Luke 9:1-9 ‘Take Nothing for the Journey.’
As we have read Luke chapter 9, there is a lot to think about as we consider our own personal mission. John Wooden’s famous quote reminds us that ‘failure to prepare is preparing to fail.’ It is a quote that athletes plaster all over social media, alongside photos and videos of intense training. Preparation for a task is undeniably really important. Alexander Graham Bell knew this really well when he said, ‘Preparation is the key to success.’
When I think about what it means to be prepared, I think about making sure all the right things are packed, that I have got everything with me that I need to be well-prepared for a wide range of potential situations. For example, prior to driving down here on this holiday, I spent time counting out my T shirts and my socks. I made sure I was appropriately stocked for the duration of my stay. A few weeks ago, when I was camping in the Lake District, preparation involved making sure that me and my friend had means of storing clean water and cooking the food that we were going to buy. It meant making sure that we had a good mix of clothes, so we were prepared whatever the weather was going to do during our time there.
So, when I read these first few verses of Luke chapter 9, and this command to ‘Take nothing with you for the journey,’ it doesn’t sit well with the way that I’ve come to prepare things. In fact, one thing I do every time I go anywhere, whether it’s for a weekend or a week, is pack at least one extra shirt. So how are we to understand and interpret this morning’s command ‘to take nothing with us for the journey’ and what does it mean practically for us today?
The command, ‘Take nothing for the journey,’ as you might expect, is not quite as black and white as it might seem. Because whilst not taking the physical items that you and I might consider essential with them, the disciples do take some really important things with them as they start out on this mission for Jesus. We are going to look at each of them in turn this morning. We’re going to think about how they had companionship, command and calling with them, all of them provided by God Himself.
Firstly then, companionship. Jesus calls the 12 together. This band of brothers who follow Jesus and support His ministry, know each other just about as well as anyone else on the planet. They are, in essence, a little church family of believers all gathered together around the love of God.
Companionship is incredibly important, isn’t it? It is something that lots of us have found very difficult in the last 18 months with the isolation and separation from other people. We are social creatures, and for the most part we enjoy being around people and having relationships with other people. This is true across all aspects of our lives and is certainly true when it comes to our faith. We enjoy being around like-minded people. It makes exercising our faith more comfortable. It’s one of the reasons that things like Christian Unions are so important because it gives opportunity for like-minded people to come together to support each other.
In Mark we also read the same story that we read in Luke chapter 9. But Mark records it in chapter 6 in a bit more detail. He tells us that after Jesus brought the disciples together, He actually sent them out two by two. Jesus, the master teacher, is also a pioneer of that never-failing ‘buddy system. Jesus knows the value of companionship. The value of this companionship is to be a sense of support for the disciples as they set off on this mission. Not many people would understand the disciples mission that Jesus is sending them on. I think we could all agree that it’s a unique one, especially in the context of the time that the disciples lived in, or perhaps more so today. Most people, in the culture of the disciples, got up every morning, put on their sandals and their cloak and they go out to fish or to work on a farm, or perhaps to craft something. I dare say very few get up of a morning to go and witness the raising of the dead, for example, which the disciples had just done earlier in Luke.
This principle still rings true today. Not many people in 2021 in the UK, get up of a morning with a calling to share the message of a guy who walked around 2000 years ago as the Son of God. Not many people in the UK in 2021 believe in life after death, resurrection, miracles, the power of prayer or the significance of prophecy. The list goes on and on. But as we gather here today, there are people who have experienced these things and who share these beliefs.
As a result, it is imperative that we have a sense of companionship and a spirit of togetherness with our brothers and sisters in Christ, because when our ministry is difficult, or when it attracts the wrong sort of attention – as it did for the disciples towards the end of the passage that we read this morning – it’s our Christian family who will be there to relate to us, to understand us, and to empathise with us in a way that other people simple can’t. As a result, this can be a great source of strength, blessing and encouragement to us.
The other benefit of this companionship that the disciples took with them on this mission is that it gives them an opportunity to demonstrate the love that they have for each other as evidence of their discipleship. As they walk around through these villages, ministering and talking, they also have the chance through this companionship to love each other as Jesus of taught them. In doing so, they provide a practical, visual example of the transformative power of the gospel.
I really love thinking about Christian companionship in this way because I can often be quite quick to see church family and Christian companionship as good for being a means to support and encouragement, but I’m less quick to see it as an opportunity to show the difference that Jesus has made in my life. I think it’s something that would certainly serve me well to begin making a conscious effort to demonstrate the love that God has for me in the way that I interact with my Christian brothers and sisters, so that my way of life, as well as my message, are more attractive to those who don’t yet know Jesus for themselves.
You can imagine that the disciples go out on this mission, there will be times when the right physical preparation and the right practical arrangements won’t be nearly as important to them as knowing that they have someone with them to help maximise each unique opportunity, and make sure that their ministry is most effective and supported.
So, having been brought together by Jesus so that they can take companionship with them, they are then bestowed with command, all power and authority, as it is described in the NIV. It says that they are given power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases. Having seen Jesus heal people who simply touched His cloak, having witnessed the raising of a young girl from the dead, the disciples will have known full well significance of this power that they have been given.
I think there’s something in that for us to take hold if this morning. You see in our experience as Christians, as we have walked with God through various aspects of our lives, we will know, just as the disciples did, the power and authority that Jesus has. We have seen it in a variety of ways, at different times. When these moments come in our lives, where God sends us out in his power to do something for Him, we need to know to look back on our lived experience of the power of God, in order to have full confidence it, and full understanding of the sovereignty of God. The disciples know what is possible because they have spent time Jesus, learning from Him and seeing what He can do.
Now, as they are sent off into the world, this knowledge and experience which is the combination of their faith and the basis of their confidence, the disciples knew that they were being asked in their own strength was impossible. Perhaps this morning God is asking something of you which seems impossible? But when we go out in God’s strength and God’s power, as the disciples did, we know that all things are possible.
There’s something else significant about the example we see here of God’s power being bestowed upon the disciples. That is, it was specific. What I mean by this can be explained by briefly looking forward to verse 40 of Luke chapter 9. When a man asked the disciples to heal a demon possessed boy, they could not drive it out. What we see from this is that the provision of power and authority given to the disciples in verse 1 of chapter 9 is for a specific purpose. God equips them with all they need for this particular mission. The same may well be true in our experience; when God is asking you to do something for Him you can count on whatever power and authority you need, when you need it. You can count on God to be with you just enough time to carry out specific tasks that He is asking you to do. I think the significance of this is that the disciples can be left in no doubt that what they are doing is through God, and that they have to keep returning to God, to keep relying on Him for anything and everything they need to serve in each new avenue of service that they come across.
Charles Spurgeon once said that without the Spirit of God we can do nothing, we are ships without the wind, branches without sap and like coals without fire, we are useless. This is something that the disciple will surely have realised as they have this power and authority for this specific mission.
So, having been equipped with companionship and command, the disciples then received their calling in verse 2. This calling comes with some conditions. We’ve already referenced the fact they’re commanded to take nothing with them, not even an extra shirt. They are instead to rely on God and His provision through the good nature of the people whose towns they are going to visit.
They are told in verse 4 that whatever house they enter, they should stay there until they leave that town. I wonder how many villagers cottoned on to what was going on with the disciples, and pretended not to be in when they came knocking so as not to be the ones in the village left with these unexpected house guests, with no definitive departure date? Perhaps that’s just the cynic in me. In reality, we can assume that God was at work preparing the hearts of the necessary people and placing them in the disciples’ path at the right time, so that they were unhindered in their mission.
The command to stay in whatever house they entered was also significant; it prevented the disciples from going around looking for better accommodation. They weren’t to go around looking for five-star, all-inclusive hotels. This, combined with the instruction to live simply, i.e., to take no extra shirt, no bread, no money, no bag, meant the disciples would not be with the travelling people who were out to make money unscrupulously. In fact, they were to go out of their way on this mission to avoid any criticism for making money out of their work. As we witness for God, it’s important that we too are easily distinguishable from others around us, and conduct ourselves in such a way as to minimise the risk of any criticism which may distract from the message of hope that we take with us.
Peter writes in the New Testament, ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.’ Perhaps it’s in these moments in Luke Chapter 9 when Peter begins to understand the significance of this as he and his fellow disciples make every effort to be exemplary in their conduct, so as to bring glory to God and win people round to God in the message that they are sharing.
Another more detailed instruction for this mission arrives in verse five. The disciples are told that if people do not welcome them, they should leave the town, shaking the dust off their feet as they go. Whilst they might not have definitive departure date, they certainly weren’t hanging around. There’s a real sense of urgency in this instruction that the disciples receive. I don’t know about you, but it makes me sit up and take notice. You see, urgency is something that I often really struggle with. I get complacent thinking that I’m relatively young and perhaps not in the greatest hurry to share the gospel with everyone that I meet as soon as I meet them. But perhaps I would do well to take something in the spirit of this mission and apply it to my own.
I think in our culture, as Christians, we are relatively good at being polite, sometimes too polite. We hate the thought of offending somebody. Perhaps, sometimes that makes us a little bit over cautious so as to avoid any risk of doing so. The disciples were not afforded such a luxury. They are told that if they are not welcome, to shake the dust off their feet and leave. It’s a symbolic way washing their hands and responsibility, saying that they’ve done all they can and, basically they should waste any more time on people who don’t want to hear the message, when there are other people who haven’t the chance to hear for themselves.
I’m not suggesting we have quite the same cut-throat approach to our evangelism here and now. I think it’s clear that there were specific time constraints on the disciples which necessitated a more blunt style of mission. I think we’re very fortunate today to have opportunity to build relationships with people and adopt a more long-term approach as we seek to share the gospel.
But just because we don’t have the same time constraints at the disciples had, doesn’t mean that we don’t have any at all. On the contrary, we must be aware that our time on this earth and with the people around us is limited. Our opportunities to share the good news with those around us are numbered. We must seek to strike a healthy balance between urgency and gentleness in our mission, so as to ensure that we can shake the dust off our feet, confident that we’ve taken our message of hope and good news to everyone that God needed us too. As Robert Moffat once said, ‘We’ll have all eternity to celebrate our victories but only one short hour before sunset to win them.’
So then, the disciples set off with very little in the way of physical comforts or belongings but with everything that they needed for the mission. They are joined together and sent out with command, representing God and loving and supporting one another as they do so. They are relatively unhindered by the burdens and the stresses of having to be practically and physically prepared. They are not slowed down by the discouragement of those who reject the message, but rather, in obedience they continued to press on as Jesus had commanded them to.
Bear Grylls once said, ‘Pack the right skills and the right attitude and you won’t need much else.’ The disciples took with them an attitude of faith and trust, packing the knowledge and the skills for this mission that they’ve learned from Jesus Himself. They went on without need for much else besides.
The impact of their mission was far reaching. Not only were people physically healed and able to hear the good news, but as we read, the impact of the mission reached Herod the tetrarch himself, the man responsible for killing John the Baptist. He’s understandably confused by the claims that John has been raised from the dead. His attempts to stop the spread of this message have certainly not worked. In fact, there are now more people spreading the good news, reaching more people, performing more miracles. The disciples’ attitude of faith and the way that they have been preparing with Jesus, has allowed God to achieve some truly incredible things. And as we know, this is only the beginning.