We’re back in the Gospel of Mark today. And we’re looking at it verse by verse and letting the Scripture text take us wherever it wants and we are seeking to learn whatever it teaches us. We’re in chapter 6 where Jesus sends the disciples out to do ministry. And today I want to share five lessons from this passage.
First, let me say that we find in chapter 6 yet another instance in Mark where two stories are intertwined (see handout). The first story begins with Jesus sending the apostles to go out to do the work of the kingdom. Then there’s a story about the death of John the Baptist. And then the first story ends, the apostles return to Jesus and rest. And there’s a link between these two stories – the story of John forebodes the persecution and death that will come to Jesus and the apostles as they go out to do kingdom work in the future.
Let’s look at the first story –
Jesus sends out the twelve
7And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
This is a new stage for the disciples. He has called them to be with him and to learn from him (3:13-15). He has been apprenticing them. But now he sends them out to minister without him. Although not present, Jesus does give them his authority to minister, typified here by the ability to cast out demons.
He sends them out two by two as his authorized representatives. They speak and act for him or in his name. As we’ll see, how people respond to them, is how they respond to Jesus. [Two by two relates to the need to have 2 witnesses to testify to the truth of a thing – Deuteronomy 19:15. This pattern was continued in the early church – Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, then Timothy, etc..]
This brings us to our first lesson, we are to represent Jesus to the world as we minister in his name. Now, we don’t have the authority of the twelve, but we are to speak and act in ways that epitomize what Jesus would say and do. Whether we stay where we are or Jesus sends us somewhere else. And so I ask, “How are you doing with this?” “Are you representing?”
Next he gives some specific instructions. He actually gives them 12 instructions when you put together all that’s found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, as you can see on your handout. But we’ll focus on what our passage says –
8He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – 9but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.
Here Jesus focuses on what they can’t take with them as they travel from village to village in Galilee. No bread means they can’t take food with them. No bag means they can’t carry any supplies. No money means they can’t buy anything. And the word for money means even a small amount. And no extra tunic means they won’t have a blanket for bedding at night. So they will be depending on God to supply their daily needs.
[If we ask, “Why does Mark’s version of these instructions allow for a staff and sandals and Matthew and Luke’s do not?” – it may be that Mark is picturing the disciples as the Israelites preparing to leave Egypt for the promised land. On the eve of leaving, Exodus 12:11 says they are to eat the Passover in haste, “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand.” In the same way Jesus allows the disciples here a tunic, a belt, sandals and a staff (James Edwards, and more generally Joel Marcus and others). The disciples are to have the same kind of urgency that Israel had when it was formed and headed to the promised land, as they reform Israel in preparation for the coming of the kingdom.]
Note here that this mission is different than the normal arrangements, as Jesus and the 12 traveled around and ministered. For instance, usually they carried bread and a money bag with them (Mark 8:4-5, 14; John 4:8; 12:6; 13:29. See also Luke 22:35 ff.)
And then we have more instructions –
10And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11And 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’re to show up in a village without any food or provision for sleeping, and as we’ll see, preaching repentance because the kingdom is here, healing people and casting out demons. And then people are forced to respond to them.
If someone takes them in and supplies their needs, this shows that they accept the disciples and their message (to receive = to listen; to not receive = not to listen, v. 11. In ancient culture to eat with someone meant that you shared affinity with that person.) And as Jesus said in Matthew 10:40, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me,” that is, the Father.
The household that takes them in then becomes the beginning of a house church in that village. They are to stay in that home so as not to be seen as looking for a better situation, but make it their base of operations.
As we noted, this kind of mission is different than Jesus and the 12’s normal mode of travel. This kind of mission is focused on what we would call starting new churches. (If Jesus and the 12’s normal travel and ministry is more of an example of what church life is like, these instructions are meant to show us how to plant churches. And these instructions were followed by Paul in the book in the book of Acts with a few modifications for his Gentile context.)
If no one takes them in, that is, no one accepts the gospel, they are to warn them of judgment. This is what shaking off the dust of your feet means (Luke 10:11-12; Acts 18:6). The kingdom is coming and those who reject Jesus, reject God’s salvation and will eventually be judged if they don’t repent.
Our second lesson is that Jesus still sends out people with apostolic gifts to start churches – weather here or somewhere else.
Is there anyone here today that God might be speaking to? Perhaps you’re a young person or someone who has retired and needs a new life focus? Is God wanting to send you out to do this?
The third lesson is a reminder of the seriousness of the good news. This comes from the disciples’ warning of judgment to those who reject the gospel. It’s not like the world sees it, a mere matter of personal taste whether you decide to become a follower of Jesus – you know, some will, some won’t, others will pick another religion. It has to do with matters of life and death; salvation or judgment.
12So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
This is sometimes called the three-fold ministry – preaching, healing and casting out demons.
They are preaching exactly what Jesus preached as it says in Mark 1:15 – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.” This is the message.
And the message is accompanied by signs; by works of the power of the Spirit; healing and casting out demons, to attest to the message. And v. 13 tell us that, “many” demons were cast out and “many” were healed.
This brings us to our fourth lesson, Jesus empowers us for ministry. He gave them authority and here we see them exercise it. And as well, Jesus empowers us as a church with gifts of the Spirit to serve him. We don’t go out in our own strength. That would be a disaster. We go out in the power he gives us.
After the story of John’s execution we have the end of our story in vs. 30-32 –
The twelve return and rest
30The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.
They’re reporting back stories of teaching they gave, healings, casting out demons and of house churches begun. They must have been excited to have God work through them in all these ways. This is a real high point for the 12 in their time with Jesus. Even Herod heard about what the disciples were doing (6:14)
31And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
It was as busy for all of them, as it was with Jesus before in chapter 3:20 when he didn’t have time to eat.
Now, Jesus has gotten away to rest at various times when he was overwhelmed with the work of the kingdom (1:35, 45; 4:1) and now he teaches the twelve to do the same. He teaches them both how to do the work of the kingdom and how to rest from that work.
This leads us to our last lesson there’s a time to work and a time to rest in relation to the kingdom. And we need a proper balance, just as we learn from the Old Testament teaching about working six days and then having a day of Sabbath.
Work is good, but rest is good too. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. I take Mondays off each week, as you know. But you also should attend to your needs for rest with your ministry responsibilities. Burn out is especially a danger in small churches where there’s lots of work and few people to do it. So I encourage you to take care of yourselves as Jesus and the twelve model for us here.