In my church we’re doing Community Bible Reading (CBR) this year – all of us are encouraged to read through the New Testament one chapter a day and share our thoughts on it.
Yesterday we came to Mark 4, and I was struck, as I have been before, by the fact that it was once the sea had become calm that the disciples really grew afraid.
Then today we read the story of the demon-possessed man, and again find that it was when he was clothed and in his right mind that the townspeople grew afraid.
I think we can miss that. The stories are so familiar that we skim over the fact it was utterly terrifying to see Jesus’ power displayed in this way. But I think v17 of chapter 5 gives us another clue as to the source of the fear. The people begged Jesus to leave their region. Why? You’ve just discovered this incredible power in your midst, the person who can put everything right. Over on the other side of the lake there were crowds and crowds thronging to see him and be healed of various diseases. Why not these people?
I wonder whether it’s because they, more than the crowds, got a glimpse of Jesus’ holiness. Maybe they somehow grasped that the man with this kind of power must be more than just a man. The disciples’ question in the boat hints at it, too – ‘who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?’
Having Jesus in your midst doesn’t just mean having your prayers answered, your diseases healed, your circumstances fixed… This kind of power only belongs to the Holy one. And that means he’s going to require holiness in his presence. I think the people asked him to leave because they were afraid of the cost of having him around. In seeing his power and holiness they saw their sin in all its ugliness.
How often we do the same – we want God to fix our problems, but ask him to step away or turn a blind eye when we’re living in ways that aren’t pleasing to him.
When we see him as he really is it is right that we are afraid of his holiness. Many people throughout the Bible trembled with fear in his presence, but those with the courage to stay in his presence, admit their uncleanness and seek his mercy discovered that it was as high and wide and deep as his holiness.
How sad for the Gerasenes that they chose to follow their fear instead of finding forgiveness.