At first glance it might have seemed unkind for Jesus to not let the Gadarene man join His discipleship small group. That’s because we think in terms of “addition”, while Jesus operates in terms of “multiplication.”
The predominately Gentile cultures of Gadara and Decapolis were significantly resistant to the Jews in general and now to the rabbi JESUS, specifically. Jesus had been in their region only a couple of hours…and already thousands of livestock had perished and the entire area was in a state of concern and confusion!
There were cultural, language, political and ethnic barriers and prejudices already existing…before JESUS arrived on the shore that day. Decapolis cities were created by Alexander the Great (the Greek conqueror) several hundred years before.
More than 60% of American culture is NOT at all attracted to our Christian sub-culture and churches.
If you build it…they WILL NOT come.
The only folks who “come” to the attractional sort of model, are the 40% in our culture that have historic or relational ties with the church. In other words, they already have ample exposure to the gospel and there is some sort of cultural or relational pressure or reasons to come. But the huge portion of our society is just the opposite.
We can send out advertisements, hang out banners and signs, but the majority of our culture simply feels no affinity or need for what they perceive we are offering. Or worse, they have TOO MANY MENTAL PREJUDICES ABOUT US to even seriously begin to consider coming.
We MUST GO TO THEM instead. It doesn’t mean that we give up on gathering for worship and instruction with those who are already Christians. But it does mean that we STOP focusing all of our activity and energy on INSIDERS. And we stop thinking that if we can just make the “program” better that non-believers will come.
That boat for the attractional model has largely aleady sailed in our culture. We cannot reach unbelievers and successfully plant churches through a purely attractional model anymore.
What was Jesus first ministry action after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? He cleansed the Temple. He was angered by something going on at the very center of the Jewish faith, the faith of His people. It had become so consumeristic and insider-minded. He made a whip of cords and drove out the money-changers and those selling goods.
They had set up their booths in the outermost courtyard of the temple…otherwise known as “the court of the Gentiles…” So much so that there was apparently little room for Gentiles to gather at the temple.
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations…but you have made it a den of self-centered religiosity and profit-making.” (my paraphrase)
Rather than bringing all the Gentiles to Jerusalem and making them conform to Jewish customs and culture, JESUS’ vision and mission was and is to take the GOSPEL to all the nations.
Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:20-24)
The setting in the verse above is Holy Week. Jesus is about to be arrested and then crucified. The Greeks/Gentiles are beginning to press in to learn of Christ. But there were too many obstacles to Gentiles coming to faith in Jerusalem. The temple was segregated. The men were circumcised. The food was kosher. Gentiles who drew near could only worship from a distance. They were kept at arms-length, as second or third class citizens.
Jesus does not immediately respond to the request of the Greeks. Instead He speaks of One seed dying…so that a world-changing harvest could come. His goal was NOT to attract all the world to Jerusalem, but to send the Gospel that began on a cruel Roman cross just outside Jerusalem…to the world!
This is why being on mission matters so immensely.