The idea of reaching out to others is not new. The greatest “Reacher-Outer” who ever lived is Jesus Christ. He reached out to people wherever He went – the sick, the blind, the lame, the grieving, the sinful – and those He touched were never the same again. In the church, we are to be followers of Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21). He is our Head (Eph. 1:21, 22), and we are to be His hands, His feet, His lips. We are to be members (parts) of His body (Rom. 12:5). According to the Great commission (Matt. 28:18-20), we fail to act as the Lord’s church if we do not reach out to people with our lives and with the gospel. Mark 5 presents a story about Jesus reaching out and touching a man – a man who was unlovely and unlovable.
The Reality (Mark 5:1-5)
“…when He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him” (Mark 5:2). Why did the man live in the tombs? Because he had been cast out of society. The people of the area had tried to bind him with chains and shackles, but no restraint would hold him. At last, they had apparently forced him to leave. The moment Jesus stepped out of the boat, a crazed man appeared out of the gloom. He was naked and filthy. His body was covered with running sores caused by self-mutilation. His hair was tangled; his eyes were wild. This was the one who needed Jesus to reach out to him. This was the test of Christ’s willingness to reach out.
Think about how Christ could have responded to this need:
“I’m too tired. It’s late. I’ve had a long hard day
“This is not My responsibility.”
“This is not a good ‘prospect’ for conversion.”
“Don’t you know that there’s a risk involved? If I try to help him, it probably won’t do any good, and I could just end up making people unhappy with Me.”
Jesus could have given every excuse mentioned – but He did not. What enabled Him to overcome the natural barriers that this man represented? His love for people. Christ was people-oriented; He cared for people. Here was someone who needed Him. Yes, the man was unloved and unlovable. He was disoriented; his life was out of control. He was self-destructive, maybe even suicidal. Nevertheless, he was a person with needs. Thus, in spite of the fact that Jesus was tired, in spite of the fact that this man was unattractive, in spite of the fact that others were perhaps not fulfilling their responsibilities, Christ took the risk and reached out to him.
The Response (Mark 5:6-16)
Seeing Jesus from a distance, the demoniac ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, said, ‘What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:6, 7a). (Note: “Demons …believe, and shudder” James 2:19)
These words came from the man’s mouth, “I implore You by God, do not torment me!” (Mark 5:7). This statement seems strange since Jesus came to heal the man, not to torment him – but this was surely the demon speaking through the man. Jesus asked, “What is your name?” The man replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” (Mark 5:9). A legion was a Roman regiment of approximately six thousand soldiers. The man did not necessarily have six thousand demons inside him, but the term indicates that he was filled with innumerable demons.
Notice that the man first used the singular, “My name is Legion.” Then he used the plural, “for we are many.” It is difficult to imagine the confusion that existed in one whose body and mind was controlled by demonic forces. It would have to drive a man mad. The demons began to beg Christ “earnestly not to send them out of the country” (Mark 5:10). It so happened, “there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain” (Mark 5:11). The demons pleaded with Christ, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them” (Mark 5:12). This brings a question to the mind: Why did they make this strange request? Perhaps the only way demons could function outside the abyss was in a living host. “Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine” (Mark 5:13).
If the legion of demons had made their request in order to continue their demonic activity, they were doomed to disappointment; because as soon as they entered their new hosts, the hogs went crazy, “And the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea” (Mark 5:13b). Two thousand squealing hogs must have made quite a sight and sound as they thundered down the mountainside and splashed into the water.
Among those who observed this eerie sight were pig herders who had been tending the pigs for nearby city-dwellers, “So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened.” (Mark 5:14).
When they arrived they saw the formerly frenzied man now “sitting” quietly. No longer was he naked, but “clothed.” No longer was he maniacal, but “in his right mind.” Jesus had reached out to an unlovable individual – and his life had been totally changed.
How was Jesus able to reach out to the unlovable? While we know He did it because He loved people, we can add other thoughts:
He was sensitive to people’s needs.
He was willing to start where the person was, not where He would’ve wished him to be.
He was willing to talk to the man – and listen to his problems.
He was willing to rely on God’s power.
The Results (Mark 5:15-20)
What was the outcome of Jesus’ reaching out to the unlovable?
A Man Changed – A life was completely turned around. It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast than that of this man before and after he met Jesus.
Men Untouched – Some were not happy about all that had occurred. Instead of being excited that a fellow human being had been salvaged they were afraid and plead with Jesus to leave (Mark 5:14b-17). Jesus did what they asked. They could not have made a more tragic request, but Christ complied with it. We are to share what we can of the Word; then, if people say, “Leave!” we should leave.
An Area Taught – Reaching out begets reaching out. “And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. 19 However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you." 20 And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled” (Mark 5:18-20). Jesus would also say to us, “Go home to your people – to your friends, family, and neighbors – and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” A few may protest, “But I don’t have any close friends who are not members of the church.” Then find some! Be a friend in your neighborhood. Be a friend where you work. Be a friend at school. Then you can share. Someone has said that evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where they can both get bread. Our text declares that evangelism is just one sufferer telling another sufferer where they can both find relief.
It is possible that many of us know in our heads (intellectually) that we should reach out to others – even to the unlovable – to help them in their needs and to share the gospel with them. At the same time, it is possible that the message has never reached our hearts. Perhaps we have not been motivated to do whatever it takes to reach out: to rearrange our schedules, to overcome our fears, or whatever else has been preventing us from doing what we should do. We must learn from our Master, to love our fellow man, the unlovable included!