Jesus Living and Discipling Among the Lost
In the Gospels we have recorded for us four distinct movements of the gospel of the kingdom. Two of them were among the Jews. Matthew’s Gospel gives the details of a movement in Galilee that had become at least 5,000 men (Matthew 14:21), and this did not include women and children. The other Jewish movement was in Judea. John’s Gospel describes this movement by saying that many people were believing in Jesus (John 2:23, 8:30, 10:42, 11:45, 12:11 and 12:42).
However, there were two other movements outside of the Jewish mainstream. One was among the Samaritans, and the other was among the Gentiles. Both of these movements offer guidance for us as we seek to bring the good news of the kingdom of God to the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto-Buddhist, Secular and other mainstreams of the world today.
Among the Jewish people, Jesus often taught in their synagogues, but in the case of these two movements among the Samaritans and the Gentiles, telling of the good news of the kingdom started through a significant personal encounter with an individual.
In the case of the Gentiles living in the Decapolis, it started when Jesus healed the man who apparently had thousands of demons (a “legion” of them) living in him. In Mark 5:1, we are told that the disciples and Jesus crossed the lake to the region of the Gerasenes and that Jesus got out of the boat. This area was known as the Decapolis. Due to it being a Gentile area with high Greek culture, it was not a place that Jews would readily visit. Also, this specific spot was a place of pigs and a place of the dead. This may explain why there is no record of the twelve disciples getting out of the boat. Yet in the midst of this very uninviting context was a man in extreme need. Night and day he cried out and cut himself with stones. The internal pain was so great that relief came only when he cut himself externally. He was alive but not truly living, and his existence was only possible among the dead.
Jesus came to this distraught man and removed the huge burden in his life that he was never meant to carry. After this extraordinary encounter, the man wanted very much to go with Jesus. But Jesus said to him, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you”(Mark 5:19).
We most likely would not have given Jesus’ advice but would have rather suggested the course of action that the healed man wanted. We probably would have told him to join the team of disciples with Jesus and be trained and grounded in the faith in a “safe” and separate place before facing his family.
Jesus understood that it took a Gentile to reach the Gentiles and that immediate family and friends and relatives are the first priority. Indeed many times in the New Testament we see the good news coming to an individual and his family. One primary example of this is of Cornelius and his relatives and close friends as mentioned in Acts 10:24.
However, our tendency has often been to draw individuals out of their family and community and ask them to join another community that professes Christianity rather than to disciple them in their own context where they can reach their own family members and relatives and friends and work colleagues.
In the case of the healed Gentile man, it seemed that he not only went back to his own family but “he began to tell in the Decapolis (literally, ten cities) how much Jesus had done for him.” And his testimony had quite an impact as the verse states, “and all the people were amazed” (Mark 5:20).
Several months later, when Jesus revisited the area of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31), it is recorded that now at least 4,000 men were showing interest in what Jesus had to say (Mark 7:31-8:9).
In like manner Paul advised the Corinthians to remain in the situation they were in when God called them (1 Corinthians 7:20). He advised them not to change their context or place in life but to focus on their relationship to Jesus with a desire to obey Him (1 Corinthians 7:17-24). Paul indicated that this was his practice in all the situations where he was ministering. By people remaining in their contexts, the good news of the kingdom could spread throughout their communities, and this would eventually lead to the nations being discipled (Matthew 28:19).
In the case of the Samaritan community, Jesus again sought out a needy individual who in this case was a woman with a history of immorality. The disciples were surprised that he would be talking to such a person, as in those days the two communities had no dealings with each other. Also, a religious leader did not normally talk with a woman in public. However, this woman had an encounter with Jesus that changed her life. She raced back from the well to the Samaritan town and caused many of the Samaritans to come and listen to Jesus.
The Samaritans then invited Jesus to come and stay in their town. There is no record of the twelve disciples going, as it may have been outside their comfort zone. But Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for two days. We do not read of him criticizing their lack of understanding of God’s purposes or their temple at Mount Gerizim. He presumably ate their food, slept on their beds and used their washing facilities in the midst of their particular context. He literally lived and discipled amongst the lost, and there was a great response. (Note John 4:39, 41-42.)
As they listened to Jesus, they responded, “We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the savior of the world.” They discovered that he was not only a Jewish prophet but was someone who really loved them just as much as he did his own Jewish people.
Our tendency has often been to pull people out of their messy circumstances or what appear to be difficult contexts and disciple them in safe environments where we are comfortable. In contrast, Jesus chose to go to the lost in their own contexts and relate to them right where they were. Following his example, these people in turn impacted many of their relatives and friends in their own community. If the Samaritan woman had been extracted out of her own community, it is doubtful that such an impact would have occurred.
Today, the great need of the mission workforce is that we die to our own plans and strategies. We need to listen to the voice of God leading us to needy people who want to respond to the good news of the kingdom of God. We need to help those people to influence their own families and relatives and friends and work colleagues in their own communities so that they in turn will disciple their own people. In this way we will see the fulfillment of the Great Commission taking place in our generation and the generations to come.