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The twelve disciples' mission trip

Mar 01, 2014

All of the gospel writers knew many stories of Jesus, but each chose the ones that they felt were important to their own audience. Matthew wrote to Jews of Judea, Mark to those living in Rome, Luke to Theophilus but also to a broader Greek audience, and John to a more mature Church at the end of the first century after the fall of Jerusalem.

Of all the writers, Luke is most concerned about broadening Jesus’ appeal to all people, not just presenting Him as a male Jewish prophet. Even the story of Jairus is balanced by Jesus’ concern for Jairus’ daughter as well as the woman with the issue of blood. Perhaps the implication is that Jesus was willing to interrupt His mission and make Jairus wait, as if to say that the woman was just as important to Him. Normally, one would think that a VIP like Jairus would take precedence, and that Jesus would tell all others to wait their turn. But even a woman turned Jesus’ aside in His urgent mission to heal Jairus’ daughter.

I suspect also that there is some parallel here between the two demoniac men of Gadara and the two women healed in Capernaum. Though Luke only mentions one of them, we know from Matthew 8:28 that there were actually two men. Perhaps the two were father and son, one older than the other, and for this reason, Luke seems to overlook the younger, since he was linked so closely with the father.

If this were the case, then we could see also the parallel between the two women, one older and the other a much younger “daughter.” At any rate, it appears that Luke left out some stories of others that Jesus healed in Capernaum on that day in order to focus upon two women. I believe Doctor Luke did this to provide the balance in his intent to heal the breach between men and women. Luke was showing how Christ treated men and women with equal respect, and thus gave them equal value.

Mark 6:1-6 indicates that Jesus then went back to Nazareth, “His home town,” to do some teaching. By this time His reputation had greatly increased, and perhaps a few of the Nazarenes requested that He should come. Their question in Mark 6:3 makes this clear,

3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.

It appears that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters. The local people all knew them well as long-time neighbors in a small town. Jesus then acknowledged that this was Nazareth by His response in Mark 6:4,

4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household.”

We read that “He could do no miracle there” (Mark 6:5), except for healing a few of the sick, and “He wondered at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6). Mark shows his humor here. Jesus could do no miracles, but He did heal a few people anyway! In other words, there were a few who believed in Him, but most of them still resented Him. He was the hometown kid who had strayed from their extreme nationalistic views. They still smoldered over His debut in the synagogue when they became so angry that they nearly executed Him (Luke 4:29). But this time He had come with twelve bodyguards and probably came also with no small crowd of admirers, so no one could try again to throw Him off the cliff at the edge of town.

All three “Synoptic Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that Jesus then sent out His disciples on a mission trip. Though Luke does not tell us of Jesus’ trip to Nazareth, we can see the drama unfolding in the life of the disciples. First Jesus went to Nazareth, one of the most nationalistic towns in the land, no doubt to give His disciples a lesson in how NOT to act. The implication was that if you believe and act like the Nazarenes, you cannot have the faith to heal the sick and do miracles.

It seems this was in some way a final lesson preparing the disciples for ministry. By this time the disciples had been given sufficient lessons in faith and had even witnessed Him raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, so that they were ready to launch out on their own successful mission trip. So we read in Luke 9:1, 2,

1 And He called the twelve together, and gave them power [dunamis] and authority [exousia] over all the demons, and to heal [therapeuo, “serve, restore to health”] diseases. 2 And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to perform healing [iaomai, “cures”].

Healing or curing the sick was something that Luke understood and appreciated in his own profession as a doctor. Matthew emphasizes this aspect of ministry (Matthew 10:1, 8), though Mark speaks only of deliverance from unclean spirits (Mark 6:7). Jesus had shown them by example how to do this, along with the importance of faith. The implication is that one’s training for ministry should naturally include deliverance and healing, along with preaching the kingdom of God.

Mark 6:7 adds that they were sent out “in pairs,” that is, in six teams. This pattern was to be repeated later when Jesus sent out the seventy (Luke 10:1).

Luke tells us that Jesus gave the disciples dunamis and exousia before sending them out on this mission trip. To be commissioned is to be given exousia, “authority.” But this must be accompanied by dunamis, the “power” to enforce one’s authority. No doubt Luke saw this mission trip as a smaller version of what would come later when the greater commission came on the day of Pentecost. Luke writes in Acts 1:8,

8 but you shall receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

This greater commission had no end, nor did it have geographical limits. But the earlier mission of the twelve was limited to the surrounding area. In Matthew 10:5 Jesus specifically told them, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans.” But in Acts 1:8, they were to become His witnesses in “Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Hence, we see that timing was important. It was NOT the case that Jesus was being stingy with the gospel of the Kingdom, but that they had to start with certain people in order of priority insofar as mission trips were concerned.

In fact, such instructions would have been commonly understood in those days. Alfred Edersheim tells us,

“Nor would the injunction, to impart their message freely, sound strange in Jewish ears. It was, in fact, what the Rabbis themselves most earnestly enjoined in regard to the teaching of the Law and traditions, however different their practice may have been” (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, p. 643).

The difference was that the Rabbis had no vision of teaching the Law to people other than Jews. In fact, they often forbade it with strong language, believing that non-Jews were incapable of rising to the moral and spiritual level of a Jew.

Jesus’ instructions are much shorter in Luke than in Matthew’s account. Luke 9:3-5 says,

3 And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece.

Edersheim draws a parallel between their mission and the ministry of the priests in the temple, saying on page 643 and 644,

“Again, the directions about not taking staff, shoes, nor money-purse, exactly correspond to the Rabbinic injunction not to enter the Temple-precincts with staff, shoes (mark, not sandals), and a money-girdle. The symbolic reasons underlying this command would, in both cases, be probably the same: to avoid even the appearance of being engaged on other business, when the whole being should be absorbed in the service of the Lord. At any rate, it would convey to the disciples the idea, that they were to consider themselves as if entering the Temple-precincts, thus carrying out the principle of Christ’s first thought in the Temple: ‘Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?’”

The disciples, then, were on a divine mission and were not to be distracted from it in any way. They were, in effect, on the same kind of divine mission that characterized temple priests when ministering during their “course.”

I learned years ago from personal experience the difference between “normal life” and being commissioned by God. It was curious to see how the hearts of men were exposed when they interacted with those who were on a divine mission. The ones I thought for sure would respond to the purpose of the mission often did not do so, while many of the most unlikely people responded with gladness. It was as if I had entered into another reality where nothing made sense any more. The veneer of righteousness was pulled aside, as well as the sinner’s garb, exposing the hidden things in the hearts of men for better or for worse. Yet they were usually unaware of what was happening.

The disciples in Luke 9 were being sent out on such a mission. Not only was it to preach to others; it was also to live out their new-found faith and authority which they had learned by recent experience in walking with Jesus.

Jesus gave further instructions in Luke 9:4, 5,

4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and take your leave from them. 5 And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”

The instructions in Matthew 10:5-42 include all these and much more. All three Synoptic Gospels make it clear that the disciples were to find believers in each town and accept their hospitality without going from house to house. In fact, they were to “inquire who is worthy” in each town and abide there. Where no one will grant hospitality, or receive the word of the Kingdom, they were to shake the dust off their feet as they left town.

Again, Edersheim tells us how the people of the day used the term “dust” metaphorically:

“The expression, no doubt, indicated that the ban of the Lord was resting on it, and the symbolic act would, as it were, be the solemn pronouncing that ‘nought of the cursed thing’ clave to them. In this sense, anything that clave to a person was metaphorically called ‘the dust,’ as for example, ‘the dust of an evil tongue,’ ‘the dust of usury,’ as, on the other hand, to ‘dust to idolatry’ meant to cleave to it.

In other words, if the “dust” of evildoing or heart-idolatry cleaves to a town or house, and they refuse to respond to the Gospel of the Kingdom, then move on without allowing such “dust” to weigh them down. Do not take their “dust” with you, Jesus was saying.

It was customary to give the greeting and blessing, shalom (“peace”), when meeting people and especially when arriving at a house. This was no mere formality, for it did indeed convey the blessing of God upon households in a measure corresponding to the weight of the divine mission. The disciples were representing God in their mission, and so their acceptance or rejection had real consequences.

Matthew’s account is clearer as to these consequences, saying in Matthew 10:15,

15 Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Luke’s abridged instructions are then followed by Jesus sending out the disciples in Luke 9:6,

6 And departing, they began going about among the villages, preaching the gospel, and healing everywhere.

Luke does not tell us of their return or the results reported back to Jesus. But later, we will see in Luke 10:1 how a greater mission trip was taken by seventy disciples.

This is part 44 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones