9 And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. 2 And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 3 And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. 5 And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
Yesterday, I briefly touched on the limitations of Jesus’ ministry with regards to how much suffering was happening in the world vs. how much suffering Christ was able to deal with and heal.
I said I didn’t have an answer for why there was still so much pain, and I still don’t. But I do think this passage addresses the Christian response to suffering.
Jesus, in His incarnation, was limited by space and time. He could only be in one place at one time. Those who came to Him were the ones He helped. So His response to the presence of more suffering and his own spatial limitation was to train disciples to carry on His work for Him.
He gave them power and authority to be His representatives to the world, which manifested itself in this instance as healing. He gave them the same message He had first proclaimed: that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and really, they were the first building blocks of that Kingdom that would spread throughout the world.
But it’s worthwhile to see that the Christian response to suffering and human need (spiritual and physical) is to go out and do something about it. And if it becomes too much for you to handle, to find partners and disciples that will also go out and do something about it. So when we talk about how much pain and suffering is in the world, how many people are in need of the love of God, the question we should ask isn’t where is God, but where are we and what are we doing to help? We are God’s representatives. We should also be His hands.
Christ’s rules to the disciples emphasize haste. Time was short. They weren’t to go home and pack a bag or plan their journey, they were to go quickly, and hit as many villages as they could. His time here was short, so the mission has a sense of urgency. They were to just go and trust that God would provide for them through the hospitality of the villages.
And if the villages rejected them, then they were rejecting God.
7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, 8 and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen again. 9 Herod said, “I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?” And he kept trying to see Him.
Herod Antipas had married his brother’s wife, which was a sin under the Mosaic law. John the Baptist confronted him, Herod had him jailed, and later executed after getting drunk at a banquet and aroused by his daughter-in-law and offering her anything she wanted up to half his kingdom.
I think it’s safe to say that the guy was an idiot.
But Herod did have a curiosity about spiritual things, as it’s related that he did go and visit John in prison regularly to talk about God.
There are a lot of people, maybe I included, who show up to church every week to talk about God but don’t bother to do anything with the knowledge they have. Herod wasn’t feeling particularly guilty about killing John. He wasn’t trying to make things better for the people under his leadership. He was still simply curious. Jesus was the new flavor of the month of him and Herod wanted to see the carnival show and watch Jesus pull a rabbit out of a hat. When Herod finally does see Christ shortly before His death, that’s all he wants: a trick or miracle.
10 When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. 11 But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing.
This was a short assignment for the apostles. It gave them a chance to operate on their own. They had spent time with Jesus, heard His teachings, more importantly (or just as importantly) seen His actions and how He treated other people, and then they were sent to go and do the same.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now, I think church should be less like school and more like shop class. Less sitting down for an hour hearing a lecture and more sitting down, listening to instructions for a few minutes and then heading out to try and do it yourself.
Even though they were alone, they were still accountable to Christ for their deeds, so when they return, they relate their own ministries to Jesus.
Jesus, hearing their accounts, decides that it’s best to take a few days off to let the disciples refresh themselves. There is wisdom in that. Working constantly can burn out anyone. We’re human and we need to relax. I just think we as a Christian culture in America are relaxing so much that we’re not doing all that we should be.
But as we’ve seen in other examples, people can be the monkey wrench in your plans. The disciples may have pitched in, but there are always more people who are spiritually hungry, more sick, more poor, more suffering to help.
And as we’ve seen Jesus do previously, His compassion becomes evident as He puts His own plans on hold and reaches out to the crowd. It’s worth noting that Jesus seems to take the full burden on Himself, as there isn’t a mention at this time of the disciples helping out here. Jesus stands up and begins teaching and healing those in need. He’s still thinking of His disciples even as He thinks of the crowds.