God has always desired His people to be His witnesses to the world. This was a large part of why He created the nation of Israel in the first place (I cannot recommend enough Walter Kaiser’s excellent book Mission in the Old Testament for a rich, profound study of this concept). He wished to sue a people to declare His glory and ways to the world and draw the nations to Himself through them. In this age, local churches step into and share Israel’s role in this way, as they speak of Christ, His ways, and His present-future kingdom to the world around them.
Of course, local churches are comprised of individuals, and those individuals must be intentional about walking faithfully with the Lord and being ready to give an answer for their hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15). As people who have tasted God’s gracious redemption in the greatest sense (personal rescue from wrath) and as that spills over into many areas of life (all the Lord does for us on physical, relational, financial, and other levels as foretastes of the holistic redemption to come), should we not be the people most freed to share His glories with the world? The world needs us, for we are the only ones who can proclaim the gospel of salvation to them and testify of its power in our lives. We are how God will redeem the nations!
The dear man whom the Lord freed from demonic control in Mark 5 provides an exquisite picture of our call to testify of the Lords’ redeeming goodness to all who will hear. We will look at these verses together and seek the Lord for fresh understanding of His work in out lives and greater boldness to proclaim His excellencies to the world.
Because there was no outline and the passage is extremely short, I will simply comment verse by verse.
Jesus has demonstrated what is arguably one of the grandest displays of His sovereignty recorded in the gospels. That, after all, is the point of this section of Mark: Four narratives that demonstrate the Lord’s total and uncontested sovereignty and divine authority over every area and detail of life. If He can effortlessly conquer several thousand demons, is there anything He can’t do? That is the point. He has saved this man and his companion (recall that Matthew, the first gospel written, includes a second, more passive man in his account) from their demonic captivity. The townspeople are terrified at the sheer authority and power Jesus has and beg Him to leave.
Jesus is getting into the boat, and as He does the now-cleansed, saved man runs up to Him. He is well aware of the mercy he has been shown, of the graciousness and kindness he has received from the God of heaven. Moreover, I wonder if he realizes that Jesus has traveled all this way for him. Almost as soon as He arrives, the Lord leaves. He has done what He came to do—deliver a pair of demonized men to declare the victory of the Father. Do you not realize that Jesus cares for the individual? He died for names, faces, fingerprints. He has a vested interest in the salvation, fruitfulness, and God-glorifying calling on the life of every soul He has created. And this man, whose name we do not know but who is perfectly known by God, has been an undeserving, ill-deserving, reception of that very saving favor.
It is a tender picture. He runs after Jesus and His men (His bewildered, dumbstruck men, I am sure). Panic rises in his heart as He sees Jesus retreating and climbing back into the boat. He runs faster. He catches Him, perhaps grabbing His sleeve, looking with imploring eyes at this wondrous, kind Savior who has become everything to him. We do not have his words, but we have their spirit: “Please, please let me come with You, Lord!” We don’t know what they talked about or for how long when the townspeople found Jesus and the men sitting down and fully clothed. Doubtless our Lord began discipling him and explaining the things of the kingdom to him. And this man loves Jesus and knows that he needs to be with Him. He wants nothing more than to be in the presence of the One who has so saved him.
I imagine he had tears in his eyes, his throat closing with that soreness that comes with emotion and ardent love. Perhaps he feels he can convince Jesus to his way of seeing things. Perhaps he feels frustration at the Lord leaving right when He has given him new life.
Is this not a picture of our walk with the Lord? We want to be with Him, don’t we? We want to be through with the fallenness of the world and enjoy a resurrected, redeemed life with Him and His people on a new earth, free from the cloying temptations of sin that seem to infect everything and everywhere. We want to worship Him fully and completely, love Him as He deserves to be loved, know His presence and smile and attention personally and unhindered. And as He said to this man, so He says no to us for now. And the reason is simple: He has work for us to do. It is to that we now turn.
Our Lord is compassion incarnate. Doubtless He was moved by this man’s insistent plea. He affirmed it as a saving expression of love and devotion, in that tenderly pure way that overflows from a freshly clean heart that knows the depths from which it has been rescued. But He gently, kindly, insistently says no. How could this be? Because there is work for this precious man to do.
Recall that he formerly lived among the tombs of Gerasa, which is one of ten cities called the Decapolis by Greek historians. These were prominent city-states that dotted most of one side of the Jordan River. They were heavily Gentile, and largely a pagan, Hellenistic oasis in a sea of Semitic peoples. Gerasa had been founded by Alexander the Great over three hundred years before Christ; by Jesus’ day it was well-established as a thoroughly Greek city (and something of a modest metropolis, as were most of the other cities of the Decapolis). This city, and the other nine like it, are largely devoid of any biblical witness. Certainly there were some Jews who could share something of the God of heaven, but how many knew and welcomed the Messiah? Only this man, who is a Gentile and also the first person Jesus ever commissioned to proclaim Him in the gospels (not even the apostles or the 70 have been sent out yet) can bring these thousands of souls the fullness of truth they desperately need.
Incidentally, this story also demonstrates the heart of God for the nations. Here is the Jewish Messiah fulfilling the role Israel as destined to play (for He is the True Israelite par excellence, while not removing the role for restored Israel in the day of our Lord). He is proclaiming the rule and reign of Yahweh—Yahweh who has come in and as Jesus Christ!—to a cast-off Gentile, then commissioning him to proclaim that same God and His effectual mercy and sovereign rule to all who will hear in the Gentile strongholds of the Decapolis.
Note what Jesus says: “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.” Here is where understanding the differences in wording between the Synoptic Gospels is most wonderful. I believe, as the majority of the church did until the nineteenth century, that the words of our Lord recorded in the gospels are His actual words, not a summary or paraphrase. This is called ipissima verba (Latin for “the very words”) as opposed to ipissima vox (“the very voice”). This becomes important because when you compare Luke’s and Mark’s versions of the account, Luke writes that our Lord told the man to report what God did for him. So if you put Luke’s and Mark’s versions together, Jesus told the man to report what the Lord God did for him—an unmistakable reference to deity and the one God of the OT.
Jesus here implies He Himself is this God (who else was acting in the narrative but the Lord Jesus?). This becomes more apparent in the next verse.
The man’s heart softens at the words of his Lord. Somehow, he knows Jesus knows what is best for him, and I am sure he was excited to see his family and friends again and most of all to tell them about Jesus and what He did for him. Having told His charge to tell all Decapolis what the Lord God did for him, we are to understand the man instantly obeyed that by telling them what Jesus had done for him! This man runs back to his hometown, whose people are doubtless already shocked at the intrusion of the supernatural into their lives, and is an effusive missionary for the cause of our Lord. His heart is overflowing with gratitude and joy at his newfound freedom, at the rich washing of mercy he has tasted, at the sanity restored, the mind that can comprehend and embrace truth, the mouth that can sing instead of scream, the body that can be used to work and serve instead of terrify and self-destruct.
The text tells us, as is frequent in Mark, that everyone who heard him was “amazed.” The Greek word caries the idea of being astounded, marveling, awestruck. I like to think this awe translated into saving fear of God for many of these men and women. I do not believe the Lord would have commissioned this man if He did not intend to save at least some of the people who would hear this man’s testimony.
Besides clearly demonstrating the awesome pity and power of Jesus, and His glorious deity and saving redemptive reign, what is mot striking about this narrative is how little the man knew, yet the Lord still charged him to proclaim Him to the region. Does this not convict you? How much do you need to know to usefully proclaim Christ to the world? You must simply know the gospel, know you are a sinner, and Jesus is the sole Savior. There is a place for apologetics and knowing how to answer all of the intricate and continual objections from an increasingly hostile and ungodly culture (and of course many of these objections are little more than smokescreens designed to avoid subjecting the entire heart and will to Christ). But O how your heart should thrill that you, ordinary Christian, can tell the world about Jesus! You must simply proclaim the gospel and what Jesus has done for you through it, and God can and will mightily bless.
O that God would work greater faithfulness and surrender in our hearts, that many tens of thousands (millions?) may be gloriously swept into His kingdom before the King Himself appears!