The Church’s task

Luke 9:1-9

Speaker: John Johnstone


I don’t know about you, but getting tradesmen at the moment is a bit of a nightmare, especially for the smaller jobs. Perhaps for a big money job, they might show an interest. When trying to get a small electrical job done in the church, it took an age to get someone willing to do it. The same goes for joiners and plumbers at the moment. What we need is more apprenticeships in Scotland. We need people trained up to do these jobs. We know how it works – someone will shadow an experienced person, and begin to tackle the easier jobs whilst also going to college. The more time goes on, the more responsibility they receive. One day, they themselves will have to ‘go it alone’.

So, why am I thinking about apprenticeships? Because in a sense, this short-term mission trip is a form of apprenticeship for the apostles. One day Jesus will ascend back into Heaven, and so he needs those who will be ready to continue his mission in the world. Just before Jesus ascends, Luke tells us: Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ (Luke 24:45-49)

This great commission is restated by Luke in Acts 1:8: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

In fact, we can trace this theme of mission throughout Luke’s gospel, and it is really helpful to see that.

But he said, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:43-44)

After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve [disciples] were with him… (Luke 8:1)

We see that proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God is the main purpose of Jesus’ ministry. He must pass this baton on to the apostles, who in turn, will pass it on to the church, including us. As we reach Luke chapter 9, it’s as if Jesus is saying to the twelve: ‘Now it’s your turn to go out and carry on doing what I have been doing’. They are receiving more responsibility from Jesus, which will prepare them for the complete hand-over, which would take place after Jesus’ ascension.

This is the first time Jesus has sent men out to represent him. I like G Campbell Morgan’s comment here: ‘The whole church is in apostolic succession in the great work of witnessing for Jesus Christ and going forth for him’.

There are several things which we are likely to find unusual in this passage. The apostles are given supernatural powers to perform miracles. They are instructed not to take any provisions with them. And then there’s this business of shaking dust off their feet. What can we learn as a church from a passage like this? Well, quite a lot actually.

Before we come to some practical lessons, I want us to notice the significance of their being exactly 12 apostles. This is quite deliberate. The Israel of the old covenant had been represented by 12 patriarchs. However, now that the Messiah, King Jesus has come, a new nucleus of people is being established, who would represent the new Israel, of which we are a part, all centred on Jesus.

You might think this does not matter very much, but it does. Just listen to the description of heaven given in Revelation: It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:12-14)

The implications for us are sizeable. The apostles are no longer on the earth. It is our task, as the church and as the new Israel, to carry on the work of mission as ambassadors of Christ on earth.

This is not just the task of ministers, but all of us. How important is the local church? How important is preaching? How important is our individual witness as salt and light in our communities?

If we can see the connections between the Old and the New Testaments, it will help us to realise the role of the church today. In Galatians 6:6, the church is called the ‘Israel of God’: Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God. And in 1 Peter 2:9, the titles given to Israel in the Old Testament are given to the church: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Witness to Jesus is foundational in the church.

1. An essential task: proclaiming and healing

Luke 9:2: … and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill.

Luke 9:6: So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

We’ve already seen that now the apostles are being tasked with the very same two things which Jesus had been doing, preaching and healing. And I think it’s right to see the central task as ‘proclaiming’ with the miracles and signs partly functioning to mark out and prove that the apostles were truly God’s ambassadors on earth. >I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:12)

What was the message they were proclaiming? In verse 2, they proclaim ‘the Kingdom of God’. They are telling people that the Lord Jesus is God’s special King, and that people need to turn from their sin and put their trust in him. If you want to be part of the Kingdom of God then you must respond in faith to King Jesus. And if you reject the rightful King, then you will have to face the consequences of that most serious act. God’s Kingdom is where God rules and reigns. I love the fact that this same message is called ‘good news’ in verse 6. What better news is there to share than that King Jesus has given his life on the cross, and that all human beings are invited to come into a relationship with him, and be forgiven, and brought into God’s Kingdom.

Today, as a church, we have this same good new to share. It is a message of hope, for a lost world. So many don’t know the true meaning of life. So many don’t know how their guilt can be taken away. They don’t know about God’s love. But we know. And our task as a church and as individuals is to proclaim that message to those who need it. Paul says, >For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2) This is our message of hope. There is a Redeemer – Jesus, God’s own Son. He is the King. Come to him in faith asking for pardon.

The church does not have the same apostolic power to go and perform miracles in the way that Peter, James, John, Matthew and Thomas and so on did. However, the church continues to pour out compassion on the needy. We don’t just preach to people and ignore their physical needs. Jesus preached the word and healed the sick, and so did the apostles; the church must carry on this pattern. We preach his word and continue works of mercy, as we care for the poor and needy and vulnerable, both in Scotland and all over the world. The Christian hospital in central India we know of are excellent examples of this.

How are we getting on in Kirkcaldy Free Church with this two-pronged task? How are you getting on with it? To what extent are you being salt and light where God has placed you. Each act of mercy you show to someone is a salty and preserving thing to do, and each person you share God’s good news with is bringing light into the darkness. How wonderful.

2. A task which looks to God to provide

For this particular mission trip, Jesus told the apostles not to take food, money and extra clothing. This does seem surprising at some levels. I think one reason for this was so that the disciples would fully rely on the Lord to provide for them. In this way, day-to-day faith in Jesus would be foundational to their ministry. Actually, Jesus refers to this at the Last Supper. Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered. He said to them, ‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. (Luke 22:35-36)

At the Last Supper, Jesus clearly instructs them to take provisions on mission. So, we shouldn’t think that we always enter mission unprepared. However, the principle of relying on God for our needs remains a crucial one. Sometimes, we must step out in faith, trusting that the Lord will provide.

If the church waited to have all our resources before we acted, we’d never do anything! This came home to me listening to Rev Derek Lamont speaking about his experience of church planting in Edinburgh. He spoke of how each church plant was a step of faith, and they weren’t sure where the resources would come from, but that each time, they have been wonderfully provided for. I wonder if we hold back from getting involved in church work as we are worried that we won’t be able to do the task. Perhaps we should look to the Lord more to give us all we need. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

3. An urgent task

Let’s imagine the 12 going out to these Galilean towns and villages. Mark tells us that they go in twos. So, two arrive in a town with only the shirt on their backs. Verse 4 tells us that they don’t hop from house to house looking for the best accommodation. They have an urgent message to share. It is a matter of life and death. It’s not about them, and making life comfortable for themselves. They are itching to tell others about King Jesus and what he wants from us. Some of the locals must have been struck by their urgency.

Perhaps we need to recapture the urgent need our country has for the gospel. If we focus too much on our own home comforts, it’s doubtful that we grasp the serious need unbelievers have.

4. A sobering task

Verse 5: If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.

What does this mean? Well, sometimes strict Jews, when they were crossing the border back into Israel, would shake the dust from their feet, symbolising that they did not want to be contaminated by the practices of the pagan countries they had been in. It was a sign of judgment on Gentile nations.

How astonished villagers would be to see the apostles make this sign of judgement upon them, inhabitants of Israel. Through this sign, the apostles are clearly saying to the people, if you reject Jesus as your King, then you are now outside of the true people of God. The true people of God are only those whose allegiance is to King Jesus.

What was true then is equally true today. Today, as the church goes out proclaiming the good news of Jesus, there will be those who reject the message, and we must be prepared for that. It has always been such. We too must warn people that there can be no salvation outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps this grave and symbolic warning from the apostles made some reconsider Christ’s claims in a deeper way.

5. A task to be obeyed

Verse 6: So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

It was so important that the apostles responded to Christ’s command with faith and obedience. This too is something we can learn from today, if we want to ensure we live out the great commission and not the ‘great omission’.

The command to tell others how much the Lord has done for us comes to us all. We want to be praying for opportunities to be able to do this, and take them when they come. Just as many villagers supported gospel work by providing accommodation for the apostles, we want to be a church which provides for gospel work, with our time, efforts, prayers and money. We’ll all be involved in different way, but we all want to be involved in mission of the church.

As the apostles went out, they did so not to make themselves famous, but to make Jesus famous. And that’s exactly what happened; we read of Herod in verse 9 saying: ‘Who, then, is this I hear such things about?’ And he tried to see him.

Surely, as a church in Kirkcaldy, we want the people of this town, and throughout Fife and beyond to hear about the person of Jesus Christ, and to think, who is this one people are saying changed their lives so much? And may they discover the truth, that Jesus is God’s King, the Saviour of the world.