The Lord Who Sends and Provides
Passage: Luke 9:1–9:17
The Lord Who Sends and Provides
Upon first reading, you might think our passage today is an example of Luke throwing together a random collection of events from Jesus’ ministry. And to be honest, I can see how that would be a fair conclusion. I mean, what do twelve apostles, an ungodly king, and five loaves of bread have to do with one another? It’s hard to see how these particular events tie together. What’s more, the feeding of the five thousand is so well-known that our first instinct is probably to isolate that miracle and ignore what is happening around it. All of that to say, it’s easy to read through these verses and think, “What do these things have to do with one another?”
But, there is a theme to this text – a theme that ties these events together in a way that is instructive for us. And that theme can be expressed in two words – mission and provision. What is this passage about? It’s about Jesus sending out his apostles on mission and teaching those apostles that his provision is more than enough. That theme – mission and provision – tie these events together.
In fact, you can see this in the text. V3, Jesus sends out the twelve on mission, but he does so with limited provision. Jesus tells them, “Take nothing for your journey.” The mission is to be marked by dependence on what Jesus provides. But then look at the feeding of the five thousand, particularly v12. The disciples are worried they don’t have enough provisions to meet the people’s need, so what does Jesus do? He visually and powerfully teaches the disciples that his provision is always enough. Jesus provides abundantly, even when provisions are lacking, and he provides through the power of God.
Do you see the theme? Luke is not randomly patching these stories together here in chapter 9. He’s actually preparing us for what will be a key feature of the second half of the Gospel – the truth that real discipleship occurs only through humble dependence on the power and provision of Jesus. That’s what we’re going to see today. The needs we face in life and ministry will always outpace our ability to provide. And therefore, faithful disciples learn early on that humble dependence on Jesus’ provision is the bedrock for life and ministry.
That’s the big picture of our passage. It’s tied together with mission and provision. Let’s zero in now for a few minutes and see how this theme is worked out and applied to our lives. There are three connections here between Jesus and the lives of his people.
The Authority of Jesus to Commission
The first connection occurs in vv1-6, where we see the Authority of Jesus to Commission. There is a lot to think about in these verses, but the key piece is actually a rather simple observation. Ask yourself – who drives the action here? It’s Jesus, isn’t it? Every verb in vv1-2 has Jesus as the subject. Jesus called the Twelve, v1. Jesus gave them power and authority, again v1. Jesus sent them out, v2. Do you see the pattern? Jesus is the one driving the mission of the Twelve. They come because he called. They receive because he gave. And they go because he sent. The apostles are Jesus’ representatives. It is his authority that lies at the heart of their mission, so much so that the Twelve are the extension of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
And that point helps us understand the work Jesus sends them to do. Look again at v1, where Jesus gives the Twelve power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. Why such a remarkable and powerful ministry? What’s the point here? Well again, the point has to do with Jesus. Think about it. What has Jesus done so far in his ministry? He’s defeated demons, and he’s cured those in need of healing. In fact, Luke 4 described Jesus’ ministry in these same terms – as having power and authority.
And now, here in Luke 9, the apostles receive from Jesus that same provision. They receive power and authority to minister in Jesus’ name. The point here is actually not about exorcisms or healings. The point is about Jesus. Here we see the Lord extending his ministry through his authorized messengers. He gives them power and authority so that they might minister in his name.
Even so, it is important to realize that power and authority are not the only features of the Twelve’s mission. Power and authority are not even primary. Notice the purpose of their ministry in v2. Why does Jesus send them out? To proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Again, we need to make the connection here between Jesus and the Twelve. Think back once more to Luke 4, where Jesus says that he must preach the good news of the kingdom to other towns in Israel because he was sent for that purpose. Proclaiming the kingdom is central to Jesus’ ministry. The same is now true for the apostles. Their primary mission, as Jesus’ representatives, is to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
What a striking reminder this is that proclamation lies at the heart of the Christian life and ministry. We are a people of the Word. We have been made by the Word of God, we now live by the Word of God, and we are also called to proclaim the Word of God. In every age, there will be calls for the church to be something other than a Creature of the Word, but brothers and sister, to turn from the centrality of the Word would be to turn from our very life. To neglect the proclamation of the gospel would be to neglect the very reason for our existence. It began with the apostles themselves, and it now carries down to us. We are a people of the Word, a people of the gospel, and that means proclamation lies at the heart of who we are.
But still, there is a question here in v2 we need to answer. Why does Jesus connect preaching and healing? Why put those two things together? The answer has to do with the kingdom of God. In the storyline of Scripture, the kingdom of God is the Lord’s redemptive rule and reign over all the earth. When the kingdom comes, the corruption of the fall will be overturned, and the forces of darkness will be pushed back. It is good news for Jesus to say that the kingdom of God is at hand, and now the apostles are sent to proclaim that same good news. They go out, proclaiming the redemptive rule and reign of God.
But that raises a question of credibility, you might say. If the apostles proclaim the kingdom of God, then where exactly is it? Where is the proof that God’s redemptive rule and reign are at hand?
And that’s where the power to heal comes in. As the Twelve proclaim the kingdom, they also heal the sick as confirmation of their message. It’s the same dynamic at work in Jesus’ ministry. The miracles confirm the message. The signs testify to the proclamation.
And Jesus himself tells us this is how we should understand his ministry. A few chapters from now – Luke 11 – Jesus will say to the Pharisees, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” This is key for understanding the Gospels. The miracles confirm the message. The signs testify to the proclamation.
And so, this means the Twelve are sent out under the very authority of Jesus. They bear his power and authority in their message. And this is why they don’t need any further provisions, v3. Jesus’ authority is enough for the work. This is also why they don’t need to angle for better accommodations or more public displays of attention, v4. The philosophers and teachers of Jesus’ day were always looking for a more prestigious reception. They’d go from one town to the next, prowling for a bigger house or a larger audience. But that must not be the case for Jesus’ apostles. They are to be content with whatever hospitality they receive. They serve at Jesus’ authority, so their ministry is not about them anyway.
And Jesus’ authority also means that the stakes are high for those who hear. Notice v5. If any town does not receive the apostles, what should they do? They shouldn’t try to twist people’s arms to get a better response. They shouldn’t worry about pumping up their numbers. No, the apostles should simply shake the dust from their feet and move on. It’s a sign of judgment. It’s a sign that the Twelve have fulfilled their ministry, and the consequences now rest on those who refused to hear. In our day, it would be like saying, “Listen, I wash my hands of this. It’s on you now.”
Now, that might sound harsh to our ears, but keep that issue of authority in view. Whose authority do the apostles possess? Jesus’ authority – they minister in his name. To reject the apostles is do what? It’s to reject the Lord. That’s why the stakes are so high. The Twelve not peddling mere ideas or human teaching. They go out to proclaim the good news that God himself has come to redeem his people. If you reject that message – if you reject that authority, then v5 is what happens. The consequences are on you.
Now, before we think more about those spiritual stakes, I want to deal with one more question before we leave these opening verses. The apostles were sent out to proclaim and to heal. We too, as the church, are commissioned to proclaim. Should we expect healing and miraculous signs to mark our proclamation as well? Should the features of the apostles’ ministry be the features of our ministry? That’s the big question, isn’t it?
And I’ll give you my answer straightaway. No, I do not believe Scripture teaches that such miraculous signs are the features of our ministry today. Now, can God still do miraculous signs? Yes, but that’s not the question. The question is whether we should expect such signs to mark our ministry. And I believe the answer is no. Here’s why.
The apostles, as you know, were unique. They were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They were his representatives during the early days of the church. In light of that unique role, they were endowed with unique authority. In fact, even after Jesus’ ascension, the apostles still performed such miraculous signs. Why? Because the Scriptures were still in the process of being compiled. The books of the NT were still being written during the early days of the church’s life, and therefore, the apostles needed this unique authority to minister and to lead in Christ’s stead.
But once the Scriptures were complete – once the canon was closed, you could say – that unique apostolic ministry was complete. The purpose was fulfilled, and the authority of Jesus is now given to his church in and through his Word, which records the testimony of the apostles. This is why we preach and believe and practice and follow the Bible, brothers and sisters – because it is here and only here that we submit to the authority of Jesus Christ.
But someone might ask, “So what sign confirms the church’s message today? The apostles healed in order to confirm their message, so what sign confirms the church’s proclamation today?” Good question, and the answer is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We proclaim no other sign than this – that early in the morning on the third day, the Lord Jesus took back up his life, thereby proving once and for all that salvation had been accomplished for the people of God. Brothers and sisters, we do more than exercise demons and heal the lame. We proclaim an empty tomb, and there is no sign more powerful than this.
In that sense, we, as believers, are not in a lesser position than the apostles. Yes, they were unique, and their authority was different than ours. But we are not in a lesser position. We bear Christ’s authority in his Word, and we too preach with divine confirmation when we proclaim that our Lord is alive, raised from the dead. And that means, with the authority of Jesus, we are commissioned in his name.
The Truth of Jesus We Must Consider
Let’s circle back now to those spiritual stakes we saw in v5. The apostles are to shake the dust from their feet whenever a town does not receive their message. It’s a reminder of the central question facing all of humanity – what do you believe about Jesus of Nazareth? Who is he, and how do I respond to him? And it is that central question that drives the second section of our passage. In vv7-9, we see the Truth of Jesus we must Consider. Luke suddenly shifts the scene in v7, as he takes us from the mission field of the Twelve to the palace of King Herod. You’ll remember that there has been a growing enthusiasm around Jesus’ ministry, and it seems the mission of the Twelve has only increased that popular interest. Even Herod has heard what is going on, but Luke tells us that Herod is perplexed. He doesn’t know what to make of this man Jesus. And the popular suggestions about Jesus’ identity are not helping.
Notice the end of v7 and on in to v8. Some people say Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead, while others say Jesus is a new Elijah, whom the OT promised would arise in the final days. But Jesus himself, back in chapter 7, has already said John the Baptist was the Elijah to come. People keep speculating, with some suggesting that Jesus is one of the prophets of old. All of that to say, the issue of Jesus’ identity is an open question. Everybody is talking about it.
But none of those suggestions make sense to Herod. He’s perplexed. Notice v9 – “Herod said, ‘John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I have heard such things?’ And he sought to see him.” Herod is curious, isn’t he? He hears about Jesus, but he needs to know more. Who exactly is this, Herod asks?
Now, in the course of Luke’s Gospel, this is a very instructive moment. Herod is asking the question that Luke wants all of his readers to ask, the very question that Luke writes to answer – Who exactly is this man, Jesus? Is he a prophet, like the people of his day suggest? Is he a threat and a rebel, like the Pharisees believe? Or is he something more – Someone more, as his ministry claims? It’s surprising that Herod would play this part, but his question is absolutely central for everyone who reads the Gospel. Who is this?
And so, v9 is an instructive moment. Herod’s question, surprising as it may seem, is both a call and a warning. This is something I want us to remember every time we come to the Scriptures together – the Bible is always calling us to a response. Here in v9, that response is both a call and a warning.
The call is to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. When Herod says, “Who is this?” you and I, as the readers of God’s Word, are to pause and ask ourselves – “Yes, who do I believe this man is? Who do I say Jesus is?” And the testimony of Scripture is that this man is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the church, the only Lord and Sovereign over all things. His teaching bears the authority of God himself, his works testify that his Word is true, and his life will culminate in the clearest display of God’s glory ever given on this earth – Jesus’ own death and resurrection. And so, right now, today in v9 – the Scriptures are calling all of us to faith in Jesus Christ.
But I also want to be clear. This call to faith also contains a warning. The warning is pictured in Herod himself. Notice in v9 that Herod is curious about Jesus. What that means is that Herod wants to see the show. He’s heard about the miracles and the signs, and Herod wants a glimpse. He wants in on the buzz.
And that is the warning. You can be curious about Jesus and still miss the truth about Jesus. You can think Jesus is fascinating and exciting and even powerful, but if your heart and life are not submitted to him in faith, then you will not be saved. There will be many souls who are condemned on the last day because they were only curious about Jesus. It is only those who trust Jesus – who believe him to be the Son of God – it is only those who will be saved.
Oh friends, I don’t know where you are this morning, but I pray that you hear the call and the warning in Herod’s question. If you are not a Christian this morning – if you have not repented of your sins and trusted in Christ’s death and resurrection to save you – if you are not a Christian, then this is the Truth about Jesus that Scripture is calling you to believe. Won’t you believe today? When the question is asked, “Who is this?” I pray you will respond not merely with curiosity like Herod, but with faith, trusting that Jesus is the Christ who alone can save.
From Herod, Luke takes us right back to the apostles in v10. You’ll notice that the Twelve have returned, and they report to Jesus all that they have done. Jesus, for his part, follows his usual pattern. After a time of busy ministry, Jesus often withdraws to pray, and that’s what he attempts to do with the apostles. But in v11, that plan for rest and solitude is interrupted. The crowd finds Jesus, and instead of turning them away, Jesus welcomes them and preaches the good news of the kingdom. And it’s here, in the warm-hearted welcome of Jesus, that we find the final connection of our passage. Vv10-16, we see the Power of Jesus to Provide.
The Power of Jesus Provide
Jesus welcomes the crowd, but it doesn’t take long for the disciples to notice a problem. V12, it’s late in the day, and they don’t have any provisions for such a large group. They encourage Jesus to send the crowd away. Let the people fend for themselves. But Jesus, as he so often does, turns this moment upside down. V13, Jesus tells the Twelve to feed the crowd. This will be key. Jesus tells the disciples to take care of it, to minister to the people.
Notice the situation facing the apostles. They have limited provisions on the one hand, and they have an impossible ministry on the other. There is no way that five loaves and two fish can meet this need. On the surface, this is impossible, and that’s what they tell Jesus. V13, the disciples are incredulous. How can we feed five thousand with only five loaves? Or do you want us to go buy food for everyone? I mean, you can hear the frustration and perhaps the fear in their voice. In their minds, there is simply nothing they can do. This need is beyond their ability to provide. There is nothing to do.
But there is something the disciples could do at this point. In fact, it’s the one thing they don’t do. They could ask Jesus to meet the need. They could humble themselves before the Master and trust that his provision is enough. That’s not over spiritualizing the moment. It’s not a stretch for the apostles to see at this point. What have they just experienced in their own lives? V3 – they went out on mission with no provisions, and what happened? God provided. They ministered in Jesus’ name and with Jesus’ authority, and guess what? That was enough. But here before a sea of thousands of people, the disciples can’t see it. The one thing they should do is the one thing they don’t do. They should ask Jesus to provide.
And yet, despite their blindness, there is mercy from the Lord Jesus. Just as he patiently welcomed the crowd that interrupted his rest, so also he patiently teaches his dull disciples. V16, Jesus takes action. He blesses the loaves and the fish, he breaks the bread, and he gives it to the disciples to distribute. Do you remember at the beginning of the sermon where we said Jesus was the subject of all the verbs, v1? It’s the same thing here, isn’t it? Jesus blesses, Jesus breaks, and Jesus gives.
And amazingly, Jesus’ power is enough to provide. The loaves are multiplied, and the disciples are able to distribute food until everyone is full. How did it happen? How did the loaves multiply? Simply by the power of Christ, who is the Lord of all the earth.
But here’s the takeaway. Here’s the point that we must not miss. It is the disciples who distribute the food, which is precisely what Jesus told them to do in v13. Do you see it? Through Jesus’ power to provide, the disciples carry out the ministry. Through Jesus’ abundance, the disciples meet the need. It’s a remarkable picture, isn’t it?
And it’s the lesson that the disciples need to learn. The needs in life and ministry will always outpace the disciples’ ability to provide. And therefore, what they most need to learn is the humility of depending on Jesus’ provision.
Brothers and Sisters, the same is true today. Whether it is living the Christian life or the work of Christian ministry, the needs will always outpace our ability. The crowd will always be too big, and the loaves will always seem too small. And yet, in whose name do we serve? The name of Jesus Christ, the One whose power is abundant and able to provide. Through his Word and by his Spirit, the Lord Jesus meets the needs of those who trust him. In fact, one of the central aspects of a Christ-exalting life and ministry is learning this kind of dependence. This scene with the disciples is an illustration of how the Lord so often works. He brings us face to face with our inability, so that we will learn where to look for provision.
If you’re facing an insurmountable need in life at this point, it’s not that the Lord has forgotten you. It’s not that he has overlooked you. It may well be that he is teaching you about his provision, and even more so, about your dependence on the provision that he delights to give.
Won’t you trust him, brothers and sisters? Anchor your life in his Word. Commune with him in prayer. Cast your burdens on him, trusting that he cares for you. Please don’t minimize that simple act of exercising trust in Jesus Christ. The application for our lives is not always a series of numbered steps that we can work our way through in a nice, ordered fashion. In fact, that’s rarely how biblical application works. Application is very much like farming – each passage is calling you to the daily work of sowing the good seed of faith, trusting that in God’s time, the harvest of provision and growth and comfort and godliness will come.
Trust him, and on the basis of his Word, believe that his provision is enough – not only for mission, but for life itself. Amen.
More in The Gospel according to Luke
August 2, 2020Costly Discipleship
July 12, 2020Glory, Unbelief, and Humility: Lessons on the Road of Discipleship
July 5, 2020The Glorious Son of God