(A) Introduction (Read the passage.) See also Mark6v6to13 and Matt10v1to42.

It is, perhaps, difficult to see the relevance of this passage today. The Great Commission of Jesus was: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Mt28v18. Christians operate according to this fundamental instruction and not in the way Jesus told his disciples to conduct their mission to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. However, there may be some lessons to learn from the campaign conducted by the disciples in Jesus' lifetime.

(B) The call to mission

It was a call to:

(1) Preach.

There are three Scriptures which taken together provide some idea what the disciples preached:

  • "As you go preach this message: 'The Kingdom of heaven is near.'" Mt10v7.
  • They went out and preached that people should repent. Mk6v12.
  • He sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God. Lk9v2.
It is a pity we do not have a sample of what the disciples preached. The disciples were acting like heralds and so it is likely that their message was simple and consisted of three elements:
  • The Messiah had come
  • He would establish God's Kingdom - a Kingdom where God's will would be done - a Kingdom of new values like those spelt out in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • It was necessary to repent of attitudes and behaviour that displeased God in order to enter the Kingdom.
It has to be remembered that the disciples did not understand how the Kingdom of God would be established and they were seriously mistaken as to its true nature.

It remains necessary in our day and age to urge men and women to repent of the 'isms' in their lives that keep them from God: Materialism, individualism, consumerism, legalism, formalism, scepticism, cynicism, pessimism, rationalism, defeatism, hedonism, naturalism, narcissism and doubtless a few more besides. The natural man must repent of the way he is to enter the Kingdom of God. That is the narrow gate by which men receive new life. Jesus said: "But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Mt7v14.

(2) Heal.

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases. Lk9v1.

Jesus called the disciples to share his ministry. He equipped them with the same power and authority as he had. They were given both the ability and the right to do humanitarian work as part of their mission.

It remains in the will of Christ to combine proclaiming the gospel with humanitarian initiatives. Thank God for all the missions that bring healing, food, education and practical advice to the sick, hungry, poor and disadvantaged.

(C) The confines of mission

The disciple's mission was confined to:


The Twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." Mt10v5and6.

God had promised to send the Messiah to the Israelites - his chosen people. The Old Testament contains many wonderful promises including this one from Micah5v2,4and5: But you, Bethleham Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old from ancient times. ..... He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.

Israel had been prepared for Christ's coming and so it was only right that the Jews should be given the first opportunity to believe. Jesus illustrated this truth in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. See Mt22v1to14. Only after those who had been invited to the wedding feast refused did the Master tell his servants out to: "Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find." Mt22v9.

This principle still operates today. Western Europe has been greatly blessed through the centuries by the Christian Faith but over the last 100 years increasing numbers of men and women have rejected the gospel call to repent and believe on Jesus Christ for eternal life. This has not led to the collapse of God's Kingdom! The Spirit like the wind blows wherever it pleases. John3v8. See exposition on John3v1to12.

(2) Rural areas.

So they sent out and went from village to village preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. Lk9v6.

There are two points to note:

    (a) The disciples were itinerant. They were heralds of the Kingdom of God. They proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom. In our day and age their are plenty of sedentary teachers. Even our missionary societies seem to be concentrating more on teaching than preaching the gospel. There is a very real lack of effective evangelists.

    (b) The villages were not ignored. In England the church has almost written off rural areas. Village nonconformist chapels have closed in their hundreds. Great swathes of rural England are a spiritual wasteland with only the Church of England maintaining a faltering presence. I suspect that even the Anglican hierarchy place their most dynamic and gifted clergymen in the towns. The villages have to make do with second best.

(D) The characteristics of mission.

(1) The disciples worked in pairs.

He sent them out two by two. Mk6v7.

It is very hard to engage in Christian ministry alone. A team of two is more than twice as effective as a solitary worker. Much Christian service in rural areas is ineffectual for lack of teamwork.

(2) The disciples travelled light

These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff - no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic." Mk6v8and9.

Why did Jesus tell the disciples to travel light? There are at least two good reasons:

    (a) The disciple's mission was urgent. They needed to keep on the move in order to tell as many people as possible in the limited time available the good news of the Kingdom. Their mobility would have been impaired if burdened with a lot of gear. Several years ago now my brother Philip retired from the police force. He had promised himself a retirement treat - to walk the Southwest Coastal Path. Philip set off with such high hopes carrying all he needed with him. Unfortunately the weight of his huge rucksack was such that after walking about 15 miles on the first day he was totally exhausted and hallucinating. He never made his first campsite. Philip cadged a lift to the nearest railway station and came home!! He would have been alright if he had travelled light.

    (b) Jesus said, "For the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave." Mt10v10and11. Jesus expected sympathisers to provide hospitality for 2 or 3 days while the gospel was proclaimed. Jesus was always willing to accept help in getting his message across. See exposition on luke8v1to4

It remains important to travel light. The simple, frugal, unencumbered life allows more time for Christian service. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: What I mean brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none. 1Cor7v29. Paul didn't want family commitments among other things to distract a man from serving Jesus. See exposition on 1Cor7v17to40. Jesus highlighted the danger of worldly interests and responsibilities in his Parable of the Sower. See exposition on Luke8v4to15

Many serve Christ ineffectually because their lives are cluttered up with so many other things. Very few consciously opt for a frugal existence in order to serve Christ well. Some do, however, including most Grace Baptist pastors! My brother Paul did and as a result has been more fruitful than I have.

A missionary or charitable organisation also needs to travel light. If it becomes bureaucratic and encumbered with administrators an organisation can start to exist for its own sake and lose sight of its central purpose. Philip Yancy in the November 2008 issue of, 'Our Daily Bread,' wrote about Pierre, a French friar, who worked with beggars in Paris. He got them to start up a bottle recycling business. The charity, Emmaus, became so successful that eventually there were few beggars left in Paris. So Pierre moved on to India. He said: "If I don't find people worse off than my beggars, this movement could turn inward. It will become a powerful, rich organisation, and the whole spiritual impact will be lost. There will be no one to serve."

Wealthy Christians can help missionaries, evangelists, pastors and charity workers to travel light by supporting them financially and providing hospitality. Christian workers should not have to worry about finance!

(3) The disciples provided practical help free.

Jesus told his disciples: "Freely you have received, freely give." Mt10v8.

Thank God that this spirit is still much in evidence in Christian missions and charities. The Grace Baptist Mission, for example, sends out literature to pastors in the Third World free of charge. People who attend the Annual Meetings are invited to take a package and pay the postage to Africa and elsewhere. I am pleased to say that there are usually no packages left at the end of the meeting. This is just a small example of the outworking of Christ's command in practice - "Freely you have received, freely give." Mt10v8.

(4) the disciples were not to waste time.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to be ruthless: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. Mt10v14.

The disciples were not to keep banging their heads against a brick wall. Jesus said on another occasion, "Don't throw your pearls before swine." People who were unsympathetic to the disciple's message had to take responsibility for their hardness of heart. When the disciples shook the dust off their feet on leaving an unbelieving village they were passing judgment upon it.

There are two points to note:

    (a) Many Christian youth leaders are too soft with children who are disruptive and abusive. They are a waste of time and should be banned from Christian youth clubs and fellowship meetings. There is absolutely no way that Christian leaders should submit to insolent behaviour. It flies in the face of Christ's teaching that everyone - old and young - is responsible for their behaviour.

    (b) The Holy Spirit blows where he wills. If men harden their hearts in one part of the world - like Western Europe - the spirit will still bring millions into the Kingdom from Africa, South America and Eastern Asia. England's rejection of the gospel does not mean that the gospel has lost its ancient power - the Spirit just moves on.

(5) The disciples acted with wisdom and without guile.

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Mt10v16.

I shall always associate this verse with my father - although he quoted from the AV rather than the NIV. He used to tell me, "John, be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove." Sadly this is advice I rarely heeded - particularly in my youth.

I am not an expert on Christian missions - but it was probably not wise for missionaries to live in compounds seperate from the indigenous population in China; the rivalry between the different denominations was certainly not harmless. It is a pity more missionaries were not more like Paul: All things to all men - to win some. 1Cor10v31to33.

(6) The disciples were glad to be commissioned.

So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. luke9v6.

The disciples did not demur on being told to mobilise and take the good news of the Kingdom to others. They were glad the Messiah had come, the Kingdom was near and God was soon to have his rightful place in the hearts of men.

Christians have good news to proclaim. The sad thing is that few in Britain want to hear it. This tends to put a damper on our witness but we should still be glad to serve Jesus and count it a privilege to be his spokesmen.

(E) The consequences of mission.

There were two consequences:

(1) Success.

There is no doubt that the disciple's mission was successful. Mark records: The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going they did not even have a chance to eat. Mk6v30and31. At the time of the feeding of the five thousand huge numbers of people were flocking to Jesus - partly as a result of the disciples preaching and healing campaign. However, as the crowds reaction to Jesus' teaching on the bread of heaven indicated, most people only had a superficial belief in Christ. He had become 'a phenomenon.' Some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others tht one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. Lk9v7and8. It is interesting that Jesus reminded folk of John the Baptist and Elijah! This is testimony to his strength of character and authority.

Whenever the Spirit moves powerfully to generate great religious excitement a lot of people are swept up by the enthusiasm of the moment - but that does not mean they are real Christians any more than the crowd who pursued Jesus after the 'Feeding of the Five Thousand' were genuine believers.

(2) Worldly interest.

Even important people like king Herod were curious about Jesus. Luke tells us: And he tried to see him. Lk9v9. But Jesus did not want to see Herod - that jackal as he called him.

Some famous Christians like Billy Graham, may have been too ready to pander to the curiosity of rich and powerful people, like American Presidents. Jesus was willing to mix with just about anyone but he drew the line at Herod! There are some hands Jesus would never shake.