Sending out the Twelve.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 May

It is why he picked ’em.

Mark 6.7-11 • Matthew 10.1-15 • Luke 9.1-5.

I’ve previously written on the Twelve, the guys among Jesus’s students whom he designated apostle, “one who’s been sent out,” whom he actually did send out once or twice before he returned to the Father. Here we reach the point in the gospels where he sent ’em out. Mark puts it right after teaching in Nazareth, Matthew after Jesus commented the workers are few, and Luke after curing Jair’s daughter.

Mark 6.7 KWL
Jesus summoned the Twelve, and began to send them out in twos.
He gave them power over unclean spirits.
Matthew 10.1 KWL
Summoning 12 of his students, Jesus gave them power over unclean spirits,
so they could throw them out, and cure every illness and every disease.
Luke 9.1-2 KWL
1 Calling together the Twelve, Jesus gave them power,
authority over all demons, and ability to cure disease.
2 Jesus sent them to preach God’s kingdom and to treat the sick.

Matthew even goes on to list the particular 12 students:

Matthew 10.2-8 KWL
2 These are the names of the 12 apostles:
First Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother. James bar Zavdi and John his brother.
3 Philip and Bartholemew. Thomas and Matthew the taxman.
James bar Alphaeus and Levvaios surnamed Thaddaeus.
4 Simon the Canaanite and Judas the Kerioti—who also turned Jesus in.
5 These are the Twelve Jesus sent, and he gave orders to them,
saying, “You shouldn’t go down the gentile road, nor enter Samaritan towns.
6 Rather, go to the lost sheep of Isarel’s house.
7 Go preach, saying this: ‘Heaven’s kingdom has come near!’
8 Cure the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Throw out demons.
You took it freely; give it freely!

And off they went to preach the kingdom.

’Cause prior to this point, Jesus had singled out the Twelve as his particular apprentices. They were meant to observe everything he did, learn what he preached, watch how he threw out evil spirits so they could do it themselves, and otherwise follow his example. Mk 3.14-15 Because that is what he expected of them.

And it’s what he expects of all his students. Us included. He didn’t make us Christians so we could bask in his salvation, then do nothing more. We’re to proclaim his kingdom, same as he. We’re to drive out evil spirits and cure the sick, same as he. We’re to do good deeds, same as he. We’re to be Christ to the world—while meanwhile Christ is representing us to the Father, getting us equipped, and preparing for his own invasion.

The Twelve were never meant to be Jesus’s only apostles, you know.

Don’t be weighed down by your gear.

Jesus sent forth his students with two main instructions: Don’t overprepare, and don’t overstay.

Contrast this with Christians who regularly overprepare—and to be honest, a lot of this overpreparation is procrastination. They don’t wanna minister, so they use the excuse, “I still have more to learn.” We all have more to learn. We’re gonna spend the rest of our lives learning it, too. But Christianity is on-the-job training: Learn as you go. Now go.

Jesus kept it simple. First of all don’t take a lot of stuff in with you.

Mark 6.8-9 KWL
8 He gave orders to them that they should take nothing on the road; only a staff.
No bread, no bag, no bronze coins in their belts.
9 But do wear sandals; and they shouldn’t wear two tunics.
Matthew 10.9-10 KWL
9 “You shouldn’t acquire gold nor silver nor brass for your belts.
10 No bag for the road, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs.
For the worker is worthy of food.”
Luke 9.3 KWL
Jesus told them, “Take nothing for the road—no staff, no bag, no bread, no silver, nor have two tunics on you.”

There are minor discrepancies. In Mark Jesus let ’em take a staff, but in Matthew and Luke he didn’t. People carried staffs for two reasons: To keep ’em balanced in case they had to walk over rocky terrain (and there’s a lot of rocky terrain in Israel); and to fight off any animal or person who might attack. Jesus might’ve permitted staffs because they’d have to travel all sorts of places… and he might’ve forbade staffs because he didn’t want his kids getting into fights. It’s hard to pick a side when the gospels contradict one another.

Likewise in Mark Jesus let ’em wear sandals, and in Matthew he didn’t. Why might he want them to go barefoot? I dunno. You went barefoot on holy ground, Ex 3.5, Ac 7.33 and maybe it was to evoke that idea. Or maybe it was to indicate these guys didn’t have money, and discourage muggers. But again, it’s hard to pick a side.

Regardless, Jesus wanted them to travel light. Don’t bring food, don’t bring money, don’t bring a spare change of clothes. Trust the Holy Spirit to meet your needs.

I’ve been involved with many different evangelistic organizations. I can lump them into two categories: Those who go into an area with nothing but the gospel; and those who go into an area with a huge production.

The huge productions take a lot of different forms. Most of the time they have a stage they want to assemble, which means they need a team of roadies to put up the lighting and sound equipment. Plus a greenroom for the speakers and performers to stay. And a snack table. And security to make sure nobody disrupts the production. And don’t forget to contact the local churches for volunteers; and don’t forget to get permits from the city.

Sometimes it’s smaller than that. Like a local church hosting a special guest preacher, or putting together a conference or concert, or having a special giveaway of food and clothing, or displaying a live nativity scene at Christmas.

But all of them have this in common: A whole lot of time is put into preparation. A lot of effort and money. And in the end, how many people come to church? Come to Jesus? Follow him better?

Um… about as many as if you spent nothing.

Honestly, I think the reason we make such a production of it, is because we wanna put on a show. We use the excuse we’re trying to do the very best we can; that we’re glorifying God with our efforts. To be fair, sometimes that’s true. But more than once in the scriptures, God has made it clear we don’t need to make the extra effort. He didn’t ask for a cedar temple, but Solomon built him one anyway. He didn’t ask for people to worship him with new-moon festivals and hecatombs of offerings; that was all our idea. He doesn’t request fasts: Those are all our idea, and therefore every single time of fasting is optional.

So when we construct these grandiose outreach events, and claim we’re doing ’em for God… well the outreach is being done for God, but the production? That’s for us. Make no mistake. ’Cause God didn’t ask for the production. Like Jesus instructed, you can preach the gospel with nothing. No money. No outfits. No food giveaways or puppet shows. Nothing.

When we look at how Jesus presented the gospel, he never expected anyone to be impressed by the performance. He expected them to be impressed by God’s power.

That’s why the Twelve got sent with nothing physically impressive—no money, no stuff. But he fully equipped them with something spiritually impressive: The authority to drive unclean spirits and false gods out of power. To cure the sick and to help the needy. He sent them, not with evidence of how talented they were, nor how impressive a show they could make, nor how generously they could dispense their handouts: He sent ’em with evidence of how God cares about his people, and wants to cure them, fix things, and be with them. The kingdom of God is near, so repent and believe the gospel! Mk 1.15

I’m not saying we should ditch Christian concerts and food giveaways and free clinics and Easter pageants. I’m saying we need to remember what’s most important when we’re sharing Jesus, and keep our eyes fixed on that. It’s not the splendor of our productions, but the power of the King, that truly proclaims the kingdom.

Wearing out our welcome.

We Christians also need to recognize when we’re done—when we’ve said our piece, said all we can say, and need to move on.

Which is hard for a lot of us. Especially when we truly do love the people we’re preaching to. I have family members—as likely so do you—who have no relationship with Jesus at all. (Even more aggravating: Family members who think they have relationships with Jesus, but their fleshliness and fake fruit reveals they’re just pagans who think they’re Christian.) I want God to save my family, but at some point, I’ve said all I can—and God wants me to move on.

No, this isn’t because God predestined them for destruction, as Calvinists believe. God doesn’t wanna destroy anyone. 2Pe 3.9 But I might not be the one to lead ’em to Jesus. They might be more apt to listen to somebody else, and we need to leave space for those other preachers to work. We need to step away before people do more than just reject our message—before they start to construct defenses against it. Or worse, before they start to construct offenses against it, and become antichrists.

Hence Jesus taught his apostles to go to town, stay till they preached their message, then move along.

Mark 6.10-11 KWL
10 Jesus told them, “Whenever you enter a home, stay there till you leave that place.
11 Whenever a place won’t accept you, nor hear you:
As you leave there, shake off the dust from your feet, as a witness to them.
Amen, I promise you it’ll be easier for Sodom and Gomorra on Judgment Day than for that town.”
Matthew 10.11-15 KWL
11 “Look for worthy people in whatever town or village you enter.
Stay with them till you leave.
12 When you enter a home, greet it. 13 When it’s a worthy home, put your peace in it.
When it’s not worthy, take back your peace from it.
14 Whenever a place won’t accept you, nor hear your words:
As you leave that house or town, shake off the dust from your feet.
15 Amen, I promise you it’ll be easier for the land of Sodom and Gomorra on Judgment Day than for that town.”
Luke 10.4-5 KWL
4 “Whenever you enter a home, stay there till you leave there.
5 Whenever a place won’t accept you, as you come out of that town,
shake off the dust from your feet, as a witness to them.”

Notice Jesus told ’em to stay only with one family in each town. Not move from home to home, as some traveling rabbis of the day did. You know the old saying, “Fish and houseguests stink after three days”? Some rabbis would wanna stay in town a mighty long time, and in order to not wear out their welcome, they’d bounce from house to house, sampling the hospitality of a dozen families. (Sometimes even getting them to compete with one another.) Jesus discouraged that: One household, and no bailing on them when someone else offers you nicer accommodations.

Besides, the apostles weren’t expected to stay all that long. We aren’t to wear people down with the good news—and in so doing, turn it into bad news. We simply share it. When people accept it, we rejoice with them; when they reject it, we wish them well… then shake the dirt off.

Contrary to popular belief, shaking the dirt off isn’t a curse. It’s a witness, as Jesus put it: We’re dropping the subject. We’re not gonna nag them with it, nor prod them with it, nor bring it up whenever we think we might have a new angle or new opportunity. They needn’t fear that we’re gonna try to proselytize them or try to catch them in a weak moment. If they wanna hear about the kingdom again, they have to broach the subject. We’re done.

For some of us, this sore sounds like a curse, like tough love, or that we’ve given up on them. It’s not that. Don’t give up on them; keep praying for them. But we’re done. They’re not our problem, not our duty, not our worry; we shouldn’t feel guilty, as if we could’ve done something more to convince them to follow Jesus. We have instead left them in the hands of Almighty God, and he will take care of them further. He’ll send them other apostles, or convict them himself. We did our duty; we need to move on to our next duty.

That’s all it means to shake the dirt off. It takes the onus off us, and puts it on them, where it belongs. Now move along.