When Jesus sent out His twelve Apostles, He commissioned them to proclaim His gospel in the world. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his study in the book of Luke and explains the power and authority that Christ gave these men to fulfill their unique role.
This morning, we will continue our study of the gospel of Luke. I will be reading from Luke 9:1–6. I would ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.
“Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”
So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
The verses you just heard come to us from the divine authority and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. This is the Word of God, given for your edification and instruction. Please receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.
Now, O Lord, we ask that You prepare us for the hearing of Your Word and prepare me for the proclaiming of it. Without You, our understanding is dim, and our proclamation is feeble. We ask now for Your kind and gracious presence in our midst. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Twelve Apostles Called and Sent
This passage you have just heard is brief, but it is extremely important in the history of redemption. It marks a transition point in the earthly ministry of Jesus that had radical ramifications for the whole future of Christianity. Notice in verse 1 of chapter 9, Jesus called His twelve disciples. He summoned them for a particular reason.
In Luke’s summation, we see a critically important transition in the lives of the twelve disciples. The disciples were becoming Apostles. We have a tendency to think that, since the Scriptures speak of the twelve disciples and of the twelve Apostles, the terms disciple and Apostle are mere synonyms. However, that is not the case at all. A disciple—in Greek, a mathētēs—is a learner, a student, one who followed Jesus and learned at His feet. But to be an Apostle is something quite different.
An apostle, “one who is sent,” is one commissioned and called by a superior, such as a king or a general in the army, or in this case a person called by the Lord of glory and sent out from Him, carrying the authority of the One who sent him. Such an ambassador may have been authorized, in the ancient world, to speak with the authority of the king who sent him. If we bring that over into the church, Jesus selected His Twelve—the twelve men whom He would send with His authority. As He would say elsewhere, “He who receives you receives Me, and if they reject you, they are rejecting Me.”
The first and supreme Apostle in the New Testament was Jesus Himself, who was very conscious that He had been sent by the Father. When He was engaged in controversy with His contemporaries, such as the Pharisees who repudiated Him and claimed to be followers of God, Jesus’ response was: “You can’t have it both ways. If you believe the Father, you have to believe the One whom the Father sent. You cannot have the Father and not have the Son.” In like manner, you cannot have the Son and reject His Apostles.
Christ’s Authority to Preach the Kingdom
Rejecting the Apostles is commonplace in our culture, particularly in the movement of radical feminism, which has a distaste for the teaching of the Apostle Paul and says: “Jesus we like, but we don’t want anything to do with Paul. He was a misogynist.” If you reject Paul, however, you reject the One who sent him. You cannot reject Paul and keep Jesus, just as you cannot reject Jesus and believe the Father.
According to our text, Jesus called the Twelve to Himself for this purpose: to give them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. The Twelve had no power in and of themselves. They had no authority in and of themselves. The authority and power by which they were to exercise the ministry of healing and preaching was the power and authority of Christ, who distributed that power and authority to His Apostles.
In the book of Acts, when Peter and John healed the man by the Gate Beautiful, they were dragged before the Sanhedrin, and the leaders of Israel asked, “By which power have you done this thing?” They responded, “By the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified.” They were saying, “The power by which this man was healed was not ours; it was Christ’s.” The authority by which the New Testament was written was of Christ. If you reject the New Testament Apostolic witness, you reject the One who commissioned the Apostles to write the Word of Jesus.
After Jesus gave the Twelve power and authority, He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, which was the central theme of Jesus’ own preaching. Just as John the Baptist had come on the scene earlier and said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” Jesus came with the same message. This was a new time in history. This was the time of the breakthrough of God’s kingdom. Why? Because God’s anointed King had come.
Jesus had been preaching the kingdom of God throughout His earthly ministry, but the time of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was coming to an end. Before that ministry was completed, He sent His disciples as Apostles to preach His message through every village and town in Galilee.
Rely on Hospitality
Jesus told the Apostles: “Preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs [plural] nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.” One of the other Gospel writers has Jesus saying, “Do take a staff,” so the critics say, “Here is a contradiction.”
Jesus was saying: “Yes, you can have one staff, but not two. You can have one tunic, but not two tunics.” In other words, the mandate Jesus gave was: “You’re to go out and travel light. You’re to be on the move every moment. Don’t even take anything to meet your own basic needs.”
Jesus went on to say that the Apostles were to depend upon the Jewish principle of hospitality that was part of the law of Moses. If a stranger was in your gates, you were to give shelter, food, and hospitality to him. Jesus was sending His representatives to the Jewish people, and He said, “Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.” That is: “When you’re finished with your ministry in that particular village, leave that house. But I don’t want you going into one house and, if you don’t like the menu there, going to another house to seek better quarters or food. Go to one place and stay there until your mission is done. It’s the people’s responsibility to support you while you’re involved in this mission.”
Shake the Dust from Your Feet
Here is the part of the text I want to focus on, because it is scary. Jesus said, “And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Even if you have never read the Bible, you probably have heard this idiomatic expression of “shaking the dust off your feet.” Where does that come from?
On this occasion, Jesus used an idiom that He did not invent. This was an idea with which His disciples were already familiar. When God called Moses out of the Midianite wilderness and spoke out of the burning bush, He said, “Moses, Moses, take off your shoes from off your feet.” Why? “Because the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.”
To this day, we refer to the land of Israel as the Holy Land. It was the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. The Holy Land, which began to be inhabited and owned by the Jewish people in the Old Testament, was considered sacred. Everything outside the borders of Israel was pagan. The pagans were considered unclean. So, when a Jew went on a journey that would take him over the borders of Israel into a pagan land, he would stand on ground that was not holy. Rather, it was contaminated by the sin of the residents in the pagan regions. When the Jew came back to the border of Israel, before he crossed into the Holy Land again, he would stop and literally shake the dust off his feet, lest he bring pagan contamination to the Holy Land.
Jesus’ directive was radical because He was sending His people not into Gentile countries or to the pagan communities, but to Jewish villages and towns to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God. He said to His Apostles, “If you come to a village and they do not receive you, if they reject you, before you leave, shake the dust off your feet.” That action would be a testimony to the paganism of a village within Jewish land.
When It Is Too Late
If we follow up on the point of this text, we see a scary concept found throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation: God’s patience and long-suffering will not last forever. We tend to postpone our repentance and say: “I will be committed to God tomorrow. I will change my ways tomorrow. I will give my life to Christ tomorrow. But not yet.” It is like the young Augustine’s prayer in the ancient world, where he prayed to God: “Oh God, change me, and make me righteous. But not yet.” He was taking advantage of God’s patience and long-suffering.
The Bible warns us that God’s patience does not endure forever. There is a limit to it. There may come a time in a person’s life where it is too late. Before I say anything more about that, let me say that I personally know at least five or six people who came to Christ on their deathbeds. They repented of their sins and came to Jesus in their dying moments. I believe that such deathbed repentances can be genuine, authentic, and that many people have been converted in waning deaths. In light of that, we might say, “It’s never really too late.” However, there are two things I want to say about that idea.
First, after you die, it is too late. You can have 150 Masses said for you after you are dead, but the Bible tells us it is appointed for man once to die, and then the judgment. After you die, it is too late. So, if you are going to postpone your repentance, make sure that you do not postpone it till after you die, because then it is too late.
Second—and here is the scary one—in some instances, friends, it may be too late before you die. Let us go back to the Old Testament, to the book of Genesis, to a familiar story of the flood that wiped out the whole world except for the family of Noah. God made a comment right before the flood, in Genesis 6:3, when He saw that the earth was completely corrupt: “And the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not strive with man forever.’”
In Genesis 6, for the people on earth, the end of God’s patience had come. He destroyed the whole creation except for the family of Noah. When you go all the way to the end of the New Testament, to the book of the Revelation, Jesus announces in the judgment: “All who are wicked, let them be wicked still. Let all who are immoral, let them be immoral still” (Rev. 22:11).
What do these texts mean? There is a point we see in Genesis and Revelation, not to mention the Old Testament prophets, that there comes a time when God gives impenitent sinners over to their sin. Let us please not tempt the Lord in His grace and His patience. There are people who have heard the gospel time after time, and every time they hear it, their necks become more stiff, greater calluses grow on their soul, their hearts are hardened and become like stone.
You cannot hear the gospel and be neutral to it. If you receive it, you enter into heaven forever. If you reject it, you have hardened your heart, and you are heaping up wrath against the day of wrath.
Even in this life, God may give you over, which is poetic justice. He says: “You don’t want Me? Okay, you don’t have to have Me. You love your sin more than you love Me? Go ahead. Take your sin. Let him who is wicked be wicked still. You love your immorality? You love your adultery and you don’t love Me? Fine. Take your adultery. But you can’t have Me and the adultery.”
So, I plead with you today, do not ever expose yourself to the point where the Lord God Almighty will shake your dust from His feet.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.