Images of the Savior (25 â€“ His Sending Out the Twelve)
Immediately before Jesus sends his disciples to go throughout Israel from city to city, healing, casting out demons, and preaching the good news of the Kingdom, we are given a glimpse of his deep compassion for the scattered and wayward crowds, a compassion which works mightily in his tireless ministry of healing and evangelizing. This precious glimpse is the foundation and fountainhead for the mission of the twelve, which follows. It is likewise the foundation for our own mission, which trades the cities of the world for the villages of Israel, and substitutes the innumerable band of faithful witnesses for those first twelve disciples. If we would learn anything from this account, let us assure ourselves, above all else, that Jesus' compassionate person, which manifested itself in his mighty works, done according to the will of the Father, is the sole and illimitable source from which the ever-widening streams of gospel-mercies flow, and shall continue to flow through the Church, until the whole world is full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).
Jesus' mission is the foundation of the disciples' mission and the expanded mission of the whole Church, first, in that it makes possible the work of the mission, by accomplishing the realities which the Church displays and proclaims, namely, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation to God, and victory over the forces of Satan and the effects of the curse; and second, by providing the exemplary basis for how the task ought to be pursued, and indeed will be pursued. If Christ bought redemption with his body of flesh, he is now spreading the effects of that redemption through his mystical body the Church; and his ways are ever consistent: the manner in which he went about his task in his physical body on earth is precisely the same manner in which he goes about his subsequent task through his mystical body. But all of this occurs in the proper order, according to the plan of God, as we shall see; first comes the ministry of Christ; then the twelve apostles lay the foundation of the church, beginning with Israel; and finally, the whole Church takes up the calling as the gospel begins to spread to the ends of the earth. This account, in which Jesus for the first time sends out the twelve disciples in his Spirit and power, to the cities of Israel alone, marks the first expansion of ministry to which Jesus' compassion would give rise. But the grace-waves that flow from that deep spring of compassion are still rolling forth from the heart of Jesus today, and will continues to do so until they have flooded the earth with mercy and peace.
Let us observe, first, the pivotal role that this mission has in the redemptive design, standing as the first expansion of the ministry of Jesus' own person; and then we will note a few ways in which this mission, like all which should follow it, is to be patterned after Jesus' own mission.
It was the divine design that the gospel should come to Israel first, and only then should it be broadcast among the Gentiles (e.g. Romans 1:16-17); now, what symbolized the nation of Israel more unmistakably than the twelve patriarchs from which she sprang? It is not to be doubted that the number twelve is the number of the nation of Israel, although in her time of maturity she came to be symbolized likewise by the number seventy, as, for example, the seventy elders which helped Moses in the wilderness (see Numbers 11:16-17). This is no doubt the significance of the twelve springs and seventy palm trees in Elim (Numbers 33:9 â€“ cf. also the case of Genesis 46:27), the twelve springs standing for the twelve-fold source of the Jewish nation, and the seventy palm trees representing the fullness of the mature people of God which issued forth from those springs. Just as the springs nourished and gave rise to mighty trees in the desert, so the patriarchs gave rise to a mighty people of God in the wilderness of the unbelieving world. We are confident, then, that the sending of the twelve, with explicit instructions not to enter into the cities of the Gentiles or the Samaritans, coupled with the sending of the seventy (Luke 10:1-20), was an indicator of the necessity for the gospel first to be proclaimed throughout all of Israel, before it should be opened up to the world in general.
However, this proclamation was only for a short season, and the task of the twelve was fraught with urgency and demanded haste. For this reason they were not to bring along any unnecessary supplies which would in any way slow their progress, nor were they to tarry when they had been rejected, but were counseled to flee with all urgency to the next city. For even when pressed with the utmost haste, they would not make an end of visiting every city before the Son of Man should come; by which is intended either his coming through his Spirit on the day of Pentecost, to empower the believers to take their mission to the ends of the earth; or else his coming to judge the Jewish nation for their unbelief, which he did so fearfully at the hands of General Titus in A.D. 70. In any case, the time was fast approaching for the gospel to come to the Gentiles, and hence the need for its message to be proclaimed to all the Jews was most pressing. As our mission is an expansion of this mission, and founded upon the same mission of Jesus the Savior, we may likewise be instructed in the matter of fleeing to the next city when rejected in the first, even as the history of Paul gives so clear an example; but the instructions here were properly intended for the first twelve at this particular occasion, and are only by extension for us.
Now, let us see three ways in which the mission of the twelve, and likewise our own, is patterned after the mission of Jesus himself: first, even as Jesus suffered, the same prospect of suffering is held out to us. â€œThe servant is not above his master,â€ and they called the master Beelzebub (vs. 24-25); how would the world mock the disciples of Jesus, when they so scorned and derided him? Jesus was offered up as a sheep for slaughter, and now he was sending his disciples out as â€œsheep in the midst of wolvesâ€ (vs. 16). Even as Jesus was mocked and persecuted, in the accomplishment of his mission of redemption, so his disciples would now be mocked and persecuted as they labored to spread the effects of Jesus work' of redemption. And believer, do not suppose that the case is different today: the Father is ever pleased to bring the greatest victory out of the deepest humiliation and affliction. The ultimate example is the cross, and we are graced to follow that example, suffering as Jesus suffered (Philippians 1:29). Or do you think that you alone are excepted from the rule, â€œwe must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of Godâ€ (Acts 14:22)? Let us assure our hearts that, if we would be faithful ministers of the gospel, we must be willing to suffer as Jesus suffered. This is divine wisdom, and the heart of the plan of redemption.
But second, we are encouraged with the promise of partaking of Jesus' power and glory. These disciples were empowered by Jesus to heal and cast out demons, and to preach the gospel boldly. How encouraging this reality must be, for apart from his power flowing through us, we can do nothing (see John 15:5). But in him, we are able to conquer at the last, no matter how the enemy may rage; and so the disciples were emboldened by the promise of divine assistance and encouraged with the promise that he who faithfully proclaimed the name of Jesus would someday hear Jesus confessing his name before the Father in heaven (vs. 32). He who did the slightest and most insignificant act for the spread of the Kingdom, when acting in the power and name of Christ, would have a reward for all eternity (vs. 40-42). Is this not gracious and comforting news to us as well? Has not the Spirit come to dwell within us, and does he not empower us to testify with the authority of Christ himself? Are we not assured by the apostles that, as we labor in the power of Christ, we will not lose our reward in heaven (see Colossians 3:23-24; Galatians 6:9)? Let us then be bold to serve our Savior through sufferings, and look unto the recompense of the reward which awaits them who esteem him greater than all the riches of the world (Hebrews 11:25-26)!
And finally, we are exhorted to follow the example of Christ in our manner of conduct and in all of our responses, as we walk the path of his sufferings by the power of his Spirit. For we are first of all to be â€œwise as serpents and innocent as dovesâ€ (vs. 16). Who was wiser in the ways of God, who more skilled in applying the gospel-balm of his message to the various hearts of needy men, who more able to face any situation in the most prudent way, than Jesus our Savior? Or who was more innocent and pure, more gentle and meek, than this man Jesus, who did all that he did by the Spirit of God who came upon him in the form of a dove, thus symbolizing his purity and gentleness (cf. Matthew 3:16-17)? So the disciples are to follow in this same example; and they are, moreover, to proclaim the truth boldly, to confess the Father faithfully, to fear him alone, and not the vicious hordes of evil men, even as Jesus himself so perfectly displayed in his life on earth. Yes, and more than that, when their own families forsook them, even as Jesus was rejected by his own (John 1:10-11), they are to love Jesus more than all else, even their own souls. They are to take up their cross, as Jesus took up his own cross, and follow in his steps. How staggering is this command! Are we not utterly incapable of embracing our own humiliation, shame, and even the cruel death of our bodies, in order to bring the good news to others who do not desire to hear it, but who beat and deride us instead? But is not this what Jesus did, giving up his body to be broken so that we who hated him might be filled with all good things? Is this not his compassion, shown to the highest degree? If we would be his, let us drink deeply from his bountiful springs of compassion, let us look ardently upon his victorious humiliation at Calvary, let us beseech our Father for an outpouring of the same Spirit; for then we will rejoice to walk the same path of suffering that Jesus walked, with our hearts fixed upon the eternal glory which he has won for himself and for all those who follow in his steps, spreading the news of redemption through suffering and ridicule even as Jesus accomplished our redemption through the same ignoble means, humiliation beyond measure working glory without end.