Exploring Dependence – Sending of The Twelve
So, how seriously should we take Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount?
When He said not to worry about food, drink, or covering (Matthew 6:25, 31), was He speaking of worry as distinct from concern? Is it ok to be concerned about these things, as long as we are not worried?
When He said to seek His Kingdom instead of worrying about food, drink and clothing (Matthew 6:32-33), did He really expect us to reorient our attention away from our basic needs in order to focus completely on His Kingdom and the righteousness that we need to participate? Or is it ok to pursue basic provisions as long as they don’t keep us from serving Him?
And when He said not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34), did He literally expect us to focus only on the current 24 hour period of our existence, or is “tomorrow” a reference to an unspecified, more distant future?
Well, let’s look at His expectations for the disciples the Story progresses.
Some time after the Sermon on the Mount, He calls the 12 disciples together and sends them out to preach (Matthew 10:5-15; Mark 6:7-11; Luke 9:1-6).
When I read this, those early opportunities I had to speak at a Wednesday night or Sunday night service come to mind. Although technically, they were a chance to present a message, I doubt anyone really expected me to have much impact. I was simply practicing. And that is the image that I am tempted to impose on this sending out of the 12.
But as I look closer, three characteristics distinguish this as something very different.
The most significant is that Jesus begins by giving them authority. Authority over demons. Authority to heal. The 12 weren’t just practicing. They were going to engage the enemy. And they were given the authority necessary to accomplish their mission.
Which brings us to the second characteristic. Their mission was not to heal and cast out demons. Their mission was to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. Which meant that the anticipated King was near.
The authority to heal and cast out demons was the validation of that message.
A little later, after Jesus finishes giving the instructions to the 12 (Matthew 10), John the Baptist’s disciples come to Jesus, asking Him if He is the Expected One, or if they should look for someone else (Matthew 11). Rather than answer them directly, He points to two things – healing and the preaching of the Gospel (11:4-5). As characteristics of the period during which Israel will experience renewed blessing (the Kingdom), they identify Him as the Anointed King who will rule over the Kingdom. So, He gives the 12 the authority to heal, in order to validate their message of the Kingdom.
What provisions were they to make for this trip?
None. No food, money, extra clothes, not even a daypack. Instead, in each town they came to, they were to look for a person who was receptive to their message and who would provide for their needs. If no one was receptive, they were to move on to another town. In other words, they would be dependent on God for their daily provision.
And this experience was not unique to the them. Several months later, Jesus sends out another group of disciples – 70 this time – with similar instructions (Luke 10:1-16).
In the cases of both the 12 and the 70, Jesus’ instructions are a direct application of the priorities He laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. Not only were they not to be worried about food, drink, and clothing, they were not to take any steps to address those needs. Focus on the Kingdom. Trust God each day for the provisions for that day.
So, what does this mean for us?
We will get to that, but not yet. There are several more things we need to look at first.
For the moment, we need to jump ahead in the story a bit, to the last night of Jesus’ earthly ministry, over a year later.
The disciples are eating the last Passover with Jesus, and are pretty cocky. This generates more instruction from Jesus. Then, after the exchange around Peter’s impending denial, Jesus reminds them of these experiences, when He sent them out with nothing (Luke 22:35-38).
Did they lack anything?
Not a thing.
With that reminder, He proceeds to instruct them to take along all of the things that were forbidden. He even tells them to get a sword.
The point was not what they had, or what they didn’t have. The point was to learn, just like Israel in the Wilderness, that God was their Provider and Protector.
Now, having experienced the Father’s provision and protection, the disciples were ready to carry on in situations where their dependence was less obvious.