IS CHRIST DWELLING IN US?
Reading: Matthew ch. 8
What incredible folly was shewn by those Gergesenes of whom we have read in Matthew’s gospel record: “They besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.” Here are some words provocative of a line of thought which can form a profitable basis for meditation as we now meet for this quiet hour for self-examination around the table of the Lord. “They besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.” The peerless Son of God, the Lord of life, the1.greatest benefactor the world has ever seen, was asked to leave. What had he done to deserve such treatment as that? He had done something which few men will tolerate; he had damaged their interests. The curing of the poor demoniac men, the manifestation of super-natural powers, the presence of a preacher with a life-giving message—these meant nothing to those Gergesenes except to fill them with a superstitious fear; but the swine, their property, their livelihood, their wealth—they were gone, and what further calamities might befall them at the hands of this unwelcome preacher. So they besought him to depart out of their coasts.
A few years later a similar experience overtook the apostle Paul. He was preaching the gospel at Ephesus, and we read that “God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul.” Many who were possessed of evil spirits were cured. But what was the effect upon the men of Ephesus? Were they impressed with the miracles, and moved to accept Christ of whom Paul was an apostle? By no means. They perceived that their craft was in danger. Their source of wealth was likely to dry up. They were full of wrath and created an uproar. Like Jesus Paul had to depart—he went into Macedonia.
The world today adopts precisely the same attitude, as we know so well. Let Christ be brought to the people in the preaching of the gospel, let its message of joy and hope be explained; but let the price of acceptance also be mentioned, and men and women become fearful. They perceive a responsibility, they develop a superstitious dread that here is something with which they had better not meddle. Their personal interests appear to be jeopardised by this doctrine, and consequently most of them before long beseech us to let them alone, not to bother or worry them. They are not rude or aggressive—they just wish us to go away. Let us not be downhearted when we meet with such treatment. It is but another way of beseeching Christ to depart out of their coasts. That was the attitude of these Gergesenes; they said in effect, “we do not want you here.”
After this, Matthew records: “And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.” Jesus took the Gadarenes (or Gergesenes) at their word, he left them to their fate, and not many years afterwards they paid a bitter price for their folly. It is not accidental that Josephus should particularly mention in his record of the wars of Vespasian what happened at Gadara. He records how that Vespasian marched to the city of Gadara, he slew all the youth in it, the Romans having no mercy on any age whatever. He set fire, not only to the city itself, but to all the villas and small cities round about, He carried the survivors as slaves into captivity. So testifies the historian Josephus. Banished as slaves into captivity, those Gadarenes eked out a precarious existence worse than that of the swine who were driven into the sea. History will repeat itself. Our generation which beseeches Christ to depart out of their coasts will be similarly afflicted in due course. Like the two demoniacs of Gadara in one respect, “they will go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.” He will not cure them as he did those poor demoniac men. Our generation will suffer a similar fate to that which overtook the Gadarenes. Christ returned to them through the instrumentality of the Romans; and when he comes to the world of the ungodly a second time he will not depart. He will demand their submission on pain of death. The Jews which pierced him and the Gentiles who spurned him—all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him, and those that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.
How different it might have been in the case of the Gadarenes; and how different it could be to our generation today if, instead of beseeching Christ to depart, they would only welcome him. What is the lesson for us? We should not be discouraged because so few accept our message and receive the gospel with gladness. We must do our work faithfully, but we must expect the same treatment for the most part which was meted out to Christ and Paul. Let us labour on without discouragement.
That is only a small lesson that comes out of our consideration; there is a much greater lesson which concerns us all very personally, Unlike these Gadarenes we have accepted Christ and welcomed him into our lives. But not all who do that, keep him there. Like the visitor to our home of whom we get tired, we would like him perhaps to depart. His presence may seem to damage our interests. With Christ in our lives we cannot perhaps attend to our business as we should like; we are perhaps inconvenienced at times, our ambitions are thwarted. At times our material possessions, our homes, our gardens, our motorcars, our holidays, our material interests of all kinds are preferred above Christ unless we are on our guard. The swine are preferred above the Saviour, and once that happens, it will not be long before we beseech him to depart out of our coasts. Many, alas, have done it, and the Ecclesial Minute Book is the sad record. In a few cases, space has been found for repentance; but in most casesthe little barque containing the Saviour has sailed away across the lake and borne him away, as Saviour and Friend, for ever. As in the case of Gadara however, there is judgment to come. Christ will return, and those who have besought him to depart will see the incredible folly of their action. Let not one of us ever fall a victim to this suicidal course, for such it is. -
Now is there a line of thought we can develop which reverses the one we have just pursued? Can we think of passages which encourage us not to beseech him to depart out of our coasts, but instead to invite him to come in and to remain, that we may enjoy the blessings associated with his presence? There are such passages, and they provide a wealth of exhortation. We will mention four.
Here is one taken from the last message of Jesus to his followers. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” That is the reverse; not asking him to depart, but opening the door to him, inviting him in. The door is in the mind, or intelligence, of those to whom the words are addressed. We hear the Master’s voice and recognise it as the voice of God. We understand its message, its authority, its power. We unlock the door of the mind and let him in. His words instruct and comfort and cheer and ennoble. The more we study and meditate, the more Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. He is the welcome friend, with whom we have daily communion. He figuratively sups with us, and we with him. Sharing a meal has always been a mark of friendship, conviviality, hospitality and goodwill. It is to be noticed that these words were addressed to the Laodiceans, who had erred and displeased Christ; but the door was still open to them to repent, and to receive as a friend the One whom they injured. He knocked—implying that he was desirous of coming in—yet they must open the door. How powerful is the lesson. Some may perhaps feel that they have been guilty of turning Christ away, of putting their own temporal interests and convenience before him, but he is very patient and longsuffering. He knocks more than once, so let us be encouraged. And what a blessing awaits those who let him in. To sup with Christ is to be fed and strengthened and enriched by his words, to imbibe his spirit and to share with him that fellowship which he has with the Father. In its practical outworking it means constantly reading about him, thinking on his words, following his example, cultivating those fruits of the Spirit of which he was the embodiment. “Behold, stand at the door and knock.” Do we open to him, or do we beseech him to depart?
Now there is a second verse which opens up the same line of thought, to be found in the gospel record of John 14:23: “If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” Love of Christ, demonstrated by a readiness to obey his commandments, will ensure that Christ and his Father abide with us. Here is a thought, the length and breadth and depth of which we cannot possibly imagine. The more we realise what it means, the less could we ever think of asking him to depart. In former times, God dwelt with Israel in the tabernacle and the temple. God was with Israel; but the time came when they forsook Him; they virtually besought Him to depart out of their coasts, So we read in the prophets, and particularly in Ezekiel, how the glory of the Lord departed. Israel were left to their own devices and before long the Babylonians came and took their city. But today God dwells in a temple not made with hands. It is composed of living men and women who honour Him and obey Him, and desire to be a habitation of God. Paul says: “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” We can never plumb the depth of divine love and goodness as it is expressed in this wonderful figure. We are constituents of a tabernacle, a temple, sanctified by the blood of Christ. Paul declared that God set forth Jesus Christ to be a propitiation (a mercy seat, meeting place) through faith in his blood. Through the efficacy of his blood, our sins are forgiven, we have peace with God, and we are built up a spiritual house, an habitation of Deity. As such we are required to be holy and pure in His sight. And having drawn our attention to this exalted relationship we have with God, Paul says: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Is it consistent with our holy relationship as the temple of God, to consort with a world which lieth in wickedness, sunk in depravity and greed and self-interest, dishonouring God whose temple we are? To develop in any sense a friendship with the world is surely to forfeit our privilege as the temple of God. We cannot expect Him to remain with us, to dwell with us, to make His abode with us, under such conditions. In other words then, to live a life of worldliness and impurity is but another way of beseeching Christ to depart out of our coasts. On the other hand, to dedicate our lives to the honour and the glory of God, is to merit his promised blessing—”I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” When we getaway from this meeting and mix with the world of the ungodly, let us try to think of that; that k what we must try to be in thought, word and deed.
There are still two passages which spring to mind when we reflect upon the way by which we can welcome Christ into our lives, and not beseech him to depart. Both are well known, though not perhaps always thought of in this setting. Here is one: “I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” Can Jesus come to our shores, as it were, a tired and weary stranger, in need of rest and comfort, and succour? Was not that his condition when he landed on the shores of the Gergesenes? So tired was he during the night that he slept through a raging storm at sea, which so frightened the disciples that they thought the boat would capsize. When he came to Gadara, what kind of hospitahty did they afford him? Even today people take pity on mariners when they reach port after experiencing a stormy passage and try to make them comfortable But not so with the Gadarenes; there was no hospitality for him there. Instead, they besought him to depart out of their coasts. We need not follow that unfriendly course. “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” How can we do that? We all know the answer. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Let us open our doors, our houses, our hands, our hearts, to receive Christ’s little ones, and we are receiving him. That is the practical application of it all. If we merely say, “Be ye warmed and fed” and give them not those things which are needful, how are we helping them? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me;” and so it will be reckoned that we have received Christ and not asked him to depart.
Now our final passage, and perhaps the most important of all. John says: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” How true of the Gergesenes; and how true, at length, of the whole nation. “Away with him, away with him, crucify him; we will not have this man to reign over us.” That was their cry. But, the passage goes on to say: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” Some of the people received him. The eleven received him, the women received him—”Mary called Magdalene. . . . Joanna the wife of Chuza . . . and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.” Later there was a vast multitude of believers; and now we today are numbered among those who have received Christ—”As many as received him.” That is true of each one in this room now. In a world which despises and rejects him, which denies his authority, which questions his miraculous birth and resurrection, which disbelieves his doctrine and disobeys his commandments—in such a world as that we have received him. It is true of each one of us notwithstanding all our failings—we have received him. Let us hope we have done more than that. Christ is now our all. He is foremost in our affections, he is our friend, our elder brother, our Saviour, our intercessor, our hope and expectation. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” members of that illustrious family of whom Christ is the chief. For the time being he has gone into a far country, but soon he will return, even as he said: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
In his absence we break bread and drink wine to keep alive and cherish the memory of his love; but when he returns, the deepest longings of our hearts will be satisfied. We will say, with the believers of all ages: ‘to, this is our God, we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” What a welcome awaits Christ at our hands if we are faithful. And where will those be who have besought him to depart out of their coasts? They will find no place among the redeemed. They have said to him, “Depart”, and he, alas, will also say to them, “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.” But those who have welcomed him in and have ministered to him, will participate in those glorious Hallelujah celebrations which will follow. “So shall we ever be with the Lord”—no man will be able to pluck us out of his hands.
Then, after the thousand years of millennial blessing, we shall enter into that glorious relationship not only with Christ but with the Father Himself, for it is said: “The tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all team from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.”
—H. T. Atkinson.