The Gadarene: When Following Jesus Means Going Home
We tend to think of following Jesus as leaving behind the familiar for the unfamiliar. But sometimes, like the man in Luke 8:26-39, the more difficult call is to go back home.
For the first time in a long time he was in full control of his mind. He could think! No rage. No fear. No torment. Peace, like the quiet sea. He actually wanted to keep his clothes on.
But the most strangely wonderful thing of all was his sense of cleanness. His soul was clean.
The tomb-man from Gadara looked up at Jesus again. His lucid mind mulled over the words, "Son of the Most High God."
Who would have thought that the Son of God looked so much like other Jewish men? He wasn't very big. The tomb-man had beaten off much larger men in his demonic rages.
It was, in fact, his demons that had recognized Jesus. Son of God was their term. What was it that they saw? In all his tormented years, he had never felt anything like the terror that coursed through him when he saw Jesus get out of the boat. It was the terror of the damned. He had thought he'd been living in hell already. Now he knew better.
And now, with the demons gone, nothing he had ever experienced came close to the safety and peace he felt simply being near Jesus. He had only known Jesus for a few hours, but had already determined to be Jesus' disciple for life. Life with him would be heaven on earth.
The man looked out on the Tiberius. Pig carcasses were washing ashore and drifting out to sea. He shivered at the disturbing memory. He felt Jesus' reassuring hand on his shoulder.
A noise made them all turn back toward the hill. A small crowd of people was approaching, with the pig herdsmen leading the way. You could hear alarm in their voices. A few men went on to survey the dead floating herd. But the rest stopped some twenty feet away. Everyone strained for a look at the tomb-man. He recognized most of them.
He was used to seeing fear in their eyes. But it was different this time. As a herdsman recounted what happened, they kept looking at him and then to Jesus. It was Jesus they were afraid of.
The crowd's murmuring crescendoed into anxious pleas: "Please leave! We don't want any more trouble here!" Some were already hurrying back toward the city. For years the tomb-man, this one-man barracks of a thousand devils, had terrorized them. And now here was someone even more powerful. Whatever witchcraft Jesus possessed, they wanted it far away from them.
The tomb-man felt confusion and grief. They didn't understand! Jesus wasn't anything like the demons. Jesus' power was clean, holy. Jesus was potently kind. They were jumping to the wrong conclusions. If they would just listen to what he had to say…
But Jesus motioned to Peter to ready the boat. He was leaving!
The man jumped up and said to him, "Sir, please, may I go with you? I'll follow you anywhere!"
Jesus looked hard at him without speaking. Then he put his reassuring hand on the man's shoulder again and said, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."
The words "return to your home" must have made this man's heart sink. Home for him was not a warm place of sentimental memories. Home was a place of memories so dark and pain-filled that he likely just wanted to escape them and never go back.
But Jesus told him to go back. It was a hard call to return to the place where he had known demons, chains, tombs, self-mutilation, public humiliation, abuse, loneliness, and suicidal torment. But it was there that the grace of God in his life would shine the brightest.
Sometimes to follow Jesus means being sent back to a place where we once knew desolation and indescribable pain. The thought of returning there conjures up fears of our old demons and the people who knew us as we were back then.
What Jesus wants us to know is that his salvation and his protection extend to those old, horrible haunts. If he can break the death-grip Satan once had on us and set us free, then he can redeem the places of our former slavery and make them showcases of God's omnipotent grace.
Do not be afraid. The Good Shepherd will walk with you and protect you on the darkest road (Psalm 23:4). Declare how much God has done for you. You are being sent because there are other tomb-people to free.
Following Jesus with you wherever he calls,
P.S. November's featured resource is an Advent poem that John Piper delivered in 1993 at Bethlehem titled "The Gadarene." John imagines what the back-story of this man might have been and explores themes of redemption and reconciliation.
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