The Mission Of The Twelve
“Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. And he said unto them, Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them. And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where. Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; and of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again. And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him. And the apostles, when they were returned, told him all that they had done. And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing. And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people. For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company. And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets”—(Luke 9:1-17).
We have four sections to consider in these seventeen verses: First, the mission of the twelve; secondly, Herod’s reaction to the ministry of our Lord Jesus; thirdly, the return of the twelve; and lastly, the feeding of the multitude. All are so closely linked together that I thought it best to consider them in one message.
It is important to notice the difference in the commissions which the Lord gave while He was still here on Earth, and that which He gave after He had been raised from the dead. He came as the promised King of Israel, the anointed One of Jehovah. He presented Himself to the people of Israel in that way: “Repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He was there ready to set up the kingdom if they were ready for it. But the people who had waited for the Messiah for so long were not prepared to receive Him. They rejected Him, but He did not reject them. He called seventy disciples to Him and sent them out. Later He called the twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure all diseases. They had no such power in themselves, He gave it to them—the power that belonged to Him. The disciples were to announce that God was calling on all men to recognize the rightful King, and they were to authenticate their message by healing the sick. Notice now the instruction Jesus gave to them: “Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. And whatsoever house ye enter into, there abide, and thence depart. And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.” You see there was a special reason why He instructed His disciples in this way: They were going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He had come as the Shpherd of Israel. They were to announce His coming and to call on all to open their hearts to Him. It was seemly that they should be cared for and fed by those to whom they went. We who preach the Gospel today would be on a very wrong ground indeed if we went forth without money to pay our expenses or without an extra suit of clothes, counting on gifts from our hearers, because we have no right to expect the world to support us and minister to us. In 3 John, we read of the disciples who went forth “taking nothing of the Gentiles.” Paul refused to take anything from the Gentile world and turned aside and went to tent-making, when necessary, to supply his needs. He would not be a debtor to the world. You see, it was not to the “world” in the sense that we use the world today that the twelve were sent on this occasion. They went out to the nation of Israel—those who were expectantly looking for the Messiah. The disciples would be received if the hearts of these people were right with God, and they would provide for the disciples. So the Lord commanded the twelve not to take extra clothing, but to go and proclaim the kingdom of heaven at hand. So they went forth. Where they were received, one can imagine the blessed fellowship that they had when they told about Jesus and His birth of a virgin mother, and how He was ready now to establish the kingdom if the nation was prepared to receive Him. On the other hand, if the disciples were not welcomed but told to leave, then they were to “shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.” They were to depart and go on to other towns and preach the kingdom. Everywhere they went they authenticated their message by healing the sick. This is very different to the testimony of servants of God today, who act more on the great commission which is given at the end of each of the Gospels.
In the second section of our chapter we have Herod’s reaction to the word that came to his ears. He had rejected and beheaded John the Baptist. Here we have him disturbed. “Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead; And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again.” But while our Lord Himself identified John the Baptist with Elias, yet Herod was terrified as he thought of that mighty prophet who had wrought such signs and wonders in the day of Ahab, and wondered if he had come back to Earth. “And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him.” He did not send for Him nor invite Him to come. He had sent for John the Baptist again and again, and as long as John dealt with kingdom subjects, all was well, but when he pointed directly to Herod’s consort, Herodias, whom he had stolen from his brother, Herod became indignant and put John in prison, and Herodias herself had him put to death. Herod never sent for Jesus nor saw Him until our Lord was about to be crucified: Pilate sent Him to Herod. Though Herod had the opportunity to listen to one greater than all the prophets in the past, as our Lord designated John the Baptist, he went out directly into a lost eternity to face forever his sin. What a warning this is to those who persist in sin and turn from Jesus.
We read in verse 10, “And the apostles, when they were returned, told Him all that they had done.” They came back happy and told Him what had resulted from their mission. In many places they had evidently been treated wonderfully. They had been given authority over all diseases, and had delivered many from sickness and demon power. And so they came back triumphant. “And he took them, and went aside privately into a desert place belonging to the city called Bethsaida.” In the Gospel of Mark, we have something added which is most interesting: He turned to them and said “Come ye yourselves apart for a little time and rest awhile.” The Lord Jesus saw that His servants were somewhat overwrought and needed quiet rest. It would be well, I think, if we today would heed His word and come apart and rest for awhile. I fancy that there are many of His servants who are working far beyond their strength and take little time to rest at the feet of Jesus. That is why so many are losing their health, having nervous breakdowns, and other frailties. If we would listen to Him and spend more time in His presence, it would be much better for us. It is sometimes said that it is better to burn out than to rust out. That is true, but it is still better to work and then rest as He commanded. David the psalmist said, “He maketh me to lie down.” The Lord’s sheep do not seem to have that much sense! They need to “Come apart and rest awhile.” Sheep will do that very thing.
The place where this incident occurred was not the Bethsaida on the west shore of the lake; this was Bethsaida on the eastern side, and this is where they went to enjoy a little time of rest.
In the last section we read, “The people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.” In another Gospel we are told that “He could not be hid,” for word got out that Jesus was there, and when the people heard it, though the Saviour had taken the twelve away for a little rest, they followed Him, eager to see the works that He performed and to listen to the message that He had to bring. “And he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.”
He spoke unto them of the kingdom of God! Of course it involved the evident setting up of a literal kingdom here on the Earth, but in order to be fit for that kingdom there must be regeneration. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We must be sure that He not only spoke of this to Nicodemus, that he also stressed that very thing to all. So He proclaimed the message of the kingdom of God, and He healed them that had need of healing. “And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place.” Evidently the people had been so stirred that they had not thought about their own need; neither had they made provision for food, nor lodgment for the night. Many of them were far from home and night was coming on. This is like many people today—far from home, and hungry. I wonder if I am addressing any like that today, far from home and away from God, and hungry, and the night is coming on. Thank God, the blessed Lord Himself makes provision for you. The disciples did not understand, for they said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat.” His command, “Give ye them to eat” is a word for everyone who has partaken of the Bread of Life. We are responsible to pass it on to others. That is the reason we are preaching the Gospel and calling men and women to listen to the Word of God. We realize that men are dying in their sins and that they are hungry. Our blessed Lord has provided for daily need and He has sent us out to tell the multitude. “Give ye them to eat,” is what Jesus said to them. “And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people.” We are told in another Gospel that the disciples had figured it all out and told the Master that it would take a whole year’s wages to provide for all these people. The word translated “penny” is denarius: a day’s wages for a working man. The disciples said, “Why Master it would take three hundred denarii in order to provide food for all this multitude, and there is nothing here but five loaves and two fishes.” Where did they get the loaves and fishes? Andrew had been scouting around and found a boy with five loaves and two fishes. No doubt it was the lad’s own lunch. Possibly his mother had packed it for him when he left to go after Jesus. He had been so absorbed that he had not thought of his lunch and so he gave it to Andrew. It was a small offering, but in the hands of the Saviour it could meet the needs of all those people. What do you have in your hand that you might give to the Lord which He might bless for others? I read of a missionary offering, and the money was coming in so slowly that a dear little crippled girl gave all that she had to give: she handed her little crutch to the usher to give to the pastor for Jesus, and said “Sell it and use the money for missions.” The speaker held it up and told the story, and asked, “Who will buy little Mary’s crutch?” Hundreds of dollars came in, and then they gave the crutch back to the little girl. So often a little gift may be multiplied when it is given to the Lord. “They were about five thousand men. And he said to the disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company.” One hundred companies of fifty each! There they were gathered all about, and the Lord took the five loaves and two fishes and blessed them and began to break, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. I can imagine the first folks eagerly reaching for the food, and the people behind saying, “Oh my! There will not be enough for us.” But when Jesus sets the table, there is always plenty. “And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.” How many basketfuls were there? Twelve! And I can imagine each of the twelve disciples carrying a basket away. You never give anything to the Lord but that He gives more to you.
Now our Lord took all this and gave it a spiritual application. He explained that the real Bread that satisfies the soul is not natural bread, for man does not live by bread alone. The Bread of God is He who came down from heaven to give life to the world. He is calling men and women today to receive Him who gave Himself for them. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”