No Other Plan

Over the years I have spent considerable time looking at the various commissioning texts where Jesus takes His disciples aside, gives them final instructions and then sends them out to duplicate His life and ministry.  One such text is Mark 6:7-13 and it highlights for us the fact that the proclamation of the kingdom, the healing of the sick and the casting out of unclean spirits (deliverance), were all a part of Jesus’ ministry to the people.  Further, we are told in verse 7 that Jesus handed down this authority to the 12, sent them out in pairs and they then lived out their authority by advancing the kingdom of God.  This same commission is later given to the seventy in Luke 10:1, and is experienced by the early church throughout the book of Acts as the Holy Spirit guides and empowers the church.  God has clearly defined the foundational ministries of the church of Jesus Christ, in that every local congregation that seeks to be faithful to its calling will find itself involved in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, pursuing a ministry of healing to the sick and engaging in spiritual warfare against the powers of darkness.

We also see in this passage that the disciples are sent out with some instructions.  They are simple instructions, yet for us today, seem a little bit odd.  Verse 8 says, “and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt.”  In order to fully appreciate what is happening here we must first of all recognize that our English word “instruct” does not fully convey the meaning of the Greek word “parangello”.  The Greek verb “parangello” had several different usages during the time of the NT.  As a military term it represented the order of an officer given to those in his command, an order that required quick and strict compliance.  As a legal term it was used of an official court summons and to disregard it was to risk severe punishment.  Used ethically, the term represented a moral obligation that was binding upon a person of integrity.  In every dimension of its use it included the idea that the person receiving the instruction was bound to make the proper response.  As the disciples received these instructions from Jesus their Lord they would have understood that the instructions they were receiving were non-negotiable.

 As I said earlier these instructions appear both simple and a little bit odd, but upon closer examination it becomes clear that these instructions have a purpose.  That purpose is to build certain characteristics into the lives of the disciples.  It is true that they had been given authority over unclean spirits and the ability to heal the sick but Jesus also wanted to develop them as men of God.  In the process of their doing ministry Jesus is building within them characteristics that reflect His own life, a work that God desires to continue in us today.    Our service to God is much more than the accomplishing of a task but it is about growing in faith, character, maturity and holiness.

Based upon Jesus’ instructions I believe that He was also seeking to develop trust, consistency and discernment within the life of His disciples.  Again in verse 8, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to “take nothing for the journey except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money in your belts, sandals but no extra tunic”.  Jesus sent them out with only the clothes on their back and the promise that He would provide for them all that they need. Jesus knew that if they were going to be successful in bringing the Gospel to the world that they would need an unshakable trust in God and what better way to develop that trust than to rely on God for their daily provision.  Likewise our success in serving God is dependent upon our ability to trust God for our every need.  It is also true that we can only grow in our ability to trust God  as we put ourselves in situations that God must provide if we are going to succeed.  We will never know the power of God until we respond in obedience and step out into the unknown putting our trust in God's ability to provide for our every need.

Consistency is another character quality that would have resulted from Jesus’ instructions in verse 10, "wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town".  There was apparently in Jesus' day, just like our own, a tendency for people to become dissatisfied with their circumstances.  As a result they would move about from house to house or town to town seeking to improve their situation.  The disciples were not to seek better food and lodging and therefore dishonor their original host, but rather upon finding a home that was open to receive them, remain there until their ministry was completed.  The Bible refers to this kind of consistency as steadfastness and attributes to it a moral quality that is highly desirable.  To love the unlovable, to show kindness where none is expected, to remain a faithful witness over time can have a warming effect on a heart that has grown cold toward God.  Let us encourage one another to remain steadfast in fulfilling the tasks that God has called us to do, for consistency has the ability to break through many of the obstacles in life that weigh people down, especially the hardness of peoples hearts.

Also from verse 10 we learn the importance of discernment, having the ability to recognize when our job is done and it is time to move on.  In the context of this passage we find that when the people do not listen, or come to despise our ministry, then we are to shake the dust off “soles of our feet” as a testimony against them. Yet initial resistance to the Gospel is not always a clear indication that God would have us move on.  We must develop a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and be careful to follow His leading.

In his book Quiet Talks on Service, S.D. Gordon gives an imaginary account of Jesus’ return to heaven after His ascension.  As the angel Gabriel greets Jesus he asks, “Master, You died for the world, did you not?” to which the Lord replies, “Yes.”  “You must have suffered much, “ the angel says; and again Jesus answers, “Yes.”  “Do they all know that you died for them?” Gabriel continues.  “No.  Only a few in Palestine know about it so far,” Jesus says.  “Well then what is your plan for telling the rest of the world that You shed Your blood for them?” Jesus responds, “Well, I asked Peter and James and Andrew and a few others if they would make it the business of their lives to tell others.  And then the ones that they tell could tell others, and they in turn could tell still others, and finally it would reach the the farthest corner of the earth and all would know the thrill and power of the gospel.”  ”But suppose Peter fails?  And suppose after a while John just doesn’t tell anyone?   And what if James and Andrew are ashamed or afraid?  Then what?” Gabriel asks.  “I have no other plans,” Jesus is said to have answered; I am counting entirely on them” (originally cited in Herbert Lockyer, All the Apostles of the Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972).

The story is of course fictitious, but it highlights the truth that God is counting on us.  God's plan for reaching the world is to use those who have experienced His grace.  His plan is to use people like you and me to change the world and there is no other plan.  We further recognize that God is desiring to build within us  the character qualities of trust, consistency and discernment as we go about the Father’s business. Let us remember that God is not only concerned with the task at hand but also with the journey that builds faith and Christlike character.