Not everyone who meets Jesus is commanded to follow Him in the same manner.
Take two instances that are shared with us in the Gospel of Mark.
In Mark chapter 5, ‘a man with an evil spirit’ meets Jesus. This man lived naked in tombs, and couldn’t be bound, though people tried – even with chains, for he would break them. In the tombs and among the hills he would cry out at the top of his lungs cutting himself with stones. He was an uncontrollable crazy man terrorizing the people, relegated to the dead. Though the people sought to put him out of sight and mind, his constant wailing reminded them of his existence.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of Him, and, at the top of his voice (think how loud that must have been) shouted, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God you won’t torture me!”
As the dialogue of the story unfolds it becomes clear that this man is under the control of a host of demons whose name is Legion. They know the mission of Jesus (as Saviour of His people) and they know His power (as Son of the Most High God) and they cringe and fall in front of Him. They know too that their place is not to occupy that which is God’s image; they are not welcome, and Jesus is going to redeem this man, this image bearer of the Most High God. And so they begged to be able to go into a herd of pigs. Unclean animals for unclean spirits. Jesus permitted it; and so they went.
After the demise of the pigs, now destroyed because of Legion, comes one of my favourite scenes in Scripture. The pig owners had gone into town and gathered a crowd of people to come back and check out all what happened. Here’s the scene in verse 15: “When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
Everything changes when we meet Jesus. Think of the beauty of this verse. This man went from running wildly among the dead to sitting calmly in the presence of Life, from naked to clothed, from possessed and crazy to being in his right mind. He went from living among the dead to being given new life in the family of Jesus. It’s a picture of the transforming power of our Lord in us and the beauty of sitting at Jesus’ feet, dignified and belonging, with a mind transformed by Him and a life renewed in Him.
Shortly after this the people, being afraid, ask Jesus to leave. And He does. As He is leaving, the man (understandably) asks Jesus if he can go with Him – he asks if he can follow Him. We might think, would not Jesus love this kind of dedication and gratitude? But Jesus has a broader purpose in mind for more lost people. He does not let him follow but instead tells 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.” He indeed can follow Jesus in obeying His call to witness to others.
This man who had nothing… was given everything… and was appointed to Go… tell. And not even too far abroad. He was to simply go home and tell his family. There were more who were not yet fully alive who must hear about the transforming power of Jesus and this man was living proof!
Another man: Go Sell…
Compare this to Mark chapter 10, where we meet another man who also runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees. He is not yelling but he is frantic. He asks a question, good for us all to ponder, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
His reference to ‘good’ and ‘who is good’ and ‘who can even rightfully be called good’ does begin to reveal a heart with disoriented affections. And Jesus immediately peels back the layers. In a brief dialogue on what appears to be full obedience to God, Jesus reveals one thing lacking.
You see, this man showed up looking normal. He had no gashes or cuts, he was fully dressed (likely in wealthy garb), and was not possessed by a Legion of evil spirits. But Jesus peels back layers of a heart that was possessed…by a love for his possessions!
One thing you lack says Jesus, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
What an invitation. Go, sell… and then come follow me. That’s it. Simple directions.
But this man’s heart was so oriented and dedicated to his great wealth that he could not part from it, not even for Jesus’ sake. In his apparent obedience to all of the commands, Jesus revealed that he failed to obey the one clear command foundational to them all, “You shall have no others gods before me.” He was serving God in his own comfortable and distorted way of obedience. It was a heart divided: Jesus + wealth.
Once this is revealed, one of the saddest and most heavily warning-laden verses in Scripture ensues, verse 22, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
Jesus confirms to the disciples that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. This man was asked to follow Jesus, at a cost, but instead went the other way. He rejected the Kingdom of God for the kingdom of wealth and this call towards new life. This short, temporal, broken life of wealth was chosen over life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.
This man who had everything… was told to sell towards nothing… being commanded to Go, sell.
The first man raving mad, had nothing and was given everything. Commanded not to follow, but to Go tell. Rejected by people, but appointed by Jesus, followed Christ in his going and telling and many more came to believe (Mark 6:53-56). He lived obedience in the new life he enjoyed in Christ having eternal focus of riches in Christ Jesus.
The second man apparently normal, had everything and was told to reduce his wealth to nothing. Go sell. And then follow. Accepted by people, now corrected by Jesus, denied following Him and went away remaining dead in this life of temporal wealth. He had no message to share and lived for the here and now.
The first discovered everlasting treasure. The second only temporal. The first will enjoy everlasting life; the second everlasting damnation. It has that kind of lasting effect.
Now… Go and Make
Jesus will instruct us according to what is necessary for our dedicated walk with Him in being discipled and in discipling others. For some of us, that might be to Go and Tell. And for others of us, we might have to Go and Sell. The important thing to remember is that He does call us to act and to respond to Him. Will we act and respond? Will we listen?
By following the commands of Jesus, He wants to cause great change in us with lasting, lifelong effect and healing. Whether God has freed us from inner or outer entrapment, the command extends to witness and proclaim the excellencies of Him who loved us and gave His life for us so that we, with an eye to the future, can enjoy new life in Him here and now already and invite others to do the same. Amazing!
Then in the witnessing and proclaiming, we further embody the great commission to Go and Make disciples of all nations.