As we saw last time, Jesus was rejected by the people of his hometown, which was a preparation for what was to come, the complete rejection of Jesus on the cross, as he hung between heaven and earth, forsaken by both. Now it’s the disciples’ turn.
To be a disciple of the Rejected One would be to be rejected, as well, which is what Jesus’s closest friends needed to know before he sent them out on their first mission. They would continue to do what Jesus had been doing by himself, ushering in the kingdom of God. He called them together and gave them their assignments. He told them they could only go out with one other person, two by two. Right away, each disciple must have raised his eyebrows in surprise. Wouldn’t it be better if we went out as one group, for strength in numbers? But it got worse. Jesus charged them to take nothing on their journey but a walking stick and the clothing on their backs. They were not allowed to bring food, not even bread, no bag, no money, and no extra tunic to wear.
They probably felt like Gideon, no doubt one of their heroes from the Old Testament. Before Gideon faced the overwhelming Midianite army, which boasted 135,000 soldiers, God reduced the size of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to just 300 men. The disciples probably thought about David, too, the teenager who fought the heavily-armed and feared giant, Goliath, with just a sling and a stone. They might have thought of the Israelite slaves, whom God allowed to be trapped in the desert between the Red Sea and the mighty Egyptian army. God seemed to have a pattern of stripping people down to practically nothing before placing them in an overwhelming situation to do an impossible task.
“I’d better get back to the store.” I said to myself after tapping my homescreen to check the time to see if my lunch break was over. I was feeling particularly miserable and sorry for myself earlier today. My family had just been through a string of setbacks. Both our cars broke down, bills totalling over $2100. One of our kids broke his arm. Three weeks later, he did it again, which cost us an arm and a leg, or should I say, an arm and an arm. Our property tax bill was due, too; two elective surgeries would not be covered by our insurance; my wife was being severely bullied at work; and my own menial job was increasingly unfulfilling. On top of it all, we had legal issues. It seemed like God was stripping everything away and I was questioning my purpose in life. God, just tell me what you want me to do with my life. Tell me what direction to go and how to fix it, because pretty soon, I’d be just like the disciples, down to my last shirt and pair of sandals.
Ever been here?
I tucked a book under my arm and began to walk back to work. I had been sitting at a park bench, eating my lunch, and reading a poem by Rumi:
“A King sent you to a country to carry out one special, specific task. You go to the country and you perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed the task you were sent for, it is as if you have performed nothing at all. So man has come into the world for a particular task and that is his purpose. If he doesn’t perform it, he will have done nothing.”
As I thought about this poem, I realized it sounded a lot like our passage today, Mark 6:7-13. In both stories, there’s a King who sends his people into a country to do a task, not just a job, but a specific duty. Rumi’s words were echoing in my mind as I bemoaned my life and questioned what I was to do on earth. I wanted God to tell me what he wanted me to do; I wanted him to be clear. I didn’t want to end up like the person Rumi warned about, who did a hundred other jobs, but not the one task the King sent him to do.
Then I thought again of Jesus’s instructions to his disciples and I started to realize the profundity of them. King Jesus sent his disciples into the country to do a task, but he limited their options, rather than multiplied them. He didn’t load them with a lot of cargo and then prep them for every sort of scenario. He didn’t give them a list with a hundred different tasks on it. By not letting them bring extra items, by stripping them down to practically nothing, Jesus empowered them for just one task. Their job was to confront evil: to expose it and call people to turn from it. Jesus did not tell them to speak with the governor, reform temple worship, take on the Pharisees, teach people the Bible, root out sexual immorality in their culture, feed the homeless, teach parents how to raise kids who fear the Lord, lead worship services, or any of the other hundred things he might have sent them to do. They had one job, so Jesus stripped away everything that was not necessary to that job.
The King does the same for you and me, too. He strips away all we don’t need in order to do the one job he sent us to do. God is not sentimental with us, either. It doesn’t bother him one bit to take almost everything away from us. Why? Because it’s the only way to guide our straying, seasick hearts. The King is not just a ruler, but the Author of the story of this life. He sends us into the plot like the author of a book sends in the next character. He designs each character for a specific role within the plot, giving him or her the tools they need to accomplish their part in the great drama of redemption.
He strips us to almost nothing so we won’t rely on ourselves, but on him, making our weakness our greatest strength. Our weaknesses are the concrete barriers on the edges of the highway, keeping us from falling into the ditches of our own strength and guiding us to our destination.
As I sit outside a closed coffee shop to use their internet for Google Drive, so that I can write this devotional on Mark 6, and wait to pick up my son with two broken arms and wonder how my wife is being treated on the night shift and how I will pay bills with money I don’t have, I rejoice that I have a shoe on each foot, a hoodie, and fingers that can declare Christ to be the King—the King who has sent me into this chapter of life to do this one job.
Don’t spend your short life on a hundred jobs, because there’s only enough time for one—and you don’t need much to do it.
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. —Mark 6:7-13
- Has God ever stripped you of the things you thought you needed? What happened and what did you discover about God? About yourself?
- Why do you think it’s hard for people to accept that they might just have one calling to do in life?
- If you could only do one thing for all eternity, what would it be? What does this tell you about your calling, in other words, the reason the King sent you here?