[June 13, 2010] In the previous section, 3:20—6:6a, Jesus establishes His “family,” His mother and brothers and sisters. On the one hand, the section ended with His natural familiars, His hometown (patrida), not receiving or hearing Him (6:1-6a; see 6:11). On the other hand, the section was introduced at the end of the previous section, 1:16—3:19, with Jesus “calling to Him those whom He Himself wanted” and His appointing twelve “so that they might be with Him” (3:13-19). The Twelve were selected from among the disciples to be the authorized eyewitnesses of His ministry—“from the baptism of John until the day on which He was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22). These Twelve, Jesus sent out (apostellō) to preach—which He does now in 6:7-12—to preach in order that people would repent. The word “preach” means to proclaim or herald news. This refers to the Gospel, the news of the Messiah’s—even God’s own—coming in the person of Jesus. Armed with this news, He gives them authority over the unclean spirits. This authority represents the kingdom of God, that is, the rule of God that overcomes its opposition. (“If I by the finger of God cast out Satan, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Luke 11:20.)
In other words, the Twelve are sent out to herald the news of His coming on the basis of their connection to Jesus, their being His true family and being appointed to be “with Him.”
It is interesting that this introduces a section that explores the question of who Jesus is (7:1—8:26), revealed in the multiplying of the loaves and fish, that begins with the unbeliever’s unease and ends with the disciples’ continuing inability to see clearly, a fault that will not be rectified until they perceive Jesus in the context of the cross and the way of the cross (in the following section, 8:27—10:52). The Twelve are sent out to herald His coming, but they do not yet perceive Him clearly. All they are armed with is their special association with Him. What empowers them is not at all what is in them, anything at all that they have accomplished or achieved or attained, but He Himself and His selection of them and the sphere of His person into which He brings them. Their understanding is imperfect, even off the mark. But they are connected to Him personally. By His own initiative, doing and control (by His own “lordship”), they are in a personal—person-to-person, face-to-face—relationship with Him. That is the base they have, the basis on which He sends them out.
And that, I would say, is the basis on which He sends us out. About this, I have a few words to say.
But first, let us understand the context of those first auditors of Mark’s gospel. As Peter wove the gospels of Matthew and Luke together to affirm the new gospel of Luke using the original gospel of Matthew, the people to whom he told the Gospel were suffering a dreadful persecution in Rome under the emperor Nero. The fear and confusion that must have possessed them as many of those dear to them ended their lives by violence must have been great. Yet they were together as the “mother and brothers and sisters” of Jesus.
This was not the first time that they had suffered hardship. Earlier they had suffered hardship from others in the synagogue community who objected to their unrestricted fellowship with Gentile believers in the Messiah (in the days of Claudius, see Acts 18:2). Because of the violence of that conflict, Claudius had expelled them from the city. Now they had returned, and their relationship with others in the synagogue had healed, but the pagans now attacked them. They had always had tension with the Jews because of their refusal to honor the civic gods, but the Gentiles—these “Christians”—who not only would not honor the civic gods but even rejected the gods of their ancestral households and patrimony: this was barely tolerable. Now under Nero the floodgates of this tension broke and its waves rode over them. They could either give in or hold firm.
They held firm by clinging to each other and by encouraging one another with their vision of who Jesus really is. Is He worth it—what we are going through? Who is He really? The answer is Yes, He is worth it, but we have to see Jesus not only through His wisdom and His works of power, and not only in His plenitude (the loaves and fishes) but also through the cross, the way that He trod and that He called all who follow Him to also trod. To see the Yes of His worth, we have to see this.
But in the meantime, even with our imperfect sight (see 8:24), we are still called to confess Him and sent out to witness (martyreō) and herald the news, to proclaim the Gospel, to call people to “repent” on the basis of this news. In spite of the King Herods and Neros in the world, our confession of Jesus and witness to the Gospel must not slacken because of our fear. It is especially in such times that the testimony is important—for it is the standard (flag, banner, ensign) of the kingdom of God in the midst of the world that is in rebellion against Him. Our witness is the representation of truth in the midst of the lie, the claim of reality—of God—in the midst of the collective but delusory assault on reality. This staking out of God’s rights in our own person by our confession is demanded of us.
Sent as Witnesses
We are not all sent out as apostles, which is to say, we are not all literally sent out on the road, away from home, as envoys of Christ. Nevertheless, we are all called to be confessors and witnesses of Christ and heralds of the Gospel where we are. This short passage that speaks of the sending of the Twelve still applies to us comparatively. For we all are “sent” to our families and neighbors, peers and coworkers.
The Twelve were appointed in 3:14, prior to being sent, to be with Jesus. This means that they were to be eyewitnesses of Him, not just any eyewitnesses (such as reporters or historians would be) but witnesses whom He had brought into a personal relationship with Himself. As this implies, they were to be His witnesses as His apprentices, His “disciples” (which they already were, but now in the closest sense, attending on Him daily). This is the basis on which they were sent, not the fact that they understood all things clearly.
When we as believers hear the eyewitness testimony of the gospels, by the Holy Spirit who is the presence of Jesus within and among us, we “remember” Him and are made His witnesses. The acts of the Holy Spirit within our lives—on the basis of this remembrance in our spirits—become our personal witness to Jesus. Primary, however, is our remembrance of Jesus through the testimony of the four gospels. It is through our spiritual hearing of the Gospel that we get to be “with Jesus” and learn at His feet to be His disciples. This is underlaid by the prophetic Word of the Old Testament (without this, the form of the Gospel is meaningless) and interpreted for us by the apostles of the New Testament.
We come together at His table and hear the Gospel, listening with our spirits, and through the Holy Spirit we “remember” Jesus as we eat the bread and drink the wine together. This is no ordinary memorial, but Jesus Himself is present among us and we receive Him by faith in the physical elements. He is present to us actually, by the Holy Spirit, in His Person, as divine and human, as spirit, soul and body, as born, living, crucified, resurrected and ascended—all that. Our receiving Jesus spiritually when we gather around His Word at His table makes us truly witnesses of the Gospel.
On this basis, as the church, as we depart from the table, Jesus accompanies us in our daily lives and, as He works in our lives through the Holy Spirit, we continue to witness Him.
That to which the Gospel invites us and effectively brings us, through the Holy Spirit, through grace, is a personal relationship to Jesus Himself. It is not something we create, nor something we earn. This relationship is something which Jesus Himself creates with us through the Word. We relate to Jesus, we are in relationship with Him, through the Word, and it is here, in this relationship, that we are also His disciples, His apprentices, His personal students. If we are in relationship with Him, we are under His discipline (which is also the discipline of the Father through the Holy Spirit) and are learning from Him day by day.
On this basis, we are sent into the world wherever we are. “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21—where there are only “disciples”; they are never distinguished as “apostles”).
Having Each Other
As the Twelve were sent out two by two, we also are not “sent” by ourselves. We have the companionship of our siblings in the faith, companions with whom we gather on the Lord’s Day and whom we see during the week, if not daily. Christians do not stand as individuals; we exist in the world as communities, as the church. This is all the more necessary in view of the wide scale apostasy of Christendom away from the faith. We need the support of one another in the faith, and our fellowship with one another should also consist in sharing our companionship with Jesus (in the Word and in our lives).
In Order that People would Repent
At first glance the text seems to say that they went forth and preached to people that they should repent. Actually, it says that they went forth and proclaimed or heralded the news in order that people would repent. To preach (kēryssō) means to herald news, the news in this case being the coming of Jesus, that is, the Gospel. “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). His coming—as Messiah and Son of God—His presence among us—this story—has such significance for everyone that, if they “get it,” they will turn around. The word “repent” (meta-noeō) means to change one’s mindset, one’s perspective, the whole frame in which one sees life. The Hebrew equivalent means to turn around, to make an about-face. If we live in the world and accept the myths of what is “true” and “necessary,” of what is “the way things are,” then, if the truth of the Gospel dawns on us, our whole “world” has to crumble and fall to pieces. It no longer holds true, any of it it seems. Our “world” is really a collective delusion that isolates and insulates us from God. It is not creation and does not represent the reality of creation, or the reality of our being. The reality of Jesus, who He is, does that. When we enter into His sphere, by His call, and by the grace of God that brings us to Him, we enter into a relationship with Him in which—if we are faithful—reality begins to dawn on us. In relationship to Him, we are captured by this reality and it becomes inescapable, so that if we do not embrace it, it begins to break us down. Repentance, in relationship to Jesus, becomes inevitable. It is the hearing of the Gospel—in our spirits, through the Holy Spirit, by God’s grace—that makes this happen.
We may call people to repent, but what makes this happen is the proclamation of Jesus, not our imploring people to change their behavior.
The power of this proclamation, the revelation of Jesus through the Gospel, is such that demons are cast out. Demons and the powers of the world, demons being those powers that invade and subdue people individually, have to yield to the liberating power of the revelation of Jesus. Their power is in the “Lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11; Ephesians 4:22), and that power cannot sustain itself in the Light of reality.
Moreover, in the time of Jesus the signs of the age to come were also evident as the apostles anointed many of the sick with oil and healed them. James 5:14 also mentions anointing the sick with oil. Oil symbolizes the power—or anointing—of the Holy Spirit. For the apostles in Mark 6 this was the anointing of the Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus at His baptism. This anointing also comes upon the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:33) and remains with us to this day. Not all the sick are miraculously cured, but sometimes they are. When they are, this is a sign by which God bears witness to the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 2:4; 6:5). Such miracles are not violations of the “laws of nature” as commonly thought but are the unveiling of what is inherent in nature, suppressed by the sin of humanity (Romans 8:18-22). One day that which is inherent will be released as nature itself enjoys a full participation in the glory of God. The glory of God is already present in Jesus, and when the sanctifying (Holy) Spirit is at work, that glory is communicated to us and to the creation. James 5 testifies that the church has such a healing ministry. These signs are not a form of magic that we can manipulate, but are temporary signs under the control of God, bearing witness for us to another time. We need to have an open yet balanced view of this.
The apostles were sent out with little to support them. They were to depend on the providence of God through the hospitality of others. The worker is worthy of his wages, Jesus says elsewhere (Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7). Here Jesus orders the workers to accept and to depend on the hospitality of others. Today, in our fallen condition, the churches have to be ordered to provide hospitality to Christ’s workers. We today are so miserly and ungenerous to God that the situation is reversed. What is normal is for the homes of the saints to be places of hospitality to the workers of Christ and to one another. In the New Testament, the home is the normal place of ministry. But our homes cannot be that if we treat them like fortresses.
In Matthew 10:11, those who open their homes are “those who are worthy” and in Luke 10:6 they are called “the sons of peace.” Those who receive the Gospel open their homes to the heralds of the Gospel (Acts 20:20). Believers also ought to open their homes to one another (Acts 2:46; 5:42). This is one of the most basic of the practical issues of being a Christian, a disciple and follower of Jesus. We need to actively seek out one another to spend time with one another in each other’s homes. Part of what prevents us is our “respect of persons”: we are either haughty or ashamed because of our social class. We condemn this. There should be no “respect of persons” among us!
When a place or a person does not receive the Gospel, it is not our place to persuade them. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. The apostles were on the move and therefore they were simply to shake off the dust under their feet and move on. They were not to let that place stick to them or carry it with them in the form of anger or resentment. There is no time for that, nor is it effective. As heralds of Christ, we are to make the news—the Gospel of Christ—known. We are to proclaim Him, not push Him on others. Often the way that Christians insist that Jesus is the only way of salvation and our lack of respect for others comes across as intolerant and pushy (because it usually is). What Christians proclaim is different and indeed unique. But for a person to perceive it as the way of salvation, for them to hear it as reality, requires the work of the Holy Spirit and not our cognitive propositions that we force onto others as something they must accept.
“Deep calls unto deep,” according to Psalm 42:7. If we wrangle with people’s minds, we only change their minds. If we manipulate their emotions, we only touch them on the level of their feelings. The Gospel can only be communicated spiritually (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). For our spirit to open to others requires that our soul be broken, and for the reality of the Gospel to be perceived by the spirit of another requires that the Holy Spirit sheds that light through the Word in the words that we speak.
If a person says no to us with respect to the Gospel, let us move on, allowing the Holy Spirit to do whatever the Holy Spirit is doing. Our witness to them continues to be effective by our personal presence and relationship to them, without the word (1 Peter 3:1).