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The Apostles’ First Mission Trip

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 9:35–38; 10; 11:1; Mark 6:6–13; Luke 9:1–6

Following Jesus means following His instructions regardless of how people respond. That is not an easy task, but God’s Word adequately equips us for success in it.


For some time now, Jesus has been teaching His disciples in what amounts to the classroom. It is now time to put them in the laboratory, so to speak, to test the principles and truths they have been learning. Actually, it is more like sending them out on a field trip to experience the ministry for themselves.

According to Matthew 9, they have been close on Jesus’ heels, watching and learning as, verse 35 says, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” His teaching is accompanied by miraculous healings, which attest to the authority of the Messiah’s message.

The disciples have seen His compassion for the crowds, which verse 36 describes as being like a flock of sheep, wandering around without a shepherd. The Lord also sees them as a field ripe unto harvest. In fact, He reminds His disciples to pray for additional laborers to go out into the fields of the world and bring in the harvest.

Now as we come to Matthew 10, we are told in verse 1 that Jesus gives them “authority over unclean spirits . . . and to heal every disease and every affliction.” This power will mimic the Lord’s power, and it will validate that they are true representatives of the Messiah.

After listing the twelve disciples, verse 5 tells us, “These twelve Jesus sent out.” If you have ever gone on a short-term mission trip somewhere in your home country or maybe to another country, I am sure you were impacted by it—it changed your thinking and increased your desire to see people saved from every tongue, tribe, and nation. It gave your life new perspective as well. I have preached in many different countries, and I have been deeply impacted by the sincerity of believers and the growth of the church; and it has been a good reminder to me that my life has no greater purpose than being invested in the harvest field of the world.

This missionary trip of the disciples is no doubt going to deepen their understanding of their calling and mission. Mark 6:7 says Jesus sends them out two by two. The Old Testament required two witnesses, and sending them out in pairs also provided encouragement for one another.

In Matthew 10:6 Jesus tells them to go only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” They are to proclaim to the nation of Israel, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (verse 7). In other words, their King has arrived—their Messiah is in the land of Israel.

To prove it, the apostles are to perform signs of healing, exorcism, and raising the dead. They are not just being sent out there to put on a show. In fact, Jesus tells them not to receive any money during this mission trip.

The Lord also tells them they are not to carry along a suitcase with extra clothing—they probably don’t even take a toothbrush along. They are to depend on the Lord to provide for them through those who believe their message and offer hospitality.

If some village rejects their message, Jesus says they are to “shake off the dust from [their] feet” (verse 14). This was a symbolic act that would indicate the disciples are separating themselves from that town. They are not even going to have the dust of that place clinging to them because of the unbelief.

In verses 16-25, Jesus gives some warnings for His messengers. His words here seem to look beyond their short mission trip all the way into the future of ministry—even to the end times when believers will face hardship and persecution.

As Jesus gets these early disciples ready to pair up and move out, He’s realistic. He tells them not to expect standing ovations along the way. He says in verse 16, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” He warns them of being arrested, beaten, and even being put to death.

Whenever I took a mission trip, I never had anybody tell me I might be beaten or imprisoned or even killed. If they had, I am not sure I would have gotten on that airplane. Imagine the impact of the Lord’s words here—they ring true, by the way, throughout church history.

But Jesus also adds a word of encouragement for those arrested and brought into some courtroom to defend themselves:

“Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (verses 19-20)

Then, beginning at verse 26, Jesus offers words of encouragement for all true disciples. He reminds His disciples that God’s Spirit is ultimately in control of all things. It might look like the enemies of the gospel are in charge, but behind them—even in their persecution of believers—God is seated on His throne. There will come a day when His followers will be vindicated by the truth and their persecutors will be judged.

But we are to expect trouble along the way. Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (verse 34). We might have peace in our hearts, but that does not rule out pain in our lives at the hands of unbelievers. Satan is not going to sit still while Jesus builds His church.  

Following Jesus is no easy task. Discipleship demands that He take first place in our lives, even above those we love most in this life. It means taking up a cross and following Him (verse 38). That is like telling someone today to take up the electric chair or the hangman’s noose and carry it around. The cross was an instrument of cruel death familiar in Jesus’ day. So, He is saying that as you go into the harvest fields of the world, do not expect a crown of gold; expect a cross of wood. Do not expect appreciation; expect persecution.

This is quite a pep talk, isn’t it? I wonder how many of us would sign up for this mission trip after this kind of preparation.

The Lord is not hiding reality—this is not a sales pitch to get somebody to sign up. This is the reality of Christian service. He has told them what they need to know. Now it is time for them to put it all into practice. Luke 9:6 simply says, “They departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”

The disciples’ mission is unique. They are announcing first to the Jewish people the coming of their Messiah, and they are validating their message with healing. And let me tell you, I have never validated my message by having to heal anybody—and that is good news, because I can’t heal. That was the authenticating sign of the apostolic community; they were empowered to do what only God could do, to prove their message. In doing so, they were preparing the way for the new dispensation of the church age, which was just around the corner.

But even though their mission was unique, there are some lessons we can learn from it for today. For starters, we are to deliver the message without any guarantee that people will appreciate it. We are not to serve the Lord for money but trust Him to provide through His people. And we should expect to carry a cross, not wear a crown.

The day for crowning the disciples of Christ will happen—it is a day still out there in the future when Christ returns. In the meantime, let’s sign up for the mission trip the Lord has prepared for us now. Let’s deliver to our world today the gospel of our coming King.  

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