By Shelby Hawks
And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood. (Matthew 8:28-34)
It is Lent, brothers and sisters. A time for change, for conversion, for metanoia—a complete turning, a 180-degree shift from ourselves and sinful ways toward the Lord. But if you are anything like me (you know, sinful and selfish), this is a difficult task and often seems to fade from view when the ashes are washed away and the purple vestments become seemingly ordinary.
When I was reading this passage, I was struck by verse 34: And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.
Put yourself in the scene for a moment—Jesus enters your town, casts out the demons from two men who roam the cemetery at night, and then suddenly all of the people around you are asking him to leave the town and never come back. Why?
Why did they want Jesus to leave?
I think it’s because of change. You see, these townspeople are comfortable—comfortable as they are. They live in their sin and have their fun and ignore the gentle whisper of their heart that beckons them to live a life that is more. When Jesus shows up, suddenly there is a tension. Suddenly, the sin and misery don’t feel so comfortable and the quiet whisper gets a little bit louder because when Jesus is present, the people understand the more they are missing.
When Jesus shows up, suddenly there is a quiet desire to repent—and it is accompanied by guilt and shame. There is an impulse to hide and an impulse to run. But in their comfort, they would rather Him just leave so that they can go on living as they are. The people are more afraid of what it would look like to live differently than they are of their own filth. His presence makes them sensitive to their misery and they don’t want to deal with it. They would prefer to be numb than to repent.
Brothers and sisters, this passage speaks vast truth: the presence of Jesus demands a response. We simply cannot stay the same. He demands change, healing, repentance because He is, by His very nature, our Savior. He cannot be present and shackled to our fear—when He is present things must move. His name is I AM because His presence changes us. His gaze calls us to conversion.
Repent and believe. If we do not experience the freedom and healing of repentance, then how can our faith remain firmly rooted? We ought to believe in Jesus as Savior because we have experienced Him as such. He has to be our Savior from the depths of our heart—we have to let Him in to everything.
We do not need a God who simply bandages up our wounds—we need a Savior to ransom us from the grip of sin and death. Do you believe in this kind of God—powerful beyond measure and capable of transforming our dirty water into new wine? Or do you fear the change He will bring about and keep yourself at a distance, safe from the transformative gaze of the King?
I’m not sure who you are in this story—maybe you’re the disciple who wants Jesus to stay, maybe you’re the demoniac who needs freedom from the chains of sin, or maybe you’re the townspeople who beg Him to leave. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. But my brothers and sisters, this Lent do not let these 40 days pass you by. Let Jesus in—open your heart to the change He wants to bring to you. Do not beg Him to leave—beg Him to stay and trust that He will.