When Jesus Says ‘No’

Imagine this: Jesus the Messiah does a miracle in your life, say, a healing, and out of gratitude you tell Him you want to follow Him. After all, he’s just saved your life, right? Makes sense, doesn’t it? But what if the Master said “No”?

No? No. But does No really mean Yes? Yes and No.

Yesterday in church we covered Mark 5:1-20, a strange but delightful story of a demon-possessed man living on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The story has more plot points than a Peter Jackson hobbit movie. The setting is a graveyard. Sounds like a Halloween flick, right? A poor man, possessed by evil spirits lives among the tombs outside of a town. He screams in torment day and night, haunted and propelled by forces he cannot control. Think The Exorcist without the exorcism. It was a strange setting for a confrontation between Jesus and a gang of evil spirits (demons).

Jesus, fresh off another head-scratching episode with His disciples on the stormy sea, must have either seen or heard the possessed man. The Master walks up to him and the demons instantly recognize that Jesus is more than a Jewish man. They scream out (in fear and dismay, I reckon), “What do you have to do with us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?!” A Newton Commentary translation would be: “Jeepers! He caught us! We’re doomed!” Anyway, Jesus has another dialogue with the dark side, asserts His authority over ALL demons, and ends up casting the hoard of poltergeists into a herd of pigs, who then promptly drive the pigs over a cliff and into the water. As my friend Charlie pointed out yesterday in his sermon, demons must be evil because they don’t like bacon!

Back to the local man. He’s free from his possession prison and, calmly, of his right mind, sits beside the Savior. His life has changed. Indeed, I’m sure he feels born again. And probably quite a bit exhausted and in quite a bit of pain from the scars inflicted by the demons. He looks up at Jesus and says, essentially, “Master, I will follow you wherever you go.” Such devotion and gratitude usually follows a life redeemed. Jesus’ answer? No.

What? Yes. He said No. But that answer was a “yes” in another way. What Jesus wanted the man to do is be a witness of the amazing healing power of God. He sent the man into his own community to be living evidence of the mercy and grace and power of Jesus Christ. So the man WAS following Christ. Just in a different way. It’s the way we follow Christ today. It all begins with one moment in time — a miraculous salvation by faith — that results in a life of gratitude, which declares and demonstrates the transforming grace of God in Christ. Essentially, we become living witnesses to God’s ability to change a life.

Right before He ascended to heaven, Jesus gave His disciples and all who come after a final, “Yes.” There was no more following behind Jesus — His form, His face, His feet — on earth but we, His disciples, would become His representatives on earth. You and I will incarnate the truth of God in Christ in our very lives so that others may see Jesus and believe. And that faith becomes another miracle which generates another life of gratitude that models Christ, and so on.

And in this way God’s kingdom expands. Jesus may have said, “No,” to the man He saved but in reality He was saying, “Yes.”  There was only room for 13 on the apostolic boat and the man could better follow the Savior and serve Him by going and showing his community the amazing power of God in Christ — a power that trumps wind and waves, fear and doubt, heaven and hell.

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