“Look at the cross! That’s how much God loved you.”
We hear this expressed—often. Sometimes helpful, sometimes not so much. Yes, the cross is the most vivid, true evidence of the great, extravagant, undeserved love of Jesus to sinners. But the cross isn’t the only way God loves us. He loved us before the cross and he loves us beyond the cross. The cross is the climax of the story, but there are numerous other ways that the gracious love of God in Christ is freely given to us.
Currently, I am in the book of Mark for my devotions, and the story for community group this past Wednesday was also found in that book. Consider Mark 5:1-20 for a beautiful account of the compassion and grace of Jesus to ordinary, broken people.
In this story, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee to the gentile city of Geresene. Immediately, a man possessed by demons meets Jesus as he gets out of the boat. What follows is an encounter with the Son of God and the servants of Satan. Ultimately, Jesus casts the demons from the man (whose human name isn’t even recorded) and fully restores him physically, mentally, and spiritually. The demons beg Jesus to send them into a herd of 2000 head of swine; a request he grants. The demons drive the pigs to their death—not at all surprising for the devil. The civilians are terrified of what just went down and beg Jesus to leave their city. The formerly possessed man wants to go with Jesus, but Jesus refuses. Instead he tells him to stay in his own city and tell his friends his God story. Finally, Jesus gets into the boat and goes back to the side he just came from.
Usually, this story is focused on Jesus healing the man. And that in itself is an incredible thing! But there are a few things in this story that are bit more silent, hidden.
Jesus came for just one person. In the eyes of the world, this man was next to worthless. He was a force to be feared as no one could control him. He was the town crazy, the person everyone shunned and stayed away from. This man was dangerous. And this man was a waste of space on earth. His life had not an ounce of meaning. At night, he would be among the grave stones and upon the mountains crying and howling and cutting himself. He was a tortured soul and there was nothing anyone could do to help him.
Nothing that is until Jesus came. The same God who calms storms quiets souls.
Jesus and his disciples rowed across the lake, where they were instantly “greeted” by this man. Neither the book of Mark or Luke ever mention that Jesus actually made it into the city. Rather, we read that the citizens came out to him and pleaded with him to leave.
Jesus came for this one man. This one life mattered. The life of a pagan, demon-possessed man mattered to God. If you’ve ever thought that your life doesn’t matter, that God couldn’t possibly even know who you are or care about you—think again. Our God is concerned with sparrows, missing coins and sheep, lost sons, every hair on our heads, and grass. Our God cares about the broken, forgotten, and missing. One matters. He came for you.
Jesus’ story is much bigger than just you. This man referred to as “Legion” (for his many demons) begged to go with Jesus. He wanted to be with Jesus. Jesus had completely, perfectly healed and restored him. His was a love and devotion born of gratitude. But Jesus refused to let him go with him. Instead, he told him to go back to his own city and tell everyone what the Lord had done for him.
This story is bigger than just this man. With what seems to be a bit of irony, Jesus tells the man to go back to his home (Luke 8:39) and tell his “friends” what had happened (Mark 5:19). What follows are the simple lines that say the man went into the city and told everyone what had happened and the people were amazed. Whether this man had any friends is anyone’s guess. But he didn’t just stop with telling his friends and family what Jesus had done in his life. No, he told cities! This man preached the goodness and greatness of God to strangers. The awesomeness of God amazed these people! This story is too good to be kept inside. Our God stories matter and they deserve to be told. Their greatness is the greatness of a good, good Father!
Trust that God’s plan for you is better than your own desires. This man wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to leave. But Jesus told him to stay. Sometimes our greatest refining , our greatest purpose happen exactly opposite of where we want to be. We beg God to let us be with him and think his denial of our wishes is the refusal of himself. Quite the contrary. God is not confined or constrained by time or space, so our going or staying has nothing to do with the presence of God.
Jesus can be trusted with our going or staying. His presence and his Spirit go with us, wherever we are. The man in the story was separated from Jesus when Jesus went back to the other side of the lake. We are not cut off from Jesus, simply because earth’s time and space confine and crimp us to certain places. God is with us—whether we go or stay. There is no place we can go that he is not already there (Psalm 139:7-12). If he calls you to stay or go to the last place you’d want to stay in or go to—he can be trusted. Trust his heart, trust the greatness of his story in you, and trust that your life matters to him.
The cross is the greatest demonstration of the scandalous grace, love, and compassion of Jesus. That is the reason Jesus came for us. But taste and see that his love has always gone before, to, and beyond the cross. He came for a soul consumed with darkness, healed him completely, and gave him a mission that was greater than himself and opposite his deepest wish.
And he does the exact same today. Our souls are precious to Jesus. He comes to each one of us—meets us in the mess, filth, and brokenness of our sin-soaked world. And still loves and heals us and gives us a story to tell that is far greater than ourselves.
Trust that. Trust him.