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Six Marks of Jesus' Disciples

In the town of Stepanavan, Armenia, there is a woman whom everyone calls “Palasan’s Wife”. She has her own name, of course, but townspeople call her by her husband’s name to show her great honor.

When the devastating 1988 earthquake struck Armenia, it was nearly noon, and Palasan was at work. He rushed to the elementary school where his son was a student. The façade was already crumbling, but he entered the building and began pushing children outside to safety. After Palasan had managed to help twenty-eight children out, an aftershock hit that completely collapsed the school building and killed him.

So the people of Stapanavan honor his memory and his young widow by calling her Palasan’s wife.

Sometimes a person’s greatest honor is not who he or she is but to whom he or she is related. The highest honor of any Christian is to be called a disciple of Jesus Christ, the One who laid down his life for us.[1]

Today we are going to examine six marks of the disciples of Jesus from Mark 6:6-13. Listen for God’s word to you….

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered 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 to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

A disciple is a learner, in this case: a learner of Jesus. The first mark of the disciples of Jesus that I see in this passage is that they live in community.

Notice that when Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, to heal, and to cast out demons, he sent them out two by two. In Jesus’ book, there is no such thing as lone-ranger Christianity. The moment we become related to God through his Son Jesus Christ we also become part of his family, the Church, whether we realize it or not.

Jesus did not want his disciples to go out alone to preach, to heal, and to cast out demons. He knew that if they did that, they would be easy targets of the evil one. Satan has a much easier job pulling us down, when we are alone than when we are in fellowship with other believers.

When Paul talked about taking up the shield of faith as part of the armor of God in Ephesians 6, he may have been thinking of the phalanx formation of the Roman army. When the Romans would go into battle, they would often have their soldiers stand shoulder to shoulder in a V-formation. Then, at the appropriate time, when their commander gave them the signal, all the soldiers would raise their shields at the same time, and present a united front to the enemy.

That is what we do every time we come together as a church to worship Jesus and confess our faith in him. We are raising our shields together and there is tremendous power in that kind of community.

Around the turn from the 19th to the 20th century, there was a plague of locusts in the Plains of the United States. In a matter of a few days that swarm of locusts swept over the states of Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas. In less than a week, those locusts did over five hundred million dollars’ worth of damage.

Locusts don’t have a king to get them organized. They don’t have a draft board to call them into ranks. By instinct the locust knows it has to be in community with other locusts. When that occurs, they are able to topple kingdoms. The wisdom of the locust is the wisdom that tells us we must live in community as Christians.[2] Think of what we might accomplish for good, the more we work together as believers in Jesus Christ!

The second mark of the disciples of Jesus that I see in this passage is authority. Jesus gave his disciples authority over evil spirits. I believe Jesus continues to give his disciples authority over evil spirits today.

I know that many people today have a hard time even believing in the existence of evil spirits. Some don’t want to believe they exist. Others simply think it is silly. Still others in our world today are very interested in evil spirits—perhaps too interested. Many want to get in touch with the spiritual realm, but don’t seem to realize that there can be dangers in trying to do so. What evidence do we have for believing that spirit is always good and bodies are always bad? It seems much more likely to me that there is evil in the spiritual realm just as there is evil in the physical realm.

The good news is that Jesus gives to us as his disciples, his learners, his followers, authority over demons, authority over evil. In Jesus’ name, we have power over the demons and we can tell them where to go.

You may say to me: how does this work? Well, it’s kind of like when I was a boy and someone would park on our street in such a way as to block our driveway. My father might send me outside to ask them to move their car. 

I suppose the driver had a choice about what they were going to do at that point. They could have figured, “Hey, this is a little kid telling me where to park. Why should I listen to him?” But then if that driver knew that my father was 6' 4", 250 pounds, and an ex-con, he might reconsider where he was going to park his car. 

I think it works the same way with regard to our authority over demons. It is a delegated authority.

According to Matthew 28, Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. That authority is given to him by his Father in heaven. Jesus, in turn, delegates authority to us. He gives us, as believers in him, authority over the demons, just as my father delegated authority to me as his son to tell people where to park. Spiritual authority flows not from titles or positions but from a relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ.

A third mark of the disciples of Jesus that we see in this passage is simplicity. Jesus told his disciples on this one occasion: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.”

Jesus was sending his disciples out on a short journey on this occasion where they would be returning soon to him, so that is probably one reason why he didn’t want them to get weighed down with a lot of stuff. But I think he also wanted to teach them and us that we need to live simply if we are going to be his disciples.

Christian singer, Annie Chapman, once wrote,

Having traveled full-time for 14 years doing concerts, I should have packing down to an exact science. But it’s simply not so. Our family of four always leaves home loaded with a humiliatingly inordinate amount of excess baggage.

It’s possible to go through life with excess emotional baggage as well. Hurts and memories can make us unable to move toward emotional intimacy. It is vital to our spiritual and emotional growth that we identify these hurts, because Christ cannot heal suffering we insist isn’t there. And without healing, the weight of excess baggage will wreak havoc on our capacity to love and be loved.

Are you carrying excess emotional baggage? Are you carrying hurt and lack of forgiveness for people who have hurt you in the past? Why carry all that baggage? It is weighing you down. Why not give it to Jesus and trust him to help you live without it? What a relief it is when we hand over our excess baggage to Christ!

Maybe your excess baggage isn’t emotional. Maybe it is some of the material stuff that Jesus is talking about in this passage.

I love going on vacation. I can relate to what Annie Chapman says about packing everything but the kitchen sink. When our kids were young and we would go on a trip, sometimes I felt like our car looked like that scene from “I Love Lucy”. You know the scene where Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel drive to California together? Lucy packs all the stuff literally on the car and tied on with a rope. She leaves a little hole out the front windshield and through the back so Ricky can see, but that’s it! Sometimes I would feel like that when we used to go on vacation as a family. But still, when we went on vacation we would live with less stuff than when we were at home. And it was always wonderful to live more simply: less clothes, less television, less noise, more books to read, walking barefoot. That’s the life!

I wonder, what is there that we could afford to cut out of our lives in order to live more simply? What are the things that are distracting us from getting to know Jesus better and serve him more effectively? Why not cut it out, and start enjoying the simple life?

A fourth mark of the disciples of Jesus that we see here is trust. Going out on their own with just the clothes on their backs, the disciples were forced to rely on God for help. They had to trust that he would supply their every need. I believe that Jesus means for us to experience this kind of practical trust in our everyday lives. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing has yet been done.”

Our problem is that we all try to put ourselves in positions where we don’t have to rely on God. We try to build our bank accounts to the point where we won’t ever have to go without. Now, I’m not saying that saving is wrong. But sometimes we are so desperate to save, and to insure ourselves to the hilt, because we don’t think we can trust God to provide for us.

God knows where he wants to take us and the best way to get there. We don’t have to figure it all out. We don’t have to work it all out. He will supply the resources if we trust him. We don’t have to go through life all loaded down with too many resources that tie us down. We can travel light as we trust in the Lord to provide.

In his Christmas broadcast of 1939, King George VI of England addressed the British Commonwealth at a time when the entire world was filled with uncertainty and even despondency. He quoted these words from a poem:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

That is what we must do as disciples of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in situations where there may seem to be a risk. We have to put ourselves in situations where we are forced to rely on the Lord to supply our needs. As Winston Churchill once said, “Play for more than you can afford to lose, and you will learn the game.” When we are willing to attempt something so great for God that it is bound to fail unless he is in it, then we will learn more about a relationship with Jesus than any book or sermon can teach us.

A fifth mark of the disciples of Jesus in this passage is that they had a message to share. We read that the disciples went out and preached that people should repent. This was the same message that Jesus preached. The disciples copied what their Master was doing.

Repentance means a change of mind that results in a change in direction. It is really a gift of God. Repentance is not something we can do on our own strength. The message we have to share is a message about change, change that only God can bring.

Stuart Briscoe writes,

I met with a young business-lady this week. I pointed out these Scriptures to her, and she said, “You mean to stay that Jesus Christ wants me to confront the possibility that I might be wasting my life?” I said, “No, I’m not trying to tell you. He said it. And not only that, he said the only way to make sure you really invest your life for eternity in the divine economy is to hand it over to him.” She said, “No way.” That was last Tuesday morning.

Sunday night she came to me literally trembling and said, “I’ve not been able to get that thought out of my mind all week: I might be wasting my life.” I asked, “Are you the same Pat?” She said, “I’m the same one who rides her motorcycle at ninety-five miles an hour without a helmet and has never been afraid of anything, but now I’m utterly petrified.” Why? Because she was daring to do what disciples of Jesus Christ do: confront the issues. She quietly submitted her life to the Master last Sunday night. Do you call yourself a disciple of Jesus Christ? Disciples of Jesus Christ confront the issues he raises.”

It’s like our own Steve Rhinesmith said to us at our board retreat last weekend. Some very successful people get to the end of their lives and suddenly realize they have the ladder of their life leaning against the wrong wall. How much better to have that realization and make a change when you are young.

The final mark of the disciples of Jesus we see in this passage is that they have a mission to care. Jesus’ disciples drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Are we willing to really care for people? Patricia L. Miller, a former hospital staff person, writes:

While at work in the emergency room, I learned to stop crying at the pain around me. Each day it seemed I was becoming insensitive to people and their real needs. Five years of emergency room exposure had taken its toll.

Then God intervened.

I was taking information for registering a young woman who had overdosed on drugs and had attempted suicide. Her mother sat before me as I typed the information into the computer. The mother was unkempt and bleary eyed. She had been awakened in the middle of the night by the police to come to the hospital. She could only speak to me in a whisper.

Hurry up, I said to myself, as she slowly gave me the information. My impatience was raw as I finished the report and jumped to the machine to copy the medical cards. That’s when God stopped me—at the copy machine. He spoke to my heart so clearly: You didn’t even look at her. He repeated it, gently: You didn’t even look at her.

I felt his grief for her and for her daughter, and I bowed my head. I’m sorry, Lord. I am so sorry.

I sat down in front of the distraught woman and covered her hands with mine. I looked into her eyes with all the love that God could flood through me and said, “I care. Don’t give up.”

She wept and wept. She poured her heart out to me about the years of dealing with a rebellious daughter as a single mom. Finally, she looked up and thanked me. Me…the coldhearted one with no feelings.

My attitude changed that night. My Jesus came right into the workplace in spite of rules that tried to keep him out. He came in to set me free to care again. He gave himself to that woman through me. My God, who so loved the world, broke that self-imposed barrier around my heart. Now he could reach out, not only to me in my pain, but to a lost and hurting woman.

As the saying goes, people don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.

There is only one way that we can have the marks of disciples of Jesus Christ. There is only one way we can live in community, have his authority, enjoy simplicity, trust him unreservedly, have a message to share and a mission to care. The only way we can do this stuff is by his grace, and by his power.

[1] L. Nishan Bakalian
[2] Haddon Robinson


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Psalm 110
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