Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 11/20/94
Luke 9:1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. 2 And he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 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. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and take your leave from there. 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." 6 And departing, they began going about among the villages preaching the gospel and healing everywhere, 7 Now Herod the Tetrarch heard of all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead 8 and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had arisen again. 9 And Herod said, "I myself had John beheaded, but who is this man about whom I hear such things?" And he kept trying to see him. 10 And when the apostles returned, they gave an account to him of all that they had done. And taking them with him, he withdrew by himself to a city called Bethsaida.
Every one is interested in beginnings, and rightly so. For to understand the origin of a thing is to understand much about its nature, purpose, and destiny. It is therefore curious that theologians have never been able to agree on when the Church began. One reason for this difficulty is that the Church is so rich and multifaceted a thing. If we define it as the Bride of Christ (and surely this definition is biblical and correct), then it had its beginnings before the foundations of the earth when the Father covenanted with the Son to give him a people for his name. If we define the Church as the redeemed people of God (and surely this definition is biblical and correct), then it began with the slaying of the animals outside of Eden to provide a covering for Adam and Eve. If we define it as spiritual Israel (and surely this definition is biblical and correct), then it began with the Call of Abraham. If we mean the Church as we know it, called out from the Gentiles and empowered by the Spirit as a witness to the Resurrection in the last days (and surely this definition is biblical and correct), then it began of course at Pentecost. If we define the Church as the followers of Jesus Christ (and surely this definition is biblical and correct), then it begins with the calling of the disciples. But if we define the Church as a group called together by Jesus Christ to be sent out by him, then perhaps the Church has its beginning in the passage we have read today. There is therefore much we can learn from this passage about our identity and our mission as the Church of Jesus Christ. For that mission has not changed from of old.
Our mission and our calling as revealed by this passage is twofold: to preach and to heal.
Like Jesus' first disciples, we are commissioned to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom. This phrase in Greek means the good news of the rule or reign of God in the affairs of this world. The good news is not first that Jesus has saved us from our sins. It is first that Jesus is Lord, with all that this sovereignty implies. It is because he is Lord that his death takes away the guilt and the penalty of sin and that his resurrection confers eternal life on all who bow and follow him. Therefore, God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe. Some of us are called to preach this message formally from the pulpit; all of us are called to deliver it informally as ambassadors of Christ. It is the good news that has been entrusted to us to deliver to all the world.
The atonement is the death of the Lord Christ erasing the guilt and remitting the penalty of sin for all who believe. Healing is simply the practical extension of the Lordship of Christ over the effects of sin, ameliorating those temporal effects where ever we can. All pain and suffering are the results of sin, sometimes direct, often indirect. But Christ has come to reassert his dominion over his creation, usurped by Satan. This reassertion will be complete when Christ returns and every tear will be wiped away. But even now we give testimony to its coming reality by ministering his love to whomever we can touch. That is why the Church has ever been active in setting up hospitals and orphanages and soup kitchens. In those organized ministries of mercy or in the individual giving merely a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, we like the first disciples show that the Good News we preach is more than just words.
Now, we no longer live in the time of the Apostles, who had gifts of miraculous healing. Though God still heals, sometimes miraculously, we do not have the apostolic authority to wield that power at will. But we are to do what God enables us to do. You may not have the opportunity to exorcise demons, but you can oppose Satan and all his works and everything he stands for at every level, from personal habits to politics. You may not have the gift of miraculous healing, but you can visit the sick, the elderly, or the prisoner with encouragement. You can care for an invalid relative. You can open your home to an unwed mother. You can support those organized ministries that try to help people in need. You can put your arm around a suffering friend instead of passing by in embarrassment. You can offer a cup of cold water in Jesus' name. You can do something to bring healing to a fallen and sin ravaged world. And this is our calling just as much as preaching the Gospel is; it is in fact part of preaching the Gospel, never to be separated from it. For once we have allowed that separation, we have lost our credibility as disciples of the One who said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" and who sent his disciples out to preach and to heal. We have a Word to speak and a Work to do and they must always be kept together, for the Work is the Word lived and the Word is the Work explained. All this is simply to preach the gospel of redemption from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ and to live as if we actually thought he really was Lord. We must work for what he worked for, preach what he preached, and oppose what he opposed. And this is the calling of the individual Christian and of the corporate Church still, and will be until Christ comes.
The Lord's instructions for his disciples in this mission teach us something about our conduct with reference to people in general, with reference to our fellow believers, and with reference to those who oppose us.
"Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money, and do not even have two tunics apiece. " Why did Jesus forbid his disciples to take anything for their journey, including even a bag? What was the point of this? It has nothing to do with traveling without a suitcase. The word translated "bag" is the Greek pera, which refers to a very particular kind of bag. The pera was a beggar's bag, where he would put the money he had collected. There were traveling preachers in the ancient world, religious hucksters who went around begging as they preached. They were notorious. I think Jesus wanted the disciples to bend over backwards not to look like these people. To translate this into contemporary terms, evangelists should not be asking non-Christians for money--even if they have to do without necessary things! We may share our needs with God's people and accept their support. But the last thing an unbeliever needs to be hearing from us is an appeal for money that will reinforce his belief that money is what we are really after! How dare we make appeals for money on religious television, especially when the programming is evangelistic in nature? For such programs are broadcast to the general public. Those televangelists who do so (not all of them do) might as well be wearing a pera, a begging bag, around their necks! They are disobedient to the Lord's command, and they bring the Gospel into disrepute and cause the enemies of God to blaspheme.
"And whatever house you enter, stay there, and take your leave from there." What is the point of staying in one house? The principle here is that we should prefer permanent relationships to free circulation, commitment and accountability to being spiritual free lance artists. Could these houses which welcomed Jesus' representatives, obviously houses belonging to people who believed in him as the Messiah, have been the forerunners of the later house churches in each of these towns? I bet they were. God's will is that his servants who are proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom today be loyal and accountable to a specific local church in their ministry. Church hoppers never accomplish anything for the kingdom.
"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." At this point in the New Testament history, the Church as the people of God had not yet become formally distinct from Israel as a nation. So the rejection and opposition dealt with here is really opposition that comes from within the Church. Therefore, the principle that is enunciated here is that when opposition to the very Gospel itself comes from within the professing Church, separation becomes necessary. Shaking the dust off your feet was not original with Jesus, but this application of it was. Pharisees who traveled outside of Israel would always shake the dust of the Gentile nations off of their feet when they crossed the border coming home. Now, to shake Jewish dust off is a radical gesture indeed. It is saying, "You are really pagan; you must be treated as those who are outside of true Israel." Whether it comes from classic Protestant liberalism, cultic Pharisaism, or the new Post-Modernism, those who deny the very Gospel itself--those who deny that Jesus is the true Son of God come in human flesh, those who deny that he rose bodily and objectively from the dead, those who deny that salvation is by grace through faith in his atoning death apart from human works--are not to be tolerated in the Church or treated as if they were really members of the Church. The Gospel is so central to the Church's identity that allegiance to its truth comes even before maintaining the outward unity of the organization. If we do not preach the Gospel in purity and practice it in equal purity through the works of mercy we looked at earlier, we will be but an anemic shell of the Church.
I find it very interesting that it was not the ministry of Christ as such, but the ministry of the twelve, that caused Herod to sit up and take notice. It was the mission of the twelve that attracted his attention. In other words, the disciples were reaching more people than Christ had himself. More people were hearing about Jesus, thinking about Jesus, and wanting to see Jesus. In Herod's case, unfortunately, this did not lead to conversion. But until we get people at least that far, there is no opportunity for conversion. And there were many others who did come to faith in Christ as a result of this mission.
Why is this not happening to the same extent today? Why does transfer growth far outweigh conversion growth in most of our churches? One reason is that we have forgotten the definition of the Church implied by this passage: a group brought together by Jesus Christ for the purpose of being sent out by him. And we have forgotten the purpose and the plan of that sending: to preach the Gospel and to heal, maintaining our integrity before the Church and the watching world as we do so.
If you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ today, I invite you to use the Lord's Supper as a covenant with God, recommitting yourself to Christ and to this understanding of who you are and what your calling is in him. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams