The Kingdom Comes to the Villages
We were just sitting down to dinner when we heard a knock on the door. When I opened it the oil lamp shown out on two men. One said his name was Peter, the other Andrew. “Can we join you at your table? I have some good news for you,” the one named Peter said. I hadn’t seen these men in the village before. It was strange. There are bandits on the roads these days and these men were clearly traveling, but without the usual bags. They said they were fishermen who had their business in Capernaum. They looked harmless enough and we enjoyed hearing news of the other villages from travelers, so I welcomed them into the light and closed the door. We offered them seats at the table.
My wife and children squeezed together and we removed an empty place setting. Once we were all arranged we ate our meal, then we settled back to hear their tale. They told us that they had been sent by Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth. We had heard rumors about this carpenter turned prophet. Some of the men in our village had heard him preach. They brought wild tales of miracles and healing. They said he even drove out evil spirits. We were eager to hear more.
Peter said they had been with Jesus for months walking around Galilee. One story disturbed me. It seems that his own village had refused to accept him as a prophet. He didn’t do anything wonderful there, just made claims they thought might have been blasphemy. Think of it, the local carpenter, the repairman, stopped fixing broken doors and started preaching like he was an authority, even claimed a particular passage in Isaiah referred to him personally! No wonder they threw him out of town. Maybe he was just a false prophet. But these men who had been with him were eyewitnesses of his words and works. They were convinced he was the Messiah! Either they were crazy or it was true. It was just that outrageous.
Peter insisted that what our men had reported about Jesus was true. Not only that, Andrew astonished us even more by telling us that Jesus had sent them out to do the same thing he was doing, healing, preaching, and casting out demons. I suppose my wife and I were looking at them skeptically. They were just fishermen.
Then, Peter remembered that we had set the table for someone who was not at the table. “Where is the person who was sitting there,” he asked. “That’s my son. He’s lying over by the fire, says he doesn’t feel good and doesn’t want to eat.” “Can I talk with him?” “ Certainly. Eli, this man wants to talk to you.” The heap of blankets by the fire stirred and my son, a small boy, slowly rose and slumped over to Peter. When he stood there, Peter put his hand on the boys shoulder and said, “The Kingdom of God has come to this house. In the name of Jesus be healed.”
Eli straightened up, his eyes brightened and he decided that maybe he could eat a little of that stew his mama had made. So we made a place at the table and watched him wolf down his food. Then Andrew said, “We have come to tell your village the good news that the Kingdom of God has come. Jesus told us to take nothing for our journey, but to rely on the people who God has favored in each village. May we stay with you while we minister among your people?” “Certainly,” I replied, but thought, “How could my village be expected to believe these two fishermen who just wandered in around dinner time.”
My neighbors watched them closely. They didn’t seem possessed. They certainly weren’t religious leaders or scholars or teachers. They were just fishermen. But they demonstrated the power of God right in our town staying for several days, healing, casting out demons, and telling us all about Jesus the carpenter turned Messiah, and the kingdom of God. I have to say that the rumors didn’t tell the half of it.
Let’s read the passage, Mark 6:7-9.
7 He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs and gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the road except a walking stick: no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts. 9 They were to wear sandals, but not put on an extra tunic. 10 Then He said to them, "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that place. 11 If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, when you leave there, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." 12 So they went out and preached that people should repent. 13 And they were driving out many demons, anointing many sick people with oil, and healing.
We also find versions of this story in Matthew and Luke. Luke’s account is also very brief, but Matthew uses the story as an extended opportunity to tell the warnings Jesus gave his disciples. However, we will concentrate on the passage in Mark.
In verse 7, Jesus told them to go two by two. There were at least three reasons for going in pairs. 1. It was for mutual support, so they could encourage each other on the way. 2. It was because Deuteronomy required two witnesses to authenticate testimony. 3. And humans being who we are, it was that two people would be self corrective. They would make sure no one started down a wrong path of teaching. No one’s ministry was to be a one man show.
In verse 8, Jesus tells them what to take and what no to take. If you compare the three accounts you may begin to wonder about the difference in the items the disciples were allowed to take and forbidden to take. I don’t know why but I suppose they remembered it differently. The point of all three accounts was that the disciples were to travel so lightly that they had to depend utterly on God and His people. Sounds familiar to me, thank you Reba and Ginny for giving me a place to stay each week.
Jesus’ instructions have been a pattern for missions ever since. Of course, that has modified as people brought their families. When you look at the biblical record, you can see that Peter and the other apostles took their wives along and had houses to live in. Paul took very little with him and usually worked for a local tent maker as hired help in the places he intended to stay for awhile. So, Jesus’ instructions for his disciples on this first foray into missions have been taken as a flexible description rather than a commanded rule for future missions.
In verse 10, he tells them to stay in one house in each village and not to go searching for better accommodations. Jesus intends it as a blessing on that home. He wants to make sure it doesn’t become a competition among the people of the village because that would be a great distraction from the purpose of the mission. It would be divisive and a curse rather than a blessing.
Shaking dust off the feet in verse 11 was Jews did when they left Gentile lands. They felt that even the dust of heathen lands was defiling. For the disciples to do it as they were rejected from a Jewish town signified in a massively insulting way that the people in that town were pagans; not designed to make Jesus and his disciples popular! It was to serve as a warning to them that the Kingdom of God was no longer available to those people. It’s also interesting to remember that Jesus gave them this instruction right after he was evicted from his own home town. If you read Matthew 11:20-24 you can see Jesus condemning the towns of Galilee to judgment.
But the purpose of the whole journey is two fold. First, Jesus was training his disciples in ministry. Second, He was advancing the Kingdom of God. Although Jesus was the Son of God, He was one man, limited in his human body to being only one place at a time. In order to advance His kingdom, he needed to work through other people. He had chosen these twelve men from the hundreds that followed him around. He had demonstrated to them how the kingdom of God attacked and overcame the kingdom of Satan. He was showing them how to do it. Now the time arrived for his apprentices to take the show on the road themselves for the first time.
The purpose of the journey was also to advance the Kingdom of God. Jesus waged his battles with these forceful men thrusting forward, throwing out Satan’s agents, healing diseases, assuring eternal life as people repented. The disciples continued to advance the Kingdom of God for the rest of their lives, all were persecuted and all, but John, died a martyr’s death.
It’s apparent from these passages of the disciple’s mission that the Kingdom of God was not only coming in the distant future with Jesus’ second coming. They spoke of the kingdom as presently advancing forward, quietly, among the common folk, under the radar. It was a divine conspiracy.
Some of the ideas I will present to you now come from this book, The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. He says that a kingdom is simply the realm of a person’s effective will. We each have a kingdom. It’s the place and people over whom you have final say. Maybe it’s your house and garden. When your kids were little, your kingdom included them too. So God’s kingdom is simply where He has final say. We know God has final say in heaven and in the Lord’s prayer, we pray that He will also have final say on the earth. What? He doesn’t have final say on the earth?
For His sovereign purpose, He delegated a portion of His kingdom, the earth, for humans to rule. It didn’t last long. We were tricked into handing it over to Satan in the Garden of Eden when we obeyed him rather than God. Jesus called Satan the “Prince of the Power of the Air.” Jesus talked about him as the power behind the world.
Then King Jesus came quietly, born as a baby in Bethlehem. He brought the Kingdom of God to the villages of Galilee, Judea and to all Israel. He wrestled control of Satan away from these villages and finally defeated him with the cross and resurrection. When Jesus defeated Satan he retook the earth, representing the human race, restoring it to the Kingdom of God, to the will of God. God rules through the divine/human king, Jesus, King of Heaven and Earth.
I would like to explore further what the Kingdom of God means to us. I have said that Jesus advanced the Kingdom of God into the realm of Satan and overcame him. But paradoxically the Kingdom of God has always been here. God has always been present in creation. The Spirit of God that gives life to the earth has always been here from the beginning. He is in Heaven above, but also all around us. That song we sang, O Worship the King, expresses it. God’s kingdom is “all glorious above,” but also “it breathes in the air, it shines in the light; it streams from the hills, it descends to the plains, and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.” When Paul was talking with the skeptics on Mars Hill in Greece, he quoted their own philosophers saying that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” We are surrounded and enveloped by the Kingdom of God.
Now wait and hear this. If you misunderstand what I just said you could venture into pantheism. That’s a false religion that claims Creation is God and God is creation. Creation is not God. God is beyond creation, but He fills and uses his creation. We are like Him in that way. If you were to take me apart, no matter how hard you look, you would not find me. You might find that my brain lights up regarding various thoughts and experiences, but that would not be me. No, I use my body to relate to the physical world, but the me that is me cannot be so localized for someone in CSI Miami to say, “Here he is” and hold me up like a wet red noodle. You see, we too are spiritual like God is spiritual. God fills his creation.
Since God is in creation what does it mean that the Kingdom of God came near to the villages? It must have been more than the normal presence of God in creation. Remember Jesus’ home town, Nazareth? They didn’t believe Him and so He couldn’t perform miracles there. He wasn’t able to manifest the Kingdom of God because they didn’t bring anyone to him. The Kingdom of God came to them in the person of the King, but they rejected Him, so they didn’t see the power and love of the Kingdom. The villages that did welcome Him and His disciples experienced the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in casting out demons and healing diseases.
What were these villages supposed to repent of before these manifestations of the Kingdom were performed? It’s the same thing John the Baptist asked people to repent of. Was it simply repenting of various sins? I suppose those were included, but I think they were repenting of unbelief. Nazareth didn’t repent, so Jesus could do nothing much for them. They didn’t believe Him. The mission of John the Baptist was to prepare the way for the Lord. He called people to repent of unbelief. Then Jesus came filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the Kingdom of God.
Has Jesus’ commission to His disciples continued to us 2000 years later? Of all the hundreds of believers that followed Jesus, he chose only six pairs of men for this mission. Later, he chose seventy believers to do the same thing. He didn’t choose everyone who were following Him and many of them were real disciples and even supported him and his disciples in their mission. So, it seems that the evangelistic mission was limited to a few who were specifically selected for it.
Remember that 500 people witnessed his resurrection and many of those were in the upper room at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down into them. Then after Peter’s sermon, three thousand were added to their number. The churches continued to experience the spiritual gifts of the Kingdom of God and there is no indication that they fell into disuse. They apparently could be misused, but clearly were evident in the churches. Still, only a few people were traveling around on evangelistic missions. Most were going about their daily routines. How could they be expected to advance the Kingdom of God? We have to ask the same question of ourselves, how can we be expected to advance the Kingdom of God?
Does all this talk about the Kingdom of God sound a little bit far fetched to us? I would be surprised if it didn’t, since we have been trained by our culture to disbelieve such things. It sounds like a fantasy novel. But the truth is that it sounds like a fantasy novel because those novels are based on the true reality of the Kingdom of God. We have been trained to disbelieve because our Western culture has developed from 18th and 19th century philosophers who taught that only physical, empirical, things are real. Our whole culture absorbed this notion that spiritual things are bunk or they are just nice and peaceful things, artistic efforts, like music and dance. We only talk about spiritual things in fantasy terms like TV stories of spooks and paranormal experiences.
In Jesus’ day the Jews were like us in that they had not experienced manifestations of God for hundreds of years. Some went to synagogue, but didn’t really expect God to do anything. They hoped and prayed for a Messiah to release them from the Romans, but didn’t expect him to appear on their doorstep! They needed to repent of unbelief and so do we. That’s why I ask every week, where have we seen God, or where God has blessed us. We usually see Him in natural beauty and that’s a good beginning, but the Kingdom of God has come to Battle Lake. If we believe what Jesus told us it can also come in power and love. I want to retrain us.
To start retraining ourselves, let’s start looking at people as they really are, eternal spiritual beings. The people we see and talk to everyday are not just bodies animated by chemicals and electricity, they are each wonderfully, uniquely, spirits living in the realm of spirits, eternal beings working through our bodies as we go through this life on earth. Then we can begin to see the Kingdom of God at work.
My goal in our study of Mark is to retrain our minds and hearts so we can see the power and love of the Kingdom of God operating in this church and in this town. It’s like an overhead power line. The power is up there, but unless we believe in it enough to tap into it, we will not see our lights come on, or our stove heat up, or our TV come to life. I want to see people in this town healed in body and spirit as God envelopes us with His love.
God’s kingdom is the realm of His effective will. That did not extend to Nazareth, but it does extend to Battle Lake! Look at all the churches here! We are disciples of Jesus, we also are commissioned as his heralds to proclaim the Kingdom of God. It’s just as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Pray it with me (using trespasses).