Trying out Mission Wings
Gospel Reading: Mark 6: 6b – 13, 30
It’s spring and the birds have been building their nests. Soon, if not already the eggs will be laid, and not long after that they will hatch. The little birds will be watched over carefully by their mothers, who will keep them warm and fed. But that will not last for long. The mother is not in the business of creating dependent children. She will push them out of the nest, and make them try out their wings. They will not leave immediately, but they will have to fly off and make it on their own.
When Jesus called His first followers, He said, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” When He appointed the Twelve as apostles, it was “so that they might be with him, and he might send them out to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.” They had been with Him now for some time. They had heard His teaching, witnesses His miracles, and observed the responses to His ministry.
Now was time for Him to put push them out of the nest, not for good, but to try out their mission wings. That is what is happening in the section of Mark’s Gospel we read this morning.
Jesus commissioned the Twelve for their own mission. “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority…”. When they had completed their mission, they “returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.” They are called by Jesus, sent by Jesus, given authority by Jesus, and return to report to Jesus. They are Jesus’ official representatives. Jesus chooses for a mission. As they go out, they do not go in their own names, but in Jesus’ name. The way people treat them is considered the same as if they treated Jesus in the same way. When they act with authority, the authority is not theirs but Jesus’ authority. When they have completed their assignment, they come back to the One who sent them to give an account. They are apostles – ones called by Jesus, sent by Jesus, given authority by Jesus, and responsible to Jesus.
The Apostolic office was by nature unique and temporary. But today the Church fills an apostolic role. The Church is called by Jesus, for the Church is “those who are called out of the world and called together as God’s people.” The Church is sent by Jesus with the Great Commission. The Church acts with Jesus’ authority, for Jesus said that whatever the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever it looses on earth is loosed in heaven. The Church is always responsible to Jesus, her Head and King. One of the weaknesses of Christianity today is that we Christians do not take the Church seriously enough. The Church in the unique institution that represents Jesus in this world, and it is our privilege to be members of it and to participate in its mission.
What did their mission to the towns and villages involve. First of all, preaching. “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.” While preaching is not the first thing mentioned in this record of their mission, we know that it had to be the thing of first importance. Preaching and teaching were always the priority with Jesus. When we read the record of the Apostolic Church in Acts, we find the same priority. Miracles are nothing but wonders without meaning apart from the proclamation.
The theme of their preaching was, “Repent.” They preached what Jesus preached. “”The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” The time of waiting is over. Now God is going to reveal His saving rule on earth. That is the significance of Jesus’ coming, and that is His mission. So how should people respond to what God is doing in Christ? They should repent – turn away from their sins, and turn to the God who is working His salvation and establishing His rule through Jesus. That is still the church’s message: “The kingdom of God has come. Jesus has accomplished salvation, and He has brought God’s rule to earth. Now is the time to repent and enter the kingdom where you will find salvation.” If there is anyone here who has not repented and turned to God in Christ, I call upon you to do that this day.
Second their mission involved exorcism. He “gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Since this authority was Jesus’ own authority, it was effective, and “they cast out many demons.” The significance of casting out demons is that it demonstrates that Jesus has authority even over the devil and His demons. He came to free man from His natural slavery to the devil, and He came to destroy the works of the devil. The Apostles were given this authority by Jesus so that people could see that the coming of the kingdom was real – the evil done by the devil is being conquered. The devil is no match for Christ. We live today in that period in which the devil has been bound till the end of the world. That is why the Gospel spreads to more and more nations, and why the Gospel cannot for long be kept out of any country or denied to any people. We need not grovel in fear before the devil any longer. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3,4).
Third, their mission included healing. The Apostles also “anointed with oil many and healed them.” There is only one other case in the New Testament where anointing with oil is mentioned and that is James 5: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (v.14). We know that olive oil was one of the most important and commonly used medicines of the day. What this text may mean is that the disciples provided medical treatment and prayed for healing, and the Lord granted their request. Or, the oil may have some symbolic use, assuring the person of the Lord’s power to heal. The important thing for us is that we know that the Lord can and will conquer all illness, for illness is a consequence of sin. We can pray for healing, and the Lord may heal. But even when He does not, we know that all our illnesses with be healed in the resurrection.
The mission of the Apostles and of the Church is to go in Jesus name and with His authority to proclaim and demonstrate the coming of the kingdom in Jesus, and so to call all people to repentance.
Jesus gave the Apostles some specific instructions regarding their conduct on their mission. “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, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.”
Now we know that these were specific instructions given for this particular mission and as a part of their training. They were not meant to be permanent directions for all the mission activity of the Church. When we read the accounts of missionary work in the book of Acts, we do not find that missionaries observed these directions. Nevertheless, we can learn something from these instructions about how we approach the mission of the Church.
We can learn about the urgency of our mission. They were allowed to take the barest necessities – the staff, sandals, and one tunic. They were not allowed things we might think essential – no bread, no bag which was either for carrying other small items or as a bag for donations, no money in the belt where a person might carry coins, no second tunic which could be used as a blanket at night. When they came to a village they were to accept hospitality in one home and not to move around as though they were on a social visit or in order to move to nicer accommodations. Jesus required them to carry on their mission without any encumbrances. Just as the children of Israel were instructed to eat the first Passover with their belts fastened, their sandals on their feet, and their staffs in their hands, because they had to be ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice, so the Apostles had to travel light and be ready to move on when the time came. They conducted themselves in this way also to testify to their hearers that the matter or repenting was urgent. They must not think the Apostles would remain in their village or town for an extended time. No, the messengers preached their urgent mission that the kingdom was at hand and now was the time to repent. The people must not dilly-dally about their repentance, but repent now while there was time. No less today than then, must we go about our mission with a sense of urgency and communicate to our hearers the urgency of their response.
The conduct Jesus required of them also teaches us trust in God’s provision. Taking no food, no bag, no money, no extra clothing taught the Apostles that, as they went about their mission, they could not depend on what they had in hand or could see as sure to be provided. No, when they went to a town, they would have to trust that someone would take them in, and feed them, and see to their necessities while there. When they moved on to the next town, they would be in the same situation all over again. Anytime the Church, whether a denomination or a local congregation commits itself to doing the mission Christ assigns it, it will have to operate on a large measure of trust. If we go only on the basis of our talents, our time, our energy, and our money we will stay at home. It is only when we can trust God to provide that we can go forward to do what Christ calls us to do.
The mission of the Apostles had grave consequences for the towns and villages where they preached the good news of the kingdom and demonstrated the kingdom’s power. Jesus said, “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.”
This was a practice of the Jews. When they traveled outside the Holy Land into Gentile territory, and returned, before they crossed the border of Israel, they first shook the dust off their feet. The reason was that they did not want to contaminate the Holy Land with the dust of countries that did not know God, who were outside the covenant, and thus under God’s condemnation. When Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against Jewish towns and villages that would not receive and listen to them, He was saying that people might be externally in the covenant but in reality outside it. What mattered was how they responded to the messengers and the message. Calvin put it well when He wrote, “God is offended by no crime so much as by contempt for His Word: not for murder, or adultery, or any other crime, are we told to show detestation in so serious a rite” (Harmony of the Gospels, v. 1, p.295).
This serves as warning not only to those to whom we take the Gospel, but also to us who live within the church, inside the covenant community. Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way, “What was true then of towns and villages can become true today of denominations, congregations and individuals. The test is: how do respond to the message Christ has sent to us in his word? How do we react to his authority? How do we treat those he sends to us as his servants? Are we willing to repent?” (Let’s Study Mark, pp. 84-85).
Brothers and sisters, let us now renew our faith and repentance. Let us once again turn from sin to Christ with true faith and willing submission. And let us come to this Feast He had prepared where He seals to us the grace offered in the preaching of His Word. Let us come expecting that we will be filled with every spiritual blessing.