Luke 9:1-9 “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.’ So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?’ And he tried to see him.”
One day all the disciples were doing different things, cooking, gathering wood for the fire, washing their clothes, talking with one another or with the curious that came up to watch and ask questions. Then Jesus called out to them, “Brethren, can we get together for a moment? I’ve got something important to say to you.” They left what they were doing and sat down. They were not expecting what he was to say to them; “I want you to go off and do some preaching in the surrounding villages . . .” They must have looked at one another in shock and with real apprehension. They were young men, the same age as university students. They were untried; they’d done no preaching at all; they hadn’t suffered anything for following him. They had been with the Lord for about a year and picked up the main emphases of his ministry but they didn’t feel they were ready to walk into a village uninvited and unannounced to preach, to heal the sick and to deliver people from demons. This was a couple of years before they heard the great discourse in the Upper Room, before they had shared the Passover with him. This was before his death and resurrection from the dead, before the 40 days that the risen Lord spent with them affirming his power even over the grave, and before his ascent to heaven. This was long before Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. They were freshmen in the college of Christ. They were an immature bunch of men, and then this day, out of the blue, he was calling them to come and hear his plan for them for the next weeks, taking this life-changing initiative; he was sending them out as missionaries. You could imagine how you’d feel today if I gathered all you young people together at the front and told you that I was sending you to Asia or Africa to become preachers, to heal the sick and cast out demons.
We feel for these disciples. Many of us are young in the faith. We haven’t been following Christ for long and we’re prone to think, “You can’t expect a young person like me to bear witness to Jesus Christ. I would have to study first; I would need seminary training; I must serve as an assistant to an older minister for a few years. I have to get far more experience before I speak a word for Jesus,” but the Lord doesn’t send these men down that route of more years of preparation before they spoke in public, though, in fact, he has been training them for a year. Men enter the ministry in different ways. One thing that involves all of us is Jesus Great Commission, and in that we’re all involved, whether we actually go overseas as preachers or stay here and support by giving and praying for those who have left our little town. Certainly we all have to be ready always to give a reason for the gospel hope we have. If anyone asks us why we went to church this week then we give them a Christ-centred reason. There is one principle way that we learn to bear witness and that is by witnessing. It is when you go on the front line of Christian service that you learn what to say. You meet familiar objections with kindly firm answers. You learn to speak for Jesus as you obey Jesus.
Then you must see this, that he who sends also enables. He called them to him, “Brothers, can we gather here . . .” and then the first thing Luke tells us, before his actual words of his commission were his words of empowering and energizing. “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases” (v.1). We are not told how he did that. I think that if he had laid his hands on them we would have been told. I think it must have been a calming of their fears, soothing them, giving them anticipation and some excitement, a desire to do this work “we can do this!” That is what God is able to do. Some of you knew a time when you were out of your comfort zone, finding yourself involved in defending the faith, in hostile territory and yet discovering a confidence and assurance that you didn’t know you had. Sometimes we have to speak without that inner peace, feeling we are making a mess of everything. We all have spoken of the claims of Christ with a lisping, stammering tongue, and it was not until years later that we learned there’d been some fruit from words we’d said which we felt were most inadequate and weak. God was not letting a word of his fall to the ground and be dismissed. We simply have to do our duty even when we don’t feel like it, maybe especially at those times. If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly. We work for God as Paul sometimes did when he said that he spoke “with weakness and fear and much trembling.” He could be greatly outnumbered, perhaps the only follower of Jesus Christ in a hostile or indifferent place. It’s not easy. He might get it wrong, or he might say the right things in the wrong spirit, but this sense of weakness saved him from being slick and self-confident, and that would have been a total disaster. He would have made no impact at all. When we are weak then we are strong.
The Lord still gives to his servants “power and authority;” He must! Imagine the Creator of the universe sending men to speak in his name without equipping them for the task. Consider listening to some hopeless public speakers, with quiet quavering voices, apologetic, uncertain, confused and muddled people – “Those men are speaking on behalf of the living God? You cannot be serious!” Or imagine men claiming they were servants of the Almighty One who used gimmicks or corny tricks or stunts or obvious psychological devices to persuade people that they were spokesmen for the God of the cosmos! What a disaster! No, God gives authority and power to every man whom he sends out. To some he gives this grace thirty-fold, to some sixty-fold, and to some a hundred-fold. Let not Peter tremble as he heard that Jesus was sending him out to preach. “Peter, don’t think, ‘I am just a fisherman; I am not a public speaker; I can’t heal a leper; I can’t exorcise demons from possessed people.’” Of course, he cannot, but Jehovah Jesus has commissioned him and empowered him. The same Lord empowers us too. He never sends us where his grace can’t keep us. He never sends us without resources. You never fight the holy war at your own expense. You find yourself in Aberystwyth; that is God’s providence for you, and no one can ever take God’s providence from you. The Lord has put you here, and so he will enable you to do what he wants you to do in Aberystwyth.
Today the calling most of us have from God is very different from the commission these Twelve received. We are called to a different sphere and a different work. You’re not called to preach and heal and deliver men from demons. Many of you are called to study, and to attend lectures, and pass examinations and get a degree commensurate with the talents God has called you to do, and to prepare yourself for your life’s vocation. Glorify God in that. That is why you are here. Pray for obedience to your commission and a passion for study. Yet in some ways we can echo the call that they had, in this way, that they were being sent to stir people up to think about Jesus of Nazareth, not to say to themselves, “That’s religion” or “That’s fanaticism.” We have the same calling, not to be ashamed of the Lord Jesus, to say and do exactly what he was saying and doing. To show people that Jesus was not a one man show but he was beginning a movement. He wanted the whole world to hear and believe his message and live as he lived. We’re on that mission just as the Twelve were on it.
Now one consequence of this mission was to make people think and arouse their expectations. For example, one person would bump into another on the way to the market and say to that person, “Two men came to our house the other day and talked to us about Jesus. Then they had a service by the well, and they both preached, and then they actually healed old Judith who had been ill for years, as well as the baby that had been very sick. The two men were following Jesus.” “Yes,” his friend said, “we had two of them in our area as well, and they did some astonishing things. What they said was very interesting. I don’t think the local Pharisees liked it at all. Ha, ha, ha!” That was one purpose of their mission, to make things hum, to prepare people to think again about the Lord Jesus, to explain to them his message and ministry. We have the identical calling today 2,000 years later. The farmer was chasing a horse round and round the field, red-faced and out of breath. His neighbour watched him and then asked him what he was doing; “I want the horse to plough the field for me, but he knows he has to work and he won’t let me catch him, but if he is staying here in the field I am making sure he’s not enjoying himself.” That is part of our mission, when people are not going to believe in the Son of God then we make sure that they’re not enjoying their rebellion and unbelief. “God created the world and you. God is going to judge us for our lives. God has provided the only Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
One other little thing which you cannot help but notice in verse one, and it is this, that at this time in redemptive history there was an outburst of devilish activity because he, the Son of God was in this part of the eastern Mediterranean. So the spirit of darkness focused on this region; honey attracts the flies, and the demons from the pit were drawn to oppose and attack and frustrate the work of Jesus. So there is a particular emphasis on delivering people from demons in the three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Strangely there is nothing at all about exorcising demons in John’s gospel, and much less as the New Testament period advances. You find no references to it in the letters of the New Testament. After the Lord Jesus ascends to heaven there is a decline of demon possession. It hasn’t completely disappeared though I have never come across one example. Whenever people seek to worship the devil and practice voodoo and go to witchdoctors then this phenomenon can occur. The rest of the New Testament insists that we all have to do battle with Satanic temptations – his fiery darts. We all keep the shield of faith high to resist them.
So that is my introduction and first half of what I wanted to say. I have said to you that the Lord Jesus wanted to awaken the people from their indifference and opposition to him, and keep the message of the ‘kingdom of God’ alive, so he sent out the twelve apostles to preach and heal and cast out demons in his name with an authority and power that he gave them. So let us ask now how they were to go? What does he tell them?
1. KEEP TRAVELING LIGHT.
The Son of God gave them his “power and authority” (v.1) and not the authority of the world and its rulers. So did they enter a village preceded by heralds blowing twelve trumpets and a small army of soldiers? Did they enter on a chariot being driven by a charioteer who cracked his whip and cried out, “Make way! Make way!” Nothing like that at all. When King Herod entered a village or sent his ambassadors with an announcement that is how they went about, but not the servants of the King of glory. They went with only the clothes on their backs. “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic” (v.3) They were not angelic beings, and so they needed some clothes and a place to stay overnight but little more. This is like someone laying out on the bed everything he might need for a trip, but then discarding virtually everything and going away with his coat and toothbrush. They went on a short-term mission. Think in terms of a few weeks; this is not like sending the Underhills to Kenya for 40 years.
There are interesting little details which all three synoptic writers provide about this mission, because this sending of the Twelve is found in the first three gospels. It is often pointed out that in Matthew’s gospel Jesus forbids ‘shoes’ (which cover the whole foot) while in Mark ‘sandals’ are permitted. They are two different words in the two gospels. In Matthew and Luke Jesus tells them not to obtain a staff for the journey but go just as they were – ‘no staff’ – but if some of them were already using a stick then we learn from Mark that they could continue to take that with them. There are these slight differences between the gospels which establish their credibility, just like the insignificant differences there would be if two of you went back to your friends and described to them the same Sunday service. Both of you would emphasise different things.
First let’s look at these five prohibitions; “No staff.” A wandering teacher and story-teller, who preached for his living would always carry a staff, a symbol of authority and a prop. He would lean on the staff and at times shake it as he spoke. The disciples were not itinerant preachers. They had a focused ministry to this particular area, and then they went back to the Lord Jesus. The stick they could carry could be used to drive off dogs and kill snakes. Then there was “No bag;” that is, no beggar’s bag for collecting food. That is not the way that they would eat. “No bread;” that is, no bag full of bread and dried fish to feed on; they were not to be independent of the people they were meeting. The people who heard them and profited would supply the disciples’ needs. Then there is “No money;” again, they would cast themselves on the generosity of the people they had helped. Finally “No extra tunic;” they were not going to be away for long. It was to be a brief time of ministry, their baptism into their life’s work and then returning to tell Jesus all about it and get his advice and hear his observations.
What is the purpose of such meticulous instructions? Why is our Lord interested in the details of our ministries? There are a couple of theological strands to Jesus’ teaching.
i] There is the fact that the four items they were allowed to take with them – cloak, belt, sandals and rod – are identical to the belongings that God tells the Israelites to take on their flight from Egypt. Do you understand that Christ is impressing on his disciples the urgency of their mission, that they are living in days when the axe is being laid to the root of the tree of Israel, and the old covenant people’s days are numbered? Soon Jerusalem is going to be a place to escape from. Israel’s days are numbered; it has only 40 more years, and so, lads, work while it is day! The night comes when no man can work. In the work of the kingdom of God live as free from encumbrances as Israel did when she set off on her journey from Egypt to Canaan. You are a sojourner and a pilgrim, Jesus is saying. There is a sense of coming judgment and the need to escape – travel lightly!
ii] Then there could be another strand to their empty hands in entering a community, the fact that “when a man entered the Temple courts, he had to take off his staff, shoes, and money girdle. That is, all ordinary things were to be set aside. It may well be that Jesus was also thinking of this, and that he meant his men to see that the humble homes they would enter were every bit as sacred as the Temple courts” (Ken Hughes, Mark, Volume One, p.135, Crossway, 1989). There is a little foretaste of the priesthood of all believers here, and the ending of geographical holy places. They presented their bodies as living sacrifices to God as their spiritual worship. This mission of theirs was as holy in the sight of God, and increasingly in their own eyes, as to enter the courts of the Temple.
“Teach me, my God and King, In all things Thee to see; And what to do in everything, To do it as for Thee.” (George Herbert: 1593-1632)
Then there are some moral and practical application to the church today in its evangelism.
i] We have the tendency of making mission complicated. Evangelism for us is something that has to be planned a year or two in advance; you have four or five different committees, advertising, venue, transport, a big name visiting speaker, music and follow up. There is nothing at all like that here in our text. “Evangelism Is Us Today. How we Live; What We Say.” Quite naturally we breathe, we eat and drink, we think, we chat to others. Our mothers didn’t have to teach us how to breathe. When you fell in love with the most beautiful girl in the world you did not have to read a book on how to tell her you loved her. She was real to you; love found a way to speak. That is the foundation of real evangelism. We speak of a Saviour we love. We do it without the need of a weekend course costing 90 pounds with special speakers coming from America equipped with a Powerpoint – all to tell us how to do something as natural to the saved person as breathing and eating and chatting is to the natural man. So too, we evangelize naturally. It is second nature to the Christian, and everything else actually gets in the way. All else is an encumbrance. You love your Saviour; to you he is most wonderful, and you love people, and out of the fulness of your heart you speak, sincerely and humbly. The church has always been most effective when she has been content to be simple, but when she makes a song and a dance of it, with special personalities being cultivated then she has obscured her real task. She has lost ground and lost influence among men – though she might gain in numbers.
It is possible to be beguiled from the simplicity that is in Christ. There were men we knew who began as devoted and dedicated Christians. They burned with conviction and were single minded in introducing people to the Saviour, but then sadly things that were unwise and ill-advised were gradually introduced – the confectionary of life, the stunts of human engineering. They were no longer trusting in God’s word and relying on his Spirit. The books and the conferences and the stunts – all the ego – took over and the meek Dove left.
There is very basic mission; that is one kind and it is quite effective in many, many circumstances. I talked to a missionary from Nigeria. He described the Muslim evangelist who turned up in their little town and sat on the floor in the market, cross legged with his Koran open before him and waited day after day for people to talk to him. He did that for a long time. There were hundreds like him throughout the region. He lived very simply and people began to have pity and give him ears of corn and to talk to him. That reminded me of Tea and Toast evangelism on the university campus here, as people leave the dancing and drinking at midnight on Wednesdays then Christian students meet them and offer them tea and toast and talk to them about the kingdom of God. That is very economic. We will supply the tea-bags this term . . . and the bread! However, when we send out a missionary family it is very different. God help the missionary family not provided for by the churches which sent them. It is essential for the wife that she has a kitchen and washing machine and refrigerator and a safe place for her children and a private bedroom. The husband has to have a reliable vehicle. Not all mission work is this kind of mission from Luke 9, but much of it in Aberystywth is.
ii] We tend to be embarrassed about the note of urgency and sacrifice that’s here. What is urgent in life? What is urgent in your life? One missionary struck that note very strikingly and almost frighteningly. He said, “Blood of our own must attest our faith in the precious blood of Christ, if we would share and show forth the victory of the Cross.” He is saying that he sacrificed his own creature comforts that poor needy people might hear of the love of God in Jesus Christ. Tell others Jesus’ message, and preach only this, that God alone has a kingdom and the alternative is the kingdom of darkness. God’s kingdom is not a geographical area; it is people whom he protects and directs, people who submit to him as their Lord and King. That kingdom is here in this world now in those individuals and families and congregations who bow the knee to King Jesus and do God’s will. God is reigning over them in grace. They affirm, “The King of love my shepherd is.” There is just one safe place to be in all the universe, and that is inside the kingdom of God. What wonderful guarded frontiers it has, what walls of salvation surround it, what innumerable hosts of flaming angels guard it night and day. You must enter it! You must, without delay. Jesus said, “Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” “So go and preach to them the kingdom of God. Go and preach to them the gospel” (v.6) were the words of the Lord Jesus. You must go to them. Don’t wait until they come to you. How are you Christians involved in this task? Are you cluttering up this message with half-hearted lives, obscuring it by your fascination with other legitimate matters, having too many irons in the fire – business, culture, recreation, academic interests, so that there is never a real touching of others with Christ?
Mark in verses seven through nine brings to us the example of the man who was the most powerful person in that area. His name was Herod the tetrarch, and you would think that the absolute power and wealth he had would have made him the happiest man in the world, but Herod was not in this glorious kingdom, and so he was perplexed. He was told of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter from an utterly insignificant gathering of small houses on a hill of thorn bushes and rocks and he could heal anyone of their diseases, and people listened to his preaching for hours. They said he had even raised the dead. Who was this fellow? Was he John whom he had killed, John the Baptist coming back to haunt him? Who was this guy, one of the prophets like Elijah returned from the dead? Herod was a worried man – with all his money and power, he was sleepless at night thinking, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this of whom I hear such things? Can I see him?” (v.9). Men outside the kingdom of God cannot understand Jesus. They live their lives in a place of perpetual perplexity, ignoring the Lord Jesus Christ, outside the kingdom of God and thinking, “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? What lies after death? Who is God? Can I know him for myself? What about my guilt and sins? Where can I find forgiveness? What must I do to be saved?” Inside the kingdom of God lie the answers. Come inside. I was raised in the atmosphere of South Wales’ socialism. Karl Marx had the answer to the human dilemma. Russia was the place with the answers to man’s problems, so my Grandpa Francis believed and advocated. It all seems so antiquated today, utterly out of date, but we Christians are still saying something fresh, that God reigns; he is sovereign and the blessed place to be is under the reign of the grace of Jesus Christ, the good Shepherd. Abundant life and salvation are found there. So travel light, uncluttered with all the fads of this world
2. KEEP TRUSTING IN GOD.
“Take nothing for the journey” (v.3) for the Lord who commands will also provide. You must learn to depend on the one who sends you, and then you will lack nothing essential to your mission. You will be fully equipped for your vocations. We all need to learn that lesson constantly, and as we mature God has his ways of testing us, and letting us experience this great reality for ourselves. He puts us on our own; he sends us off to university and we know no one in the town. These twelve young men all lived in Galilee; they were no more than a day or two’s walking distance from their homes, so they had that security at the back of their minds. There was a back door out. If things went terribly wrong they could always return home. Peter’s wife would kiss him and cook him a meal as soon as she saw him coming through the door. This was their first mission without Jesus around, and the wonder was, that they never had to go home. They found enormous satisfaction in doing these things for their Lord. These were the happiest weeks of their lives. The demons were subject to them – and they were just kids! This was a gentle introduction to a future life of far greater rigour and suffering, preaching the gospel all over Israel and around the Mediterranean basin, looking to the Lord to provide for them there day by day. Like Gideon’s men reduced to a final few hundred who trusted in God the Twelve had to go forth depending on the Lord.
The birds of the air live in the confidence that the Creator will supply their needs. These young men were not to think in terms of an elaborate support system, with the structures preachers see today as necessary, family health care, and pension schemes, air travel taken care of, and provisions for every eventuality guaranteed. With all that in place what need do men have to serve God in utter faith, casting themselves on him – “naked come to Thee for dress”? But if preachers are not trusting in the Lord to provide for them what credibility do they have in telling a congregation, “Just trust in him! That’s all you have to do, and he will save you and keep you and supply all your need richly in Christ Jesus.”
He tests them by giving them this order, “Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town” (v.4). You realise that no one is ever tempted to move to a poorer place to live, so if the disciples moved after a few days it would inevitably be to a more salubrious house. Then they’d be saying, by that action alone, that material things meant a lot to them. That move from one home to another would have undermined their message, and they’d have been dishonouring their host. Don’t abuse important conventions of village hospitality. That mattered to the Lord Jesus. Don’t bring this mission into disrepute by such thoughtless actions. They were not there on a social visit. They were in that village to serve the King of kings; they were not there on holiday secretly evaluating the various B&B’s – like the Ship of Fools men who taste and comment on our services on their website and mark us out of ten! How pathetic. What arrogance. Judge not that you be not judged. So these twelve had to learn to be contented. Don’t give people the opportunity to talk about you and your taste in homes and food – which will happen if you move from place to place. Jesus is saying, “Your whole life is to reflect Me and My message that I am the King and I have come, and people need to repent. These are serious days and this is a serious mission. Let your lifestyle reflect your deepest convictions.” The Lord will provide for you.
3. KEEP AWARE OF MEETING A MIXED RECEPTION.
In one village the preachers are overwhelmingly rejected. There is nothing wrong with them or their manner or their message, and yet they are told, “Get out! You and your preaching are not welcome here. We don’t want to listen to you. Take your exorcisms and clear off!” What was to be their response? They were not to be overwhelmed with guilt, and break down and cry, and say to one another that is was “all our fault, that if only we had been more loving men, and better preachers, and had performed even more healings and exorcisms there would have been a revival in the village!” That was not to be their response. They were to shake the dust off their feet as they left town. That action was not one of pique or petulance. What was that gesture saying? “We won’t be contaminated by your unbelief. You have heard the gospel and dismissed it. Many others have never heard it. We’ll go immediately to them. There’s no time to waste. You’ve missed your chance. We’re off and we won’t be back. You blood is on your own head. We would have helped you but you would not be helped.”
4. KEEP PREACHING AND LIVING THE GOSPEL.
Everywhere they went they spoke of the kingdom of God. Don’t think of them standing near the village well and bawling away to the people. It’s the devil that makes you think like that. They spoke as Paul tells us to speak in very heartening words in the letter to the Colossians, chapter four and verses five and six “Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” That is how we speak of the message of Jesus Christ, with real grace and honesty. See how they healed the sick; no preachers since that time have been given such gifts of miraculous healing. We pray for the sick and urge them to pray for themselves. Go to God! Such praying is very effective. God has healed me of every illness I’ve had, but no preacher can heal the man or woman who has Downs Syndrome, but the apostles could. These twelve young men had no New Testament at all but they were given the gift of healing men and women as confirmations that God was with them, that their message was true and that God was full of compassion intent on healing the groaning dying world. Communicating the gospel is still done by both word and deed. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel. When necessary use words.” That is overstating the message but unless our lives endorse and support what we are saying about the reality of the living God and his love in Jesus Christ then we will never reach people. They see us; they read our lives. Peter tells Christian women married to non-Christian husbands that how they live their lives can be enough to win their men, even without words.
20th September 2009 GEOFF THOMAS