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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Lord Jesus sends his messengers with an urgent prophetic task
Text:Mark 6:7-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 66:1,2
Psalm 75:3 (after the law)
Psalm 85:1-4
Psalm 50:1,10,11
Psalm 107:1,2 (after the offertory)
Hymn 50:1,2,7

Reading:  Matthew 10
Text:  Mark 6:7-13
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,


You’re lying in bed.  You’ve only been there for a short while.  Sleep is slowly starting to take hold of your mind and body – you’re in that twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness.  Then all of a sudden you bolt upright in bed:  you smell smoke.  There’s not a moment to lose:  you’ve got to get out of the house quickly.  You make sure the rest of the family gets out.  Then maybe you grab some of the things that are important to you – maybe the wedding picture, some of your favourite CDs, maybe some family heirloom.  But the urgency of the moment means that you can only take the things that really matter.  After all, a fire is about to consume your house.  It’s an emergency!


That same sense of emergency and urgency pervades our text.  Something big was about to happen.  The Lord Jesus sends his disciples out to give notice about this coming moment of enormous consequences.  As he sends them out, the urgency is underlined with these words:  “Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.  Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.”  The disciples weren’t supposed to waste a minute with all kinds of extra things that they didn’t need.  No, the moment demanded that they get right down to business.  There was something big just over the horizon and the Lord Jesus wanted his disciples to get out there and announce it.  


This scene of emergency and urgency is painted with Old Testament prophetic colours.   Mark deliberately sandwiches our text between two related stories.  At the beginning of Mark 6, the Lord Jesus goes to Nazareth and finds that a prophet can receive no honour in his hometown.  In the verses following our text, we find out that being a prophet can be a dangerous business.   John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet.  His job cost him his head.  And now, in our text, the Lord Jesus sends out the disciples with the same job.  And so, I preach to you God’s Word with this theme:


The Lord Jesus sends his messengers with an urgent prophetic task.


We will see:


1.      The content of the message.

2.      The covenant recipients of the message.

3.      The consequences of the message.


1.  The content of the message


Many times there are two ways to get a message across.  You can speak with your words or you can speak with your actions.  In our text, the message is being brought across with both.  So, to understand what the message really is, we have to look closer both at what is being said and what is being done.


If we look at verse 7, we hear the Lord Jesus calling the Twelve to himself.  He sends them two by two and gives them authority over the evil spirits.  Later, in verse 13, we find that the disciples effectively wielded this authority.  They cast out the unclean spirits.  Not only that, but they also had power from the Lord to heal the sick.  They anointed many sick people with oil – this was probably not meant as a kind of medicine, but rather it was a symbol of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  Working through the disciples, the Holy Spirit brought a new beginning to many who had suffered long.  What we should notice here is that something remarkable is happening.  Some kind of breakthrough is taking place.  The power of evil, the power and consequences of sin, all those things are beginning to be reversed in some measure. 


These earth-shaking, prophetic actions didn’t come all by themselves.  No, our text is clear that these prophetic actions came along with prophetic words.  Verse 12 says, “They went out and preached that people should repent.”  This implies that the Lord Jesus told them to go and do such preaching.  In fact, from the parallel passage in Matthew 10, we know that this is exactly what happened.  There was to be a preaching of repentance.  Now the question is:  what does this repentance involve?  Why does the Holy Spirit isolate this part of the message of the disciples as the defining characteristic of their preaching?


Repentance literally means changing your mind or changing your attitude.  So, in our text, what did people have to change their attitude about?  Well, these disciples were not just anybody’s disciples.  They were sent out as messengers of the Lord Jesus.  In verse 12 it says that they preached that people should repent.  Literally it says that they “heralded” that people should repent.  They were acting as heralds or ambassadors for the Lord Jesus.  So, put two and two together when we think about the changed attitude.  People had to change their thinking about Jesus Christ.  They had to stop thinking that this was merely the carpenter from Nazareth – the one who’d never gone to the Jewish equivalent of a university.  They had to stop thinking that he was merely the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon.  What were they to think of Jesus instead?  They had to come to see him as the fulfillment of all God’s promises for a Redeemer and Messiah in the Old Testament.  All the prophecies of the Old Testament came to live and breathe in Jesus Christ.  This repentance involved seeing Jesus Christ as the messianic King, who had come to bring salvation. 


You see, the content of the message of the disciples was that the kingdom of God was breaking through with the ministry and work of the Lord Jesus.  Again, this is made clear if we remember Matthew’s account.  Matthew 10:7, “As you go, preach this message:  ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’”  The disciples announced the coming of the King with their words.  They demonstrated the coming of the King’s reign with their actions of healing the sick and driving out the demons.  They called people to repent of their old way of thinking about the king.  In all this, they acted prophetically – pointing to the reign of King Jesus.  They were pointing to the breaking through of his good kingdom.


Some years ago our family went to a science centre somewhere in the States.  They had a number of hands-on displays set up there.  One of them involved making a huge bubble.  You’d let down a bar with a pulley into a large rectangular bucket of soap.  You’d pull up the bar and make this huge bubble.  Then you’d use a fan to gently blow a shape into the bubble – until it would suddenly explode.  The breaking through of the kingdom of God – the content of the message -- is like that wind blowing into a bubble about to explode.  God’s kingdom is pushing the limits, stretching the boundaries, about to break through and bring big changes into the world.  The Lord teaches us in our text that the time is near when that bubble is about to burst.  For us, that means the need is urgent to hear what the Lord is saying. 


He announces to us the good news that he is King, he is a good king and his good kingdom is breaking in to the brokenness of this world and bringing change.  We don’t always see it clearly.  We don’t see it as dramatically perhaps as those people in Jesus’ day.  We don’t see the demons being driven out and the sick being healed in the same miraculous numbers.  But yet…yet the prophetic message is clear and urgent, still heard from God’s messengers today:  the kingdom is coming, so think rightly about your King and constantly look to him in faith, trusting his message of good news for you.  Loved ones, the time is urgent, the kingdom is breaking through and will soon be here in all its fullness.  So, in what ways do we still need to repent and change our thinking about this King and his kingdom?  For example, do we look at him perhaps as someone who somehow got us started in our spiritual life, but now who is just our moral example ("What Would Jesus Do?")?  Or do we look at our Saviour as someone whose saving grace and power we're dependent on every minute, every hour, every day?  Those are things that we urgently need to consider.  The content of this message becomes more urgent as we move on to consider the covenant recipients of this message.


2.   The covenant recipients of the message.   


In the Old Testament era, it was rather exceptional to find a prophet being sent to the Gentiles.  So, for example, Jonah was not a normal prophet.  Typically, God sent prophets to his special people.  The prophets were sent to reveal God’s Word to the people of the covenant.  They were sent by God to lay out the blessings and curses that come with the covenant relationship.  In fact, there is a close connection between prophecy and the covenant. 


We see this connection reflected in our text.   It’s already evident in verse 7.  Was it a coincidence that the Lord had twelve special disciples?  Do you think that it just happened to be that Mark wrote that the Lord called “the twelve” to himself?  No, all these pieces fit together to drive home a point.  The point here is that the twelve apostles are like the twelve tribes of a new Israel – a renewed or reconstituted covenant people of God.  The emphasis here on the twelve shows that God’s covenant is in the foreground in what takes place with this mission of the disciples. 


This is further seen when we consider the relevance of the detail that the Lord sent out the disciples two by two.  Now that was wise on the part of the Lord Jesus, but it was more than that.  In the Old Testament, God’s law required that valid testimony needed more than one witness.  The bare minimum was two.  The testimony of two witnesses would be sufficient to convict a law-breaker.  In the same way, the Lord Jesus sends out these witnesses two by two.  In a few moments, we’ll see that these two witnesses could not easily be dismissed.  There would be charges and a conviction if they were ignored.  But for now, notice again that God’s covenant is in the foreground here. 


Finally, we could again briefly take note of what Matthew reports in his gospel.  Matthew 10:5-6, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.   Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”  You see, the Lord explicitly told his disciples to focus their efforts on the covenant people of God.  In their urgent prophetic task, they were to go to the people who had already heard the preaching of the numerous Old Testament prophets, including John the Baptist.  If nothing else, take note of God’s long-suffering and patience here!   The prophets had not been welcomed among God’s people.  Hebrews 11:37-38 gives us a vivid picture.  Imagine it:  “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”  That’s how God's people treated their prophets!  And yet God still sends more.  He sends them again and again.  Doesn’t it amaze you how patient God is?   He was patient then and he continues to be patient with us today. 


It’s important that we see this aspect of the text.  It’s important because so often the meaning of this text is restricted to missionary situations.  When I was a missionary I would sometimes hear people say things like, "There comes a time when we have to shake the dust off our feet with those people on the mission field and move on."  However, the Lord didn't give this text as a guideline for missionaries and mission boards.  No, instead this text has been given to us, the covenant people of God.  It’s God’s Word to us, sitting in the pew each Sunday, listening to the prophetic Word preached.  Taking this text and trying to somehow make it a guideline for mission work is like taking the proverbial square peg and trying to fit it in a round hole.  The text is fit for addressing us, the covenant people of God here, but it doesn't work for dealing with people on the mission field who don’t have a meaningful covenant relationship with the Lord. 


The Lord Jesus sent his messengers to the covenant people of his day, not to the Gentiles, at least not at that moment.  If we insist on making a strict application of this text to missionary situations, it speaks to our prophetic responsibility for mission work among the Jews.  In our Prayer for All the Needs of Christendom at the back of the Book of Praise, mission among the Jews is mentioned.  But what are we doing for such mission?  Where are Reformed missions among the Old Testament people of God?  Very little is being done.  Romans 11 is strongly suggestive that God is not yet finished with the Jews and so we definitely need to consider this more.   The Lord sent his disciples first to the lost sheep of Israel, then to the Gentiles.  The apostles did the same in the book of Acts.


But if we take this text back into the pews here – it says that God will continue to present us with the coming of his kingdom.  God will urgently make known to us through his prophetic messengers the good news of Jesus Christ and his good reign as King.  God will persistently announce the same call to repentance that we need to hear repeatedly.  And what we do with that message is a matter of eternal consequence.  We’ll see that in our last point.


3.  The consequences of this message.


When the Lord gives this command to his disciples, he envisions two scenarios.  The first involves their arrival into a given town in Israel.  Verse 10 says, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.”  Entering a house implies a welcome.  In other words, the Lord Jesus envisions that there will be a positive response in some places.  Some people will welcome Christ’s ambassadors and heralds into their homes, into their lives.  The Lord says that when that happens, the disciples are to remain in that home as long as they stay in that town.  There may be a couple of reasons for that.  The first might be to guard the integrity of the ministry.  If the disciples are discontent and moving around from house to house, trying to find a better place, that could throw their ministry into disrepute:  “Bunch of greedy malcontents!”  A second reason might be strategic:  staying in one place would allow the apostles to be more accessible to the people and therefore more effective as prophetic messengers.  Regardless, we can be sure that the welcome of these messengers would have been a special blessing for the covenant people in that place.  After all, welcoming the ambassadors of the Lord is the same as welcoming the Lord himself. 


The same principle holds true for us today.  If we welcome the preaching of the Word and the preachers who bring that Word, God promises to bless us.  He will bless us through His Word with a closer relationship with himself.  Matthew 10:40, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.”  Brothers and sisters, hear what God is saying:  a positive, welcoming response to Christ’s prophetic messenger will result in experiencing the comforting nearness of God promised in the Scriptures.  


But there is a second scenario.  It’s captured in the words of verse 11.  “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave as a testimony against them.”  Again, this is specifically addressed to the apostles working among God’s covenant people.  We can't take these words as a general guideline for missionaries.  This fish will not survive outside of covenant water. 


Let me explain further, because this picture of wiping the dust off the feet doesn’t really speak to us the way it did to people in the first century.  It might help to imagine it as some person living with family for many years.  Maybe a son or daughter, but maybe even a husband or wife, a father or mother.  It’s a close relationship between the person and the family.  But one day somehow the whole relationship falls apart.  Something has happened and the trust and love are gone.  As the person is leaving the house, as he stands at the door, he takes an 8 X 14 family picture and rips it to shreds before everyone’s eyes.  He doesn’t say a word.  He doesn’t have to.  The action says it all:  this relationship is over, damaged and destroyed beyond repair.  Now it wouldn’t have made any sense for him to go next door to the neighbour he hardly knows and do the same thing.  The action only makes sense when it’s done with those who were in the relationship.  It loudly proclaims that the relationship has been broken.  That’s what wiping the dust off the feet would have said to the covenant people of God in the first century. 


If the disciples came to a town where the urgent, prophetic message of the kingdom of God was not received in faith, where the gospel was not received in faith, they would shake their sandals free of the dust of that place.  Paul and Barnabas did that in Acts 13 with the Jews in Antioch.  Paul did the same thing with the Jews in Corinth in Acts 18.  He shook the dust off.  That would have said to the covenant people there:  “With your unbelief and covenant breaking, you have made the earth under you unclean.  You covenant people have become the same as the pagan world!”


In fact, it would be saying that they are worse than the pagan world.  In Matthew 10:15, the Lord Jesus added these words, “I tell you the truth, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town!”  If you stop and think about it, those are weighty words.   Homosexual behaviour disgusts us.  But the Lord Jesus tells us that in God’s eyes there is a sin more disgusting, more revolting than sodomy.  When God’s covenant people sit under the preaching of the Word, when they hear the gospel and will not receive it in faith – that is a sin far worse than sodomy!   When God’s people come to church each Sunday and then treat his Word with contempt, habitually ignoring it through daydreaming or sleeping – that is a sin far more disgusting than sodomy! 


Loved ones, God’s Word to us is clear and urgent:  give heed to the prophetic Word or you will be cut off.  Please listen, really listen to the preaching of the kingdom of God.  See your King and hear his claims on your life, listen to the law which drives us to Christ.  Listen to the gospel of grace, which presents us with Christ who has done everything for us.  Responding in faith, looking to Christ, because of him you will find forgiveness for all the times that you have ignored the Word, or been indifferent to it, or even outright treated it with contempt.  Responding in faith, you will receive blessings that will blow your mind and impress you for eternity.  But if we continue to spurn the Son, never repenting, if we show with our actions and thoughts that his word, that the gospel is of little interest to us, that it bores us, the Son promises judgment.  


I urge each of you to think about this.  It doesn't matter how old or young you are, soon each one of us will be in either heaven or hell.  You don't know when.  There is no time to waste.  Some time ago, before Hurricane Ike hit Texas, you could hear people saying, "I don't believe it's going to come.  I don't believe the weather reports."  Thousands refused to evacuate.  Afterwards, a woman was being interviewed and they asked her what she would do next time and what advice she would give to people who wanted to stay through a hurricane.  Her advice was one word:  "Run."  God has given us his weather report.  Judgment is coming.  Either Christ will return or you will be called before God's throne.  It's coming.  But there is a place of safety at the cross.  There is a storm shelter in Jesus Christ.  Flee to him today, flee to him everyday, never stop.  As often as you hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus, accept it in faith.   


We're going to sing in a moment from Psalm 50.  Don't let the words of this Psalm be true of you.  Instead, let these words warn you and point you to Christ the Saviour:


These things you’ve done, and when I yet kept still

You thought I was like you, in love with ill,

But now I rebuke you to your face,

And you will feel the sting of My disgrace.

Mark this, you who forget all that God gave you,

Or I will rend you, and not one will save you.


Now that is what we call an urgent message.  The kingdom is coming.  Judgment is coming along with it.  When we receive the King’s ambassadors with their prophetic message, when we receive the preaching with faith, we can be assured of a place in God’s eternal kingdom.  There is no reason for fear so long as we are resting and trusting in Christ, clinging to King Jesus and his Word with faith. 


Something big is about to happen.  The kingdom of heaven is breaking through.  We don’t know the exact moment when the fulness of God’s kingdom will come and he shall be all in all.  But this text is a powerful and urgent reminder for all of us to be ready.  When the trumpet sounds, are you going to have what is most important?


Let us pray:


Eternal Father in heaven,


Thank you for your grace in sending us your Word.  We have no right to it, in fact we have forfeited our place in your kingdom.  But you continually come after us, calling us with the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Father, we give you our heart-felt thanks and praise.  Help each of us to hear your Word in faith, to accept the promise of the gospel as often as we hear it.  May your Word bring us peace, joy and comfort in this life and in the life to come.  Father, we also pray for the spread of your Word, especially among the Jews.  We ask that faithful missionaries would be proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation through Jesus the Messiah.  We pray that you would continue bringing in Jewish people to your kingdom, that you would do so for your glory, that the great day of our Lord Jesus would come quickly.  We pray in his name, AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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