Thursday, June 16, 2016

Un-Evangelists


In the story of the healing of the demon-possessed man in Geresa (Luke 8:26-39), there are two examples of evangelists--one bad and one good. The first is the group of swineherds, who witnessed Jesus set the demoniac free from his possession. And the second is the demon-possessed man himself once he had been set free from his affliction.

Luke tells us that the demons inside the man "begged Jesus to let them enter" a large herd of swine there on the hillside. Speaking from within the man, Legion, as the demons identified themselves, recognized that Jesus was the "Son of the Most High God," and, before Jesus even began to express his power over them, they knew that they would be defeated. Instead of asserting any power, they chose a defensive strategy, attempting, as Luke tells us, to avoid being send "back into the abyss." When Jesus gave them permission, they left the man and entered the pigs, which then rushed down the steep hill into the sea.

Watching this unfold were the swineherds--men who saw their livelihood drown in the water. "When they saw what happened," Luke writes, "they ran off and told it in the city and in the country." And, by the time the people from that area came out to see it for themselves, their minds were made up. They were afraid. They saw the man, sitting in his right mind, and they were filled with fear. Unable or unwilling to tolerate this disruptive presence in their midst, they agree--all of them--to ask Jesus to leave their territory. And immediately Jesus got into the boat and left.

But that wasn't the end of the story. We don't know what happened, but the story didn't end there. The once-demon-possessed man "begged" Jesus (note the use of the same word that he had used earlier) to let him become a disciple. "Let me follow you, Jesus!" the man might have pleaded. But Jesus said no. He would not let him. Some presume it is because of his Gentile identity--that this would have disrupted his ministry among his fellow Jews. Regardless, the result is the same. The man is not permitted to follow Jesus, but he is given a charge. "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you," Jesus said to the man, sending him away. "Go share news of this," Jesus told him. "Be my evangelist in this place."

He had his work cut out for him. Everyone in the town had turned against Jesus. The testimony of the swineherds had poisoned the well. They had made up their minds that Jesus was dangerous--that his presence among them was a reason to be afraid. But the man had another story to tell. The same Jesus--the same power that he represented--had given him back his life. In fact, Jesus had set the community free of this man's nuisance. I wonder how it went. I wonder whether anyone's heart softened. I wonder if the man had a wife and family. I wonder whether his rightmindedness convinced them. I wonder...

I am an evangelist. And, if you're reading this, you're probably a follower of Jesus, which means that you are an evangelist, too. We have good news to share--news of the power of God who has come to us and set us free from the oppression of sin and death and the devil and has put us in our right mind. That is liberating news for a world that is shackled by fear and hopelessness and frustration. But there are others who have a different message to tell. They have been hurt--not by Jesus but by a  misplaced religion that operates in his name. They tell of woundedness in the church. They speak of losing their time and money and spirit to those who wrongly promised them freedom and peace. They have been spiritually swindled by those who pretend to witness to the power of Jesus when, in fact, they are only preaching of themselves.

The power of Jesus has the power to set us free, but the powers of darkness work against it in insidious ways. They are often the ones with the proverbial microphone, espousing hate and greed and fear in the name of Jesus. When the world thinks of Christians, does it think of Jesus or of them? When people hear of "mission" and "evangelism" and "revival," does it think of freedom or oppression? We have much work to do, but it is good work, liberating work, holy work. And we do it not only in the name of Jesus but animated and empowered by his spirit.

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