THE FIRST EVANGELIST
Mark 6: 53-56 (with references to Mark 5:1-20)
Were any of you fans of the TV series called “Lost?” I wasn’t, but Mary Ann was, so we watched it! I always said, “They call it ‘Lost’ because the writers said to themselves each week, ‘What direction will we take the story today?’ The plot seemed to jump from one strange event to another. And then there were the flashbacks. So many films and television shows now revert to flashbacks to explain connections with characters, or to explain current plot twists.
Well today I am going to use that popular device! Today’s “episode” comes from Mark chapter six that you heard me read. But if you listened carefully, you don’t hear a mention of any particular person who might be identified as “the first evangelist,” that is, the first person to tell others about Jesus. That event could only by flashing back to Mark 4:35—a chapter earlier—when Jesus told his disciples: “Let’s go across to the other side.” You see, if we turned this sanctuary space up front into a clock face, (that’s an analogue clock to millennials and children) imagine that the sea of Galilee is right in the middle of our center aisle and that Jesus is true north! From that point, 8:00 o’clock would be Tiberias, a city with a Roman graveyard and where Roman soldiers gathered—Jesus NEVER went there. Then at about 9:00 o’clock and a few miles away from the sea was Nazareth, Jesus’ boyhood home. Many believe that Jesus and his father Joseph would have walked to the nearby metropolitan city (by comparison with Nazareth) of Sepphoris to find work as carpenters and stonemasons. Then at about 10 ‘clock was Cana also several miles from the sea, the place where Jesus performed his first miracle of changing water into wine according to John chapter 2. Up at 11:00 o’clock was Magdala—the home of Mary Magdalene. Although not one of the 12, she was still a disciple of Jesus. At 11 o’clock was the place on the shore where Jesus preached the so-called “Sermon on the Mount,” including the Beatitudes, like “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.” At 12:00 was the adopted hometown of Jesus as a man: Capernaum. He preached in it’s synagogue according to Mark 1: 29-32, and he healed the mother of Simon who lived there. At 1:00 the River Jordan traveled from the snow covered tops of Mount Hermon on its way to the Dead Sea. At 2:00 o’clock was Bethsaida, currently in the Golan Heights. It was the hometown of Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and Philip. At 3:00 there was a distinctly different population. 3:00 o’clock was the land of the Gerasenes according to Mark 5. These were Gentiles and not Jews. They raised pigs, ate pork, and did not worship the God of the Hebrews. So when Jesus said, that they “came to the other side,” it was radical. Any Jew would have been made ritually unclean by visiting there. Yet Jesus, a Jew, defied custom and went. What did he find? A read challenge for one thing: a man isolated from his hometown and banished to live in a graveyard, a truly homeless man who was believed to be possessed by demons. There was quite a drama in that “last episode” in Mark chapter 5 as Jesus commanded the unclean spirits to come out of the man, and he sent the unclean spirits into a herd of swine nearby! About 2000 of those pigs, filled with the unclean spirits, ran into the Sea of Galilee and drowned! We’ll get to the man who was healed in a minute, but think about the owners of the swine! They would have lost their entire income because of what Jesus did. If Jesus came farther into that country on that day, he might have been detained or killed. But he sailed off. What was the other consequence of Jesus’ action? The Sea of Galilee is really just a lake. Can you imagine what 2000 dead swine would do to the fish in the sea? The Bible speaks nothing of that. What it does say is that the healed man naturally wanted to follow Jesus. But Jesus knew that no Jew would listen to the testimony of a Gentile. So he wisely said in Mark 5:19- “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.” Jesus made a leap of faith with his guidance: the leap was for that recently possessed man to now call Jesus Lord! Then he told that total stranger instead of following him, to go and tell his friends about Jesus and what he had done for him! That makes him the first evangelist! Let’s see his results.
Fast forward to sometime in the future in Mark chapter 6. Jesus and his friends were near Bethsaida (about 2 on the clock) and there he fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish according to Mark 6:38. Then they returned to the land of the Gerasenes also called Gennesaret. Remember, according to the Bible, no one would have thought of Jesus as Lord over there except possibly the man he healed from demons. Now Jesus is returning. What will he find? Quote: “When he got out of the boat immediately people recognized who he was, and ran about the whole neighborhood and began to bring sick people on their pallets to any place where he heard he was.” Jesus wanted to be Lord, but he responded to requests for healing too! The point is, one man who was sick, gave his testimony to others about what Jesus had done, and they were amazed.
Nobody else can be the first evangelist; that position is already taken. But what about the position of the next evangelist? That could be any one of you! Which child here today might take the envelope handed to them and share it with a friend, telling them about the place they learn about Jesus? Which of you might speak to someone else about what you’ve learned at Westminster By-The-Sea? I know some families who joined us for Vacation Bible School and they also came last Sunday; perhaps even this Sunday they’re here because they have felt welcomed and they’ve heard the Good News! Which person among you has learned about someone’s illness from our prayer list, gone to see them and prayed for them, keeping them in your heart? Who among you knows a new neighbor, or people you’ve met at a gathering, and invited them to join you here on a Sunday? There are people here right now who were invited to try come learn about Jesus here, and you liked it and stayed! We can all be the next evangelist, the next one to tell others about Jesus by not hiding his light under the bushel of our shyness or reluctance! If you have found Jesus, or have found a wonderful way to learn about him here, why not tell others about it? I often have people call me, or text me, or post on Facebook where they’ve found a great deal on a product or a service! I’m not offended by that. Sometimes I need the same products or service! I believe there are plenty of spiritually hungry or spiritually searching people trying to wade through the wasteland of the internet for answers. Here Jesus is shared weekly: lovingly, honestly, and with a desire for you to know about him, grow with his teachings, and perhaps even accept him as Lord, just like Jesus hoped the first evangelist would do. But it won’t happen if you don’t do what that first evangelist did: go back to your friends and tell them about Jesus! Then God’s Holy Spirit can go to work on their heart. And maybe, they’ll say, “I too want to know about Jesus!” When we realize all the people Jesus encountered and changed, we soon find out that “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.” Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner July 22, 2018