Advent: Day 15

December 15, 2023 | The Other Side

Jesus, in two accounts, miraculously feeds large crowds of people. The first time happens in the “land of the twelve.” It was where devout Jews from the 12 tribes of Israel lived and worshiped God. At the end of this account of feeding thousands, we read that there were twelve baskets full of leftovers, representing that there is enough food to feed all God’s people (Matthew 14:13-21).

The second time Jesus fed a large crowd occurred in the Decapolis area east of Galilee, called the “land of the seven.” It was called this because there were seven pagan nations driven from Israel by Joshua, who lived there. At the end of this miracle, we read there were seven baskets full of leftovers this time, representing that there is enough food to feed the pagans too (Matthew 15:29-39)

All of this matters because, In Matthew 14:22, Luke 8, and Mark 5, Jesus takes His disciples to the “other side.” This concept of the “other side” is important because it means the “land of the seven”. Not only did the pagans live in the land of the seven, but it was believed it was also where the devil lived, and the sea that they had to cross to get there was where evil spirits dwelled. No wonder the disciples were terrified and called Jesus a ghost when they saw Him walking on the sea toward them.

Let’s look a little closer at this idea of the other side. Here’s what we read in Luke 8:

One day, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake so the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement, they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Luke 8:22-28

Here’s the deal: these guys are professional fishermen; this is what they do for a living. They know this water like the back of their hand, yet they are really afraid. They find themselves in a storm, and the fascinating thing about this is that they are in a terrible storm, not because they were disobedient but because they were following Jesus. They are in a storm because they are obedient.

Then, with a word, Jesus shuts down the weather and reminds them that he’s got it. Then, we read in Mark 4 that they all sail to the other side, to the region of the Geresenes, across the sea of Galilee from Capernaum. As soon as they pull the boat to shore, they meet a man who is barely clothed; he’s filthy with open wounds, demon-possessed, and lives in a graveyard.

Now, side note: the men with Jesus are Jewish and live according to strict religious laws, and here they encounter a man who is the embodiment of everything that is opposite of those rules. The law says that you are unclean if you touch dead things; this guy is living in tombs. The law says you are unclean if you touch blood; this guy cuts himself and is oozing blood and bodily fluids from sores; he lives in the land of the Geresenes, the land of the 7, which is a pagan land. From their perspectives, there is no one more unclean or unfit for God’s attention than this guy. But Jesus takes them over to the other side despite all of this.

What happens next is that this man is healed, set free, and his whole life is transformed. Jesus’ followers, who were initially afraid, went to the other side and realized that they were part of something unexpected that God was doing. They went from being afraid for their lives to being afraid and amazed at what Jesus did to flat-out amazed at what they saw and got to be a part of.

They got to go from afraid to amazed because they didn’t turn around halfway. When we are in the middle of something that feels uncomfortable or scary, we often want to turn around, get off the water, and go back to what is comfortable, back to how it has always been. But sometimes it takes weathering a storm to get to the awe and amazement that is just on the other side.

May this be a season where you become amazed at what is on the other side of your fear.

Daily Reading: Luke 8:22-25, Matthew 14:13–21; Matthew 15:29-39, Mark 5:1-20

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