Sent on a Mission
This morning we are continuing our look at Luke's account of the life of our Lord Jesus. Jesus' ministry was about to enter upon a new phase. He would soon be leaving Galilee to proceed across to the regions of Judea to the east of the Jordan.
With the end of his Galilean ministry coming into view Jesus took steps to ensure that as much of that region as possible would be reached before he left it. But how was he to do that? He would do that by sending out that special group of 12 men (known to us as his apostles) on a special mission.
Jesus was probably by now in his second year of ministry. Some of the men who followed him had been called to do so fairly early on however the appointment of 12 of them as apostles had probably only taken place a matter of weeks before this.
Jesus deliberately chose and carefully appointed these twelve. He did so with specific purposes in mind:
He wanted them to be with him so that he might train them and prepare them
He intended to send them out to minister in his name and with his authority
Since Jesus had appointed them to be his apostles these men had been able to spend some time in close proximity with him – they had travelled with him and they had watched him and they had listened to him. Yet we should not imagine that they had all followed lengthy courses of theological study nor had they had the opportunity of becoming greatly experienced. They were really still young and inexperienced believers and yet it was these men that Jesus was about to send them out on mission and he expected them to do what he himself had been doing.
There is an important principle here. I am in no way decrying study, training or experience as being very useful in Christian ministry and in Christian service but these men didn't have it and still were profitably used in serving the Lord Jesus. In other words we must not try to excuse ourselves from service on the grounds that we don't know a great deal or that we haven't received a whole lot of training.
Later, after the events of the crucifixion and the resurrection and the ascension some of these same apostles were hauled before the religious authorities who were not at all pleased with the way in which they were confidently preaching that "there (was) salvation in no-one else, for there (was) no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved". The religious authorities saw these men were still uneducated, common men – and that was evidently no hindrance to them serving Jesus so well – but they did recognise that these men had been with Jesus! (Acts 4:12-13.)
As we look at these men we see that all that is necessary in order to serve is to know Jesus, to be ready to obey when he calls and to rely upon the gifts and abilities he gives. That is what they did and that is what we must do too.
Specific Instructions for a Specific Situation
Jesus had a specific mission for his men to carry out. He was sending them at a specific time during his ministry life and consequently he gave them a specific set of instructions and a specific gifting to enable them to accomplish what he wanted them to do. In the following chapter we read of Jesus sending out another group this time of 70 of his followers and the instructions were very similar.
And yet we are not to get bogged down with the details as though they are meant to give us a pattern that is to be a one-size fits all set of instructions. Towards the end of this same gospel we will find Jesus giving a different set of instructions to meet a different set of circumstances. Cf. Lk.22:35-36.
So why did Jesus give these particular instructions and what should we learn from them?
Well, the mission that Jesus was sending his apostles on here was for a limited time duration and was limited in geographic scope. I've already said that Jesus' Galilean ministry was drawing to a close and that he would soon be moving on to another region. This new phase of ministry is often referred to as his Perean Ministry where the word Perean refers to that area of Judea to the east of the river Jordan. In the OT this area of land was known as Gilead. In the first century this region was ruled over by Herod Antipas, the man responsible for the execution of John the Baptist. The territory was important because Jews would often go through it in order to avoid what they considered to be the spiritually contaminated Samaria as they travelled from the north to Jerusalem and back again.
Jesus realised that with only limited time left to him in Galilee he would need help. Jesus could only be in one place at a time but he could multiply his efforts by sending out his apostles to act in his name and with his authority. In this way he could ensure that as much of the region was reached as possible.
So, as Jesus sent out the 12 their task was a straightforward one – they were to do what they had seen the Master doing: they were to preach and to heal and their healing would involve bringing relief to the physically sick and to those dominated by evil spirits.
Because time was limited the task was an urgent one and no delay could be brooked. There was no time to be wasted in making lengthy preparations – they were to go as they were setting off at once. That explains why they weren't to prepare things to take with them – all that would take time and time was of the essence. At the same time to go without having made careful arrangements would force the apostles to trust in God to provide for them in all that they needed. Seeing just how he would provide for them would also be wonderful preparation for the moment when Jesus would no longer be with them on earth and when the responsibility of carrying the message of good news to the ends of the earth was laid upon their shoulders. Cf. Mt.28:18-20.
The pressing nature of the mission can also be seen in the very practical instructions Jesus gave concerning lodgings. The disciples were not to move from one house to another within the same town – to do so would inevitably waste time and could all too easily lead to unhealthy comparisons being made about the hospitality being offered. The disciples were not to focus upon getting the best quality of accommodation they could – they were to stick with the first that they were offered. Doubtless this too would have a limiting effect upon the amount of time they would spend in any one town and when they had exhausted the welcome they had been offered it was a sign to move on to a new town altogether. There was work to be done and the time was short.
Jesus knew too that as his disciples followed his instructions that they would not universally be welcomed. How were they to act when in obedience to their Lord they met with coldness, indifference and rejection? Well he told them just what they were to do. They weren't to stay on and on – there wasn't enough time for that – instead they were to perform a simple act of symbolic judgment that no Jew would misunderstand. Jesus told them when they met with such rejection to shake off the dust from their feet as a testimony against them v.5.
Many Jewish travellers did just this when they returned to the Promised Land from Gentile territory – they would shake off unclean, unholy Gentile dust from their feet as they came back to God's own land. When Jesus' apostles were rejected it was really their Lord and Master in whose name they were acting who was being rejected. To reject him was to demonstrate that they were in no way better than those Gentiles they so despised.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read of an example of Paul and Barnabas doing just this. As they ministered and were seeing a tremendous response amongst the Gentiles the Jews of the region became jealous and starting opposing the message that the apostles were preaching and began persecuting the preachers.
"But (Paul and Barnabas) shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium." Acts 13:51.
The Apostles' Response
How did the apostles react to what Jesus told them to do?
They did what they were told.
Do you want to know how to be a good disciple of Jesus? Well the answer is straightforward: it is a simple matter of listening to the Master and doing what he says. How simple it is and yet how difficult we find it in practice as we prefer to do things our way, according to our time schedule and taking our own perceived interests into consideration!
In v.6 we simply read about these men that:
"they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere."
Let us look a little more closely at what they did and just how they did it.
They went and it appears that they covered a large number of places. They went through the villages and they acted everywhere. The implication is that they were very active as they set out to obey Jesus' instructions.
They divided up into 6 individual little ministry teams and went two by two. It is Mark who gives us this further bit of information. Six teams of two would be able to cover a much wider area than one team of twelve and yet sending them in twos Jesus provided a means of practical support and encouragement as they set about their task – all the more important when they had been told that not everyone would be glad to see them!
In their smaller ministry units these disciples were assiduous in carrying out Jesus' instructions. They did what they were told to do: they preached and they healed. Their mission was not a holiday trip but full of hard work. When they returned to Jesus he withdrew with them so that they might have some rest – he recognised that they were tired.
A very significant part of the mission Jesus sent his apostles to accomplish was verbal. He wanted them to preach and to proclaim the same message that he had been preaching and proclaiming. It is helpful for us to notice the different ways in which the message they were to proclaim is described at this time.
When we compare these different yet complementary ways we are brought to understand that the message is rich and complete and not at all simplistic or trite.
Firstly, Jesus told his apostles that they were to proclaim the Kingdom of God (Mt. Speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven). This of course was the message that Jesus himself preached:
Lk.4:42-43 "And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.""
Lk.8:1 "Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,"
The Kingdom of God is all about the reign and rule of God who is sovereign and specifically that reign and rule as it breaks into a person's life where it establishes a whole new situation. In other words this way of looking at the message focuses our attention upon the absolute necessity of God working deep inside our innermost being. No man, no woman can make themselves a Christian but God can! He alone can invade a person's life and put right the mess that has existed there before.
Secondly, we read of the apostles preaching "the gospel". Now this doesn't mean they were being disobedient because these different words describe and enrich our view of the message to be proclaimed. The proclamation that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that he is ready to have dealings with sinners not counting their sin against them is good news, it is extraordinarily good news. These apostles may not have understood all that there was to understand about Jesus but they had understood this – he was good news and they were glad to pass it on to others.
Thirdly, when we read Mark's account of this same mission we find that he describes the preaching of the apostles a little differently. This is what he says:
Mk.6:12 "So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent."
Here a different element is brought to our attention. Those to whom the apostles had to preach had a problem and it was a problem with sin. Their thinking was wrong, their believing was wrong and their behaviour was wrong and it called for a change. And it is the same for us still today.
The message of Christianity is a realistic message and a wonderfully appropriate message. It meets us where we are in the real world. There is no pretence that we are somehow OK as we are but addresses our sin problem which devastatingly cuts us off from enjoying a meaningful relationship with God and worse condemns us to his just judgment. This message calls upon us to respond with repentance – a change of mind and heart.
The message of the Christian faith is wonderfully encouraging and such good news as it declares to us that God is at work for our good but it is only a message that proves beneficial to us when we personally respond to it.
Is that true of me this morning? Is that true of you?
May it please the Lord to bring us all to grasp the Christian message for the rich and complete and true message it is and may he grant us repentance and faith and may he do so for the glory of his own name.