Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. And He got into the boat and returned.( Luke 8:37)
“Just go Jesus, OK? We don’t want anything to do with you. Don’t even think about entering this city. We’ve seen what you can do and we’re not interested. No thanks, just go away – anywhere but here.”
Most of us would consider a response like this to a potential visit by Jesus as utterly foolish. Who wouldn’t want Jesus to come to their city, healing the sick, ministering to the oppressed, comforting the poor, teaching the mysteries of God?
The people of Decapolis didn’t. And while we may wonder at their foolishness, there was a bizarre kind of method in their madness. The citizens of Decapolis had figured something out about Jesus – He changes things.
Two thousand fat, healthy pigs had just plunged into a watery grave at Jesus’ say so. That’s no small loss in agricultural terms. That’s no small impact on a community depending on local farmers for food and adequate supply for a thriving economy.
What else would this Jesus do to upset the routine and regularity of everyday life if He was made welcome? How would their lives be impacted by His presence? There might be a short term benefit for those needing some kind of healing or hope, but such an unpredictable man might also cause much longer lasting major disruption to their idea of normality. It just wasn’t worth the risk.
God is not always easy to have around. To put it in contemporary language, He’s the ultimate mover and shaker. It’s not possible to engage Him without radical transformation within and around us.
Jesus does not come to us to live in a corner of our life. He does not come to ‘fit in’ with what we’ve already got going on. He’s not a house guest, He’s a revolutionary. If we really want Jesus in our lives we’d better be prepared for some inconvenience and even some radical, life altering adjustments. We’d better count the cost.
The people of Decapolis did some quick reckoning and decided they didn’t want the kind of change Jesus would bring to their city. Jesus didn’t contend with them. He simply heeded their request and departed.
We hear a lot about God’s unconditional love. Some people seem to think God will never challenge their behavior, attitudes or choices, because in doing so His love would no longer be ‘unconditional’. Unconditional love to them means God should benignly show His love towards us without needing any expression of unconditional love back from us. Yet few of us would be willing to accept that kind of arrangement in any healthy human relationship for very long.
If God’s love is unconditional what should we make of the following gospel incident?
Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23 NKJV)
Jesus’ great love for this man is not in question, but He was not willing for him to become a disciple unless He clearly understood the cost of discipleship. The man considered the cost and went away sorrowful.
And if unconditional love means God requires nothing of us, what can this mean?
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” ( Luke 9:23,24)
Hmmm…maybe we don’t get to define unconditional love to the One who is Love. God doesn’t just demonstrate unconditional love, He IS unconditional love. The One whose name is Love has made Himself available to us without condition. For God so loved…..so completely, unconditionally, irreversibly……that He gave….. completely, unconditionally, irreversibly ….His only begotten Son to the people of the world – every tribe, every nation, every colour every generation, every man, woman and child – unconditionally.
The Cross is unconditional. The Love for humanity displayed there is without precedent or match in human history. On the Cross God died for both His friends and His enemies, for those who love Him and for those who despise Him; for those who welcome Him and those who reject Him. Never before or since has Love laid itself down for others as unconditionally as Jesus did at Calvary. His grace is indeed unconditional, requiring no repayment. That’s the gospel of salvation.
But His fellowship is costly. And that’s the gospel of the Kingdom.
There is a love deeper than unconditional love. There is a meeting place between God and humanity where unconditional love evolves into covenant love, and its name is Christ. In this place of covenant love our will to be independent, to do our own thing without strings attached, evaporates. The will of the Beloved becomes more dear to us than our own.
Those who set their hearts to pursuing that covenant love above all else in life are more than believers – they are disciples. When we are overtaken by covenant love, our fallen, corrupted idea of love becomes conformed to Christ, in whom, for the first time, we behold perfect love (1 John 4:18). Never again will we willingly injure or take advantage of the One who is the object of that love. No longer do we speak in terms of unconditional love, but we think, speak and act as those who have entered into holy covenant with another.
“My yoke is easy” Jesus said, ‘and my burden is light’. A covenant love relationship is not something forced upon us by One bent on controlling us. It is a holy place of mutual communion where we choose willingly to be yoked to our most Beloved, as He has chosen to yoke Himself to us. And without exception that yoking is going to be costly, because it’s going to be conditional on loving the Lord our God above all else, with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind. Things in and around us are going to change, and change is not always welcome by those who may be affected by it.
Jesus, too, committed Himself to some pretty decisive conditions in this covenant of love. He has already clearly demonstrated the depth of that commitment in the sacrifice of His lifeblood at Calvary. And He spelled out His ongoing commitment to us in John Chapter 14:
He is preparing a place for us
He will come again to take us to Himself
He has sent us the Spirit of Truth as our Helper
He will not leave us as orphans
We will see Him again
Because He lives we will live
He and His Father love us and will manifest themselves to us and dwell in us
And what is the one thing this Covenant Lover requires of His Bride? It is faithfulness, nothing less, nothing more (Rev. 17:14).
The purpose of God’s unconditional love is to lead us further……into the intimate depths of His covenant love. If we are willing, His grace is more than sufficient for the journey.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.