Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 11 2013 - Matthew 8:18-34 – They pleaded with him to leave

More remarkable miracles are recorded in the latter half of Matthew 8. The first is a nature miracle. Jesus and his disciples are crossing Galilee in a small boat. Jesus, worn out by the demands of the crowds, is asleep in the boat and remains asleep even when a fierce storm threatens to capsize the boat and to drown the travellers. When Jesus is woken by the frightened disciples he first rebukes them for their fear and lack of faith. He then rebukes the winds and the waves and they immediately become calm. The disciples are amazed, asking, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" (Matthew 8:27).

Well might they ask. In yesterday's notes we suggested that Jesus' miracles were signs of the kingdom; an anticipation of the transformation of all things at his return. They are also a recapitulation of God's original plan for creation. Jesus is the last Adam. In him we see creation once again under the dominion of the man who bears the image of God. The storms give way to a sea of glass and fear gives way to worship.

The chapter ends with the puzzling passage in which Jesus is confronted by two violent, demon-possessed men. The demons cry out to Jesus "What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" (8:29). Again we see that Jesus' acts of healing are anticipations of the age to come. But the puzzling part of the story is yet to come. The demons plead that if Jesus is intent on casting them out of the two men, they should be allowed to enter a herd of pigs that is feeding nearby. Jesus agrees with their request and the whole herd of pigs rush over the edge of a cliff into the sea and are drowned. Why does Jesus accede to their request?

I have heard some strange and rather tortured explanations for this passage. For me, it remains puzzling. I do not have an easy answer to the question of why Jesus allowed such destruction. One thing however is clear, the demons are destructive: they were destructive when they inhabited these two men; they continue to display their destructive power when consigned to the herd of pigs. Satan and his agents are intent on destroying the work of God. Jesus is intent upon restoring the work of God.

What is sad is the reaction of the local inhabitants to the remarkable act of Jesus in healing these two men. "The whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region" (8:34). They valued their pigs more than they valued the life of these two poor men. They valued their pigs more than they valued Jesus.

I am reminded of the account in Acts 16 of Paul casting an evil spirit out of a young girl in Philippi. She was a slave girl who had made money for her owners by telling fortunes under the influence of the spirit. When they saw that they had lost their income they stirred up a riot against Paul and Silas who were flogged and imprisoned. The slave-owners valued an income above the life of their slave.

Have there been times when we have resisted or resented the transforming work of the Spirit of God in ourselves or in others? Have we sometimes felt like Augustine who prayed, "Lord make me holy, but not yet!"

Heavenly Father, help me to long for the transforming work of Christ more than anything else in all the world. The Gaderenes pleaded with Christ to leave – they would give him no place to lay his head; come and make your home with me Lord Jesus. Lord, may your kingdom come. May it come soon. May it come now.

Jan 11 2019 - Genesis 8:13-9:17 – A New beginning

Noah's first act when he and the animals were safe on dry ground was to build an altar and present burnt offerings to the Lord. The smoke of the burnt offering ascended to the Lord and he was pleased. God said, "Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." (8:21-22). God recognises that nothing has changed; the human heart is still inclined towards rebellion and evil. Nevertheless God promises that he will never again destroy every living thing; there is an atoning sacrifice by which the world is saved from judgment.

In response to this sacrifice, God renews his covenant promise saying, "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." (9:9-11).

Throughout this section we are continually reminded that humankind, made in the image of God, remains very much part of the created order. The animal creation is condemned to judgment along with humankind and is saved along with humankind. God's promise of mercy encompasses trees and fields and the changing seasons. God's covenant is made not only with Noah but with every living creature.

When we read that God loves the world and is intent upon its salvation we really must not narrow down his love to the 'salvation of the soul'. God loves every part of the world that he has made.

Having renewed his covenant promise to Noah, God declared, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." (9:12-16).

Here is another detail that for years I had failed to notice. I always thought that the rainbow was designated by God as a sign of his covenant to remind us of his promise. But that is not what God says. Twice he declares that it is a reminder to him of his covenant promise. God remembers not in the sense that he is in danger of forgetting but rather in that he acts to fulfil his covenant promise and to save his people. Dare we suggest that New Testament signs of the covenant, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper, are not only reminders for us of all that God has done for us in Christ and promised us in him, they are means through which God himself remembers his covenant?

Faithful God, thank you that you continually remember your covenant promises and act to save your people. More than that, we thank you that in Jesus Christ you purpose to save the world and to bring all creation under his dominion. Gladly we bring you our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and we pledge ourselves afresh to your great project of making all things new.

Peter Misselbrook