Summary: The true worth of any ministry is discovered not in manufactured results, but in faithful service to the Lord.
CONTINUING THE WORK OF CHRIST
The true worth of any ministry is discovered not in manufactured ‘results,’ but in faithful service to the Lord. Your quiet word to a friend in time of need or perplexity may be just as valuable - if not more so - as the clarion call of the gospel going out throughout the world by the various media available to us in this day and age. One may plant the seed of the gospel, another may water it, but ultimately it is God who gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6).
If we do become ‘results oriented’ in the church, we are quite possibly setting ourselves up for a fall. In another context, Jesus spoke of that which is good for the master being good also for the servant: ‘If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also’ (John 15:20). There is something quite poignant in the passage before us, when we see that even Jesus Himself had His hands tied as far as visible ‘success’ was concerned when His hearers refused to apply their own faith to His words (Mark 6:5)!
Prophets are generally not recognised at home, amongst their own kith and kin (Mark 6:4). Their neighbours and acquaintances are generally “astonished” (Mark 6:2), and take offence that someone like the village carpenter, whose mother, brothers and sisters they know, should suddenly be empowered to preach sound words (Mark 6:3). Yet our apparent ‘failure’ in one place becomes our opportunity to serve somewhere else (Mark 6:6).
The astonishment of the congregation in Nazareth (Mark 6:2) was matched by Jesus’ own wonder at their unbelief (Mark 6:6). Yet He did what He could, laying His hands on a few sick folk who were open to His blessing, and healing them (Mark 6:5). Then He went about in the villages on a teaching circuit (Mark 6:6).
Jesus’ disciples quite happily tagged along with Him during this mini-crisis (Mark 6:1): but now it was time for them to conduct their own outreach (Mark 6:7). There is no point in us sitting under the sound of the gospel if we do not also apply it in our lives, and seek to minister to others in our day to day living. We receive consolation in the midst of affliction not just for our own benefit, but also so that we may minister the comfort of God to others in the midst of their troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The first thing that we notice about Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve apostles for their inaugural exercise, was that He sent them forth “two by two” (Mark 6:7). Later Jesus sent out seventy missionaries, two by two, to the cities and places where He would come (Luke 10:1). Later still, the Apostles themselves sent forth Peter and John on a particular mission (Acts 8:14). Paul companioned with Barnabas (Acts 13:2); and then Barnabas took Mark, and Paul chose Silas (Acts 15:39-40). ‘Two are better than one,’ says the wise man, because one is able to ‘lift up’ the other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). There is strength in partnership.
The specific instructions for this particular mission do provide some general guidelines for outreach, but are not necessarily cast in stone. There was to be an urgency about their work, so they were exhorted to minimise the clutter they carried (Mark 6:8-9). And wherever they were received, there they were to stay, rather than flitting about from house to house seeing who would give the best hospitality (Mark 6:10).
There is a deep symbolism in the final instruction, concerning the people who refused to receive the apostles - and by extension, refused to receive Jesus and His gospel (Mark 6:11). Shaking the dust off one’s feet was a familiar symbol, exercised by Jewish people when they returned to Israel from pagan lands. Now the apostles would use this gesture as a testimony against any - of whatever nation - who refused to accept their persons or their message. Jesus told them that it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that city in the day of judgment.
The apostles were given “power over unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7) - but their ministry, like that of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4) and Jesus (Mark 1:15) before them, was first and foremost the preaching of repentance (Mark 6:12). The outward manifestations of exorcism and healing served as signs - as the Apostle John, for example, consistently calls miracles - but they were not an end in themselves (Mark 6:13). The Apostles were to continue to do what Jesus ‘began both to do and to teach’ (Acts 1:1), leaving the church an open-ended book to complete.
Whatever the Lord calls us to do, let us be faithful in it. We may rest assured that His word ‘shall not return unto Him void’ (Isaiah 55:11). It shall accomplish that for which He sent it.