Jesus visited Nazareth. The residents were offended by him. They could not believe the carpenter was the Messiah. Familiarity bred contempt. Mark 6:5-6 reads: “And he could not do mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went out among the villages teaching.”
Matthew 9:35-38 summarizes this itinerant ministry: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Pain-inducing sympathy for lost people gripped Jesus. Compassion moved him to act. How would Jesus reach these lost sheep? Mark 6:7-13 is the answer. Jesus sent the twelve apostles to minister to people on his behalf.
Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the message of Mark: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This story about Jesus is also a story about the apostles. These twelve ordinary men were chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ to be eyewitnesses to His resurrection, authors of the New Testament, and leaders of the early church.
Mark weaves the story of the apostles into the story of Jesus. In Mark 1:16-20, Jesus called His first disciples – Simon and Andrew, James and John. In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus chose twelve from his band of disciples to be with him and to send them out. Previous chapters show the disciples with Jesus. Now Jesus sends out. This is not the Great Commission; it was a short-term mission trip to preach the word, heal the sick, and cast out demons. It is arguable the apostles were not ready to carry on the mission after His crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. But here, after a year or so with him, Jesus took a calculated risk on His disciples.
This is the nature of ministry. Spiritual leadership should demand high standards. But we are not useful because we are qualified. The Lord has taken a risk on us. There is a theological term for it: GRACE. How can you steward the risk Jesus has taken on you? Mark 6:7-13 provides answers. The office of apostle was foundational. The circumstances of the text were unique. The terms of the mission were temporary. Yet this passage teaches us four lessons about being on mission for Jesus.
We Minister With Divine Authority
Mark 6:7 reads: “And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” This is the first time Jesus sent the twelve out without Him. Verse 30 will call them “apostles,” upon their return. But this passage is not about the twelve. It is about Jesus. It is always about Jesus.
Verse 7 highlights three acts of Jesus. First, Jesus called the twelve. He called them face to face. This was not a general call; it was a personal call. In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You
did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” Jesus called them to Himself for discipleship. Now he calls them to Himself for ministry. The two go together.
To serve Jesus without following Jesus is hypocrisy. To follow Jesus without serving Jesus is rebellion. We come to Jesus to follow Jesus to go for Jesus. The call of the text was sovereign, special, and specific. But I believe the Lord still calls men into the ministry.
We regularly hear news of pastors quitting the ministry. These unfortunate reports should not surprise us. Christian ministry is a dangerous calling, not a lucrative career. The flesh, the world, and the devil will take you down if you do not guard your life and doctrine. But could it be that some do not finish well because they do not start right? Ministry is a calling you heed, not a vocation you choose. Romans 10:15 asks: “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
Second, Jesus sent them out two by two. In the cultural world of scripture, the evidence of one or two witnesses constituted forensic evidence. Jesus sent out the twelve two by two so one could proclaim the message as the other affirmed the message. It would seem more strategic for Jesus to send out the twelve individually. Twelve separate assignments would cover more territory. Why did Jesus send them out in pairs? Jesus took a risk on the apostles. But Jesus knew they could not do the work alone.
The same is true of us. Pastors are quitting the ministry. Pastors are suffering depression. Pastors are committing suicide. Maybe the burdens of life and ministry would be lighter if we had friends we can trust to share the load. Jesus sent them out two by two for mutual fellowship, encouragement, and accountability. Deacon Davis prays for me, “Lord, if he gets too high, bring him down. If he gets too low, lift him up.” You need faithful friends to rebuke your pride and comfort your pain.
Ecclesiastes, 4:9-12 reads: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone. And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
Thirdly, Jesus gave them authority over the unclean spirits. This statement does not endorse power encounters. It does remind us that ministry is warfare. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
People are not your biggest problem. Christian ambassadors face spiritual opposition to the kingdom agenda. Demonic activity flurried during the ministry of Jesus. It continued throughout the ministry of the apostles. They constantly faced unbelieving crowds and unclean spirits. But Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits.
Authority is greater than power. Power is the ability to get things done. Authority is jurisdiction, freedom of action, the right to use power. Jesus delegated His authority to His disciples. It proves Jesus to be the Son of God. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
The star player has athletic power. The frumpy referee has overruling authority. Jesus is the sovereign referee of the universe. Jesus sent out the disciples in a team uniform and with his referee’s whistle. They would face spiritual opposition. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We Minister with Spiritual Urgency
Verses 8-9 report: “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.”
Jesus ordered them to travel with no goods, resources, or supplies. He did permit them to bring a staff – a shepherd’s walking stick. They traveled by foot. The staff provided support. It would also be a reminder of the nature of the mission. They were to be shepherds, not hirelings. Beyond that, they were to take nothing for their journey. No bread to eat. No bag to collect offerings. No money in their belts. Jesus did allow them to wear sandals, as they walked the dusty roads. But they were not to put on two tunics.
Religious celebrities disguised as gospel preachers make contractual stipulations for public ministry. The Lord sent the apostles to minister without any material possessions. Jesus did not want His disciples to be attached to material possessions, nor did He want the people to be attracted to material possessions. Jesus restricted their resources to make it clear that ministry is not about money.
1 Timothy 6:9-10 warns: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” This warning is about greedy pastors, not greedy members. Paul warns Timothy about preachers who associate gain and godliness.
Jesus sent the apostles out to minister without any physical goods, financial resources, or material possessions. But this does not mean a minister has to be broke to be faithful. This is a trust test. Matthew 6:24 says: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Jesus did not say you cannot have God and money. You cannot serve God and money. “Money” is literally “Mammon.” It comes from a Hebrew root meaning to entrust or place in someone’s keeping. It is wealth entrusted to another. Over time, the meaning shifted from passive to active. This is how materialism works. Money can go from being a trust you receive from God to an idol in which you place your trust.
Who do you trust? In Luke 22:35, Jesus said to the disciples, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” This is blessed assurance for faithful ministers. You may have nothing. But you will not lack anything.
This charge to travel with limited possessions emphasizes the urgency of the mission. D. Edmond Hiebert wrote: “They were to operate by the principle of functional simplicity, a principle that is still valid in Christian service.” The twelve were not to travel with anything that would weigh them down or slow them up. They needed to be always ready to move.
This charge is our challenge. The Lord does not prohibit material possessions, but you have too much if it hinders responsive obedience to Christ. The Lord does not mind you holding things in high esteem. Just hold them with an open hand. You must live contingently. If you take care of God’s business, God will take care of your business.
We Minister with Clear Expectations
Expectation is the mother of disappointment. It is impossible to be disappointed without expectation. The greater the expectation, the greater the potential disappointment. Some minister with no expectations. They consider it a virtue. It is often a defense mechanism to prevent ministerial disappointment. Others are constantly disappointed, because they confuse faith and presumption. Jesus would not have His disciples minister at either extreme. He lays down the terms of service up front.
Expect Open Doors. Jesus sent His disciples on a short-term mission trip. He instructed them to travel with limited resources. There would be no assigned host, rented transportation, or reserved accommodations. In Matthew 10:11, Jesus says, “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.” As they traveled, the disciples would depend on the hospitality of others. But they were to find out who was worthy.
This was not a personal vacation. It was a gospel mission. They were not to stay anywhere that would compromise the reputation of Christ. As a Christian minister, there are some places, practices, and people you should avoid. You do not want a sloppy life to sling mud on Christ’s name.
Verse 10 says, “And he said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.’” There is a powerful assumption here. Someone would open their home for the disciples. This is more than local hospitality. It is providential orchestration. The Lord will open doors for you. But when they entered a house, they were to stay in that house until they departed the village. They were not to stay there until they got a better offer. This is how false teachers hustle people.
2 Timothy 3:6 explains: “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sin and led astray by various passions.” Materialism is not the only birthmark of false teachers. False teachers are also characterized by sensuality. Money, sex, and power are the landmines of leadership. How do you avoid these landmines? Expect the Lord to open doors for you. But learn to be content with what the Lord provides.
Expect Closed Doors. In verses 1-6, Jesus faced stubborn unbelief in Nazareth. Verses 14-29 record how Herod beheaded John for telling the truth about his immoral relationship. In verse 11, Jesus instructs, “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”
The Lord would open doors. But they should not get comfortable. An open door may quickly become a closed door. The twelve would enter homes that would not receive or listen to them. Receiving and listening go together. The disciples would be received by those who listened to them. They must not try to be received by people who will not listen to their message.
This is a key lesson for gospel work. Do not seek to win favor with the culture at the expense of gospel truth. People are eager to speak “their” truth. But they refuse to hear the truth. If they will not receive you or listen to you, leave. As you leave, Jesus says, “Shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” This was a symbol of disassociation. Jews shook the dust from their feet when they left Gentile territory. Jesus instructed the disciples to shake the dust from their feet when they left a Jewish home that refused to hear. Jesus considered anyone unclean that did not receive the word.
A religious person is a just a respectable pagan without Christ. The disciples were to shake the dust from their feet as a testimony against them. There is no such thing as indifference to Christ. Either you are with him or against him. There is no neutral ground. People who reject
the gospel need to understand consequences. John 3:18 says: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
We Minister with Kingdom Priorities
Mark 6:12-13 reports the twelve did as Jesus commanded. This is the heart of discipleship. In Luke 6:46, Jesus asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” This report of their obedience emphasizes kingdom priorities.
Declare the message of Christ. Verse 12 says, “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.” Jesus sent the twelve to proclaim His message. It was not their message. They did not create the message. They could not edit the message. In Mark 1:14-15 reads: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Now Jesus sent the apostles to proclaim the gospel of God. The gospel is the good news of what God has done to redeem sinners through the bloody cross and empty tomb of Christ.
But the gospel is also an imperative, not just an indicative. Jesus told people to repent and believe the gospel. Verse 12 says the apostles preached that people should repent. This is the only record of the content of the apostles’ preaching in Mark. But it does not mention saving-faith. This is not a denial of the good news. It is an affirmation that you cannot believe the good news of salvation until you confess the bad news of sin.
Pastors are caregivers for souls. We are also caretakers of words. Sometimes words are threatened, and you have to protect them. Sometimes words are kidnapped, and you have to rescue them. Sometimes words are lost, and you have to find them. Big words like: Gospel. Fellowship. Prayer. Worship. Forgiveness.
Here is another word that needs to be restored to the lexicon of the church: Repent! We treat repentance like a bad word. But is essential to the good news. The commandment of God is the enablement of God. The call to repent means your failure is not final. Forgiveness is available. You can begin again. Isaiah 55:6-7 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
I preached at a church in an unfamiliar neighborhood. I asked Siri for directions home. She told me to turn right out of the parking lot, drive several miles, turn right onto the freeway. When I reached the on-ramp, I missed my turn. Siri did not stop talking to me. Siri did not pass judgement. Siri did not refuse to help anymore. She told me to make a U-turn in 800 feet. She directed me back to where I messed up. She put me on the freeway and led me home.
Demonstrate the mercy of Christ. Verse 13 says, “And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” Jesus sent them out with authority over unclean spirits. The twelve used this delegated authority to cast out many demons.
This ministry of the apostles displays the deity of Christ. Only God can exercise authority over demons and hand-off this authority to His disciples. The disciples also anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. It is the only mention of anointing with oil in the Gospels. We do not know if it was symbolic or medicinal. But the power was not in the oil. It is the power of Christ at work through the apostles.
This is what 2 Corinthians 12:12 calls “signs of the apostles.” Do not get so caught up in the supernatural works that you miss the practical lesson: The twelve demonstrated the mercy of Christ to hurting people. It matters that verse 12 is recorded before verse 13. It also matters that verse 12 is not recorded without 13. The proclamation of the gospel is the priority of the church. But advancing the mission of Christ requires that we declare his message and demonstrate his mercy.
We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Salt and light work through penetration. The church must get out of the saltshaker. The church must turn on the lights. Donald English comments: “Our failure to address the biggest modern issues, from a proper gospel basis, may well be one major reason for our not being as effective as we ought. A safe church is rarely an influential one.” Don’t play it safe! The Lord has taken a calculated risk on you. Take a risk for him!”
A doctor discovered the cure to blindness. He moved to a big city and opened an office. No one came to him. He went to the hedges and highways and found a blind beggar. He took the beggar to his office and opened his blinded eyes. The beggar lamented he had nothing to pay him with. The doctor said, “That’s okay. I know you didn’t have anything when I met you. But there is something you can do for me. Go tell your friends there’s a healer in the city giving sight to the blind.”
HB Charles is Senior Pastor of Shiloh Church in Jacksonville, Florida