Fearing the Work of God

The Christian faith is a historical faith. By that I mean more than simply saying it is old. It is a faith which plays out throughout the pages of history. As Saint Paul says to the church in Galatia, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). There was a moment in time, a place in history, for the Son of God to be born in the flesh, born under the Law to reconcile the world of God. A great part of our faith is carried along by looking backward, by looking to the great workings of God throughout time as He reveals His will and redeems fallen sinners. Yet, our faith is not simply contained within the historical record. Sometimes we get the sense we are trapped between the ancient things that have happened and our longing for the future things which are promised. In this in-between time, we can begin to think there is no real meaning to it, no purpose. But nothing could be further from the truth. This time, our time, is full of meaning and purpose, because God continues to work here and now.

I have to warn you though, the working of God is not always a walk in the park. The working of God, while it may be for your benefit, for your salvation, for your assurance, can, at times, be a terrifying ordeal. Think of the account of our Lord’s miracle in the country of the Gerasenes as a perfect example. It is without a doubt a wonderful picture of the power and true identity of our Lord. He no sooner steps foot onto dry land than He is met by a man from the city who was possessed by demons. It is not a demon mind you, but demons plural. The guy is out of his mind. He is naked and living among the tombs on the outskirts of town and when he approaches Jesus he says, “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” The demons know who Jesus is. They know He is the Son of God, and they beg Him not to torture them. The demons fear the working of God in their midst.

The information we are given in this text is quite fascinating. We learn these demons truly plagued the man. The townsfolk had tried to control him by keeping him under guard and binding him with chains and shackles. Yet, the demon possessed man would break the chains and the demons would drive the man into the wilderness. There was no controlling hm, no solution to his terror and plight, until our Lord stands before him. The demons get this as they beg Jesus not to cast them into the Abyss. Instead, they focus on a herd of pigs feeding on the hillside. They beg Him to cast them into the pigs instead, and our Lord obliges. They may have begged to be spared the Abyss, but it is to the Abyss they end up going anyway. For we read, “The demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.”

If we pull back a little bit at this point and take in the greater context of what is unfolding, we can see something about the powerful and active work of God. His works appears to be making the unclean clean and bringing order to chaos. Perhaps this is what we ought to expect from the encroaching Kingdom of God. You see, right before our Lord drives demons into pigs and pigs into the sea, He Himself was out on the sea. The sea, the realm of the unknown chaos, is the place of fear and disorder especially in the midst of a storm. And they were in a storm, a severe storm. They thought they were going to die and when they wake-up Jesus they cry out, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And what does He do? He gets up and rebukes the wind and the waves and the creation listens to its Lord. No sooner does he step out of the boat then He is faced with unclean spirits in an unclean land, a Gentile land. So, He cleanses it, driving out the legion of demons into the unclean animals who drown in the sea over which He has authority. Where God is at work, He reorders things to establish order, peace, and restoration.

As we said, we know the demons were afraid of our Lord, and rightly so. But the fear of the working of God does not end with them. Back on the sea after Jesus calms the storm, we are told the disciples, “…were afraid, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this, that He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him?’” They were afraid. Then in our text today, we read that when the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran into the town to tell people what was going on. When the townsfolk, “…came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, …they were afraid.” They were afraid by this working of God. In fact, the text says, “All the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” But why? Why did they fear Jesus?

In one way the cause for fear is not far removed from the fear the demons speak of. That is, the working of God in our midst means there is power and authority over which we do not have control. This can be more that a bit unsettling. It means when God works, He is not bound by you, by your desire, by your expectation, or by your demands or dreams. He calms the wind and waves. He drives out demons. He cleanses the land. He heals the sick and raises the dead. To deal with Jesus is to deal with power of God at work and that does not promise to be a soft and gentle experience. If He turns the unclean clean and brings order to chaos, will He not do that very work within you, addressing what is unclean in your hearts and minds, dealing with the chaos you embrace and thrive in each and every day?

The Gerasenes see the wild naked man who broke chains and lived among the tombs sitting clothed and in his right mind, safe and calm, at the feet of Jesus and they know this will challenge everything they think they know. If He can do this, change this man in such a way, what will He do to the rest of us? Will He get hold of the sins I do? Will He bring into the light the thoughts, words, and deeds I would rather keep hidden in the darkness? Will He challenge your status quo? Are the rhythms and patterns of your life in jeopardy? What things do you fear, love, and trust in before your God? What passions and habits have you settled into that take precedence before the call of discipleship? The working of God is a cleansing work. It will cause you to confess what you would rather not, to face the demons which entangle you and pull you down into sin and shame.

I think the fear that accompanies the working of God is how it will not just leave you alone. It impacts your life in profound ways. It will certainly give life. It will give hope, promise, and assurance but the road to that life is through death. God will kill what you love so you will love only Him. He will kill your sense of control. He will unmask all the things you establish, your sources of security and identity in this age as gods of your own making. He will turn the world upside down. The weak are the greatest. The last are the first. The sinner is loved. The broken are the first in line to be healed. He will leave you disjointed form this world, strangers in a strange land where you are called to serve, called to have compassion, called to love.

Your salvation, your hope, your forgiveness is not within the work of your own hands. It is not a matter of your strength, wisdom, or experience. And perhaps this scares us more than anything else, for we are rendered passive by the work of God. But then it comes. Then the gift we could never achieve is given. A Word of hope is spoken. A proclamation is made, right here in this moment, in this place and time. In the name of Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Go in peace. You are free.

In the end, I suppose we are similar to the formerly possessed man trying to get into the boat with Jesus. The fear is now gone as he has been cleansed and order has driven out the chaos. He wants the fellowship. He wants the promise of all life in Christ offers. But our Lord tells him, “No.” Not yet, for now is the time to go and declare all God has done for him. We read in the text, “He went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” So, I have to ask you, who are you going to tell first?