“Now He was going around the villages in a circuit, teaching. He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the road except a walking stick: no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts. They were to wear sandals, but not put on an extra shirt. Then He said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that place. If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, when you leave there, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they were driving out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil, and healing them.” (Mark 6:6b-13 HCSB)
I have had the distinct privilege of traveling quite a bit during my life. Not quite as much as some, perhaps, but a lot more than many. I’ve traveled across America from Alaska to Florida and from Main to Southern California. I’ve not been to Hawaii, yet, but it is definitely on my list. Much of that travel across America was in the back of our family station wagon as we ate crackers, cheese, peanut butter, bologna sandwiches and visited family and friends. I’ve also had the privilege of traveling to several Asian countries including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Korea. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my travels it is to have the essentials but never too much. As I traveled through China it was with a single carry-on suitcase that needed to be light enough and mobile enough to take with me as our group moved through each city and from city to city.
When space and weight are not an issue, I tend to take a lot more than I could ever need. Instead of one sweatshirt when we go to the mountains, I might have three or four. I’ve also been known to forget some of the essentials, unfortunately. One one trip to Colorado, we arrived in Denver and I suddenly realized that I had left my fishing gear in the garage back home. Good grief. I was looking forward to several days of quiet, relaxing fishing and now I didn’t have any of my equipment. I ended up buying what I needed for that trip. Now, I always double-check for my fishing gear before I leave on a trip.
Mark begins this next group of stories by drawing a contrast between the people of Jesus’ hometown, Jesus’ disciples and the people in the towns and villages of Galilee. As you’ll recall from last week, the people of Nazareth were cited for the lack of belief and unwillingness to accept Jesus as the Messiah of God then immediately Mark tells us how Jesus was “going around the villages in a circuit, teaching.” It would appear that after giving the disciples an example of what could happen and what He expected, He then calls them together and sends them out in pairs to do the same under His authority and power.
Look back at the last sentence of last week’s focal passage: “And He was amazed at their unbelief.” The people who thought they knew Jesus best are cited for their unbelief. That should serve as a flashing neon warning sign to those of us who have grown up hearing, reading, retelling and reciting these stories about Jesus. It is possible to know a lot about Him and still be lacking in our faith of Him. Their very lack of faith kept Him from being able to do any miracle in the midst, except heal a few. Today, we have a tendency to evaluate a church’s faithfulness and success on our attendance and our finances. The more people we have and the bigger our budget the more we believe God is at work. That’s simply not true. We should measure God’s presence and our faithfulness based on obedience to Christ’s commands and the presence of spiritual fruit in our lives.
Jesus sends the disciples out in teams of two and, while it could be for several reasons, such as mutual encouragement, shared experience, fellowship and support, it seems most likely that it is in keeping with Old Testament law that requires two witnesses to support and validate an event or truth claim. As they proclaim the message of God’s kingdom then they validate each other’s claim regarding the truths they share about Jesus and His power and authority. They have a corroborating witness to the incredible things they’ve seen and experienced as they proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom in and through Jesus.
As He sends them, He also authorizes them to go and to speak with His authority and work under His power. To be “sent” is the root of the word for apostle – envoy, messenger, sent one. When they speak and act they are doing so just as if Jesus Himself was speaking or acting. Mark specifically notes that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits and this is in keeping with what we’ve seen throughout our study of Mark.
The greatest issue you and I face and that our world faces in relation to God is our unclean, sinful, rebellious nature towards Him. At its heart, sin is the rejection of God and His love for us and authority over us. Thus, Mark has continually emphasized the nature of unclean spirits, unclean actions and unclean conditions and Jesus’ work to drive away unclean spirits and purge us of the uncleanliness that separates us from God. I’ve always been fascinated by the biblical emphasis on the presence of unclean spirits in the lives of so many in the Gospels. Was this simply a first century phenomenon or a biblical storytelling method to highlight and showcase the power and work of Jesus? I don’t think so. I think it is more likely that the moral and spiritual cleanliness as well as the divine power and presence of Jesus cast a bright, bright spotlight upon it.
I don’t think we live in a world or thrive in a culture that is any less influenced by and overrun by fewer unclean spirits than the people and culture of first century Palestine, I think we are just less aware of it due to our inherent, spiritual uncleanness. We don’t have that stark contrast of Jesus’ light and righteousness shining in our own world and our own culture so we think things are better and we are more righteous than we really are. We see less evidence of unclean spirits in our midst because the light of Jesus is not shining as brightly as it did then and as it should now. In other words, the moral filth and spiritual uncleanness still exists and may actually be worse than then but we just don’t see it!
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own opinion and clever in their own sight. Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, who are fearless at mixing beer, who acquit the guilty for a bribe and deprive the innocent of justice. Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes straw and as dry grass shrivels in the flame, so their roots will become like something rotten and their blossoms will blow away like dust, for they have rejected the instruction of the Lord of Hosts, and they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:20-24 HCSB)
Next, notice that as Jesus prepares to send them out He begins to limit what they can take with them for the journey. They are to take nothing except a walking stick and to wear sandals. They were not permitted to take bread, traveling bag or copper coins in their belts. They were to wear sandals, but must not take an extra tunic shirt. It appears that they must depend on God and the people’s receptivity to their message for their basic needs. They don’t need to depend on themselves but must learn to trust and depend on God and His provision for what they need to carry out His purpose and mission.
It is important to note, Jesus is preparing to send out the disciples in pairs to teach, preach, heal and drive away unclean spirits but He is also preparing them for those who will reject them and their message just like He was rejected in Nazareth. In other words, obedience to Jesus always includes outright rejection by some and perceived failure by others in achieving our mission. He didn’t send them with the expectation that they would be successful, humanly speaking, but that they would be obedient to Him. Listen to His instruction to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that place. If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, when you leave there, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Be obedient and faithful to my message and if they reject it then that’s on their heads, not yours. By the way, the instruction “when you enter a house, stay there until you leave” seems to keep them from seeking and accepting a better arrangement somewhere else and would, by tradition, be limited to two days of accommodations. A longer stay would indicate that you were taking advantage of them and are likely a false prophet just seeking selfish gain – may that never be true of us.
If you are not welcome and people refuse to listen, when you leave there, shake off the dust. The message is shared and people have a chance to hear and respond, but if you aren’t welcome and they refuse to heed God’s message then there comes a time when your mission is complete and you must leave them to their choice. That’s hard to do and perhaps you too will be “amazed at their unbelief” but you can’t really make them believe nor help those who refuse Him. Notice what Mark says, “So they went out and preached that people should repent.” That means that people must recognize their own “uncleanness” or sin and decide it is repulsive and destructive and turn to Jesus to be rescued from it.
I need to point out, that initial rejection is not always the last chance most have to believe. It appears that Jesus’ family initially rejected Him as the Messiah but later they believed and became obedient disciples. Some get one chance, like the thieves on either side of Jesus’ cross, but most get several chances to respond to the Gospel message. If this is your first exposure to the Good News regarding Jesus, I would encourage you to read on, not just my words but God’s Word. Go read the gospel stories about Jesus, consider what His disciples say about what He did and the miracles He performed. But pay particular attention to who they say He is, the promised One of God, His very own Son. What He said and did all point to WHO He is – the only one who can rescue us from this mess we’ve made of ourselves and our lives. Does He just snap His fingers and “fix” everything? No, it doesn’t work that way but He does immediately begin changing us from the inside out.
Don’t forget, He wants to do in you what He did for the men and women in these stories. He wants to draw you out of the uncleanness that seeps through your life now and into a desire for purity and cleansing. Mark tells us that as the disciples went and preached in the town and villages, they preached that people should repent. To repent is to do two things: 1) to recognize the direction your life is headed is destructive and will kill you; 2) to turn away from that destructive way to the ONE who came to rescue you, Jesus, and to fully trust Him to do so.
Trust me, driving out the demons and healing the sick is not the real rescue in this story, their repentance is. The miracles simply show these folks that Jesus has the power to rescue them from what really is killing them, sin and uncleanness that has caused broken fellowship with God. I pray you’ll trust Him, repent and discover the joy of restored relationship with God.
Finally, I want to encourage those of you who are a part of Christ’s church to hear God’s call to faithful service. Not alone, but together. He sent them out in pairs and He sends us out together as one body in Christ to serve Him by loving others and proclaiming the kingdom of God. However, we must go in the same manner He sent the twelve – obedient but completely reliant on His provision and care. We can’t wait on or depend on our own provision or efforts to achieve His mission. Those He sends He also equips. As Paul said, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30 HCSB)
And: “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6 HCSB)
They were sent, but so are we. They were dependent, so are we. They were empowered, so are we. They went, will we?