The Lord's Day Morning
January 3, 2010
“He called. He gave. He sent.”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
We’re looking at a passage in which Jesus commissions His disciples to preach the circuit, a short preaching assignment in the villages and towns in the area in which they presently found themselves. As we look at this passage I do want you to keep your eyes out for three or four things.
In verses 1 and 2, you see Jesus call His disciples and engift His disciples and send His disciples. I especially want you to be thinking about the phrases, “He called, He gave, and He sent.” Those should remind you of some things you've heard before in the Old Testament when God called Israel out of Egypt and gave to them promises and blessings and commands and sent them into the land of Promise. And even earlier when He called Abram out of the Ur of the Chaldees and gave to him promises and sent him into the Promised Land. We’ll see the significance of that as we study this passage today, but notice those words as we read them.
And then in verses 3 to 5, you see Jesus’ instructions to the disciples on this short preaching trip. Now these may seem unremarkable at first. It's apparent that He's telling them to travel light because this is not meant to be a long journey. They’re going to go for a short time, an urgent time, sharing the Gospel, proclaiming the Gospel, and they’re going to come back and to report to Him about the successes or the rejection of their ministries. And so He tells them to travel light. But again, as we look at these instructions more closely, especially His words, “take nothing for your journey,” we will find some words of application for us today that teach us much about the value of the kingdom and our own callings in this world, but keep your eye on that.
Then if you look at verse 6, you see the summarization of their response to Jesus’ instructions, and especially in description of what they did — they preached the Gospel and healed everywhere. And we’ll think some together about what the Gospel was that they preached and what it meant when He told them to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Finally we see Herod the tetrarch troubled by news that he has now received of Jesus and His disciples, fearing on the one hand that maybe he didn't do a good enough job in killing John the Baptist, or perhaps some prophet of old has arisen. Whatever the case, Herod wonders this — “Who is this about whom I hear such things?” Luke wants that question to be echoing in our hearts as we read this passage together. So keep your eyes out for all four of those things as we read God's Word. And before we do, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.
Lord this is Your Word and we need it more than food and water, more than oxygen, but as much as we need it, we need Your Holy Spirit that we might hear it and chew it and digest it and be nourished by it like You intend. So open our eyes by Your Holy Spirit to behold wonderful things in Your law. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
“And He called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure all diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he sought to see Him.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Do you want to be king or do you want to be in the kingdom? Those are your options you know. They’re the only two options there are. Let me ask that question another way. Do you want to be free to do as you please, what you please, when you please, where you please, or do you want the freedom that only God can give, a freedom that comes at the price of renouncing the pursuit of doing what you please, when you please, where you please? Or I could ask the question still another way. Do you want to be independent? Do you want to be the arbiter, the decider of what the standard of truth and love and goodness and beauty are, or do you want to be dependent, utterly dependent, dependent on God and settled that He is the only arbiter of truth and love and goodness and beauty? That's really what this passage is about because it's a passage about the kingdom of God and there are only two kingdoms — the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this passing age, and you may not belong to both. You may only belong to one or the other, and Jesus is sending His disciples out to proclaim a message about that. There's so much in this passage but I am going to constrain myself to draw your attention to three things.
First – Who is the King? When we look at that I especially want you to concentrate on the first two verses and the final verses of the passage that we've just read.
The second question we need to concentrate on is – What is the kingdom? What does Jesus mean when He talks about kingdom in the gospels? What does He mean when He talks about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, as Matthew will say? What does He mean by the gospel of the kingdom? This passage doesn't use that phrase, although you’ll use that phrase elsewhere in the gospels. But if you notice, this passage will talk about Jesus sending the disciples out to proclaim the kingdom, and then it will describe them obeying Him by proclaiming the gospel, so you’ll see a connection between the gospel and the kingdom. And so it behooves us, doesn't it, to ask the question — What exactly is the kingdom?
And then we’ll want to ask ourselves — What is the message of the kingdom and what is its message for us? And what maybe does that have to do with Jesus’ command that you especially see in verse 3 to 5 that the disciples, as they go out proclaiming this message, “take nothing with them”? Let's think about those things together as we wrestle with the question of whether we want to be king or whether we want to be in the kingdom.
I. Who is the King?
Who is the King? We know Luke wants us to ask that question because he lets us know that the pagan, Herod the tetrarch, is asking that question. You see him ask it at the end of the passage — “Who is this about whom I hear such things?” If a pagan is asking it, He sure wants His disciples to be asking that question. And of course He's already answered the question in the first two verses because Jesus calls the twelve together and gives them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases and sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal and everyone in Luke's first audience of hearers and readers would have remembered those.
Who is it in the Old Testament that calls and gives and sends? It's God. God alone calls Israel out of Egypt and gives to Israel promises and sends Israel into Egypt. God alone called Abram out of a pagan, idol worshipping family in Ur of the Chaldeans and gave to him enormous privileges and promises and sent him into the land of promise. And so Luke is telling you that Jesus calls “the twelve” and what's that supposed to remind you but the people of God being constituted by Jesus. He calls them and gives them and sends them. This is God in the flesh. The King is here. Jesus is the King.
Herod was worried that Jesus was a threat to his kingdom. Well, Jesus was not a threat to Herod's kingdom in the way that Herod feared that Jesus was a threat to his kingdom, but He was a greater threat to Herod's kingdom than Herod knew, because Herod's kingdom was entirely of this passing age, and Jesus the King was here to proclaim a kingdom that is not of this world. That doesn't mean that Jesus’ kingdom is irrelevant to this world, you understand, but it means that it is not derived from anything that this world can give and it is utterly sovereign over everything in this world. And if we cling to this passing age and its kingdom, we will be bereft of the kingdom that will not end. And so Jesus was a great threat to Herod than Herod knew. But Luke is first of all telling us that Jesus is the King.
II. What is the kingdom?
The second thing we need to ask ourselves is — What exactly is the kingdom? And I think I can sum it up in two phrases or ideas. The kingdom, and we learn this all the way from the Old Testament and all the way through the New — the kingdom has at least two parts to it.
The kingdom does not refer to a territory that's protected by walls. It doesn't refer to an encastled city that is protected by bulwarks and parapets. The kingdom refers to the authority to rule and the exercise of that rule. It's dynamic, in other words. It's not referring to a protected territory that's a static entity that you can plot out on a map. It refers to the authority to rule and the exercise of that rule over the hearts and lives of people.
And of course, in the Bible especially, it refers to the authority of God to rule and to His exercise of authority in the lives of people. And it is that message which Jesus commissions His disciples to go out and to proclaim. They are to proclaim God's authority to rule and His authority in the lives of His people.
Now what is vital to understand about this kingdom is that we do not bring this kingdom. This kingdom is entirely of God's doing. We contribute nothing to the bringing of the kingdom. Every once in a while you will read church descriptions that describe those fellowships as “kingdom-minded churches.” Now, there's nothing wrong with being kingdom-minded. There's everything right with being kingdom-minded, but sometimes you will get the idea that that particular church thinks that it is bringing about the kingdom of God. Guess what? Nobody brings about the kingdom of God but God. That's why it's called “The Kingdom of God.” It's not the kingdom of you and me. We may sow the seed by preaching the kingdom, we may persuade others concerning the kingdom, but we cannot build the kingdom. The kingdom is God's deed, not ours. We may receive the kingdom, but we cannot establish the kingdom. We may reject the kingdom or refuse to enter into the kingdom, but we cannot destroy the kingdom. It is of God's making and building. We may look for the kingdom, we may pray for the kingdom's coming, we may seek the kingdom, but we cannot bring the kingdom. The kingdom is altogether God's deed. The kingdom works in and through people, yes. We may do things for the sake of the kingdom, we may work for the kingdom, we can even suffer for the kingdom, but we do not bring the kingdom of establish the kingdom. We do not act upon the kingdom. The kingdom acts upon us because it is the rule of God. We may inherit the kingdom but we cannot bestow the kingdom. It is God's gift alone to give, and that is part of the message that Jesus commissions His disciples to preach.
III. What is the message of the kingdom?
Why was that message good news? Because in the Fall, Satan had tempted us to believe that there was a kingdom better than God's and that if we would pursue our own joy, our own satisfaction, our own fulfillment, our own hope, and our own love apart from God, we would find more than we find with God. We would find true liberty, true satisfaction, true joy. If we just do it our way, it would be better than God ever gave. And we did it. And you know what happened? We were ruined. We were utterly ruined by our own choices. And the good news of the kingdom that Jesus has sent His disciples out to proclaim is that God, in His grace and mercy, has not left us to our own self destruction, but that He Himself has come in the flesh to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and the kingdom of Satan and the bondage of this passing age, and to welcome us in by grace to the everlasting kingdom of life and joy and light and love and hope and happiness. The gospel of the kingdom is the good news of God's liberation of us so that we may enjoy Him.
John Piper says,
“The essence of the Fall of Eve and Adam and all of us in Adam, is the supreme pleasure we have in being independent and deciding for ourselves what is true and right and beautiful rather than finding supreme pleasure in God as the fountain of all that is true and right and beautiful. The essence of the Fall is preferring to be God rather than to enjoy God.”
That's why I asked you — Do you want to be king or do you want to be in the kingdom? Do you want to be God, do you want to do it your way, or do you want to enjoy Him forever? You can't do both.
Piper goes on to say,
“When Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that they would be like God” he says, “So true and so false. God Himself is a flower of truth and right and beauty but He needs no roots, He needs no water, He needs no sunshine, He needs no soil. He Himself is absolutely self sufficient. He doesn't need anything supplied to Him to continue to be truth and life and beauty, but we are planted in God. We get all of our water and all of our light and all of our nutrition from Him, and what Satan was saying is, ‘You can be like Him, you can be self sufficient, you can have truth and life and beauty and joy apart from Him. You don't need Him.’”
And Piper says this, maybe it will surprise you —
“Yes, yes, we can cut our stem and be like Him. We can be our own source of life and light and truth and right and beauty. We can…and die. You can cut the rose from the bush and it will be beautiful…for a while, and then it's gone. It withers and dies, cut off from its source of nourishment.”
And you see in this proclamation of the kingdom the word is this — you can either seek freedom and joy and satisfaction your way and you may even think you have it for a while, but in the end you’ll lose everything. You’ll die. Or you can seek God, you can seek His kingdom, and you can find as Jesus will say elsewhere, that “all these things will be added to you.” That's what the kingdom is about.
So what's the message of the kingdom to us, especially as we live before this watching world? Well, I think you learn something of it in verse 3 when Jesus says to the disciples, “take nothing for your journey.” And you need to ask yourself — Why would He tell them to take nothing? Well, you could give the answer — “It was a short journey.” They didn't need to take a lot. Koy Detmer of the Philadelphia Eagles, the quarterback in years past, used to say that he never ever took a change of clothes with him on away games with the Eagles. The only thing he did was stick a toothbrush in his back pocket. I guess he didn't want to lose his bags.
Well, Jesus tells the disciples to travel light. Maybe, you say — “Well, the task that He had given them was so urgent that they needed to travel light.” I think that's true. You might say — “The task was so important that they didn't need to be encumbered with care about other things.” I think you’d probably be right if you said that. You might say — “Well, they needed to focus on their work because it was so important and they didn't need to be distracted by other things.” And I think you might be right. But I suspect that Jesus is especially concerned that His disciples not look like beggars and charlatans looking to get from people rather than give to people something. People who would look like they were looking to get something out of the people that they were ministering to rather than to proclaim something to those people.
Because if your message is — God is all-satisfying and that He gives a kingdom that gives the only satisfaction that there is and it is a satisfaction which surpasses anything this world can give, and you are caught up in getting things from the people of this age, you contradict your message.
But that hits a little close to home, doesn't it? Because I believe this message of the kingdom from childhood, I've heard it faithfully proclaimed by Vacation Bible School teachers and Sunday School teachers and ministers all my life, I've lived my life for this message of the kingdom and I've proclaimed this message of the kingdom, but oh, I look at this world too often and I say, “I so want what the world gives.” And when I do, I betray a part of my heart that has not been captured by this kingdom, this kingdom that will not end. You see why Jesus says to His disciples, “Don't take anything”?
You know, some of us just sang, “that while God and I shall be, I am His and He is mine” and we had no idea of what we were singing. We were saying that everything in this passing age, everything will pass away, but He will not and His kingdom will not and as long as I am in His kingdom, I have everything that I could have ever dreamt of or wanted and I’ll have it everlastingly. And yet we find ourselves looking out at the world and longing for what we think only the world can give us.
You want to be king or do you want to be in the kingdom? You want the satisfaction that the world can offer you or do you want to enjoy God forever? That's what the King, the only King, is asking you today and your answer is of permanent significance.
Lord, we run with all of our might after trinkets when the everlasting God has His arms open wide, ready to cloth us with robes and rings that will never perish, and we just can't see it. Open us up from the inside, from the very depths of our hearts, and give us a sight of the King and of His kingdom. And so capture our hearts by that sight that we cannot be captured by anything less. We beg you in the name of the King, the Lord Jesus. Amen.