Receiving Our Mission Orders

In the military you can do nothing without orders. You can’t travel. You can’t move into a home. You can’t get your children in school. Your spouse may not even be able to get a job! You’d be pretty aimless without orders.

But with your orders you have direction. You have empowerment. You have assurances.

When Jesus was with his disciples during the last days of his earthly ministry he gave his disciples some powerful mission orders. And with his orders he gave powerful assurances that they would have all the power required to carry them out.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4–8, ESV)

Jesus gave his disciples two orders.

(1) “not to depart from Jerusalem.” The other Gospels tell us how the disciples began to travel back to Galilee. Some of them even went back to their old fishing jobs. But Jesus had other plans for them. His plan was that they continue to do what he called them to do. There is no greater order for a disciple to carry out than to do what his master called him to do. There is no place for inserting our own agenda into his mission orders.

(2) “wait for the promise of the Father.” What was the promise? Jesus told them it was the Holy Spirit, the divine presence that would be with them always. Without the Holy Spirit they would be powerless. What does it look like to wait for the Holy Spirit? Later in the story Luke tells us that they “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14). If we are to receive the power of the Holy Spirit we, too, must be united in prayer.

Jesus final words to his disciples are actually given as a promise.

(1) “you will receive power.” Power was the very thing required if the disciples were to carry out Jesus’ orders. No plan or agenda of theirs would have succeeded in accomplishing Jesus’ mission orders without the Holy Spirit. The most motivated and mobilized and strategized disciple is powerless without a mighty work of God. That is exactly what the disciples needed. Jesus promised them power, and the rest of the book of Acts confirms that they received it!

(2) “you will be my witnesses.” When we harmonize this verse with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, we may think of it solely as a command. But really it’s part of Jesus’ promise to his disciples. “You will be my witnesses.” The disciples were going to be witnesses of Jesus. That was a guarantee. They were going to be faithful witnesses or unfaithful. They were going to boldly proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and then call others to repentance and forgiveness (see Luke 24:46-48), or they were not.

The orders and promises of Jesus ring true for us, as well. Will we forsake our own agenda and be committed to his call on our lives as disciples? Will we begin among our own people, those in our own families and neighborhoods? Will we prayerfully depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the mission? Will we be a faithful witness to all Jesus did and said? We have received our mission orders. Are we willing to obey?



Jesus uses people who refuse to believe

If you want to read about some crazy disbelief then check out today’s reading in Mark 16.

Mark wrote how the disciples responded to the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. How would you expect these eleven men to respond–men who had walked with Jesus for three years, seeing him raise the dead, heal the sick, walk on water and feed the multitudes? Wouldn’t the news of his resurrection be welcomed with joy?

Mary Magdelene was the first to tell them about Jesus (16:10-11). They refused to believe.

Two other disciples then told them they saw Jesus (16:12-13). They still didn’t believe.

They wouldn’t disbelieve for long.

Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mark 16:14)

Two things struck me about this passage:

1. Remember how Jesus responded to the faith of the bleeding woman in Mark 5. What a difference between that woman and the disciples! Jesus commended the woman for her faith in him, because she heard the reports about him and believed. But Jesus rebuked his own disciples for their “unbelief and hardness of heart,” because they heard the reports of the resurrection and did not believe.

It’s easy to see from these two accounts the kind of faith that Jesus commends and rewards. I wonder which kind of faith in Jesus we exhibit on a regular basis. How often are our hearts hard toward the things of God? How often do we succumb to our circumstances and allow our faith to erode?

But, lest we get discouraged let me share some good news.

2. See how Jesus dealt with his disciples after he rebuked them.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15)

Jesus commissioned those with hard hearts and unbelief with the task of proclaiming the good news to the whole world. Why would he do that? They refused to believe the resurrection witness. Their hearts were hard toward the testimony of their own brothers and sisters. But Jesus restored them to ministry anyway.

That’s good news. That’s grace in action.

Jesus uses people who refuse to believe. He gets a hold of them and turns their world upside down. And then he puts them to work on the only lasting work–the joy of telling others the good news. That’s what he did with his first disciples and that’s what he still does with all who respond to him with faith.

You might think your faith is small. It probably is. That’s good. If it was any larger you might be tempted to believe you don’t need Jesus. But be encouraged by the fact that Jesus uses us for his glory and our joy despite our lack of faith.

And what should our response be to this grace? Praise with grateful hearts, and witness boldly. Because he’s given us great grace.