The First Unlikely Evangelists!
I realised something the other day that I think is rather cool that got me thinking about the first evangelists. The first evangelists were Moses and the prophets, who prophesied the coming of Messiah, the Spirit giving them prophetic insight into a coming Messiah, Son of Man, Servant and Son of God. Then, immediately before Jesus Messiah appeared on the scene, there is John, the locust and honey eating, camel wearing, wilderness wandering preacher and baptiser, sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, fulfilling Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3, 4. Then there is the Great Evangelist, Jesus himself, who came preaching the “gospel of the Kingdom” calling people to repent and believe the good news. Then there were those he selected, a motley crew of fishermen, tax-collectors, zealots and more, and the 72, sent to preach the King and Kingdom.
We see the first followers at work in John’s Gospel. First, in John 1 John the Baptist who effectively instructed Andrew and another disciple to leave him and follow Jesus, that Jesus would increase and he decrease. Then there is Andrew and Philip telling Peter and Nathanael the good news and inviting them to Jesus—Jesus did the rest (that is evangelism in a nutshell).Recently it dawned on me that, in John’s account, the first mass evangelist is not one of the “formal” “authorised” followers of Jesus (12 or 72); rather, and remarkably, it is a woman; and not any woman, but a Samaritan adulterous who led most of her town to Jesus (John 4). (Remember that Samaritans were despised). Amazingly, she is the first mass evangelist of the messianic era saved. Not to mention that the first mass conversions is a town of Samaritans!
Reading Luke the other day, I realised something equally fantastic. In the Synoptic Gospels, the first person sent to preach is not one of the 12 or the 72, but the horrendously demonised man of Mark 5 fame—nicknamed Legion because he was infested with demons (a legion was around 6,000 soldiers at the time). He was a fiercely powerful and totally uncontrollable man who wandered naked and ranting and raving in the tombs in the region of the Gerasenes—a seriously messed up human! Scholars aren’t quite sure of the region, but we know it is east of the Jordan and so was a Gentile area. This is confirmed in that they were pig-farmers. So, “Legion” was a violent, uncontrollable Gentile. Jesus delivered him of the legion of demons, puzzling everyone ever since by sending the demons into a herd of pigs so that they plunged into the lake and drowned. The people of the town were decidedly unimpressed, failing to care that “Legion” was delivered, and worried about the economic impact of Jesus’ action.Then Jesus sent the man to tell what the Lord had done for him in the region of the Decapolis, a set of ten cities in the region including Damascus. In the Synoptics and especially Mark, this is an unusual move in that Jesus usually told recipients of his ministry to keep his Messianic status quiet—likely to make sure that people didn’t get too excited about his being messiah and seek to incite a revolution. Anyway, the thing that is so amazing is the first Synoptic evangelist, sent out before the Twelve, is a once violent demonised Gentile madman! Not only is he sent out, but he is sent to non-Jews to preach, indicating that from the beginning Jesus was going to call Gentiles into mission to preach to their own people.
What stands out is that the two mass-evangelists in John (the Samaritan woman) and “Legion” is that they are not the sort of people you might expect, nor are their recipients what you would expect. Both have horrendous pasts. Neither is a Jew. One is a woman, and an adulterous to boot. One is a demonised madman. We know now years later, that these are the sort of people God calls! Later, a woman once infested with seven demons will be the first evangelist of the resurrection, the evangelist to the evangelists—Mary Magdalene.This is typical Jesus. He was not bound by cultural boundaries, by limits on who should or should not be ordained on the basis of gender or their past, by people’s past sinfulness, by social expectations, by their ethnicity, he called whom he chose. Like God the Father who called the murderer Moses, and who saw into the heart of David and called him to be King, Jesus looks for the willing and open heart, sets people free, and sends them to serve him. I am one of those people, once lost in sin. I think Jesus is fantastic!