37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
This is the tail-end of the amazing story of a man who had a whole mess of demons. When Jesus heals the man he has a conversation with the legion of demons. Rather than be cast into utter darkness, the demons ask to enter a herd of pigs grazing nearby. Jesus allows that, and that's when the pig do a swan-dive off a cliff like so many lemmings, and die in the water below.
The story provides a great moment of theater for anyone who wants to visualize what that must have looked like. But I think the more interesting part of the passage comes after verse 37 where the now-healed man begs Jesus to go back to Capernaum with him. Jesus tells him to "go home and declare how much God has done for you." And the man does it, in spades! Not only does he tell about Jesus when he gets home, but he goes all over the whole city spreading the news about Jesus!
Fast forward to "converts" today. One of us (I mean, those of us here in Western Culture) is introduced to Jesus and "accepts Christ" into his heart. Most of those transactions are attended with all the signs and wonders of a UPS delivery. Yes, I'll accept that. Following conversion we a put into some sort of Bible study, Alpha Course, or catechism, and emerge some time later as a good church member. Right?
That's apparently not what happened to the demon-possessed man. What was Jesus thinking, sending this guy out into the town without any teaching, without any church to buck him up and tell him what to do and how to act? In fact, this is the second or third time Jesus has used this same irresponsible method of sending out would-be evangelists. Remember the Woman at the Well? And how about the Woman Caught in Adultery? In both cases he simply told them to go their way. I don't know about your church, but my church has a policy against this sort of thing. And that is what is killing evangelism in the West. By the time we finally tell someone to go and proclaim how much God has done for them, there are two things that have probably happened: they've forgotten how grateful they were when Jesus saved them, and they've become so scared of "offending" someone that if you suggested they go out and proclaim Jesus in the city they would almost certainly reply, "I'll do that when pigs fly."
Well, one day pigs did fly. And that was the day an entire city heard about the wonderful works of God.
Our problem with evangelism the last fifty years or so hasn't been that we didn't give people the tools to preach with. I have a stack of books in my library on the topic. Our problem is that we've given people too many tools. All the man knew was that, for as long as the demons possessed him, he struggled every day fighting off thoughts of suicide. And now, for the first time in so, so long, here he sat, able to enjoy conversation; able to sit at Jesus' feet and soak in the warm Galilean Sun; able to think.
A second mistake we make with our converts is bringing them into the church in the first place.
Huh? Did that guy really just say what I think he said?
The idea isn't new. Throughout the gospels Jesus first impulse is not to give people who come to him a Bible study to be part of or a worship service to go to or even a small group to share fellowship with. The first thing he almost always says is, "Go". Tell the people at home what God has done for you (Luke 8:38). Go. Show the priests and leaders how you were healed of leprosy (Matthew 8:4). Go. And let it be done for you as you have believed (Matthew 8:13). Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6). Rise, take up your bed, and go home (Mark 2:11). Go in peace and be healed of your disease (Mark 5:34). Go your way and sin no more (John 8:11). Go back to your home. Go back to your home. Go back to your home.
I'm not saying people shouldn't become part of a body of believers. But as long ago as the mid-70s we heard the statistic that within two years of becoming a Christian, most believers could not identify one friend they currently spent time with who wasn't a Christian. We've got the progression backward. The natural progression should be Hear -- Believe (and be baptized) -- Go and Proclaim -- Bring Others with you to hear -- (and only now do we begin to introduce...) Be strengthened (and encouraged as you see others coming to Christ) by Fellowship, Worship, and Eucharist. But even then, the progression doesn't end in a church building. Even after Jesus had gathered his disciples around him (3, 12, 72...) he doesn't keep them close. He sends them out on mission! And they come back rejoicing that even the demons were subject to them.
The church will never be truly effective and healthy until we take the words and ACTIONS of Jesus seriously, and go. But even now I can hear you saying, "Sure... when pigs fly."
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.