Who Was the First Missionary?
Who was the first person Jesus sent to be his witness? The missionary may surprise you…
Shortly after the sermon on the mount we find Jesus and the disciples heading east across the Sea of Galilee. There is the little incident of Jesus calming the storm on the way over.
Jesus and the disciples reach the other side and step out of the boat onto the shore of present-day Golan Heights. As they walk up the rocky shore, a man emerges from the village tombs and staggers over to them. Naked, demon-possessed, wailing, and covered with self-inflicted wounds. He falls at Jesus’ feet, rusty chains dangle from his bloodied wrists and ankles.
A loud conversation with multiple parties commences. But Jesus, with authority and power, heals the man … delivering him from years of torment. He commands the evil spirits into a nearby herd of pigs who then plummet to their death from a brief cliff dive.
The town people rush to the lake at the behest of the distraught pig owner.
They find the village lunatic, clothed and sitting contentedly at the feet of Jesus. The man they had chained and even feared is clearly no longer a threat. The pig farmer and his friends, nonetheless, stir the crowd to plead with Jesus to leave.
Fright of the unknown hovers in the tense air.
Jesus obliges. As Jesus steps back into the boat, the newly-healed man rushes to him and begs to go with him.
You would think …”yes, perfect timing!” Jesus is beginning to call disciples. He does not have the all of the eventual twelve yet.
But Jesus denies his pleas. Instead, he sends the man out to be his witness! “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Go. Tell. Jesus sends the first missionary with these instructions.
How is this missionary qualified? He didn’t even hear the lengthy teaching on the other side of the lake. He wasn’t on the boat to see Jesus calm the storm. The only miracle he has seen…is the one Jesus did for him.
Go. Tell. This man does have a story to share. He is passionate about this Jesus who delivered him from a captive life. He wants to physically follow Jesus but Jesus has other plans for him.
The man obeys. He tells about Jesus throughout the Decapolis, a Greek region. All were amazed to hear about the Jewish rabbi carpenter healer … and Lord.
Interestingly, in about 15 years, Saul would come through this region on his way to Damascus. Might the Christians who minister to him following his own encounter with Jesus be the very people this formerly demon-possessed man witnessed to? Did they come to faith through the obedience of this first missionary??
Sharon is on staff at Centreville (Virginia) Presbyterian Church. As the Director of Missions, she leads initiatives to connect the local church to ministry partners worldwide. Her teams come alongside national and international partners to extend their ministry on the mission field. Sharon brings resources of the church to meet the needs of homeless and impoverished neighbors.