God Wants Better For Others

Jesus' encounter with the demons called Legion teaches us how to uncover hardness of our own hearts.

Our Executive Director shares how his favorite book of the Bible is informing the way he prays about the recent Black Lives Matter protests, conversations about police brutality, and our ongoing debate about what we want to treat as “normal” in our communities.

He also ends the episode with a very specific, very urgent prayer request: The Center for Christian Civics just found out the building we office out of is shutting down, and we have less than a week to find a new location! Please pray that God would lead us to an effective place to stage our work.

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Action Item

Identify someone you trust who you know has a different vision of what would be good for your city, your state or your country from you. Ask them to explain what they think you are callous toward, or what brokenness they think you’ve grown comfortable with. In your private devotional time, pray through the topics they brought up, asking God to make you sensitive to his goodness in new ways.

TRANSCRIPT

Rick Barry: This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the gospel of Luke.

It’s my favorite gospel. It’s honestly probably my favorite book of scripture. And over the last few days I’ve been rereading it in my private devotional time. Every time I go through this book, there are new parts of it that come alive to me, and I wonder, “How did I never see this?” or, “How did this line never jump out at me before now?”

And one of the stories that has struck me the most over the last few days is Jesus healing the man beset by demons in chapter eight. This is a really well-known story, but there are certain details of it that just that I have not been able to let go of over the last few days. So for this episode, which is going to be one of our shorter reflection and prayer focused episodes, I’m going to take us through that passage and then lead us in prayer together over it. This starts in chapter eight, verse 26, and we’re going to read through verse 39.

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me.” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had seized him many times; and he was bound with chains and shackles and kept under guard, and yet he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert. And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss.

Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain; and the demons implored Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission. And the demons came out of the man and entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country. The people went out to see what had happened; and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting down at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they became frightened. Those who had seen it reported to them how the man who was demon-possessed had been made well. And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked Him to leave them, for they were gripped with great fear; and He got into a boat and returned. But the man from whom the demons had gone out was begging Him that he might accompany Him; but He sent him away, saying, “Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26–39

The thing that really jumped out to me this read-through were verses 35 and 37.

In both of these verses, they say that when the people saw this man who they were used to needing to be held back in chains, they were used to being homeless and naked and raving and running away, they were used to him being dirty, wild, sick unclean, and when they saw him clothed and calm and, as the text says, when they saw him actually in his right mind, behaving in ways that they would have considered to be more acceptable, they weren’t amazed. They weren’t overjoyed. They were afraid.

I’ve always assumed that the thing they were afraid of must be Jesus’s power. After all, other gospel writers report that people had accused Jesus of potentially driving out demons by the power of Satan, right?

But Matthew and Mark report that the people who accused Jesus of that weren’t necessarily probably doing it in the best of faith. They may not have even really believed it themselves. They say that it was the scribes and the Pharisees, who were opposed to Jesus already and looking for reasons to discredit him.

These aren’t scribes and these aren’t Pharisees. These are just the townsfolk. And it doesn’t say that “when they saw that Jesus was capable of this, they were afraid.” It says that when they saw the man healed, when they saw him behaving differently, when they saw him behaving acceptably, it made them afraid.

And I’ve been wondering for the last few days, was I wrong to just assume that the thing they were afraid of was the power that could provoke this change? Were they maybe instead just afraid of the change itself, and maybe what it might mean for them? Had they grown used to this man being in dire straits, and afraid of their status quo being changed? Was this man’s health and flourishing just never part of their plans and their hopes?

This isn’t a definitive interpretation of this verse at all. This is really just a look at something from my own prayer journal from the past few days. But at a time when, in light of the Black Lives Matter protests, in light of protests against how comfortable we are as a nation with police violence, in light of ongoing conversations about what should we accept as normal when it comes to COVID-19 precautions, in light of the conversations we’re having as a country about what is normal, what normal are we comfortable with and how willing are we to find and accept a new normal as a society, whether it’s in our neighborhood, in our cities, in our States or across our country, I think it’s worth considering whether the people in Gerasene were just frightened of how quickly something they had taken for granted could actually be changed, and how comfortable they had grown with something that, in God’s eyes, needed to be changed.

We serve a God who wants better things for us than we want for ourselves. We talk about that a lot in American Christianity—how God will give us better things than we think to ask for, or God will give us when we pray what we would have thought to ask for if we had seen ourselves and seen our situation the way he sees it and understands it. But it’s potentially worth remembering and bearing in mind in our prayer life that God also wants better things for other people than we want for them.

God is a gracious father to us. He is a generous father to us. He wants far greater things for us than we can ask or imagine. But he also wants better things for other people than we would ever hope for them or think they deserve.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

You are the God that sees all, that judges fairly, that reasons accurately. You are the one who truly knows yourself and knows others. The number of times in our lives we’ve wondered how anyone could have not understood your son. “If I had been alive back then…” “If I had seen those things…”

Scripture doesn’t tell us why the Gerasenes were afraid, but you tell us there is no sin that’s not common to all man, so there must be something of us in them. Search our hearts and know us. Show us any false way within us, and lead us in the way of life everlasting.

Show us where we are more comfortable with suffering than we would be with justice. Show us where we are more comfortable with tending to the sick than we are with ensuring health. Show us where we still confuse the brokenness of this world with the perfection of your kingdom, where we still assume that the cries you sent Jesus to address are the songs you actually want to hear.

We don’t do these things intentionally, but our faith is not yet made perfect. We believe, but we are still wracked with so much unbelief. Help us hear the cries of the world around us, the world you loved so much that you sent your only Son to suffer and die for the chance of redeeming it.

And, most frighteningly, we ask you to bring people into our lives—brothers and sisters of faith, and even ambassadors of what our reformed siblings call “common grace”—who can help us see where we are unintentionally or even willfully blind to the brokenness around us. Ways in which we’ve stopped our ears to the very cries that break your heart. Give us eyes to see these witnesses, ears to hear them, and minds to understand what you want to show us through them.

Praying for humility is always scary, and always dangerous, because it almost never comes by way of things that are enjoyable, but without the humility to accept the witness of others, we can’t be functional members of your body. You have said our faith is incomplete without the teaching, correcting and training in righteousness of other believers. That you are present in this world through the communion of your saints. So, please, submit us to one another in love, in trust, and in good faith, so that we can help one another demonstrate your goodness so much more fully than we do right now.

In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

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