Summary: Short-term missions is mostly a modern concept, probably because technology and modern transportation makes it easy to do. Even so, it was Jesus who started the practice with his twelve disciples.
Our missions chairman has made it clear to anyone who gets in earshot of him that he thinks short-term mission trips is one great idea. He likes them because he thinks they are a great means to convert Christians into lifelong missionaries, whether they travel to another land or stay here. Short-term missions is mostly a modern concept, probably because technology and modern transportation makes it easy to do. Even so, it was Jesus who started the practice with his twelve disciples.
The mission trip was connected with his teaching ministry. Verse 6 notes, Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Jesus was an itinerant preacher – one who travels around preaching – and this is the work he was training his disciples to do. Let’s consider for a moment the purpose of Jesus having disciples.
There are disciples and there are disciples. There are disciples who receive that designation because they are followers of someone’s teaching or philosophy. In one sense, Jesus had hundreds of disciples, people who listened and adhered to his teachings. There are others who are disciples in that they not only follow the teachings, but they serve the teacher as well. Jesus had selected twelve men for this work and designated them to be apostles. We learned this back in 3:13-19. They were, first, to be with him and learn from him; then, they were to go out and minister on his behalf. To be apostles meant to be ambassadors, people sent out to represent the one who sent them. In summary, Peter, James and John and the other nine, were Jesus’ disciples to learn the gospel from him and to then go preach that gospel.
Now they are sent on their first field assignment. I had not noticed this until I began to write about the purpose of the mission, but Mark actually does not set forth the purpose. We can deduce its purpose from his conclusion of what happened. But most of the passage is simply a description of Jesus getting his team ready.
First of all he pairs them up. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two. “Two by two”: it sounds like the Noah’s Ark story in reverse. They are to go out in pairs probably for two reasons: to provide mutual support and to provide legal witness to their work. Two witnesses are required according to OT law.
Jesus then gives them only one thing to take - his authority: and gave them authority over evil spirits. Now, I want to take a moment to explain what this authority was that he gave his disciples and why he gave it. The KJV says that Jesus gave his disciples power. The NIV and KJV actually mean the same thing. Jesus gave his disciples authority that had real power. You will understand what I mean. A person may be given a powerless authority. We’ll use a classroom teacher to illustrate. Miss Apple receives her first class of fifth grade students. She has gone through teachers’ orientation day and has been assured by Principal Ruler that she has authority in her classroom to keep her students in order. She may use several ways to exercise her authority as necessary – write sentences on the board, stay after class, sit in a corner, and so on. She also may even send a child to the principal’s office. Miss Apple has authority. But Miss Apple’s class is a seasoned group of students who know all the tricks to test authority, and the first day doesn’t go by before Miss Apple learns that her authority will be challenged. The next day, however, she remembers that Principal Ruler promised to back her authority up with his own power if necessary. So when Henry and Sally start to act up, she sends them to the principal’s office. To her dismay, Henry and Sally return a few minutes later with grins announcing that Principal Ruler thought that Miss Apple had overreacted. She then realizes that her authority is a powerless one.
That is not the case for Jesus’ disciples. He gave them authority over evil spirits that possessed real power. When they called demons to come out of their victims, they would be obeyed as if Jesus himself had been the one giving the orders. And they needed such authority. Luke records in the book of Acts an attempt to cast out demons by invoking Jesus’ name, yet without his authority. Let me read it to you.
13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding (Acts 19:13-16). That was not going to happen to Jesus’ disciples.