I was reading Luke 8:26-39 recently, the familiar story of the man possessed by the "legion" of demons that Jesus throws out of him. I'd like to walk you through what I was thinking about when I read this passage to illustrate how we need to strike a particular balance when we read our Bibles and look at Jesus.
I read through slowly and meditatively, trying to picture in my mind the scene as it unfolded. The first prominent thing to come to my attention was how after Jesus performed this mighty miracle, the people of the city begged him to leave (v. 37). Luke says twice that they were very afraid of Jesus (also v. 35); at the very least it must have had to do with the pigs they lost in the process (v. 33)—what other property would Jesus destroy?—but there were probably other, more personal reasons for fear as well. At any rate, what impressed me was that Jesus struck fear in people, who wanted him to go away, because what he did to heal the sick dealt collateral damage that upset these people's world. And the message that I got from this was that if I do the will of God to fight Satan and heal the broken like Jesus did, then I can expect to face a similar outcome.
I could have stopped there and considered myself to have had a successful time of studying the Word. The Holy Spirit brought a truth to my attention that I can apply to my life as I strive to be like Jesus—ta-da! But the Spirit wasn't done.
I went back over the last few verses again and looked at Jesus from a different angle. I had been watching him as the Example I am supposed to copy. Now I watched him as the Savior that I cannot copy. Instead of putting myself in the sandals of Jesus, I put myself in the sandals of the healed man.
The man wants to go with Jesus back to Galilee, but Jesus tells him, " 'Return to your home, and declare what God has done for you.' So he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole town what Jesus had done for him" (v. 39).
The student in me noted that this is one of the many situations in which Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal Jesus' divinity implicitly if not explicitly (specifically in the parallel between the words "God" and "Jesus" in v. 39). But it also got me thinking, what has Jesus done for me? Lots of things, perhaps best summed up by the aspects of the gospel I blogged about recently. Meditating upon this led me to pray, slowly and repeatedly, "Jesus . . . you have done great things . . . for me." This became an intimate time of fellowship with the Lord for me.
I walked you through this devotional time to point out that there are two basic ways we can look at Jesus in the Word. Both of them are good, and neither should be neglected.
One way is the first thing I did: to put ourselves in Jesus' place and view him as a model for our own action. As persons who are predestined to be conformed to his image and who are ordered to imitate him, this is entirely appropriate. The other way is to recognize our deep need for Jesus as our Savior and our King, positions he holds that no one else can, and to put oneself in the place of those he helps. As persons who are "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked" without him, viewing Jesus this way is also entirely appropriate.
I don't know about you, but my natural tendency is to take the former route when I'm looking at Scripture. Positively, this may come from a genuine, Spirit-led desire to excel beyond what I am. Negatively, it may come from pure ego, assuming that I'm "the good guy" in every story just like Jesus is. (Here's a biblical example of that, especially the "we" in v. 10.) Either way, if that's all I look at, my Christian life comes down to me scrapping to get to the next spiritual level and ripping away all obstacles to that quest, which, when isolated, degenerates into an attempt to be saved by works. It also limits my experiences of intimacy with Christ. On the other hand, though I don't know if anybody actually does this, there may be danger in focusing entirely on Christ as Savior and self as needy. While it is true that apart from him we can do nothing, it is also true that he chose us to bear fruit, and if we never desire to emulate him but are content to remain in passive spiritual mediocrity, washed over and over again with "cheap grace," then fruit isn't going to happen.
So my encouragement to you when you read the Bible, especially the Gospels, is to be careful to look at Jesus both ways. View him as the person you need, and receive his glory and love. But also view him as the person you need to emulate, and receive his challenge and instruction. We need deep familiarity with both aspects of Jesus if we are to be and do what he wants for us.