Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 12, 2017
1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4 And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5 And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
— Luke 9:1-6, ESV
The Old Covenant comes into focus when twelve tribes are established, enslaved, and escorted out of Egypt into the promised land of Israel. The New Covenant comes into focus when twelve men are chosen, trained, and given power and authority by the Messiah to go out into the world and preach the gospel. While we appreciate the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament, it is the twelve Apostles of the New Testament we should follow most closely, especially this account of their early work. They were unique and ordinary men, as was the response to the good news they preached about Jesus Christ.
The Unique and Ordinary Ministry of the Apostles
In the middle of His earthly ministry, Jesus was gaining an illusion of popularity that in reality created a workload greater than one man could bear, even the God-man. Already our Lord had called out a specific number of His disciples, twelve to be exact, and commissioned them as Apostles with a capital “A.” Christ counted on them to handle the short-term work with the so-called seekers and the longer term mission of establishing the New Testament church.
An apostle is literally an ambassador, a person sent with the authority and a message from a superior. The United States has ambassadors in almost every country in the world. These men and women do not act or speak on their own authority, but on that of the President or government. I will explain in a moment how all Christians are apostles (with a little “a”), or ambassadors for Christ, but right now I want to focus on the unique ministry of the first twelve Apostles.
Simon (Peter), James, John, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel (Bartholomew), Matthew, Thomas, Simon, James, Judas (Thaddeus), and Judas Iscariot (our sovereign God uses even sinful unbelief to accomplish His purposes in salvation) were specifically chosen for a specific mission and given specific gifts to carry it out. They carried the specific and symbolic number of twelve. They communed with Jesus and were commissioned by Jesus, in person. The carried “power and authority,” most of which Jesus ultimately gave to all of His followers (ref. Matthew 28:18-20). However, at least one gift was especially limited to the twelve: healing.
Jesus used miraculous healing to show compassion and gain attention. This was necessary to break through the hardened arteries of the Old Covenant and implant the new heart of the New Covenant. The God of all creation came to earth in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ, and used physical healings as metaphors of the spiritual salvation He brings by grace through faith in the gospel. God passed this ability to heal along to His first Apostles, but not before and not since, no matter what wool the televangelists try to pull over our eyes.
Since then, no one has been able to heal with a touch, but we can pray for healing. We can show compassion for those who are suffering with illness, provide for their medical care, and make provision for their families. In history and contemporary settings the church has risen to this occasion by providing visits, ministry, prayer meetings, and financial help for the sick. It is amazing how many hospitals in the world were founded by ordinary Christian apostles seeking to honor the Lord and spread the gospel by ministering to the sick. We are apostles, not Apostles, and this is our ordinary way of healing today.
In most other ways, however, we apostles can function pretty much like the originals:
We can fight the devil. Demons are real, finite, evil, and under the power and control of God. They cannot touch a child of God without the Father’s permission (but remember, just like God used Judas Iscariot to accomplish His will, so the Father sometimes uses devils to do necessary surgery on even the elect, as we learn from Job). Their main job seems to be to temp people to sin and rebel against the Lord. They must be fought in spiritual warfare and our main weapons are prayer and the word of God.
We can preach and value the preaching of the word of God, God’s means for bringing people into His kingdom. This was Christ’s main mission, apart from His atoning work on the cross (ref. Mark 1:38). This was the main apostolic mission, to preach the gospel and write the New Testament. This is the main focus of Christian worship and the main work of the church. And you do not have to be an Apostle to do it, just an apostle who loves God and people.
We can be content with our possessions and trust the Lord for what we need. The Apostles were especially austere for a specific cause. Today, however, we are not expected to live without possessions. But we must maintain a guard against greed and the unnecessary accumulation of wealth. The measure for this is relative, I know, and nothing is wrong with good food, shelter, and clothing, plus saving for contingencies and retirement. But nothing turns people away from the kingdom more than the self-centeredness and greed of nominal, hypocritical Christians.
We are apostles. Like our forefathers the Apostles, we can love, fight, preach, and share. Also like them, we can learn to expect constant rejection, even from people who claim to know God.
The Unique and Ordinary Unbelief of the Apostates
Jesus and the Apostles came to a world even more religious than our own. Everyone was either an apostle or an apostate. As you can see, back then there weren’t many apostles.
An apostate, capital “A” or little “a,” is a person who falls away from truth. More specifically, it is someone who lets go of a previously held belief in God. At this point of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ ministry, apostasy was everywhere, so a lot of dust got shaken off of their feet.
In Judea and Galilee, everyone believed in God, even the God they gleaned from the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus Christ came as the incarnation of this true and living God. Yet time and time again, the Messiah was rejected by the first century inhabitants of Israel, as represented by the four major religions denominations.
The Pharisees rejected Jesus. They claimed to believe in God, but believed mostly in themselves and their ability to keep religious rules and regulations. They were extremely judgmental, judging Jesus to be a fraud and His Apostles to be fools. God showed up to them, personally, and they rejected Him.
The Sadducees rejected Jesus. They claimed to believe ion God, but believed in nothing in particular. Too sophisticated for the supernatural, they thought Jesus’ miracles were fake and the Apostles’ preaching a fantasy. God showed up to them, personally, and they rejected Him.
The Herodians rejected Jesus. They claimed to believe in God, but though politics was the way to redeem society. Religion was merely a tool to wield political power for these apostates. God showed up to them, personally, and they rejected Him.
The Essenes, or Zealots, rejected Jesus. Judas Iscariot was allegedly among their number. They claimed to believe in God, as long as God did what they wanted Him to do. Jesus was not radical and powerful enough for them. God showed up to them, personally, and they rejected Him.
So, as these groups represented most of the religious people in Israel. Most of these people rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were apostates. And, they still abound.
Today, we have dozens of denominations that are dens of denials of the word of God and the gospel. Baptists and Catholics and Episcopalians and Methodists and Presbyterians and professing Christians of every stripe are modern apostates. They have Bibles but do not read them. They recite the Apostles’ Creed but do not take it literally. Our country puts “In God We Trust” on our money, but over and over we prove that we love money more than God. Countless amateur and professional athletes pray the “Lord’s Prayer” before playing a game, but it is just a game they are playing because they do not know what they are saying or to whom they are speaking. Even atheists and agnostics are forms of apostates, as they reject the God who made them in His image. God is everywhere today, but the gospel is hardly believed.
Do you believe? Are you and apostle? Yes, you are, if you are a true Christian. Take this text and let it speak to you, so that you will be more focused on speaking to others about the kingdom of God. You may not be able to heal diseases. You don’t have to wander around without any money. And, you probably shouldn’t throw dirt on those who reject you. Otherwise, though, today’s apostles are much like those original twelve Apostles. Take up the commission and go to the apostates, because God wants at least some of them back.
We need apostles today. We need to reach out to the apostates. Because at the end of the day, every person is either one or the other.