November 1, 2009
As Jesus began to go from village to village teaching, He gave the disciples a larger role to play in His mission. In preparing these men for ministry, Jesus taught them the importance of authority, simplicity, hospitality, and urgency in their work. Alistair Begg shows us that these principles are equally important as we strive to serve God today.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We turn in the New Testament to the Gospel of Mark and to chapter 6. And we’re beginning to read partway through verse 6:
“Then Jesus went [round] teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.
“These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.’
“They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”
Father, now help us as we turn to the Bible together, that with our minds we may think; through my words you might speak; that you will take our hearts and our lives and set them ablaze with love for Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Well, for those of you who are visiting, we’re studying Mark’s Gospel, and we’ve come now to the second sentence of 6:6. If what we had been considering so far were a movie, then I think it would be fair to say that so far, the disciples have been extras, but they have not been actors. They have been present in most of the scenes, but they largely have been devoid of any speaking parts at all. Now, Mark tells us, this is all about to change.
Jesus has called them to himself. He called some who were fishermen; he told them that they would become “fishers of men.” In chapter 3, when we studied that together, we saw how he took them up onto a mountainside, calling them first of all to “be with him” in order that they might then go for him. And it is during these past chapters that we have seen this time, if you like, of intensive training as they have been in the company of Jesus. They have been observers of his mission, they have been bystanders to his miraculous deeds, but to this point, they have not, essentially, been partners in that mission. And all of this is about to change.
Mark tells us that the day has dawned. And as you will see from the brief section that we read, in relatively short order he provides for us the details, the essential details, of the sending out of the Twelve. We ended halfway through verse 6 at the amazement of Jesus at the “lack of faith” of the people in Nazareth, and we pick it up with the final sentence of verse 6, where it describes as Jesus going “around teaching from village to village.”
It’s almost as if his rejection in Nazareth simply propels him once again out to do what he had come to do. Because if you recall from our studies in chapter 1, when he had begun to preach concerning the kingdom of God, when he had cast out demons, when he had healed a number of people, the response had been so magnificent that in the early hours of the morning, he’d gone away by himself to pray. The disciples had come and found him, giving him the news that the whole community was stirred by his presence; everybody was looking for him. And then, quite dramatically, he says to his disciples, “Let’s get out of here. Let’s go to other villages where I might preach the gospel.” And I think there is no question but they were taken aback by that: “Surely we would want to stay here in this place of such obvious success.” “No,” says Jesus. “There’s no time to waste. We must get to the other villages.”
That was in response to success. His movement to the villages here in the second sentence of verse 6 is not in response to success, but it is in response to opposition. And having been opposed by the people, his own family, his own relatives, and his own town, he says, “Let’s just get out from here,” and off he goes once again, going “around teaching from village to village.”
For those of us who were present last Sunday evening, it would be fair for us to say that here we find him “stedfast, [im]moveable,” and “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” And in verse 7, the coach calls the play: “Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two.” I don’t know a lot about American football. I know they have all kinds of huddles; I think that’s what they call it. And I sometimes see the coach in the middle of that, with the Motorola hanging from his head, and essentially, he says, “Okay, fellows, huddle up.” And then when they all get in there, he calls the play. And that’s what Jesus does. And he says, “Here’s the play. The play is ‘two by two.’ I’m not sending you out on your own. You’ll be dangerous on your own. You may face danger on your own. Companionship is good.”
Jesus would have been familiar with Ecclesiastes chapter 4: that “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, [another] can help him up,” and so on. And Jesus also would have been familiar with the practice of Judaism whereby no word could be confirmed except on the strength of two witnesses. And recognizing that his disciples were going into these communities, it made perfect sense—for these reasons and probably more besides—for them to go out in this particular way, two by two.
Now, he then gives them instructions. And I want just to follow the line through here, if I can, first of all noticing, before we leave verse 7, that he “gave them authority.” He “gave them authority.” In other words, they did not have authority in and of themselves. Their authority was a derived authority, and it came from the one who had sent them. They had seen the authority of Jesus over the powers of darkness and death. They had seen his authority over creation. They had listened to his words, as others had done, and seen their power and their impact, and they had marveled. But now they were going to be involved in this ministry. They themselves were going to preach. They would be involved in exorcism and in healing. And what they were going to be was just an extension of the ministry of Jesus. They were going out into the community now to tell of the works of Jesus and to proclaim the words of Jesus. And in doing so, they were simply an extension of what Jesus had been doing.
Their authority, which he has given to them, is not an absolute authority, as becomes apparent as we read further on in the Gospel—and we’ll leave that till we get there. But what they were doing was recognized, because Judaism, once again, was familiar with the fact that the sent one—the sent one—was as the man who commissioned him, so that when you came from someone, you came in the authority that was represented by the one who had sent you. A bit like being an ambassador to the Queen from the United States: you go there, or, as in reading John Adams as an ambassador in the early days, before he became the second president, he was there, but as much as he had things to say for himself and great mastery of language and tremendous intellect, he was there, and his authority was a derived authority. And the authority of the disciples in going out is just that.
And this little mini-mission, if you like—this mission trip—is foreshadowing what would one day become the great expansion of mission, when, after Jesus had died and risen and ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, these disciples would go out and preach again with authority and with power, a power that was upon them and in them. And by the time you get to the Acts of the Apostles, you find that Luke is telling us that on the occasions when they preached, there was just such a marked authority about how they said what they said that people looked at them and, realizing that they were unlearned and ordinary men, “they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”—that their credentials for extensive ministry were to be found in an intensive relationship with Jesus. Not credentials that were stuck on from some other place, but the credential of that intimate awareness of Christ—his presence, his power, and his purpose—which then gave to them the very authority with which they could go on and speak.
And in passing, let us just remind ourselves—and especially for young men who might be thinking of going into gospel ministry—the pattern remains the same. There is no institution in the world that can make you a minister of the gospel. They can train you in certain things, they can give you credentials and announce that you have completed certain courses, but the only basis upon which you may ever go for Christ is because he has called you to himself and you have lived with Christ. And so it is from the presence of Christ that someone goes out with the authority of Christ to proclaim the word of Christ and to further the works of Christ.
That, then, is the first point in verse 7: authority.
Secondly, when we go into verses 8 and 9, Jesus has something to say concerning simplicity. Simplicity. He tells them to keep things simple. “Keep it simple,” he says: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts … sandals but not an extra tunic.”
And presumably, this was for a number of reasons. The absence of clutter makes for mobility and flexibility. The presence of clutter, or clobber, reduces our ability to move and to move quickly and to move freely. And presumably, this is part of what Jesus is conveying here. The matter upon which they are about to embark is of such significance that they don’t need to get all clobbered up.
The absence of bread, the absence of the beggar’s bag, the money, and the extra tunic would also make clear to them that their dependence was upon God, their heavenly Father. Elsewhere Jesus had said to them, “Have you looked at the birds lately? They don’t sew or reap or gather into barns, but your heavenly Father provides for them. And if you’ve looked and seen the beauty of these flowers, you will know that Solomon in all of his glory has not been arrayed like one of these. My friends, my dear colleagues, why in the world would you worry about what you eat or drink or what you put on? Your heavenly Father knows you need these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
Well, he’s not about to say that in one moment and then tell them, “Why don’t you clobber yourself up with everything I’ve told you you don’t need to worry about?” No, he says, “I don’t want you to do that.” And their commitment to simplicity would not only demonstrate their dependence upon their heavenly Father, but it would also encourage others to become dependent upon God. They were learning lessons about where their help would come from.
And there would be a day when things would change. You can read of that later on, towards the end of Luke’s Gospel, when he asks them, he says, “When I sent you out and told you not to take a bag and not to take your tunic and everything else, how did you get on?” And they said, “We got on really well.” He said, “Good, I’m glad you’ve learned that lesson. Now, when you go out, you can take this, take that, take the next thing, and by the way, you might want to sell your coat and buy yourself a sword, because these are dark and difficult days”—thereby making it clear to us as we read the Gospel that we cannot absolutize the instruction of Jesus as provided here concerning the nature of simplicity itself.
Some throughout the years, not least of all in the ’60s, in the hippie movement, have tried to make this not simply descriptive but prescriptive. And so they wander around in white robes wearing sandals and so on, because they say, “We’re doing what Jesus told us to do.” No, you’re not. You’re just wearing sandals and funny clothes. Jesus did not tell you to do that. Jesus told the Twelve to do that. Are you one of the Twelve? “No, I’m not.” Then sit down for a moment and think about things. Don’t be silly, now. That would be relatively easy, wouldn’t it? It’d be far easier to navigate through our twenty-first-century lifestyle by simply just opting out—just drop out and get yourself funny clothes and wear sandals and walk around with a large walking stick. That would be easy. I think that would be easy—far easier that trying to apply this principle within the context of everything that is part and parcel of our lives. No, we must be very, very careful that what is described we do not understand simply to be prescribed.
This is not a call to asceticism on the part of Jesus, an unerring call. I think Jesus is simply making the point that loyalty to the kingdom of God cuts the umbilical cord with their previous dependence upon material things. After all, a few of them had come from family businesses. Presumably, they had a nice lifestyle. They had boats. They had fishing businesses and everything else. Jesus had called them. They’d pulled their boats up on the shore, and they’d left everything and followed him. Now he’s about to send them out into the community, away from himself and into a world that they have not experienced before. Don’t you think they might be tempted to say, “Well, before we get going on this, why don’t we just slip down past my dad’s house and get ourselves all clobbered up? Because this isn’t going to be an easy deal. Let’s go back and get some of the things that were necessary for us before.” Jesus says, “Please don’t do that, fellows. Don’t do that. It’s unnecessary. It will be unhelpful to you.”
No, what is being done here is that Jesus is giving instructions for a dangerous mission. And he is encouraging them to act in a way that is in keeping with the task that he sets for them. And for us to try and press this into some kind of pattern for the postapostolic church I think is to treat the Bible in a wooden fashion. There is without question application—principled application—to our lives in the twenty-first century. But I don’t think it has very much to do with sandals and walking sticks.
Peterson in The Message I think gets it pretty well when he says, paraphrasing these words of Jesus, “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special [appeal] for funds. Keep it simple. And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.” In other words, it’s “travelin’ light, travelin’ light, I’m going to be travelin’ light.” That’s what it is. Isn’t that the song? “I want to be with my baby tonight, so I’m travelin’ light.” “I don’t need any extra stuff. I need a bus ticket and I am gone, because I am so focused on the fact that I want to fulfill this great design in my heart to be back in companionship with this girl or this fellow.” That’s the nature of the song. That’s what Jesus is saying here. He says, “Fellows, I want you to be traveling light.”
Now, you are sensible people; you must work this out for yourselves. But there surely is little question that many of us are so surrounded by material clobber that it is virtually impossible for us to go, should Jesus call us to go—because we’re mortgaged, because we are overburdened, because we have determined that all of these things are essentials for this journey through life. And so the idea of simplicity and flexibility and mobility, it’s kind of like, “I don’t know.” I mean, for some of us it, we’ve got about a three-month operation just to clear out our garage if ever we thought of going anywhere at all—unless we torch it on the way out the door. But the fact of the matter is, you can’t go and leave the place like that. Some people I know haven’t parked their car in their garage for months or for years, ’cause it’s so full of… Stuff is the word.
So that’s what Jesus is saying: “Here’s my authority. Go on my authority. And here’s my directive for you: simplicity—a simplicity that will declare your dependency upon God and encourage others to be dependent, and also, it will give to you mobility and flexibility, which is necessary in order that you can keep moving from place to place.”
Thirdly, he gives them instructions concerning how they should deal with the issue of hospitality. Verse 10: “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.” Now, what does that mean? If you apply the Bible in a wooden way, what it means is that if you go into a house, you’re not allowed to leave the house. If you happen to go into a house, you’ve got to stay there until it’s time to leave. Clearly, that’s not what’s being said. Jesus is giving an instruction concerning the way in which we respond to, or they respond, to hospitality.
Because, you see, the culture of the time guaranteed hospitality to traveling teachers and preachers. And as a result of that, it was open to abuse. And by the time you get to the writings of the Didache or the Shepherd of Hermas, which are parallel pieces at the time of the early church, specific instructions are given concerning how to give and receive hospitality—and the reason being that it was so often abused, either by people overstaying their welcome or by people bouncing from place to place and so on.
And so Jesus, recognizing all that is possible in this, gives them this straightforward instruction: they must be careful not to undermine the message that they’re going to testify to by the way in which they conduct themselves in these most practical of contexts. In other words, he’s reminding them that they’re going out on mission, not on a vacation. Now, you can turn your vacation into a mission, but you’re not allowed to turn your mission into a vacation. And it’s on a mission that they’re going.
So they mustn’t bounce from house to house. Surely that’s part of what he’s saying: “You mustn’t just go flitting around from house to house, as if somehow or another all that you’re there for is to make social calls. Nor should you be on the lookout for upgrades.” Okay? In other words, “If you find yourself in a one-bedroom condo as a result of the invitation of Mrs. Levi, whom you met in the marketplace, and you discover that Mrs. Bartholomew has a four-bedroom ranch with a pool in the back, you’re not supposed to leave Mrs. Levi for Mrs. Bartholomew. It won’t look good. It won’t be good. It isn’t right. Because you will create the impression that what you’re doing is actually vacationing or social climbing or making my kingdom message a means of enriching your own life and your own experience. And thereby, people will lose a measure of credibility when you begin to talk about the nature of the kingdom, and they say, ‘Well, if it’s really about that giving it all up and following Jesus in this way, how come you moved from Levi to Bartholomew’s house?’ And I suggest you don’t do that.”
Now, this has got nothing to do with upgrades on Continental Airlines, I have to tell you. But it does have something to do with everything. And this week I had a very bad experience. You know, I know you sometimes think, “Boy, it’s tough listening to old Begg teach the Bible.” Well, you ought to be old Begg preparing to teach the Bible and find out what that’s like. Because when I read verse 10 and when I thought about this upgrade thing, something came right back to my mind which wasn’t very pleasant. And that was, years ago, when our children were still small and we went back to Scotland for the summer and we arrived there, one of my friends gave us a car to use. And we loaded the children into the car, and we loaded our baggage into the car, and we drove off to a hotel where another friend was giving us his accommodation to enjoy. And when we arrived at the second friend’s place, he offered to me a far, far nicer car than the one I had just driven into the car park with. And you want to know what I did, don’t you? Well, I’m ashamed. I phoned the first guy and told him he could take it back, and I used the second car for the month. It wasn’t good.
Now, my first friend I was just with a few months ago, and he bears no grudges. But I’m not in any doubt that I severely impacted him in relationship to the questions of integrity and motivation by doing what I did. And I think that is something of what Jesus is conveying here.
The authority that undergirds them in their going; the simplicity that should mark them; the hospitality that they learned to accept; and then, fourthly, in verse 11, the animosity that they ought to expect: “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, then this is what you should do.” I can imagine them interjecting: “You mean like the way that Nazareth didn’t welcome you, Jesus?” and Jesus saying, “Yes, that’s exactly what I have in mind.” And so he prepares them for the fact that there will be places where the people neither want to hear them nor want to help them. “And when you go to places that don’t want to hear you and don’t want to help you, this is what you should do.”
In other words, what he’s saying is this: that their approach to ministry should be the approach of gentle persuasion and not that of forceful intrusion. Gentle persuasion, but not forceful intrusion. Some of us think that because the authority that is given is mandated to us by the commission of Jesus to go into all the world, that somehow or another, we are allowed to just forcefully intrude on everything. No! And the disciples have that made clear to them here.
“But when the people react in this way,” he says, “you shouldn’t stay around flogging a dead horse. Just move on. And as you move on, shake the dust off your feet.” They understood what this meant. The rabbis, when they left gentile territory, shook the dust from their sandals in an expression of the fact that they were leaving behind the heathen and they were returning to the people of God. They didn’t want any of the defilement to follow them. “And so,” says Jesus, “I want you to do the same thing.”
It’s interesting, isn’t it? He doesn’t say, “Now, if you run into a place that’s a bit of a sticky wicket, if you run into a place where people really don’t want to hear you or don’t want to help you, stay there until they do want to hear you and do want to help you.” That would have been one thing, wouldn’t it? We might be tempted to do that. Or some might be tempted to say in leaving, “Well, it doesn’t really matter anyway. We wanted to come into Solon and tell our story, but, you know, everybody has their own story. Everybody has their own reality. Everybody has their own faith journey, you know. So, hey, have a nice life, and we’ll be on our way.” That would be very contemporary, wouldn’t it? “I don’t mean to interfere with you. I don’t mean to press anything on you. I know that you dada-diddly-do.”
No, he says, “I want you, in a prophetic act, to take your sandals and shake the dust off them so that when they see you doing that, it will be a testimony against them—so that they will look at that and they will say, ‘These people, who came in such simplicity, declaring this truth with such authority, who responded to the hospitality of people, confronted by our animosity, they are in dead seriousness about this.’” And, of course, they were. And, of course, we are.
And then in verse 12 and 13, we have just a little summary of what they had gone out to do. The summary of their mission is there, and actually, if you look at verse 30, just probably one page over in your Bible, you will find the end of the story. We’ll come to that later on, but “the apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all [that] they had done and taught.”
And what was it they had done? Well, just what we would expect. They did what they had seen Jesus doing; they proclaimed what they had heard Jesus teaching. Jesus had preached, and so did they. He had exorcised demons, and so did they. He had healed the sick, and so did they. In other words, they stayed with the basic program. They stayed with the basic program. They conveyed the words and the works of Jesus. They had nothing else, and neither do you and I. We have nothing else. We have no other message except the message that Jesus has given us to proclaim. We can try and dress it up and trick it up and fiddle around with it as much as we want, but when you reduce it to its irreducible minimum, you discover that all that we have to convey to people is the story of who Jesus is and why he came and what he did. And we don’t need anything other than that story. That’s the summary.
And one final observation: implicit in all of this is a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency. The very brevity with which Mark conveys this suggests this fact. The detailed instructions concerning what they should take and what they shouldn’t take speaks not only to flexibility and mobility but also to the issues of urgency. They’re not to arrive in the place bogged down with all kinds of goods and shackles, as if they were there for a month’s visit. They’re not there to pay particular attention to their accommodation. They have a message to proclaim: “The kingdom of God is near, and men and women need to repent.”
That’s our message today. The kingdom of God is nearer now than it was when these fellows went out to do what Jesus said. There is a day coming when Christ will return. There is a day coming when we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an answer to him for our response to all the gifts that he has given us in life and our response to the message that he has given to us of the wonder of Jesus and what he has accomplished for sinners in his death upon the cross and by his resurrection. That day is coming. And that urgency calls those who are the proclaimers of this message to press upon people the need to repent.
What is it to repent? It is to have a change of heart, a change of mind, and a change of direction. It is to be going one way and to encounter Christ and to turn around and go in an entirely different direction. It is not simply to believe that Jesus existed. It is not to believe that Jesus even died on a cross. It is not to be orthodox in the way in which we give a cerebral response to information. But it is to be arrested by Christ, to discover that we need this Christ and to embrace him and all of his wonderful love and to be turned around and set off in an entirely new direction. “Go out,” he says. “Don’t get cluttered up by stuff. Go share the kingdom of God.”
And in that, there is an implicit call for those who hear to believe, and there is an explicit call for those who proclaim to behave. In fact, it is hard to read these verses without recognizing that there is a direct correlation between the behavior of those who are sent and the believing of those who are listeners.
Tomorrow’s another Monday. The call of today is an urgent call. Today is the day to believe. And if we’re going to go with this message, then today is the day when, by God’s help, we bring our lives, our behavior, into line with our proclamation.
Father, we thank you that we have a Bible to which we can turn, that we can go away and investigate and think and see if these things are so. Forgive us for our complacency, for our inflexibility, for our lack of mobility. Forgive us for getting so anchored that it would be very, very hard for many of us to pull up stakes and move on, because we’ve determined that all of these things are fixities—retirement accounts, mortgages, houses, places, payments, children, grandchildren. Cut us free, Lord, we pray, from the things that bind us to time in order that we might be urgent in our going, kind in our sharing, careful in our behaving, so that unbelieving people might become the committed followers of Jesus Christ.
Come, Lord, on this All Saints’ Day, as we think of it, and dwell among your saints; dwell among your people. With your church we urge you to abide and help us. For Christ’s sake. Amen.
 Mark 1:17 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 3:14 (NIV 1984).
 Mark 1:38 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 15:58 (KJV).
 Ecclesiastes 4:9–10 (NIV 1984).
 See Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15.
 Acts 4:13 (KJV).
 Matthew 6:26–33 (paraphrased).
 Luke 22:35–36 (paraphrased).
 Mark 6:8–10 (MSG).
 Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett, “Travelling Light” (1959). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Matthew 28:19.
 Mark 6:30 (NIV 1984).
 See Acts 17:11.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.