When people encounter the Holy God, there are only two final responses. If they do not desire His salvation, they will seek to escape His presence. That is what happened when the local citizens heard of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac. Seeing what the Lord had done, they wanted nothing to do with Him and begged “Jesus to depart from their region” (Mark 5:14–17).
Those who have received God’s saving grace respond to Him very differently. They desire to remain in His presence. Today’s passage helps us understand that dynamic. Having been delivered from Legion, the formerly demon-possessed man in the region of the Gerasenes begged to go with Jesus and join the band of disciples who followed Him around (v. 18). The man’s greatest desire was to be with his Savior.
Jesus, however, denied his request (v. 19). Mark does not explain why our Lord did so, but it may have involved His desire not to introduce a stumbling block in His ministry to the Jews. The gospel had to go to the Jew first (Rom. 1:16), and for Christ to have a Gentile follower as He ministered in Jewish lands might have introduced unnecessary obstacles to the Jews’ hearing the Savior. In any case, though the formerly possessed man did not go with Jesus, the Lord did not leave him without a call. Christ commissioned him to declare what had happened and how God had mercifully saved him from Satan (Mark 5:19–20). Jesus warned Jewish followers in Jewish areas not to spread the word about Him lest false expectations of the Messiah create problems for His ministry (1:40–45). Gentiles, however, had no such expectations, so the former demoniac could spread the good news among them without causing too much trouble. We cannot help but think of other Gentiles such as Titus who would likewise be saved and commissioned to preach to Gentiles in Gentile lands such as Crete (Gal. 2:3; Titus 1:1–5).
The response of the former demoniac, then, shows the tension in the Christian life. We want to remain with Jesus, but He sends us out to proclaim His grace. John Calvin comments, “Though we are not tortured by the devil, yet he holds us as his slaves, till the Son of God delivers us from his tyranny. Naked, torn, and disfigured, we wander about, till he restores us to soundness of mind. It remains that, in magnifying his grace, we testify our gratitude.”