jesus accompanies each miracle with a teaching, and this teaching is usually a difficult one about the kingdom, and such teachings also drive away the superficial follower.  Let's look at similar versions of this rejection: one from the old and one from the new testament.

The prophecy of Amos 7 has God threatening to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel by two ways: locust and fire, both aimed at the farmlands...and the economic prosperity of the region. Amos begs the Lord to stop, and the Lord does each time, but then the third time God does not send locust nor fire but a plumb line. This is no longer an attack on their economics (and ruin of the country as a whole) but an attack on the people themselves. The sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste by the plumb line. What is the plumb line? Jesus, of course. Jesus Christ comes to this crooked world, and anything that is not as straight and perfect as he is destroyed.  Of course, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  All people fall short of the plumb line, and so they are to be ruined, puts his faith in the plumb line itself. The only way to be saved is to put faith in the just judge.

The second half of Amos 7 describes the priest Amaziah doing the very thing the Gadarenes did in Matthew 8: he rejects Amos' prophecy and Amos himself, who is a mere shepherd called by God out of his life in Tekoa, south of Jerusalem, to go to another country, Israel, and preach the truth to them.  Now, this priest, representing the people of Jerusalem, tells Amos the same thing the Gadarenes tell Jesus: flee from here! The result is a direct prophecy to Amaziah: he personally will suffer the same fate as Israel, the loss of everything, because he has rejected the plumb line.

The other passage is in Acts 16. Paul travels to Philippi, where he plants a church with a woman named Lydia and then adds a family through the jailer.  The town, however reacts quite violently to them, until Paul declares himself to be a Roman citizen. Then the town rejects him on a whole different level, much in the same way the Gadarenes reject Jesus and Amaziah rejects Amos: they beg him to leave. Once again, this is not because of annoyance, or because of an economic problem, which it had been before. In Acts 16:19 Paul has destroyed a certain group's economic profit by casting a demon out of a servant girl.  So, yes, it begins this way, but something greater is happening at the end of the chapter: Paul has brought salvation into their midst, and instead of happily embracing such, they reject it in fear.  Just as Israel rejects the plumb line in fear. Just as the Gadarenes reject Christ in fear.

It's fascinating to see how people respond to Jesus, and it's scary when you realize that so many respond so negatively, but how do you respond? When your sin is shown to you, like when Peter hides his face from Christ in the boat, or when Isaiah is faced with the Lord's glory. Do you confess your sin and tell God that you are not worthy? Do you believe yourself to be ruined? Do you ask the Lord to depart in the way Peter did?  Christ responded with a call to follow him and to be a fisher of men.  Compare that with the begging for Christ to leave that was given by the Gadarenes, Amaziah, and the Philippians.  What is the difference? One pair (Peter and Isaiah) is confronted with God's glory, and they respond with humility. However, the others are confronted with God's judgment: the casting out of demons, the standard of the plumb line, and the salvation of sinners. And the reaction looks similar on the outside, but there is no faith and repentance on the inside. The wrath of God is finding its place, judgment is coming early upon them, and they are essentially asking the mountains to fall upon them.

How do you react to Jesus, the plumb line? Do you see judgment coming? Or do you see glory? Either should instill fear, but only one inspires faith and brings you into the kingdom.