“And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” (Mark 6:7–9 ESV)
Strange instructions, these. Jesus sent the twelve disciples out woefully unprepared from a physical standpoint, “don’t take anything with you, men,” not to mention from the standpoint of being well prepared. They had heard Jesus teach a lot, they had witnessed his many miracles, but they had also failed him many times, misunderstood his message, and did not recognize fully who he was. Donald English comments here:
It is difficult to exaggerate the risk Jesus took in sending his disciples out to teach and heal. The impression of them created by Mark so far falls well short of complimentary! They do not understand his teaching (4:10). They do not trust his will or power to protect them (4:28). They are not sensitive to his extraordinary perception (5:31). Yet they are sent out, albeit in pairs, to teach, heal and exorcize.
What was Jesus thinking? The disciples could have benefited from much more training, teaching, and watching, and yet Jesus sent them out knowing that they were not prepared enough, knowing that they were still struggling to understand who he was. Donald English draws an important point out of this incident:
The implication of this act of Jesus, as of Mark’s teaching as a whole so far, is that no amount of hearing, teaching or observing miracles or even being with Jesus, is enough. They must risk themselves in dependence on the gospel and the power that accompanies it.
We generally do not like words like “risk” and “dependence.” We are much more comfortable with concepts like “safety” and “independence.” This incident–which is strangely separated by a story about King Herod and John the Baptist [more on that in a later post]–has the necessity of risk and dependence all over it. We must do risky things for Jesus because he commands us to do them, and we must depend on him because what we are doing is risky. Rarely is anyone going to thank us for presenting the gospel to them for the first time, more likely will come hesitation, objection, or outright rejection. How do we sustain proclaiming the good news of Jesus in light of this? We depend upon him and his sustaining grace and his help to endure the slings and arrows of people who do not want to hear about Jesus.
As we shall see, the disciples, bumbling, misunderstanding, insensitive men that they were [they sound strangely like us, don’t they?] were remarkably successful in their evangelistic efforts.