Who do you think is the most unlikely missionary of all-time? Maybe you’d say Paul (See Acts 9), a persecutor of the early church turned apostle for Christ. Or, maybe you think of more modern day missionaries like Jim Elliot, William Carey, and CT Studd.
Allow me to introduce to you who I believe is one of the most overlooked and unlikely missionaries of all-time: the man with the legion of demons from Mark 5 (and Matthew 8, Luke 8).
“They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
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.” (Emphasis added)
This will sound strange, but hear me out: this is probably my favorite story in the Bible. His story is a sobering reflection of our spiritual darkness before God. Jesus healed and freed this man from the chains of sin, darkness, and naked shame when nothing else worked. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our sins are no less astounding. No matter what your background is, what Christ has done for us is spiritually as dramatic and incredible as the man who was once demon possessed. Death to life. Darkness to light. Shame to freedom.
While there is much to say about the man’s story (see more here), I want to highlight a few things about this unlikely missionary. I promise I’ll get to why this is personal for me eventually!
- Notice, “The man who had been demon-possessed”.
Had been. I love that. Mark draws our attention to the man’s new identity. He’s no longer defined by the darkness but in light of what Christ had done in his life. He’s not even defined by his missional call. First and foremost he’s defined by Christ’s work in His life.
Still, can we all agree that this man is not who we’d expect to be called a missionary by Jesus himself? Demon-possessed (demons beyond count, no less). Anti-social (isolated and lonely). Self-destructive (inflicting and self-harming). A societal outcast (unwanted by the wealthy Decapolis region). But we should! We should expect Jesus to call missionaries like to him because we know He seeks the humble (James 4:6).
- Notice, Jesus 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”.
That was a pretty bold thing for Jesus to say. He’s entrusting a man once possessed with demons – a social outcast – to testify for him. Why would Jesus do that? Why would anyone believe this man? What Jesus asked the man to do was also a pretty bold thing. Can you imagine how scary it would be to enter back into a society where people already think you’re crazy, and share something they would think is even crazier? Neither of these bold moves made a case for Jesus – unless it was the truth.
- Notice, “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”.
His immediate obedience to the Lord challenges me. If I experienced what he experienced, would I boldly go and tell the people who had isolated me what the Lord had done? I don’t know. But I do know this: when we trust and obey, God always shows up. When the once-possessed man shared the mercy of God with them, they were amazed. God works in the most unlikely ways with the most unlikely people for His glory.
Here’s what I’m getting at: we are unlikely.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
You may not think Jesus’ disciples (meaning you and me) are some of the most unlikely missionaries of all-time, but I do. God is calling you and me – just like the man with the legion of demons – to participate in the greatest mission of all time. To go and make disciples is a call for all disciples – and in my opinion, all of us are unlikely candidates. None of us have lived perfectly righteous lives. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We all were slaves to sin and darkness. We all were held captive. We all have felt shame. But because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we have been given eternal life and declared children of God. We all have been called by grace to declare how much the Lord has done for us, and how He has had mercy on us.
That leads me to where I started this blog – why it’s personal for me. When I was discerning my call to be a missionary in The Netherlands in 2014, it was this story that awakened me. I was just as messed up as the man with the legion of demons before God, just as unlikely to be called to GO, and just as lavished by the mercy and power of Jesus. Realizing this, the Holy Spirit gave me the courage to say yes to follow Jesus to go and make disciples; however, whenever, whoever. To this day, when I find myself feeling unlikely and undeserving of making disciples, I remember this passage and I’m spurred on once again by the boldness of the Holy Spirit: I AM unlikely and undeserving! It IS all grace! This is the good news of the gospel!
So, on the days when you feel like the most unlikely person to be a witness for Christ of all-time, remember the man who had been demon-possessed. Remember and take heart. We are unlikely! The gospel of Christ alone is what allows us to participate in this world-wide mission.