Now if you would take a Bible in hand and turn with me to the gospel according to Mark, chapter 6; Mark 6. And we’ll read the second half of verse 6 through verse 13. You can find it on page 841 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. We have been working our way through Mark’s gospel on Sunday evenings. Last time, we were with Jesus as He returned home to His hometown in Nazareth. But instead of a hero’s welcome in the opening six verses of this chapter people took great offense at Him. And Mark says astonishing words really - “He could do no mighty work there.” And the second half of verse 6 tells us what He did stick around after His visit to Nazareth and He began in the region teaching people in their various villages.
In the passage we are considering tonight, really verses 7 through 13, Jesus will call the twelve disciples together and He’s going to send them out in pairs on a mission of their own. And if you put these two sections of this chapter together, verses 1 through 6 and 7 through 13, you can see part of the point. Jesus’ reception at Nazareth and His mission in the villages provides the template and the model for the mission of the twelve. Their work will extend and advance His work. Of course, this is what we would really only call a short-term mission trip Jesus sends them on. It’s part of His preparation, His training of the twelve. He sends them on this trip as part of His discipleship and equipping program because after the resurrection He’s going to send them on mission forever, permanently. Their lives will be lives of mission - to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, the good news that Jesus Christ who was crucified has risen. Which is why I think it’s actually a happy providence that we should be in this part of Mark’s gospel on Easter Sunday night.
Mark 6:7-13 is a hint, an anticipation of the fuller mission that would devolve upon the church after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If you ask, “What are the practical implications of the fact that Jesus rose again?” one of them has to be mission. It has to be taking the Gospel to the world. The church was propelled outward to reach the ends of the earth with the good news that He is not dead, but He has risen. And so when Jesus commissions them after His resurrection, Matthew 28:19, He says to them, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Now, therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations.” And you’ll notice in the passage where Jesus sends the disciples out on a short-term, preparatory mission trip here, there’s a similar structure. He begins by giving authority to them and then He sends them with instructions for the work. This is a glimpse, a preview of the life task that is waiting for them on the other side of the cross and the empty tomb.
And as we consider Jesus’ teaching about mission here for the disciples on this short-term trip, there are four principles that continue, I think, to help us and instruct us and inform us as we think about faithful mission today. I’m simply going to list them here, then we’ll pray and read the passage and we’ll begin to unpack them together in a few moments. For principles for faithful mission. There is, first of all, what we’ll call the partnership principle. Jesus sends them out in teams of two here. Mission is to be done together. The partnership principle. Then there’s the provision principle. Jesus tells them, He gives them some help and He tells them what they may and may not bring with them because there’s lessons about His provision for them He wants them to learn as they go on mission. The partnership principle, the provision principle, then there’s the prophetic principle. He tells them to do some things that speak prophetically, challengingly the Word of God to that generation. And then finally, the participation principle. Their mission is not really their mission at all. It is the mission of Jesus Christ who, through them, extends His reach farther than He could go Himself. The partnership principle, the provision principle, the prophetic principle, and the participation principle. And I’ve got to get some kudos for all of that alliteration. Come on!
Alright, well let’s bow our heads together and pray. Let’s pray.
Lord, when You rose in victory over the grave, You sent the church to reach the world with good news. We confess, as we prepare to hear Your Word read and proclaimed now, that we are homebodies. We don’t really like to go and tell. We like to play it safe and stay in our comfort zone. And that means that often we’ve been disobedient. Frankly, we have shirked the calling You have given to the church, time and again. So as we confess our sin to You, we pray, please will You forgive us. And more, would You wield Your Word in our hearts and in our church tonight to begin to reconfigure our priorities and equip us for a life on mission together, for the glory of Your name. For we ask this in Your name, Lord Jesus, amen.
Mark chapter 6 at the sixth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“And he,” Jesus, “went about among the villages teaching. And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff - no bread, no bag, no money in their belts - but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy Word.
In the year 1786, a young minister attended a pastor’s gathering in the town of Northampton, England. While he was there, one of the senior men called upon his younger colleague to propose a question to the group for general discussion. And so the younger minister thought for a while, and when he was pressed to offer his question for the group, he asked whether there was an abiding obligation resting on the church in his generation to teach all nations the Gospel. That hardly seems to us to be a question worth asking. “Of course!” we would say. “Of course there’s an obligation resting on the church in every age to reach the world with the good news. Of course there is!” But at that time among this particular group, it was not at all a common conviction. And so the minister in question, an older man named Dr. Ryland Sr. - there’s another Dr. Ryland Jr. who has a very different perspective; we’ll hear about him in a minute - Dr. Ryland Sr. bristled at the very suggestion involved in the question. And he replied to his younger colleague rather indignantly. He said, “Young man, sit down! When God is pleased to convert the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine!” The young man in question was of course the great William Carey. And instead of sitting down, he rose up to become the father of the modern missionary movement, and eventually himself, as you may know, moving to Serampore in India to preach the Gospel.
The fact is, God does indeed will to convert the heathen, as old Dr. Ryland put it, and He wills to do it with your help in fact. In the passage before us tonight is one place where that comes out very clearly indeed. Jesus sends the twelve, the disciples, on a short-term mission trip. Part of His training them up for their larger goal, their role after the resurrection, to be globe-spanning, history-filling missionaries to take the Gospel and make disciples in every place and in every land and of every people group under heaven. And the principles that He articulates in His preparatory instructions to them before they leave on this trip continue, I think, to offer some instruction and guidance for us.
The Partnership Principle
The first of those principles, as I said earlier, we'll call the partnership principle. The partnership principle. You can see it very clearly in verse 7, if you'll look at verse 7, please. "And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two." The Greek is "duo duo." He sent out duos. There are probably a number of reasons behind that instruction, but surely the most basic of them has to do with the simple encouragement and support that working together with other people affords us when we go to do hard things in Jesus' name. Nothing tends to discouragement quite like isolation. Nothing more commonly leads to fatigue and burnout than laboring alone and without a partner in the work.
You remember when our first father, Adam, was formed from the dust of the ground, God declared it was not good that man should be alone. And that principle that God has ordinarily appointed human flourishing to occur in the context of community and relationship and partnership together is one that we recognize very readily when it comes to marriage and far, far too easily overlook when it comes to ministry and mission. Jesus sends them out on mission, but He sends them out in teams. He sends them out with partners. He sends them out with colleagues who will be an encouragement and a reminder to them of the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why twos? Why not threes or fours or sixes? Well, there are various possible answers to that; we'll come back to it and I'll offer a little later one possible reason He sends them out in twos later on in the message. But here at least we can affirm, can't we, there's a principle that going it alone, being a maverick, laboring in isolation is not a good idea. Jesus doesn't seem to think so. He sends them out in partnership. One of the results, actually, of William Carey's growing conviction that he himself must go to the nations with the Gospel was the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society. Ironically, along with John Ryland Jr. and another man called Andrew Fuller. And as they made the great decision, the momentous decision as it would turn out, to send Carey to India, Ryland wrote these words: "Our undertaking to India really appeared to me on its commencement to be somewhat like a few men who were deliberating on the importance of penetrating into a deep mine, which had never before been explored. We had no one to guide us, and while we were thus deliberating, Carey as it were, said, ‘Well I will go down if you will hold the rope.' But before he went down, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit to this effect - that while we lived, we never should let go of the rope.'"
You see the point? Carey, he was going to go, but he wasn't going to go without partners. He wasn't going to go without a team. When Carey actually landed in India he went with a Dr. John Thomas, so he had a partner on the ground doing the work and he had partners back home praying, holding the rope, supporting him and caring for him as he descended into the dark mine of India in search of spiritual gold.
Look, we’re not all called to be cross-cultural missionaries. We’re not all called to be pastors and teachers. But we are all called to bear witness to Jesus Christ. If we’re not sent ourselves around the world, we are still sent across the street. Our city is our mission field and you and I, we are the laborers Christ sends to gather in the harvest right here on our doorstep. But an essential part of our Lord’s program for success in that mission is that we should do it together. It is a principle of partnership. We should do it together.
The Provision Principle
Then secondly, I want you to notice what we’ll call the provision principle. The partnership principle, now the provision principle. Look at the text again. Jesus gives them something, then He tells them in some detail what they can and can’t take with them on their trip. He gives them, verse 7, He gives them authority. Do you see that? Having split them into two-man teams, He gave them authority over the unclean spirits. His authority, the authority He gives is His own. He doesn’t pray, notice, that God would give them authority. He shares His own authority with them, which is, as an aside, a reminder to us of who Jesus really is. He Himself is authorized to govern the mission of the church. He is the Lord. Authority resides in Him and He exercises rule over the church as it goes. He commands us to go. He authorizes us to go. He authorizes the means of our mission, the message of our mission. He gives us authorized ways for authorized ends.
I’m reading a book right now about evangelism and mission in which the author pokes a little bit at the vocabulary we all tend to use a lot - I use a lot - of “sharing the Gospel.” That’s how we often put it, don’t we, when we think about witnessing and evangelism - We were “sharing the Gospel.” And he’s pushing back a little bit on that vocabulary because he says when we use the language of sharing it usually presupposes the people with whom we’re sharing want what we’re offering. We share a recipe with a friend. We share ideas around a conference table in the office at work. We share a meal together. When we share, we’re typically operating on the conviction, even if it’s an assumption, that the thing we’re sharing is welcomed by the people with whom we’re sharing it. But here’s the point. We are not sent to share the Gospel only with people who want to hear it. Are we? We are sent with authority to boldly declare the Gospel whether it’s welcome or not. In fact, Scripture tells us as often as not, it will not be welcomed or wanted. And we’re to tell the good news anyway.
Wasn’t that precisely the situation, verses 1 through 6? Isn’t that part of the lesson of the first part of this chapter? When Jesus visited the synagogue in Nazareth, the people didn’t want to hear. They were offended at Him and He preached to them nevertheless. Some of us are extroverts. I don’t understand you, but there you are! You’re an extrovert! And please don’t be offended if I tell you, you can sometimes be overbearing. You may even be at times a little harsh in your witness; a little too aggressive. We need to be reminded our authority is not really ours at all. It’s Christ’s and we are His servants. He sends us with delegated authority. We are servants, so let’s practice some humility and be patient.
But there are others of us who far too easily excuse our timidity and our general lack of evangelism by telling ourselves we’ll only dare speak up for Jesus when it’s clear that other people want to hear what we have to say. And we need to remember that we actually do have real authority, that the Lord and head of the church has authorized and therefore sent us with His authority to go make Him known. And we do not have the choice available to us to say, “You know, Jesus, not today. Not now.” We’re under orders to go make Him known. Jesus gives us authority. That’s part of His provision - the provision of authority, delegated authority, both to humble those who are overbold and to bolden those who are far too timid. Authority.
Then, He tells the disciples that other than a staff and sandals for their feet, they're not to take with them bread or a bag or money or even an extra tunic. He's watching them all, you know, packing their suitcases for the journey, crossing off items on their list that they think they might need for the trip. You know, mosquito repellant - check. Pepto-Bismol - if you've ever been on a short-term mission trip, pack the Pepto-Bismol! Check. Extra tunic - check. Clean socks - check. Tennis shoes - check. Dress shoes - you never know; I might need to look a little smarter - check. Walking boots - check. "Now wait a minute, fellas," Jesus says. "I think you've misunderstood Me here. I don't want you to pack all this stuff. Actually, I want you to take the barest minimum necessary and then trust Me for the rest. I want you to travel light," He says, "because the situation is urgent. I don't want you rolling into town with a U-Haul full of stuff to make your stay more comfortable while you're there. No, I want you to trust Me to provide along the way and practice some simplicity in your life so that nobody could ever accuse you of trying to manipulate your hearers for money. That's part of the concern - that you not be peddling the Gospel for what you can get out of it."
Which is also why, by the way, in verse 10, He tells them to stay in the house that provides them with hospitality in each place that they visit. Do you see that in verse 10? He doesn’t want them looking around for better digs in nicer neighborhoods among a better class of people. No, He says, “Be content. If you find a place be content with it. Live modestly. Be grateful for the hospitality you receive. It is My provision for you. Don’t go looking for a better offer. I don’t want anyone to say you’re only in it for what you can get out of it.”
A Call to Trust
And just to be clear now, we mustn't read these commands as absolute commands for all places and all times. We don't all have to take a vow of poverty in order to be faithful in obedience to the teaching of the Lord Jesus here or elsewhere. In fact, Luke 22:35 records a moment some time later when Jesus is with the disciples and he's recalling this moment when He sent them out on their short-term mission trip and the instructions that He gave them. And He says to them, "When I sent you out with no money bag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything? And they said nothing." So it's about trusting God for His provision. But then He says to them, "But now, let the one who has a money bag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one." Do you see, part of the point here is that times change and we do need to be flexible. There are different approaches that fit different situations and different occasions. He's not giving universally binding instructions for all times and all places as if we couldn't do evangelism unless we were wearing sandals and never changed our shirts. I dare say that would pose a significant hindrance to evangelism in most cases. The lack of deodorant alone would probably be repellant. He's insisting on radical commitment to humility, to simplicity, and to trusting in the provision of God for their daily needs. That's the point - "Trust Me. I'll provide for you. You're not in this for what you can get out of it. You're not trying to climb the career ladder or make a name for yourself. Certainly, you're not trying to make a fast buck or to climb the social ladder. I'll provide what you need. You trust Me. Practice simplicity, be humble, and I will make use of you."
The Prophetic Principle
The partnership principle, the provision principle, then thirdly there is the prophetic principle. Look at the fascinating instructions there in verse 11. It sounds to us, frankly, a little bizarre. Doesn't it? "If any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." Now however strange it is to us, this is clearly something not at all odd to the disciples. Scholars actually tell us that when the Pharisees were traveling through Gentile territory, Gentile lands, when they got to the border of the Promised Land, the border of Judea as it then was, they would shake the dust from their sandals as though to dissociate themselves from the contamination and the uncleanness of the pagan world.
And that’s the very same action Jesus now tells the disciples to take when a town or a village or a community begin to reject their message. He says they’re to do it, notice, “as a testimony against them.” It’s actually the kind of dramatic act you sometimes see the Old Testament prophets perform. They would enact a parable to give special force to the message they were proclaiming. Matthew and Luke’s accounts of this very moment also add a warning - “It will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” So this act is really a way of dramatizing a warning of judgment for rejecting the Gospel. They’re being treated like pagans, you see. That’s how the strictest of the Jews treated pagan lands. That’s the act they would take. These are Jewish towns and they are being treated now like pagans because they are rejecting the good news about Jesus. It’s a warning of impending judgment. It’s a sign of their spiritual danger.
The Urgency of Our Mission
Let me make two quick comments about that before we move on. First, as Christian people, this odd little ritual should remind us of the urgency of the mission upon which we have been sent. It should remind us of the urgency of our mission. Judgment is coming. And that's part of our motivation. You want to get motivated to tell others about Jesus? Face the facts that if they do not repent and believe, there is nothing for them but the everlasting wrath and curse of an infinitely holy God. That's our motivation. And it needs to be actually part of our message as well. That's what Jesus was instructing the disciples to ensure with this odd business of shaking the dust off their sandals. It was a prophetic warning that if you persist in rejecting the Gospel you'll face the same fate as the pagans will when the Lord comes to judge.
And then the second thing to notice about this, if you're here and you're not a Christian, you're not a believer in Jesus, I want you to see in this how seriously Jesus views your situation. He's sending His disciples out to the towns and the villages to sound the alarm. We've had some storms move through at the end of last week and we all heard tornado sirens. And that's what the disciples are doing here. They're sounding spiritual tornado warnings. Judgment is coming. Flee to the only safe place - the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent. Turn from life your way to life Jesus' way.
There was a great picture of repentance in the story we considered this morning. Mary was looking in the empty tomb, but when Jesus called her she turned her back on the empty tomb and faced the Lord Jesus. That's a picture of repentance. Isn't it? Looking in all the wrong places, looking in all the wrong places, and then when you meet Jesus you turn around and you face Him. You see Him. And He occupies the whole horizon of your view. Listen, time is short. Judgment is coming. Hell is real. Flee the wrath to come. Hear the alarm sounding and get yourself to safety. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only safe place.
The Participation Principle
The partnership principle, the provision principle, the prophetic principle; finally, the participation principle. The participation principle. They were being sent by Christ with His authority to be His representatives. Their work, you see, is an extension of His work. Their message is to be identical to His message. Part of the reason they were sent out in pairs - remember I told you we'd come back to that and I'd give you one possible reason they were sent in twos. Part of the reason may have had to do with the legal requirements for bearing witness. Deuteronomy 19:15 - "A single witness shall not be sufficient against the person. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be established." So it became a pattern in general in society that for any message, especially a startling and challenging and new idea to be given credibility, there ought to be two witnesses, at least two witnesses. And so the disciples are sent not in their own authority and not even with their own message. They're sent to bear witness to Jesus Christ. They're spent to speak about Him. He is their message. They're to bear witness to Him. They are to tell of His words and His works, His person, His power.
And the description of the effects of their ministry at the end of this passage, notice how it mirrors the ministry of Jesus Himself. Verses 12 and 13, “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent,” which is Christ’s own message, “and they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” The mission of the disciples participates in the mission of Jesus Christ. It extends the mission of Jesus Christ. That was true then. It is still true now. Christ Himself was reaching these towns and villages through His disciples and Christ Himself continues to call people to come to Him through His disciples here in our generation and among us. It’s not that Jesus’ mission is over. It is that as the Father has sent Him, so now He sends us. The book of Acts famously begins with Luke declaring that he had written his gospel “to give an account of all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” And the implication is, now the story of the church is beginning is really only the story of all that Jesus continues to do and to teach. In the mission of the church, Jesus continues His own mission through His disciples.
Now that is profoundly encouraging because it reminds me it's not puny little me, fearful me, weak me trying like King Canute, you know, to hold back the tide. That's sometimes how it feels when we think about evangelism - an impossible task. "What could I possibly do? Who can turn the tide?" But it's not just me, not just you. It's Christ through you, Christ in you and through you in the world. He sends us with His authority in His name on His mission with His promises and power to proclaim His message and He is at work in us and through us as we go in obedience. Who can turn the tide? Well, for sure not me and not you, but Jesus can turn the tide. He can still the storm. He can set the prisoners free. When you go, you go in His name and He goes with you. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Now, therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and" - what? "I will be with you always, to the end of the age." Christ's presence and power attends the weak, struggling, sometimes confused best efforts of His people to make Him known. And because it does, even in our weakness as we do ministry He gets glory, sinners get saved, the kingdom gets built, and we stand back in awe and say, "The Lord has done it and it is marvelous in our sight."
Let’s pray together.
Lord, thank You that Jesus, the risen Christ, is with us always by the Holy Spirit to the end of the age. Help us to be bold because that’s true. We pray that You would show us again our motivation, the terrible danger of the spiritually lost. That You would give us renewed confidence in the Gospel message - that it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. And that You would send us with the sense, the weight of Your own glorious authority resting upon us, humbling those of us who are overbold and encouraging and emboldening those of us who are overly shy. Please send us and use us that the harvest here might be gathered in for the glory and praise of Jesus’ name, amen.
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