This session explores the transformational power of stories. Jesus was, and is, in the transformation business. As a result, we have powerful stories of what Jesus has done to share with others. The session aims to embolden you and give you the tools you need to tell your story. It also features an interview between Hannah Steele and Justin Welby.
This session is based around Chapter 3 of Hannah Steele’s book Living His Story. A featured passage is below, but you are encouraged to read the whole chapter as the questions often reference the book.
From Chapter 3 of Living His Story
One of the most remarkable stories of instant transformation is in Jesus’ dealings with the demoniac in Mark 5. Jesus travels by boat to an area called the land of the Gerasene’s. It is one of the first encounters that we see Jesus having in Gentile territory. In this remote place, Jesus encounters a man who is possessed by multiple demons. The initial description that Mark gives us of this man is distressing: wild and unkempt, ostracized from the local community, even his own family, wailing out loud and a danger to himself. We can only presume that this troubled man had no prior knowledge of Jesus, yet he is drawn to him and falls down on his knees before him. It becomes clear that the man is entirely riddled with demons and that only the all-powerful word of Jesus can break his chains. Jesus instantly sets the man free, although it does not turn out so well for the herd of pigs nearby. Mark is keen to report that by the time the crowd had heard of this story they were faced with an entirely different picture of the man, who now sat clothed, calm and able to communicate articulately. The transformation under-gone by this man was complete: from chaos to peace, from danger to security.
This miracle is one of many instances in the Gospels when en-counter with Jesus brings complete and utter transformation and freedom. You might think that this story of transformation would be met with great relief by the town who no longer have to listen to the terrifying screams of the man wandering around the tombs. However, their fear now turns away from this man and focuses on Jesus instead. They are unsure what to make of his power and were possibly also concerned about the impact on the local farming community. The town turns out and begs Jesus to leave. This is so different from the many occasions where people beg Jesus to stay. Here his presence is not welcome. It is therefore not surprising that the freed man now wants to follow the one who has set him free. Why stay in the town that has exiled him? The man tries to climb in the boat with Jesus when he goes to leave, but Jesus says these words to him: ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you’ (Mark 5.19).
It is surprising that Jesus doesn’t take the man with him, isn’t it? Only a few chapters ago he had been recruiting followers for his newly formed band of disciples. Surely this man would be the perfect new apprentice with a miraculous story to share? Jesus knows the home crowd are hostile. Why not save the man the hardship and take him on board? However, Jesus resists the man’s desire to follow him and instead sends him back as a witness to his own community, the very community that had been so fearful of him. What is also striking is that this man has very little experience of Jesus other than this one exchange. He hasn’t listened to the hours of teaching that the other disciples had. However, Jesus sends him back, simply to tell ‘how much the Lord has done’ for him. This man was called to witness to the story of God’s work in his life, to speak of his utter transformation and his present experience of freedom and peace. And we soon read that ‘every-one was amazed’ in the surrounding towns (Mark 5.20). Where Jesus had caused initial confusion and fear, this man’s story of his encounter with Jesus in turn began to transform the lives around him.
I love this story from Mark’s Gospel because it is a powerful illustration of the influence of personal story. Jesus leaves the man in his home town, untrained but full of his own personal encounter. And the results speak for themselves. This way of witnessing is one of the first and easiest ways we can start to share our faith with people and can be one of the simplest ways to get started on imaginative evangelism.