I recently began writing a series on the missional nature of the church entitled, “Love is Our Mission.” We noted that God has a mission, a mission that was accomplished through sending Jesus into the world (John 3:16). And we noted that before He leaves, Jesus leaves his disciples with a mission, a mission that is to be accomplished as they, too, are sent into the world (Acts 1:8). As a church, we share in this mission to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28). And the love is the motivation for the mission.
And now we can build on these ideas by looking at a story about Jesus recorded in Mark 5:1-20.
The scene opens as Jesus and the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee and land in the region of the Gerasenes. This is a Gentile region, as evidenced by the fact that they’re raising pigs. As soon as Jesus steps out of the boat, he is approached by a demon-possessed man. This man lives in caves that also function as tombs; essentially, he lives in a graveyard. He is pictured as one who is completely out of control; the power of the demons in him was so strong that even their best chains and ropes couldn’t hold him down. He’s the demonic parallel of Samson; whereas Samson’s strength came from the Spirit of God, this man’s strength comes from the control of demons. He now lives among the tombs, cutting and bruising himself with rocks. He is in a state of total ruin.
He immediately throws himself down before Jesus and cries out, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” And the demon-possessed man begs not to be tormented. There’s a touch of irony here; the demons that have been tormenting this poor man are begging Jesus not to be tormented. It’s as if the demons understand this visitation by Jesus as an assault on their control and power. Even the demonic kingdom knows and understands the power and identity of Jesus.
Jesus asks the demons to identify themselves and they respond by saying, “We are Legion, for we are many.” And Legion begs Jesus not to be cast out of this country. There is a herd of pigs grazing nearby and Legion asks to leave the man and to embody the pigs. And for whatever reason, Jesus obliges this request. These unclean spirits inhabit these 2,000 pigs and they immediately rush down the steep bank and drown in the Sea of Galilee.
Witnessing this, the herdsmen rush off to town to break the news about what has happened. The crowd returns to the scene of the crime to find Jesus sitting with this man. Mark tells us he’s in his right mind and fully clothed, which implies that he hadn’t been clothed when he was possessed by Legion. And the eyewitnesses recount the story once more for the crowd.
And something interesting happens next. V17, Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. Quite literally, this is the lay of the land: the demons don’t want to leave and the people don’t want Jesus to stay.
Once again, Jesus obliges; He leaves. But not before this:
V18-20, As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
Our formerly demon-possessed friend naturally wants to follow Jesus. Wouldn’t you? If Jesus had liberated you from such torment, wouldn’t you want to follow after Jesus? I understand this man’s desire to leave behind the tombs, the broken shackles, the stories people told of his former Legion-possessed lifestyle. After experiencing the transformative power of Jesus, it’s only natural for this man to seek to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth.
But as he tries to get in the boat with the other disciples, Jesus stops him. Jesus won’t let him get in the boat. Why?
Jesus has a mission for this new follower. Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you. Jesus sends our friend “home.” He sends him to his own people. He sends him to live among the people who know his story, sent to live a transformed life among those who knew his former life lived under the dominion of Satan. This new life is a declaration of God’s dynamic power to save, a power that is greater than the forces of evil and darkness.
For this man, his mission is to stay. He is supposed to “go” by staying right here.
If our friend were to follow Jesus to another region, he would be cut off from the people with the greatest context for seeing the transformation he experienced at the hand of Jesus. But in the Gerasenes? In the Decapolis (the surrounding 10-city region)? In this region, his daily life (wearing clothes! NOT living among the tombs!) was a daily reminder of the transformative power of Jesus.
We don’t know exactly how all of this works, but this region remains under demonic control to a certain degree after Jesus leaves. Just think about the impact of this episode: 2,000 pigs stampeding kamikaze-style over a cliff into the Sea of Galilee. Just think of the economic hit that would be to some of the people of this region. Think about what this did to the cost of pork throughout the territory. The economic implications alone of this episode are significant. And who would these people blame? Jesus! That’s why they asked him to leave. Some have suggested that the demons destroyed the pigs in order to prejudice the owners against Jesus – and I think that’s precisely what happened.
But all of this only raises the stakes for our formerly demon-possessed friend. This man was told to stay right where he was, the place where his story would have the greatest power and potential for the Kingdom of God.
And by virtue of being in our New Testament, this is a word for the church.
Our God is a missionary God – He acted on mission by sending His Son into the world to seek and save and serve and sacrifice. And the missionary God calls together a missionary people – as followers of Jesus, we have been given a mission to make disciples of all nations.
Some receive that special call to “go” – some feel God calling them and leading them to journey to a strange land to tell others of the Good News about Jesus. We love and respect and support those who receive this kind of call. Just a few weeks ago, I spent some time talking with a good friend of mine who followed the call of God by moving his family to Honduras to serve God on the mission field. We love these stories of God’s Kingdom call.
Others participate in “short term missions” – we go to Baja Mexico or Scotland or Cuba or Belize and we’ll spend a week working with the church there. I’ve personally been formed by these kinds of trips and I love that my children are already asking when they can be a part of their first mission trip.
But we are making a mistake when we assume that the only way we are to be faithful to the missional call of God is by boarding an airplane and flying to another part of the world.
- It’s true that sometimes “go” means “go live in Honduras” or “go on a weeklong mission trip to Mexico.”
- But according to Mark 5, “go” also means, “stay here and tell people how much the Lord has done for you.” Whether you board an airplane to go overseas or not, this is the missional call the Lord has for us all.
This is why Jesus won’t let our friend in the boat: When God does something in you, He also desires to do the same thing through you. Jesus healed this man by casting out these demonic forces; but He sends this man straight back into the heart of this demon-filled region to tell others what the Lord has done in him. The mission of Jesus is to use this man to bring freedom and healing to others through the power of his testimony. And the final line of v20 implies that people heard the message: And all the people were amazed.
This man is called to be a display, a demonstration of transformation. He’s the embodiment of what we sing: I once was lost, but now I’m found / Was blind, but now I see. Our friend functions as a missionary in this place, an area where he already knows the language, the customs, and the people. It’s the place where his story has the greatest power. As I mentioned in a recent post, Jesus doesn’t leave this man with an evangelistic strategy. This man IS the evangelistic strategy. In a land that is still under the control of demonic powers (at least to some degree), our friend here lives an alternative story, a declaration of the lordship of Jesus Christ.
The parallels for us are rich. What has God done in you? Has God set you free from the bondage of sin? Has he liberated you, brought you out of the kingdom of darkness and given you new life in the Kingdom of His Son? If so, then God seeks to do the same thing through you. He seeks to use you to accomplish His mission, His purposes. When you tell others what the Lord has done in you and for you, God works to do the same thing through you.
We are a display people; like our formerly demon-possessed brother, we are a demonstration of God’s transformative power. We are the same song in the world: I once was lost, but now I’m found / Was blind, but now I see. We are called to be missionaries here in this place, living and breathing embodiments of God’s dynamic power to heal and restore.
I don’t think we’ve properly understood the power of our own stories. But when we make the story of Jesus our story — by identifying with the death and resurrection of Jesus in the waters of baptism — our stories immediately are infused with missional power.
You may not be able to board an airplane and spend a week working in Mexico. It might not be God’s will for you to move to a foreign country and pour yourself out on that mission field. But each one of us is called to live as a display of God’s power to redeem and to tell others what the Lord has done for us.