We follow the greatest influencer that has ever and will ever walk this planet. Jesus brought to bear the greatest influence the world has ever seen. Ever since He walked the earth Christians have been wrestling with how to leverage His influence. Your story matters. It is the simple telling of the story of your life that can bring the greatest and most widespread influence in our culture.
Today will read a passage of scripture in the words of Jesus that will help us to tell our stories. The passage is Mark 5:18-20, but the story really starts in Mark 4:1. Jesus is in the height of His popularity. He is teaching and healing, and there are great crowds gathering. He is experiencing an exponential growth in His ministry. He is teaching at this point on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Imagine the crowds being so big that Jesus would have to go out onto the water in a boat because the shoreline was so completely filled with people. This is where Jesus and the disciples were in this passage.
Jesus began to teach from the water all day and night to the massive crowds on the water. Jesus and the disciples were in the boat, evening came, the crowds were still huge and in Mark 4:35 Jesus says these shocking words to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” You need to know what is on the other side to understand why this was shocking. The other side was a very shady region with a long history. It is called the Dacapolis, or Ten Cities. They worshipped the pig. It was present in the temple. The one animal Jews cannot touch is the pig. The other side was everything Israel was not. On the other side was stationed this Roman faction of military power. There were 6,000 soldiers stationed there–a whole legion. The legion of soldiers had a boar’s head as their military symbol. The other side represented Satan to the Jews. It was dark, evil, oppressive and demonic. Nobody went to the other side, especially not a Rabbi. So when Jesus was in the boat telling His disciples at evening time, “Let’s go over to the other side,” the disciples were not happy with this development!
When they set out to go to the other side a huge storm came up while Jesus was asleep in the boat. The disciples see this as a sign they should not go. Jesus calms the storm, and they keep going. When they arrive at the other side, they had no crowds, no fanfare–nobody at all–except for one crazy guy. The disciples were so shaken from their stormy boat ride in the dark and now there was this crazy guy. They were so scared! Imagine seeing a lone man possessed by demons. It confirmed everything the disciples were thinking about the other side. This man was naked with superhuman strength. People tried to chain him and shackle him, and he would break out of everything. He lived in a graveyard. He cut himself with stones. He howled like a wolf and yelled a lot of the time. He came screaming to the shoreline when Jesus and the disciples pulled up in the boat.
In Mark 5:8 Jesus encountered this man, and Jesus made a statement loaded with symbolism and authority. Jesus commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man, and then he asked the spirit its name. The spirit said his name was Legion, for they were many. He begged Jesus over and over again not to send him out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside, and the demons begged Jesus to be sent into the herd of pigs. Jesus gave them permission, and the evil spirits went out and into the herd of pigs. About 2,000 of them rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. This served as a reminder to everyone about the powers that Jesus was up against. The political, cultural and spiritual powers. Jesus made a declaration of His authority, His power over the legion, the pigs and anything that the other side held sacred.
We need to take a moment and marvel at Jesus and His love for the other side, and His initiative to reach those far from him. He declared His authority in this moment and this act over every religious and political system that sets itself up against Him. He is about to extend grace, love and hope to the people on the other side in the most unusual of ways. We get to see in this moment the heart of Jesus who loves people far from him.
Every single person that you have ever locked eyes with is loved desperately by the Savior. Every person that annoys you, that you don’t particularly care for, is loved by Jesus. Anybody on your other side is who Jesus is after. When Jesus gave the Great Commission and told His followers to go unto all of the world and preach the Gospel to all people, He modeled that behavior to His disciples. The Gospel is not just for us; it is for the other side too. We see Jesus’ heart for the other side in this moment.
When Jesus healed this man there was this momentum building up that hope was coming to this region. Jesus had to make a strategic decision. He had to figure out how to extend hope to more people because all of sudden the crowds begin to gather. Very different crowds than the crowds on the side they just came from. All of the townspeople knew about the crazy, demon-possessed man. They probably calmed their kids at night because they heard this crazy howling from the graveyard. They walk up to Jesus and see this guy, and he is now sitting down, wearing clothes and in his right mind. Instead of worshipping Jesus, the people got scared and asked Him to leave. Why would they ask Him to leave? They didn’t want Jesus to mess with their possessions and their religion, or lack thereof. Jesus had to figure out His strategy. Jesus told the disciples He wanted to go back in the boat. The crazy guy wanted to come along too. Here is when we see Jesus’ strategy for reaching the other side.
Now we finally come to our passage today in Mark 5:18-20, which says:
18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. 19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
There are four insights you and I can gather from this story, which we will explore below.
1) When Jesus does something in you, He wants to speak something through you. Jesus told this man He couldn’t follow Him because His strategy to reach this region was to use this man to tell His story of how his life changed because of his encounter with Jesus. Jesus, did something in him, and now He wanted to speak something through him. We are familiar with this strategy. Jesus stood on the Mount of Ascension when He was getting ready to go back up into heaven and the disciples probably thought they were going with Jesus. Jesus said that He was going back to His side alone. Jesus left the disciples on this side and told them to be His witnesses and spokespeople. He told them to start with their own people. The Word spread throughout Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The story first had to begin at home.
Paul says that we are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making an appeal through us. An ambassador is an authorized spokesperson. We are here on this planet to tell people about what God has done in our lives. This goes for both the good and the bad things that have happened to us. When something good happens to us, it is for the glory of Christ. When something bad happens to us, it is also for the glory of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:4 Paul says that when we receive comfort from God during our troubles, we can go on to comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. When we go through difficult times and God comforts us, we cannot let it end there. Whether good or bad things happen to us, they happen so that Jesus can be lifted up.
2) Jesus wants to use your story to influence people in your circles. Jesus wanted the man to stay because his story mattered right where he was located. His story would have been wasted elsewhere. Jesus told him to go home to his own. Who are the people that you and I influence? Let’s face it. Most of us get uncomfortable with door-to-door evangelism and cold-calling people on street corners. It is not always that effective either. Jesus wants us to start where we are at right now with the people we already know. There is relationship and trust there. It is riskier there. In a lot of ways it is easier to go up to stranger and talk about Jesus than it is to go up to a family member. God so loved the Decapolis that He gave them this man. God so loved your neighborhood that He gave them you and I. God so loved your workplace that He gave them you and I. God so loved your school that He gave them you and I. God so loved your family that He gave them you and I. Do you get the idea?
3) Your story should center on God’s activity in your life. God told the man to tell his own what Jesus had done for him and how he has had mercy on you and I. When Christians talk about things, we often default to the wrong things. We often have a tendency to talk about all of the things we are against. There is a long list. Jesus never told this man to talk about what he was against, or morality or any kind or religious behavior. He simply wants the man to share how much the Lord has done for Him and how God has had mercy on him. We need to tell the story of God’s activity in our lives and how we didn’t deserve any of it. This assumes that God is currently active in your life and that you are aware of His activity. Often when we share our testimony, we go back to when we were children. This is okay, but the story is better suited for someone of that age. When we are talking to our peers, we had better be more current. We should have a lot more recent stuff in our lives to share where God is working, moving, influencing and changing us. We can share what God is doing in our lives right now. The Gospel didn’t just save us back there; the Gospel is still saving us right now. We need to point to moments in our lives right now where God is moving and active if we want to have a credible story.
The problem for some of us in that we are not aware of a whole lot of activity. Part of it is a problem with our mindsets. Part of it is that we don’t expect our lives to change. If you have mastered information, but experienced no life change, then it doesn’t matter. The Bible says that you can theologically unpack all of the mysteries of God, but if you are completely unmoved by them then who cares. What happens is that when we have belief but no transformation then the church loses its place in culture and ends up being disrespected, mocked and openly shamed. Because although what we believe is right and true, there has been no ongoing transformation in our lives or awareness of God’s activities. There is nothing people can point to and say, “Maybe they are on to something! Maybe there is something there.”
We need to tell the story of God’s activity in our lives and how we didn’t deserve any of it, and it assumes that anything we stand for doesn’t originate with us. It is only through the mercy and saving work of Jesus Christ! If we start telling our story and it has to do with all of these righteous things that we do and we forget to humbly remember that it is only because of the mercy of Jesus then we end up having a prideful, arrogant, self-exalting, judgmental, kind of conversation.
4) We need to do the job of telling, and Jesus needs to do the job of saving. Our passage today says that all the people in the end were amazed, not saved. This man went and effectively told his story, and he did the job Jesus asked him to do. Jesus and His disciples go back into the boat and head back over to their side. Jesus goes back to the crowds and teaches, heals and has a magnificent ministry there. He does big miracles, such as the feeding of 5,000 people. Eventually in Mark 7 Jesus finds Himself back in the Decapolis. The second time He goes there paints a whole different picture. When Jesus comes in, the first miracle He does in the Decapolis is the feeding of 4,000 people. There were men, women and children–possibly a crowd of 10,000 people now in the Decapolis waiting for Jesus to come and teach them. What changed in two chapters? One unqualified guy–the former demon-possessed man–told his story. One man obeyed Jesus. He did his job. Your story matters! In Matthew 15:31 at the feeding of the 4,000 the Bible says that the people saw Jesus in the Decapolis and praised the God of Israel. These people were not from Israel. They were praising the God of the other side. One man told his story, so that Jesus could come back through the area and save people. Our job is to tell, Jesus’ job is to save.
There are some of you reading this blog who may not be satisfied with how this area of your life is going for you. There may be multiple times in a conversation where God prompted you to say something. Sometimes fear holds us back from sharing our stories. Sometimes it is apathy. Sometimes we feels unprepared. Sometimes it makes us feel “uncool.” Mostly we realize the Gospel isn’t transforming us in that moment. Maybe during that stretch of your life you weren’t living the Gospel. It didn’t take root in your heart. What can you do if you find yourself in this place? Repent. Put yourself in situations and around people that remind you of the Gospel. Call one of your accountability partners. They can often give you great advice. Reflect upon God’s activity in your life. Get current there and ask God to show you where He is working in your life right now. Ask God to show you His fingerprints on your story right now. Look for markers of the change God is doing in your life right now. Pray for a second chance to share your story and for new opportunities. What is your story, what is God doing in your life, and who are you supposed to tell?