So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city.
There’s something baptismal about these opening words of the Gospel. Jesus was crossing over the sea into which He had just cast a legion of demons. The waters buried them; Jesus comes through. Jesus had originally descended into the demonic realm of the Gergesenes. It was unwelcome territory for Jesus and remained so even after He left. It’s sort of “earth in a nutshell.”
Or, it’s the crucifixion side of Jesus’ “baptism,” of which the other side is His resurrection. In this realm is one word of authority, “Go.” It demonstrates His authority over demons, but not much more. No, Jesus needed to come “into His own city,” or, Zion in a nutshell.
Jesus floated over the waters, because the One who hovers over the waters, the Holy Spirit, had alighted on Him in fulfillment of Isaiah 42: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him.” And later in this chapter we hear what the blessings of this anointing will include: To be “As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”
Such are the baptismal promises, witnessed in type in the burying of the demons in the waters, an action prophecy of what would happen in baptism, when the demons would be cast in the abyss. In any event, this sets up what would happen when Jesus arrived in His Zion, His home city, in our Gospel for this week.
(Interesting, but in the Isaiah 42 we get another little passage that sheds some light into the context: “And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” The scene of our Gospel is around the coastlands of Galileee. Matthew 9-10 is all about those in bondage to sin, death, and the devil all waiting for “His law,” which is to open eyes and free prisoners from the dark prison house.)
So Jesus comes “to His own city.” It’s a type of His ascension – it’s what happens after Jesus’ descent into the realm of the demonic. Among the “mysteries of godliness” sung about by St. Paul is that Jesus, along with being manifest in the flesh, would be “justified in the Spirit.” That is, His ascension to God’s right hand would demonstrate God’s righteousness, the restoration of man through faith in Christ to God’s fellowship; and this would be a Spirit saturated event, even as the Holy Spirit would take this reality and bestow it to us by declaration of the Gospel.
The Holy Spirit’s mission is to deliver the forgiveness of sins through the ministry of the apostolic ministers. And this brings us back to the revolutionary character of the action prophecy Jesus establishes with the miracle of this week’s Gospel.
If indeed Jesus “coming to His own city” is a type of His ascension, it stands to reason granting forgiveness by the Holy Spirit – the water-hoverer – would be part and parcel of that event. And so that’s exactly what He did. He forgave the sins of the lame man. This is the flip side of what almost appears as unfulfilled on the other side of the sea, the two men freed of demons, but whose community didn’t want anything to do with Jesus after that.
On those terms we have an interesting contrast. Or again, perhaps not so much a contrast but a dual installation of the baptismal mystery, in type. The “crucified to Christ” side of the sea means the drowning of the old demonic realm, but it remains an unfulfilled mystery. Even the confession going on in the moment was perverse: “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God?” True, that’s a baptismal confession, and it’s a baptismal confession acknowledging the lordship of Christ, but it’s a confession that doesn’t want Jesus anywhere near.
The fulfilled confession only happens with Jesus’ arrival in His own city, in His ascension, in the full restoration of our fellowship with God, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the sending of the Holy Spirit. Here, we can truly “glorify God” in a pure confession, because the Lord is present among us not in fear and terror – as the demons received Him – but with forgiveness and mercy, as the lame man received Him.