When reading the Gospel of Mark, as when reading any book of the Bible, we need to remember that the human author had a reason for writing. The biblical authors were addressing a specific audience who needed help in specific areas. What motivated Mark?
Mark was writing to believers in the Roman Empire who were facing increasing hostility as they walked in the Way. Mark wanted to encourage these followers of Jesus to persevere amid those who rejected their message, due to their rejection of their Master. This contextual backdrop is particularly relevant as we return to Mark and to this passage because, here, Jesus sent the disciples on mission. They were about to experience the problems and possibilities of gospel mission and ministry. Though they did not know this, they were being prepared for their ultimate assignment after their Lord’s resurrection: worldwide mission (Matthew 28:18–20). These believers would need to be persuaded that, in the face of difficulties, this was truly “mission possible.” We need the same encouragement.
As Jesus extended his ministry through the Twelve, he continues to do through his local churches today. May we be encouraged that, though we may not always be able to do good where we would, we can do good where we are. We are on God’s mission, and therefore, it is possible.
With Mark 6:7, a new section commences, which will continue through 8:38. In this section, Mark will highlight the cost of discipleship. Therefore, this opening paragraph (6:7–13) is particularly significant.
Chosen, Trained, Sent
Shortly after Jesus commenced his ministry (1:14–15), he began selecting his disciples. In 1:16–20, Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew, along with another set of brothers: James and John. They were fishermen by trade, but Jesus told them that he would transform them into fishers of men. What would this require? At least three things: First, they needed to be with him; second, they needed to be taught by him; and, third, they needed to have practical experience. That is, they needed exposure, explanation, and experience. This is what Mark tells us in 3:14–15: “He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” In the text before us, this now took place. Having been in the Lord’s classroom, listening and watching, it was now time for a practical apprenticeship. As Matthew Henry said, “They received that they might give, they learned so that they might teach.” The same is true of Jesus’ followers today. Like these disciples, we are on God’s mission. May we be encouraged that it possible, and then may we get to it!
The section believes by stating the directive:
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 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. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 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.”
Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out” with specific instructions. It has been observed by many that this sending out of the disciples was an act of faith—not only for the disciples, but for Jesus. After all, their behaviour so far in the story had hardly been exemplary. As Donald English observes,
It is difficult to exaggerate the risk Jesus took in sending his disciples out to teach and heal. The impression of them created by Mark so far falls well short of complimentary! They do not understand his teaching (4:10). They do not trust his will or power to protect them (4:28). They are not sensitive to his extraordinary perception (5:31). Yet they are sent out, albeit in pairs, to teach, heal and exorcize.
And yet he sent them forth on mission—his mission. This should encourage us. By the conclusion of this study, I trust that we will be encouraged that what we are called to do with and for Jesus is mission possible—should you choose to accept it.
The word “called” means to call to oneself or to summon. As used by Mark, it is always in the context of being summoned to instruct (3:13, 23; 7:14; 8:1, 34; 10:42). Having called them to follow him—having called them to “be with him” (3:14)—he now called them to send them. There is a pattern here that relates to you and me. We are first called to salvation, then to learn, and then to serve.
When the Holy Spirit gives to us a new heart, this regeneration results in a response to all three calls simultaneously. That is, we are called to faith in Christ, to follow Christ which includes serving Christ (Romans 12:1–2). We embrace Jesus as Saviour and Lord, or we do not embrace him at all.
There is cause, therefore, to be concerned about church members who refuse to gather with the Body in order to learn God’s word. If you’re not learning the truth, what do you have to really help others? The same might be said for church members who refuse to serve Christ by meaningful serving the Body of Christ (praying with/for; caring for; discipling; etc.). If you’re not on mission, you are the object of mission.
A Context of Conflict
The context of this passage, of course, is important. Jesus had just been rejected by his hometown and so he went “about among the villages teaching” (v. 6b). As we saw, this is a wonderful example and exhortation when we are confronted with the disappointment of seeming failure due to rejection of our ministry: We should just keep on doing what God commands us to do. That is, keep making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what he was now directing his followers to do.
It is in this context of rejection and yet persevering continuance that the Lord gave this directive sending his followers on mission. But note that not only did conflict precede this directive; it also followed it (vv. 14–29). This is another one of those Markan sandwiches. The point needs to be made that, when we embark on God’s mission, we can expect conflict, opposition, rejection, and even persecution. Hometowns and Herods may stand in the way. Be prepared, but be encouraged, for the mission is more than possible—it is promised!
It is often the case that such conflict can produce in a church produces shock. We need not be surprised, shell-shocked, or unsettled. The biblical record and church history are replete with examples of such conflict.
We also need to consider what this directive involved.
Appointment to the Mission
The words “began to send them out” indicates that this would happen again. In other words, this was on-the-job training and it would be repeated. Once we learn, we are to do something with what we have learned. There is no substitute for practical application of what the Lord has taught us. We are to put feet to what we have packed into our heads.
These brothers were being sent out, which is the basis of the word “apostle.” The words indicate being sent out on a mission.
We too have been sent on mission (Matthew 28:18–20). This is true individually as Christians, but it is equally true of us corporately as a church. If we lose sight of the mission, or if we refuse to be on mission, then we are like the church at Sardis, having a name that we live and yet dead.
The Christian has purpose, as the church has purpose. And there is no other purpose that can match it. This is not intended to guilt you but to grace you to involvement.
Accountability and Authenticity for the Mission
Jesus sent them out two by two—in pairs. There were at least two reasons for this. The first is accountability.
By going together in pairs, there was the opportunity for mutual encouragement. If one was discouraged, the other could encourage him to carry on (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:9–10). Further, with a partner, truth would be more likely guarded. The team would be better able to safeguard the faith once delivered (Jude 3).
Related to this is the matter of authenticity. The old covenant called for the attestation of at least two witnesses for a matter to be confirmed (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; see 2 Corinthians 13:1). The mission on which they were being sent involved an authoritative message, not a mere opinion. Messiah had come; the kingdom of God has arrived. And people must repent (v. 12). This was a radical, if not revolutionary, message and so every word must be established. Having two witnesses was important for this.
There is the strength of encouragement in numbers. We may encourage one another that we proclaim a well-attested message. We proclaim the truth. This provides conviction, confidence, and courage. This is another benefit of disciples gathering together. We are reminded that we are of the truth (1 John 3:19).
Jesus “gave them authority over unclean spirits.” The word translated “authority” is different from the word for “power.” Authority implies freedom to act or a right. It speaks of delegated influence.
In the Jewish world, one sent has the same authority as the one who sent—much like an ambassador in the political realm. The ambassador speaks on behalf of the authority under which she has been sent. So here.
Jesus was extending his ministry by the means of these twelve disciples. He does the same today by sending us out (Matthew 28:18–20). We go in his name, not in our own. The battle is his, not our own. Remember that.
The authority specifies the capacity to confront and rule over unclean spirits. Mark refers to “unclean spirits” nine other times in his Gospel. He does so to highlight the presence of the King and his kingdom. King Jesus is conqueror of the evil one, and of the evil ones (3:22–27).
This speaks to us of the very real spiritual conflict we face as we embark of mission for Jesus. There will be opposition from the domain of darkness as we confront the world with the claims of Jesus Christ. Don’t be surprised. But neither should we be alarmed. For we go in Jesus’ name and the victory is his.
We should so live and speak that the demons tremble. As we follow Christ as his ambassadors, we have a message that is counter-cultural and yet a message that the world needs to hear. So we must keep at it even in the face of opposition. We must do so confident in the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). We must proclaim it and practice it. The latter is where the rubber hits the road. Preaching the truth may be politically incorrect. Church discipline is not popular. But we must remain committed to Christ’s truth.
Jesus sent out his followers with specific instructions concerning what they were to pack. They were to travel light. Basically, they were allowed what was on their backs and what was on their feet: a walking stick and, perhaps, a toothbrush!
Why the bare necessities? Because Jesus wanted to teach his followers to trust him, to rely on him for the supply of their every need. They were to be content with what they would be provided.
It is true that the disciples were only going on a relatively short mission. This was a training course. They would not be gone long, and yet they would be gone long enough that they would need food and clothing. Hence the directive indicates our Lord’s intention to teach them to trust him to meet their needs. As Edwards notes, “The barest of essentials ensures that they place their trust not in their supplies and training but rather in the one who sends them.”
In other words, the mission is possible because of the power, provision, and promise of the one sending (Deuteronomy 10:14). Many missionaries and faith ministries have used this passage as an encouragement to travel light in this world. And even though the epistles teach the church to financially support its ministers and its missionaries, nevertheless the principle taught here remains true. We are to trust God for what is needed for God’s mission. As Hudson Taylor was fond of saying, God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.
How then would Jesus supply?
In a future study, we will look at the passage about Jesus feeding the multitude (vv. 30–44). Jesus can most certainly multiply what he has created. But this is not his normal means of meeting our needs. Rather, he usually uses existing bread. That is, he usually uses the bread of others to feed his hungry people (see Acts 2:42–47; 4:32–37; 11:27–30; Romans 15:25–27; 2 Corinthians 8–9; Philippians 4:15–19).
The Lord promised to meet the needs of those on mission by ensuring the hospitality of others. When I was in university, I was making the several-hour drive between home and school when I ran into a severe ice storm. I knew that it would not be safe to continue driving, so I pulled over at a roadside hotel. I had no cash on me, but I had a chequebook with sufficient funds in the account, so I thought I would book a room via cheque. I parked, climbed out the car, and walked into the reception area, where I immediately noticed a sign saying that cheques were not accepted under any circumstances.
I walked up the counter and greeted the woman at reception. I told her that I was travelling between school and home and felt that I needed to stop in the storm. She asked me where and what I studied, and when I told her I was studying for pastoral ministry, she smiled. She told me that she was a Christian, and would be proud if her son studied for the ministry. I took a deep breath, and told her my predicament. I assured her that there was cash in the account, and pleaded with her to accept a cheque. She smiled and told me that, since she would want someone to help her son if he was in the same position, she was happy to accept my cheque. As I handed her the cheque, I silently thanked God for a Christian woman who was willing to extend hospitality to me.
We see this hospitality principle behind the Lord’s instruction, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.” It was customary in the ancient world to show practical hospitality to travellers. As the teams of disciples disbursed to the various villages, someone would graciously host them—someone providentially prepared by God. This home would feed them, give them a roof over their heads, and care for other practical needs. Therefore, the disciples would not need to carry all their supplies with them, for God had gone ahead and done this.
In parallel passages (cf. Matthew 10), Jesus emphasised that the disciples were not to go from house to house on mission. That is, wherever they first landed, if that home was willing to meet their needs, they were to be content. They were not to look for a better deal. To do so would be offensive to the hosts and, further, would reveal their not being qualified for the mission. After all, the mission was about giving, not getting; it was about serving rather than being served; it was about spiritually enriching others with the gospel rather than being materially enriched because of the gospel.
It is this principle and practice that is behind the Philippians’ care for Paul. And it should be behind us as well. God’s mission requires those who have to give to those on God’s mission who are in need. Christian, are you travelling as light as you should, or are your suitcases bigger than they should be? Are you exceeding your weight limit? If so, you will pay a price: spiritual immaturity, and a weakened church.
Since we are on mission, let us be careful to not be distracted (2 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 6:11ff). Provision for the mission is one reason we can confident about mission possible.
Christian, let us be committed to meeting the needs of those whom local churches have specially sent out on mission. Let us learn to be content with the provision which the Lord had provided for us (1 Timothy 6:3–10). Let us learn to trust the Lord for our provision and let us trust the Lord as he uses us to be that provision.
In v. 11, the disciples were informed of what they could expect: rejection. Rejection of their mission. Rejection of their message. Rejection of their ministry because, ultimately, of rejection of their Master. Yes, some would receive them, but others will reject them.
“If the place will not receive you and they will not listen to you” demands a particular response. In such a case, the disciples were to “leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” What did Jesus mean, and how does this apply to us?
When a Jewish person left Gentile territory, they would customarily shake off the dust that was on their feet before re-entering the so-called Holy Land. It indicated that they were careful to not pollute the Holy Land with the corruption of pagan territory. This was never commanded by God, but it became a standard practice by self-conscious, self-righteous Jews. Jesus took this custom and turned it back on those who would reject him. In other words, if a Jewish region (which is where they were heading on mission) rejected their message, the disciples were to treat them as pagans. They were to make the point that to reject Jesus is to reject the God of Israel. To do so is to behave like a pagan.
Later, the apostles would do this very thing (Acts 13:51; 18:6). It is a serious thing to reject God’s gospel. Like Cain, those who reject God take their rejection out on those who belong to God. The disciples were to be aware of this reality as they embarked on mission. Like Jesus’ hometown, the Promised Land would largely reject its Promised Lord. So sad! Those in the covenant community rejected the message of the covenant. They were so close, yet so far away.
There are few things more painful to bear than rejection, especially rejection by those of your own clan, rejection by those with whom you share a covenantal connection, and rejection from these same whom you know you can help. But this is precisely what our Lord was preparing the disciples for. We need to understand both what he meant and what he did not mean.
For one thing, Jesus was teaching that the mission is urgent. They were not to waste precious time with those who, at least for the moment, had dug in their heels of rejection. Oswald J Smith, a Canadian pastor who was a major force for world missions in the twentieth century, said of the many gospel ministries in the Western world, “No one should hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once.” His point, though perhaps simplistic, still hits home! The urgency to get the gospel of the kingdom to the world must not be minimised. This is the immediate, urgent and ultimate task of the church. And it calls for stewardship of both time and of resources.
This has application even to a local church like ours. Church members sometimes hear the truth and yet dig in their heels of rebellion. Even though, like Israel of Jesus’ day, a church member has a covenantal connection and responsibility with others who claim to belong to God, nevertheless sometimes they will reject the truth. This is painful. But how are we to respond?
Well, there is a sense in which we are to respond as Jesus instructs here. That is, we need to be faithful stewards of our time and resources. In fact, we can make a legitimate connection with the teaching of Jesus concerning church discipline (Matthew 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 5:1ff).
Now we need to be careful to hear what Jesus was not saying. He was not saying that this response means that there was no hope for these people. Certainly, if they persisted in their rejection, they would be finally rejected by God. But it seems that this response is a gracious warning that highlights the seriousness of not heeding the call to repentance and faith. This action would dramatise the seriousness of their rejection, in effect telling those who rejected the word of Christ that they were no different than the pagans. This action would cause those who rejected the message to reconsider their decision.
In a similar way, professing Christians, even those who are church members, sometimes need the wake-up call that all is not well. It is necessary for such to realise that, despite their knowledge of the Bible, despite a squeaky-clean life, despite their baptism, despite their church attendance, they in fact are rejecting the lordship of Jesus Christ. And the proof is that they will not repent. Is that you?
Christian, Jesus was informing his followers of their need for courage to be rejected and for faith to persevere. So, be aware of the reality of rejection of your message, of your ministry, of your mission because of rejection of your Master. Yet don’t despair! Pray and ask others to pray. Saturate yourself with truth, with the truth of the promises of God. And then persevere in the mission.
Non-Christian beware of the danger of eternal rejection. Don’t despise and reject the gospel of God. Rather than resisting, repent as you call upon the name of the Lord and are saved.
But before moving on, we need to remember that this passage does not focus on rejection; rather it begins with the assumption of reception. Jesus assumed that there would be those who would receive them and, for this reason, they were not to make provision for themselves. In God’s providence, his faithful followers would be cared for. And this inspired passage provides the same encouragement for our mission today. Jesus Christ will build his church (Matthew 16:15).
Having directed about their duties, assured of what they would need, and made aware of what to expect, the apostles set out on their mission: “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (vv. 12–13).
In these closing verses we will learn what they did as well as what they accomplished.
The word “proclaimed” means to herald. It is precisely what Jesus did (1:14, 38–39). The message that they heralded was that their hearers must repent. Again, this is the message that Jesus preached. These men, who had been with Jesus, had learned well. They were imitating their teacher. They preached that their hearers needed a new heart and new way. We can assume that they spoke with seriousness. That is, they weren’t interested in entertaining people who were facing God’s judgement.
The word “repent” speaks of a change of mind. But it is more than merely a shift in one’s thinking; it is such a shift that behaviour is affected. It results in a turning around.
This is what the gospel aims for, and it is what the gospel produces in the lives of those who hear its call. The good news is that God forgives those who see their sin and who have a radical change of mind about it.
Those who repent change their mind about who defines what is right and what is wrong. Those who repent accept God’s verdict on their attitudes and our actions. Those who repent have a change of mind about what they excused as a matter of simply “being human” (“to err is human”) to a mind that confesses their misbehaviour as rebellion against holy God. And remember, this was preached to the religious!
In sum, repentance is a change of mind about who is lord—the God of the Bible, or a god of our own choosing, including the god of self. This is the message of our mission and it is the message that, like Jesus and his disciples, we are to herald, for everybody ought to know.
Sadly, repentance is a missing element in the church of our day. It is rarely mentioned in evangelism and discipleship. Jesus said that, without repentance, we will perish (Luke 13:3). If we do not press this matter on the conscience of our hearers, then the gospel loses any sense of being truly good news. After all, if we are not that bad—if we don’t really need to change—then what good news is there in a message of forgiveness and transformation?
Love demands the proclamation of repentance. For unless there is a turning from sin to the Saviour there is no hope. If we don’t drill down to the source of the separation between God and man—rebellion, sin—we can never apply the solution: the gospel of God. Until we become painfully aware of the horror of our rebellion against God, we will never appreciate the good news of what God has done by his Son for repentant sinners. That is, how can we truly appreciate the humiliation of the incarnation for sinners if we don’t take sin seriously? How will we ever appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross until we see that he died for our sins? The cross highlights the heinousness of our sinful condition. But if we don’t confess such sinfulness (because we are not bothered by it) then the cross of Christ will merely have sentimental, rather than saving, value. Further, if we do not see that we heading for destruction, how will we ever see our need to turn around—until it is too late?
You see, the problem addressed by the gospel of the kingdom is the problem of legitimacy of rule. Who is ruling our life? If we truly and properly respond to the gospel then we will let go of an illegitimate ruler (self, sin, false gods, etc.) as we embrace the only legitimate ruler: King Jesus.
So, we need to hear and heed this message and then we need to herald it to others.
The disciples were sent on mission with word and deed. That is, they were to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom of God (1:14–15) and their message would be accompanied by practical demonstrations that the kingdom had come.
Mark has revealed what this demonstration looked like in the ministry of Jesus, and the same elements are repeated here. Whatever else can be said about this, we can conclude that, since we are to declare the same message, we should expect the same demonstrations. Hold that thought for a moment!
As the disciples preached the gospel, they also “cast out many demons.” In a region that had become a “a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird” (Revelation 18:2), the land of Israel would feel the effects of the presence of King Jesus. As evidence of the spread of his gospel, the casting out of demons was essential.
Next, we read that “they anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.” This indicates that, with the coming of the kingdom of God, body and soul received the benefits of the King. In other words, mission mossible is mission powerful—comprehensively so.
This does not mean that God always heals all his children. That idea is disproven by both Scripture and history. But the lesson is clear: The gospel of God is holistic—all the gospel is for all of life. Physical healing demonstrated the presence and power of the King. It served as a witness to confirm the message that was preached.
The question to be answered is, what should be the expectation of we who are on mission today? My answer, principally, is that we should expect the same things. The principle is powerful transformation and compassionate involvement.
The disciples, like Jesus, experienced God’s power for exorcism (Luke 10:17) as they preached the powerful gospel. As the repentant believed, they experienced God’s power for a transformed life. Like the man in Mark 5, many of these converts would now be found clothed, sitting and in their right mind (5:15). The gospel made such an impact that it was observable. Don’t you long to see this? Don’t you long to see the power of God constructively changing lives and changing homes, and changing communities as it changes churches? Our church is to be an outpost of such power. The “demons” of the old self are to be cast out as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our life and we put on the new man. That is evidence that the kingdom of God has come. That is evidence that we have bowed the knee to King Jesus. And this truth has important implications for our mission, specifically for what we are to expect of those who profess repentance and faith.
Is it too much to expect that those who profess to be followers of Christ will live like they have experienced his transforming power? Should we not expect to see sinful life-patterns replaced with godly ones? Of course we should! There are expectations and obligations of grace.
We who are on mission are to demonstrate God’s power in our lives (Philippians 2:12–16) and we are to help fellow missioners to do so as well. This calls for the local church to take seriously what it means to be a church member. Biblically, being a church member is synonymous with being a follower of Christ, which is synonymous with being on mission for and with Jesus Christ.
A final demonstration that the King and kingdom had come was compassionate care for people. The disciples preached the gospel and cared for those to whom they preached. Though we cannot expect the power to miraculously heal (except in terms of James 5:13–18), those we minister to should expect that we care enough to minister to their physical needs. This is not social gospel; it is the biblical gospel, which has social implications. Christians care. And so Christians on mission are keen to minister to the whole person. This demonstrates the power of the gospel, for without the gospel we will be caught up in self, not caring a whit for anyone else.
This brings me to a final application: The Lord’s directive indicates that followers of Christ are to be characterised as contributors rather than as consumers. This passage highlights not only mission possible but also mission responsible. Every covenanted member of the local church is to be on mission in some way. Each of us is to be contributing to the spread the gospel and the building up of the local church. So, are you? Will you?
If you need to repent, then do so today. Connect and contribute. If you are connected and contributing, then be encouraged, for you are a part of mission possible.