A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Many of the popular pictures and paintings of Jesus focus on the agony of the final hours of His pre-resurrected life. Think of the stained-glass window on the south wall of Central’s sanctuary depicting Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Due to the ubiquitousness of such art, it is easy to get the idea of Jesus living a life of loneliness, morosely resigned to the cruel fate that ultimately awaited Him on the cross at Golgotha, but the gospels actually give us quite a different picture of the life of Jesus. The only times Jesus was able to be alone were when He intentionally left the disciples and the crowds behind, heading off into desolate places, either the wilderness or the mountains, to spend private time in prayer.
Additionally, Jesus and the disciples were not exactly known for their somber, or sober, living. The Pharisees, motivated by not-so-secret jealousy, openly questioned why Jesus and the twelve were often found joyously partaking in parties and banquets, eating and drinking and carrying on, while their own disciples were relegated to despondent fasting. Jesus lived about as public of a life as any modern candidate for public office in the 24/7 news era. Practically everything He said and did was witnessed by both friend and foe alike and then instantly broadcast (often with some accompanying partisan spin) across the nation and beyond.
The people’s demands on Jesus grew greater and greater as news of His mighty words and works spread through the land. Knowing it would be impossible for one man to accept every invitation for His presence or fulfill every request for His power, Jesus now invited the twelve disciples to join Him in His work. The twelve would go from bystanders to partners, actually participating on mission with Jesus. In reality, this was what Jesus had been preparing them for from the beginning, from the moment they responded to His call to leave everything to follow Him.
In the first century every rabbi had disciples, or students, who sat and learned at the teacher’s feet, and everything about the process was formal, rigorous, and prestigious. Normally, being chosen as a disciple was a validation of a student’s superior bloodlines, intellect, and potential. But Jesus did not pick the best or the brightest, in fact we see through the gospel narratives that the disciples He chose were confused and surprised to even be considered, let alone selected, to walk with Jesus.
The first step common among all disciples was instruction, and the gospels show us that the disciples not only had front row seats to the teachings of Jesus, but they were also positioned to get the story behind the stories. After the crowds had dispersed for the evening, the disciples often gathered with Jesus for a meal around a table or a fire, asking questions and marveling at His explanations late into the night. Even though the gospel accounts were written decades after the death of Jesus, their incredibly detailed accounts of specific conversations reveal that the disciples paid attention when Jesus spoke.
But not only were the disciples instructed in the traditional academic sense, they were also completely immersed in life with Jesus. According to the latest research anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, and the disciples’ physical proximity to Jesus afforded them the unique privilege to catch His tone and body language better than anyone else. Like students spending a semester abroad, Jesus exposed the disciples to a foreign language and unfamiliar practices. They not only heard Him tell them how to pray, they watched and heard Him pray. He told them to love their neighbors, and enemies, as themselves, and then they watched as He went out and ministered to the needs of Samaritans, Gentiles, and even Jewish rulers.
Now they were ready to begin the next step in the process, to imitate His practices on their own. Like small children beginning to speak, repeating the words of their parents without knowing precisely what everything means, the disciples began to say and do the same things they heard and saw from Jesus. The twelve preached a message of repentance, cast out many demons, and even healed the sick who were brought to them.
Now, before we jump too far ahead in the story and see the ministry success of the twelve as evidence that they had completed their training and were now ready to strike out on their own full-time, it is helpful to remember that this was not the end of their time with Jesus. In fact, even after their great triumphs over the likes of demons and disease, the evidence points to the fact that the disciples still did not truly believe in Jesus. After their return, the disciples continued to question, doubt, and even deny Jesus. Mark tells us that they went out in six pairs, two-by-two, which means that even Judas, the betrayer, was the conduit of the power of Jesus, at least for a time. Earlier, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned everyone that performing powerful deeds in His name did not require intimacy with Him nor guarantee entrance into His heavenly Kingdom.
The call of Jesus to become His disciples continues to go out today through the local church. Just as with the twelve, we are invited to learn from His instruction, be immersed in His patterns, and even imitate His works. Discipleship is impossible to do alone, each of these requires the not only the power of Jesus, but presence in community. The most difficult thing about the last 7 months has not been the disastrous economic ramifications, or even the fear of death and disease, but the devastating isolation and loneliness that so many have had to endure.
Remember that from the very beginning, long before sin even entered the Garden, God saw it is not good for man to live alone. The body of Christ must not only learn together, but live together, work together, and even struggle together for the Kingdom. Not so that our names could be famous or our accomplishments would be great, but so that we might be known and loved by our Heavenly Father. To Him be the glory.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You are merciful and kind, faithful and true. We know that we do not contain any intrinsic beauty or value that would make You love or care for us. You love us because You love us, You use us because that is what You desire. You have invited us to be a part of Your grand narrative, to play a role in Your plan to reconcile the world to Yourself. We ask that You would gently remind us of Your majesty and brilliance when we become proud, and lift our heads when we are weary and battered by the storms of life in this world. Work in us and through us today we pray, Amen.