“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” These were the words of Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia in early 1800s. There’s some deep truth packed into that statement. First, it suggests missions is rooted in God’s mission. Second, if we are following Jesus, then we are participants in His mission. Therefore, becoming “intensely missionary” is a fundamental part of what it means to follow Jesus.
Let’s start with the given that the call to discipleship is call to mission. Jesus’ initial call of His disciples had missionary implications:
“Follow me … and I will make you fish for people” (1:17).
His intent and purpose in calling the Twelve was further clarified in Mark 3:13-14:
“Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, to send them out to preach” (3:13-14).
There’s a little Greek conjunction (iva, often translated “so that”), used twice in Mark 3:14, that denotes a twofold purpose in Jesus’ calling of the Twelve: (1) “to be with him” and (2) “to send them out.” The order is significant—the call to be with Him comes first in sequence and priority. We are called first to a relationship, not an activity. However, our relationship with Him exists not for our sake alone but for the sake of those who do not know Him.
In Mark 6, this week’s Explore the Bible passage, the focus is on Jesus’ sending out His disciples. From this passage we can glean at least three timeless principles regarding the mission to which Jesus calls us.
“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out …” (Mark 6:7).
What are the qualifications required to engage in God’s mission? They are the same as the qualifications required of the Twelve: (1) Jesus’ call to follow Him and (2) a willingness to obey. That’s it. Nothing more. Jesus didn’t choose the Twelve because they possessed special abilities and talents. What qualified them was Jesus’ call to follow Him and their willingness to obey.
The call to be a disciple is a call to make disciples. Has Jesus called you to follow Him? Yes. Are you willing to follow Him with a willing and obedient heart? If so, you are qualified (and expected) to participate in the mission of making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).
“Jesus instructed them to take nothing for the road except a staff—no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not put on an extra shirt …” (Mark 1:8-9).
Two principles can be noted here; the first is urgency. Jesus’ instructions in these verses were not a blanket call for every Jesus follower to give up his or her earthly belongings and to live in poverty. They pertained to this particular mission. (Compare Luke 22:35-36.) The timeless principle is this: the mission always takes priority over our comfort and convenience.
Will we let go of what’s comfortable and convenient to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of the gospel?
Another principle is found in verses 8-9—the necessity of walking in faith. Obeying Jesus’ instructions to travel light would force the disciples to depend on God’s provision and power rather than on their own resources. This was a training mission for the Twelve; Jesus was teaching them what it means to go in unwavering faith—a lesson they would need in the early days of the church. (See Acts 4:18-20; 5:28-29; 7:58; 8:1-3.)
Jesus also was preparing His disciples for future rejection and trouble. Note the persecution context of our Mark 6 passage. The sending out of the Twelve is sandwiched between Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (6:1-6) and beheading of John the Baptist (6:14-29).
The expectation of rejection was the implication of Jesus’ instructions to “shake the dust off your feet.” Shaking the dust off would be, in part, a symbolic act of judgment on those who persisted in rejecting the gospel message. (Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their sandals when they were forced to leave Antioch of Pisidia; Acts 13:51.) Shaking off the dust also would be an indication that the disciples had done their duty, leaving the recipients of the gospel message to answer to God for their decision.
We are accountable only for our faithfulness to share the gospel while trusting God to produce the results. Those who receive the gospel are responsible for what they do with it. This raises a good question for discussion in your Bible study group: What’s the definition of success with regard to mission? What is failure?
Mike Livingstone works at Lifeway Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials.