The mission of the twelve, 9:1-9
Jesus sends out the twelve to proclaim the coming kingdom to the people of Israel, a proclamation in word and sign. The apostles must rely, not on the stuff of this age, but on divine power and authority. If they are rejected, they must move on to the next village, leaving those who fail to welcome the gospel with a sign of judgment. The mission is obviously successful because even Herod gets to hear about it, although confusion reigns. Even Herod asks "who is this?"
v1-2. Jesus now sets about preparing and authorizing his apostles for mission. Their task is to proclaim the news concerning God's coming kingdom. God is about to establish his eternal reign in and through the person of Jesus, so now is the time to repent and believe and become part of God's new age. To enable the apostles to communicate this news Jesus equips them with both words and signs. The words consist of the gospel of the kingdom and the signs consist of powerful exhibitions of the kingdom's realization / inauguration. The prophets foretold that these signs would herald the coming kingdom, so both words and signs proclaim that the kingdom is at hand.
v3-4. The apostles are to follow Jewish missionary customs. They are to look to each village community for provisions and hospitality, and when offered, they must not even think about moving to better accommodation. By these actions they show that they carry an authorized word from God.
v5. If a village community rejects the gospel then the apostles must symbolically demonstrate that this community now stands under the judgment of God.
v6-8. So, the apostles set off on their mission throughout Galilee. Obviously they made quite an impact because even Herod Antipas gets to hear about it. Yet, there is little agreement as to who this Jesus is. Some say that he is John the Baptist come back to life. Some say that Elijah has come from heaven to visit the people of Israel, while others think that Jesus is like one of the Old Testament prophets who has appeared on the scene again.
v9. Herod has only just had John's head cut off so he is not very impressed with this idea that the Baptist has risen from the dead and is now wondering around Galilee. At any rate, Herod has heard great things about Jesus and so he wants to meet him.
Communicating the gospel
As it was for the apostles all those years ago, the business of a Christian community is to gather for worship, to meet with Jesus, hear him, praise him, thank him, pray to him, .... and then to go out and proclaim the good news. The worship bit can be complex, but it's the going out that causes us the greatest problem. Yet, in truth, the going out could not be easier.
From our passage for study we are told that the going out serves to communicate the gospel, the good news that God's long-promised new age is upon us. Everyone is welcome to be part of it; all we have to do is ask Jesus. So, the going out serves to communicate important news to those outside the Christian fellowship. It's probably worth noting that we have had a long tradition of inviting people into our church services for the purpose of evangelizing the congregation. In recent years there has been increasing pressure to adjust our worship services to this end. Yet, even the most conservative head-count would tell us that on any given Sunday, the vast majority of unbelievers are not found in church, and never will be.
Much has been made of how the disciples went out to communicate the gospel. Although it may seem strange to our eyes, the disciples' mission was carried out in a culturally relevant way. A Jew living in the first century would have understood exactly what these men were about when they visited their village, and they would have understood exactly what was meant by "the kingdom of God is at hand." The issue we face is how do we communicate the gospel in a culturally relevant way? Well, we don't go out looking like first century Jewish missionaries, nor do we speak about coming kingdoms, and we don't try doing miracles that fulfill Old Testament prophecies for historic Israel. What we do is communicate the gospel in the same way our society communicates important news; we use the media.
There can be nothing simpler than say supporting the Bible Society for scripture distribution, producing a column in a local paper, advertising in a local paper, distributing evangelistic pamphlets, offering a free DVD gospel presentation, ... One of the most common ways of communicating the gospel to a local community was in the Parish Paper, usually produced in an 8 or 16 page A5 publication with all the parish pump gossip, hatches, matches and dispatches, and of course, a gospel presentation. Often seen now as old-hat, these little publications can still pack a punch.
So, let us again take to heart our obligation to make known the good news about the coming of God's long-promised new age.
1. Why were the apostles given this ability to exorcise demons and heal the sick?
2. Plan a strategy for communicating the gospel to your local community.
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