As I was growing up, “the other side of the tracks” meant that part of town which was different. People were poorer, often of a different race. It was a place where you did not want to go after dark.
This helps us understand what went through the minds of His Jewish disciples when Jesus said, “Let us go over to the other side” the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 4:35). Immediately the disciples thought, “No Jesus. Let’s not go there. We know bad things happen there.” Religiously, it was a non-starter. It was a Gentile area with people groups from 7 ancient nations forced out of Israel during the conquest under Caleb and Joshua. These pagan Gentiles worshiped evil spirits, sacrificing pigs on idolatrous altars. Demon possession was rampant. And guess what? The disciples’ greatest fears were realized.
Crossing the 7 mile distance across the Sea of Galilee, these experienced fishermen feared for their lives when a tremendous storm with huge waves threatened to swamp their boat. Now the disciples were convinced they should not have come. But Mark writes “Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’” and it suddenly became calm.(Mark 4:39) The word used by Mark that Jesus “rebuked” the wind is the same Greek word used to rebuke and cast out demons. The disciples realized this was a demonic attack. When they reached the shore on “the other side”, they were confronted by the man possessed by a legion of demons. Jesus rebuked these demons and sent them into a herd of pigs which were being raised for demonic sacrifice. They ran over a cliff into the Sea of Galilee and drowned. The disciples were afraid but amazed!
The local people, seeing their income floating dead on the water, and their religious world shattered by Jesus, begged Him to leave…immediately! After sending the healed man back to the nearby Roman city of Hippos to reveal what the Lord had done for him, Jesus departed with His astonished crew!.
Soon after they were back on the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to preach repentance, drive out demons, and heal the sick, like He had been doing. They went out with fear and trembling. But they returned, praising God for the signs, wonders and miracles they had experienced.
A short time later, Jesus returned by foot to the “other side” by a path around the sea shore from the north. Seeing Him come, large numbers of Gentiles ran to Him, bringing their sick so Jesus would heal them. By the time He arrived at the site where He healed the demoniac, a huge crowd had gathered to listen and watch Jesus who did such amazing things. Over 4,000 men plus women and children were present. How do you explain this after Jesus was told to leave a few months earlier? Was it the witness of the former demon possessed man whom Jesus had set free on His first trip? It must have been!
When evening arrived, the crowd was hungry. Jesus turned to the disciples for food. They could only rustle up 7 loaves and a few small fish. Jesus blessed the these scant provisions. The disciples distributed the dinner. And 7 baskets were collected with leftovers. Why 7? Was it because this pagan Gentile area was know as the area of Seven Nations (Joshua 3:10, Acts 13:19)? If so, perhaps Jesus was indicating that He came not just for the 12 tribes of Israel on the western Jewish side of the sea where He had fed the 5,000. And there were 12 baskets of leftovers for those Jews who were absent. He now came to this ” other side” for the 7 Gentile nations present. And there were 7 baskets full to meet the “hungers” of all Gentiles who were missing. The disciples were astonished!
Following Pentecost, one of the biggest challenges for the emerging church was to understand that Jesus came to be the Savior of the world, Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile alike! A point He made continually throughout His ministry. I thank the Lord that He went to “the other side”, for this was the world of the Gentiles, with whom most of us Christian find our identity today.He died for every tribe, race and nation group!
Several “take a ways”:
- Where is our “other side”, the people or places we want to avoid for whatever reasons?
- Is there anyone Jesus cannot heal and transform? Through this one man’s witness, thousands of Gentiles wanted to know more about Jesus and His power.
- Do we want to be part of His continuing work of transformation today? Are we willing to make contact with strangers, homeless, immigrants, and “other siders” if Jesus calls us to go with Him and introduce them to Jesus?
Dr. Larry Selig