This passage marks the first time the disciples are sent out on a mission. In Luke 10, Jesus sends seventy disciples, two by two, out in the same way.
This passage raises some interesting questions: as witnesses to the living Jesus Christ, should we expect to have the ability to heal diseases and cast out demons like these original disciples? Should we go on witnessing trips and take nothing with us? Should we be a people who own nothing but the clothes on our backs? Should we shake our feet at unbelievers when they reject the gospel we tell them?
How do we apply this passage for ourselves today? What can we copy?
Sometimes Christians have copied the instructions given to the disciples here almost exactly and had great success. In 1994, the China Gospel Fellowship sent seventy young evangelists out, two by two, with just enough money for a one-way journey. They trusted God to provide for their needs after that. Six months later, they had established new churches in twenty-two of China’s thirty provinces. 1
So how do we go about copying the disciples here? Let’s work through the passage, verse by verse, and see what we can copy for today.
First, in this passage,
WE CAN COPY THE DISCIPLE’S CONCERN FOR THOSE WHO ARE SICK (9:1)
Luke 9:1 Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.
The apostles were given power over demons and the ability to “cure” (therapeuō) diseases. Should we expect to have this ability to cure diseases today? Are people like Benny Hinn right in conducting faith healing meetins? The answer is no.
The apostles were given this ability for the purpose of authenticating the New Testament (Acts 2:22 Romans 15:18-19; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4). Yes, God still performs miracles today. But miracles, in the sense of men going around performing miracles, is not for today, because we have the completed New Testament.
Furthermore, what many people don’t realize is that, while the Bible seems to have miracles happening on every page, there are only three eras of miracles in the Bible. The time of Moses and Joshua (about 60 years); the time of Elijah and Elisha (about 60 years); and the time of Christ’s and the apostle’s ministries (30 years). That’s a total of 150 years out of a total of 2,500 years covered in the Bible from Abraham to Revelation. Miracles rarely happened outside of these time periods.
If you read the New Testament carefully, you will notice the era of miracles coming to an end. In the book of Acts, Romans and 1 Corinthians (all written in the AD 50’s), we see miracles like healings taking place. But in later letters (like Philippians, 1 and 2 Timothy, all written after AD 60), we see people not being healed (like Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:27) or we see Paul recommending medicine to Timothy for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23) instead of healing him. So, even in the New Testament, you can see the occurrences of miracles fading.
We may not be able to work miracles and heal people, but this verse does teach us that, to Jesus, caring for the sick is important. When he went about healing, it wasn’t just to prove his power, it was because of his compassion. Throughout his ministry, and the ministry of the apostles in the book of Acts, there was always a concern for those who were sick. For example, we see this concern when Peter and John healed the lame beggar at the Temple in Acts 3.
In James 5, we are told that the sick are to call upon leaders in the church to pray for them. Therefore, it should be a priority to do what we can for those who suffer illness. It might only be praying for them or visiting them, but in doing so, we will show the same concern that Jesus showed.
Our witness of the gospel is authenticated by our love and compassion towards others, especially those who are sick or poor. James, the brother of Jesus, would later sarcastically write to Christians and say,
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. (James 2:15–17)
Our good works prove our faith. Our verbal witness of Christ needs to have good works to prove it to those we seek to win to Christ. We may not be able to work a miracle, but we can copy Jesus’s and the disciple’s concern for the sick.
WE CAN COPY THE DISCIPLE’S PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL (9:2)
Luke 9:2 And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.
What does it mean to “preach the kingdom of God?” Since verse 6 repeats the statement but uses “gospel” instead of “kingdom of God,” we know that it’s basically synonymous with preaching the gospel.
The gospel is the good news that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead to buy us salvation. Of course, Jesus hadn’t done any of that at this point in time. And we also know that the disciples had trouble even understanding that Jesus would die for their sins (cf. Luke 18:31-34).
To them, the good news—the gospel—was that the Messiah had come. They may not have understood his mission and purpose completely, but they knew he had come.
Their job in preaching would be to convince others that the Messiah had come to the Jewish people at long last. The kingdom of God was at hand, and people should repent and put their faith in the Messiah (cf. Mark 6:12; John 1:12-13).
Our preaching will also call people to repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus Christ. Our preaching may be from a pulpit, or at a coffee-shop, or in conversation at work, or in a home as a mother kneels for a good-night prayer by her child’s bed.
No matter what form it takes, if we are a Christian, we must preach the gospel. No one gets into Heaven by our love and good deeds alone. They must hear the way to Heaven preached.
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!… 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:13–15, 17)
We can copy the disciple’s preaching of the gospel.
WE CAN COPY THE DISCIPLE’S DEPENDENCE ON THE LORD TO PROVIDE (9:3-4)
Luke 9:3 And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece.
Luke 9:4 And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart.
Briefly, let’s sort through what these things are:
The “staves” refer to walking sticks that could also be used for self-defense. Mark 6:8 says that they could take one, so what Luke is saying is that they weren’t to take an extra.
A “scrip” is a leather bag for money. Or it may be a traveller’s bag for provisions. Or it’s a beggar’s bag that some religious teachers used.
They also were not to take “bread” or “money” to buy bread.
The “two coats” refers not to the parkas that we immediately think of, but to the regular clothes a person would wear in those days. Again, they weren’t to take extra supplies, but only what they wore on their backs.
They were also to stay at the “house” that they came to first in a town, and not move to another one during their stay in that town. Why? The reason seems to be that they might be tempted to leave the Jones’ house when they discovered that Johnson’s had a pool and better food. They were to be content where they were at.
The purpose of all these instructions was to teach the disciples to depend on God for their provisions. Is it supposed to be the norm for Christians today? Probably not, at least not exactly like this, because Jesus reversed this pattern later on. Speaking to the disciples in the upper room,
35 And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. 36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. (Luke 22:35–36)
This was a teaching moment for the disciples, to teach them dependence on the Lord. There are times that we we should challenge ourselves to depend on the Lord, lest we become too self-dependent. In a recent newsletter from one of our missionaries, Nancy Lou Burns Donald, we find her relying on the Lord to provide. She writes,
When I arrived back home from USA, my dear old car (27 years old since Sept. 1991) kept breaking down until it got so that I couldn’t keep it up. I finally decided to let it go and put it up for sale.
Now I have been without my car for over a month and have been walking some blocks to catch a mototaxi, a combi (vans that transport passengers to city streets) and taxis.
I am praying that if the Lord Willing, He will provide me a new car so that I can do more things quickly and help the Johnsons with their ministry outreachs. It is quite a hassle waiting in lines for mototaxis and combis and soooo slow to be able to do as many things as possible as a car would help. 2
Sometimes we have difficulty knowing how to pray for God to provide. Is this thing really a need or a want? Does God want me to have this? There is no easy answer, but one way that we can evaluate it is to ask ourselves: Is this a necessary thing for the ministry the Lord has given me?
Nancy must have asked herself a similar question. I don’t know if God will provide her with a new car, but at least she can pray with greater confidence that it is a need and not just a want.
In our ministries as witnesses to the living Jesus Christ, we can copy the disciple’s dependence on the Lord to provide.
WE CAN COPY THE DISCIPLE’S PREPAREDNESS TO MEET REJECTION (9:5)
I think the number one reason that we as Christians don’t witness to others more, and don’t speak up more, is we are afraid of what others will think.
Listen to what Jesus tells his disciples to do with those who do not respond to the gospel message:
Luke 9:5 And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.
At first glance, many Christians take this to be an excuse to not care about the unsaved and even to be a little bit snarky towards them. But is that what Jesus is saying? Let’s have a look.
First, what does he mean by shaking the dust off from their feet? This was a very Jewish thing to do. When a Jew had to visit a Gentile country, when he returned to Israel, he would shake the dust off from his feet as a symbolic gesture. He was, in effect, shaking off all the pagan influences so that they would not contaminate Israel.
For the disciples to shake the dust off their feet as they were leaving a Jewish town meant that they were treating those Jews as Gentile pagans. Which, if they rejected the Messiah, was exactly what they were like.
Now, before you start going about and declaring non-believers you know to be pagans and not worth anything, consider a second part to this verse. It says “whosoever will not receive you.”
Have you shared the gospel with them? They cannot not receive you unless you have tried to share the gospel. In other words, consider your personal responsibility to share the gospel as more important than shaking the dust off your feet.
All that presupposes that this shaking off our feet to unbelievers is something that is for us to do today. I can’t really find parallels to it in the rest of the New Testament, so it could be something that only applies to the original disciples working in Israel.
Whether it applies to us or not, one lesson that does come out clearly for us today is that we need to be prepared to meet indifference and even rejection when we share the gospel. Jesus knew it would happen, and he prepared his disciples for it when it did. It’s okay if people reject us because of the gospel. Let them go, and leave them to Jesus. Move on to the next one.
We can copy the disciple’s preparedness for rejection, and…
WE CAN COPY THE DISCIPLE’S URGENCY TO OBEY CHRIST (9:6)
Luke 9:6 And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where.
I love how the disciples seem to immediately depart. There was nothing, after all, that they needed to bring. They simply got on the road and obeyed Christ.
The phrase, “preaching the gospel” (euangelizō) is one word in the Greek. It means to proclaim or announce good news. There’s a sense of urgency in the word, as a story from ancient Greece shows. It takes place in 490 BC—
The Persians were invading Greece, and the Athenian army went out on the plains of Marathon to battle against the Persians. Everyone expected the Persians to win. Everybody back in Athens knew as soon as the Persians broke through the army, they would be defenseless, so everybody back there was in a panic and all that. But to everyone’s surprise, the Athenians won. They defeated Persia.
As soon as they won, they realized they needed to communicate the gospel. They realized that unless they got word back, there could be panic in the streets. There could be looting and plundering, and people would be trampling on each other in their efforts to get out of town.
They needed to communicate the gospel
So they sent a single runner back, and he ran all the way from Marathon to Athens. [about 25 miles] This is where we get our modern distance marathon [26.25 miles]. He ran into the city, the story goes, and all he was able to do was cry out, “Rejoice! We’ve triumphed!” [or, Nike, the Greek for victory] and he fell dead from the run. 3
That’s how critical it is to share the gospel with people. We live in a culture where people tell Christians that it’s okay to believe in Jesus, but to keep it private. We must tolerate the opinions and beliefs of others. True, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t share the good news of Jesus Christ.
We, like the Greek runner to Athens, have something important to tell, and we should be willing to die in order to tell it. What is this good news?
1) Human beings are sinners separated from God and destined for eternal punishment. This sounds like bad news, and it is.
The people of Athens knew they were in trouble. They were ready to panic because the Persians were going to wipe them out. They already knew the bad news.
But the people today often don’t know or don’t want to admit the bad news of sin. So they must be told the bad news first. They must be convinced that there is a problem. They must come to believe that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that, because of their sin, they are doomed to eternal punishment.
2) The good news is that God has intervened with a solution—the solution—to our sin. He sent his own Son to die in our place for our sins and he raised him from the dead to prove the mission was accomplished. Now there is a way back to God, there is way to escape eternal punishment.
That’s good news to rejoice in! But it is only good news if you believe the bad news. If you don’t believe the bad news, the good news isn’t something to rejoice in…it’s something to be offended by. When they reject the good news because they rejected the bad news, you can expect they will reject you also. That’s okay…KBO…keep buggering on.
Is there someone that you have been afraid of being a witness to? Make it a goal to share the gospel with them.
1 David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2003), 84. qtd. in Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, vol. 1 & 2, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009).
2 Nancy Lou Burns Donald, Prayer Letter, April 10, 2018.
3 Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).