Take Nothing For The Journey – part 4

The following verses have haunted me for many years. First Jesus says, take nothing for the journey. Then he becomes very specific about what not to take. Why does Jesus state very specifically what not to take?

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.

(NIV Luke 9:1-3)

I was fortunate to attend a meeting of the Centers for World Mission in South Korea. Many who were part of their national Center for World Mission gathered from around the globe. I had been invited to represent the Latin Center for World Mission. There were people from Mongolia, China, India, the Philippines, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, among many other countries. There were about forty people who met for several days in a retreat center in the snow-covered mountains about an hour outside Seoul. I heard many things during those meetings, but one thing stood out among all the rest. One of the leaders of the Nigerian mission-sending agency stood up and said, “When we send our missionaries out, they go with three months’ support and are told never to return to Nigeria.” The Nigerian mission movement is one of the largest missionary-sending countries in the world. The main reason why this statement should impact us is that what he said is closer to the teaching of Jesus Christ on mission sending.

Because he is influential and someone who should know about sending missionaries, it should make us take a second look at Luke 9:1-3. I realize that later in Luke chapter twenty-two you find that Jesus sent them with a few more items, but it is very important to see that he tells us in chapter twenty-two to only take three more items: a purse, a bag, and a sword. Look closely at this passage. The main truth we find in Christ’s teaching here is that we do not need very much to go do mission work. Missionaries really do not need anything in order to go. They need the clothes on their back, nothing more. Too much baggage is one of the main things that hinders us from finishing the job. Some never go at all because they lack the things they assume will be needed. Jesus had just raised a little girl from the dead, and then he decided to send out the twelve. Try to imagine Jesus talking to his disciples. Imagine his tone. Then try to imagine why he would say not to take anything for the journey. Your first response might be to teach them faith. I don’t believe it was to teach them faith. He was teaching a very specific missionary principle: he did not want them to be burdened or preoccupied with things or the preparation of going. It takes preparation in order to take things on a journey. You have to get money to buy the things, then you have to find the right things, and then you have to get those things for anyone else that is going along. He taught this so that they would not get hung up. We overestimate ourselves. We think that we will not get hung up. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

(NIV Luke 22:35-38)

Be very careful with these verses. He says “now if you have a purse, take it and also a bag, and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” implying that they still might not have money. He says, “if you have a purse.” They would have had to acquire a purse along the way. A purse holds money, but in this case, not enough to buy a sword. They would have had to sell their cloak in order to buy one. It also implies that the bag also was acquired along the way. It is important to note also that he only says to buy one thing. The other things, the purse, and the bag are to be taken now only if they have them. This would imply that they had acquired them somewhere along the way after going. I believe the swords are symbolic of something regarding Judas. I have read commentaries and would rather not presume anything here but there is something else that is interesting. The disciples say, “See Lord, here are two swords,” and Jesus says that two are enough. Not everyone needs the last three items that Jesus says can be taken. Some of them can be gotten along the way.

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’s followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour–when darkness reigns.”

(NIV Luke 22:47-53)

Now the disciples ask Jesus if they should use their swords, and one strikes before Jesus has a chance to answer. After all, Jesus had just told them to sell their cloaks and buy one if they had none. Also, two disciples happened to already have swords. There was no need to buy them. They must have acquired those along the way as well. You should seek the Lord as to what these scriptures mean. I am not going to presume that there is deep meaning here, but one thing we know is this fact: Jesus sent out his disciples to do the great commission with nothing but the clothes on their backs. If you look at the rest of the apostles’ exploits, you will find that they did not have many things. I am not saying that having things is a sin, just that we do not need them to do mission work. I will explain why we don’t need them in the next section.

These were his instructions on what to take and what not to take:

“Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals, but not an extra tunic. (NIV Mark 6:8-9)

I have been teaching missionary candidates for many years and the ones who have a problem with this verse, and that Mark includes a staff, are usually the ones that are trying to see how much they can get away with by not obeying Christ’s missiology. They have a heart attitude that needs to change. They are looking at God’s purposes from an egocentric point of view. See the diagram about halfway down the page in this article “What Is a Missionary to Remote Unreached People Groups” to see what I am talking about.

In the original language (Greek) these verses are saying, do not acquire any more than you have in your hands and, do not go back for anything else. Just go, with what you have, and don’t look back. Don’t be thinking about what you do not have. This is a concept that we have completely ignored in modern missionary sending.

It is possible that the various verses were given on different occasions or that some disciples heard Jesus say something and the others did not. Or it is possible that one author has a better handle on the Greek language. Whatever the case, Jesus is telling us what NOT to focus on and he makes it clear that money is not a prerequisite.

In this passage above, Mark adds the staff and sandals and assumes that they are to take a belt. It is still clear that you need very little and you do not need money. Money is not ever mentioned by Jesus in any verses as a need for missionary sending. Why in Luke chapter nine would he say not to take even the essentials? I believe that Jesus knew that if he said they need money, it would be over-exaggerated, and soon they would need everything one could imagine to be able to go.

If you need to take money, well, you might as well take extra clothing. And if you can, get a really cool staff that doubles as a sword and a candle holder. If you have a staff, a sword, and a candle holder, you need matches and a bag to keep the matches dry. If you have a bag, you might as well take along some money to buy more matches. Why not take a hat and extra clothing, and a tiny bar of soap to wash your clothes? Before you know it, the disciples would be more focused on the cool missionary gear than on the goal of extending the Gospel. Sound familiar? We overestimate ourselves thinking that we will not overdo it. But we are like little children who are more excited about going shopping for new school clothes and school supplies than we are about school itself. Look at where we are today. Mission agencies and sending structures have so many requirements that most people don’t qualify. The missionary needs so many things, or so they are told, that they can’t go.

I used to carry a lot of things when I went on mission trips. Over the years, my baggage has dwindled to virtually nothing. What I do take, I rarely need. I remember going with a brother on a difficult trip and he took a seventy-pound pack (30 kilograms). He had everything he needed including a portable cd player and all his favorite music. I remember how much he struggled to carry that pack up the mountain. He was too proud to get rid of some of the weight. Others that I traveled with were eager to throw-away many things that were unnecessary, just to ease the suffering of carrying the extra weight. Sometimes we take so much, we have no need of help from anyone.

We might never know the deeper reasons of why Christ told us to take so little

By God’s grace, I have traveled into many unreached people groups. It was my job for fifteen years. Those experiences taught me that one can completely obey Christ and take nothing for the journey. He will be there for you. You will lack nothing. You do not need anything for the Journey; you really don’t. Jesus knows what he is doing. You can really trust him to teach you how to do the great commission. It applies today just as it did then when Jesus said it over two thousand years ago. Jesus never intended that we change his methods. If you begin to ask other missionaries, you will find out that many went to the mission field with no financial backing from their church or agency. I have interviewed many field missionaries, and they tell me this same thing. If you don’t need a staff or money or food or extra clothing, you surely don’t need all the requirements of today’s missionary-sending structures. God will provide what you need as you go. You just need to be obedient to Christ’s simple teaching and get out there and preach the Gospel. Thousands of missionary candidates are holding back, saying that they can’t go yet because they lack something. You will end up never going at all if you fall into this trap.

I have good friends who have said they would go once their children were grown and gone from home. Then they changed it to “until their children got through college”. Then they stayed until their children got married. They never went. Once, we had a new missionary candidate in our house who said that she could not go to Afghanistan to translate the Bible until she got her Ph.D. in linguistics. We had a short talk with her, and she decided to go to Afghanistan without the education. We encouraged her to read the scriptures for herself. She had some good training and went. The education trap has kept thousands of missionaries from going to unreached peoples. They get into debt to mission training centers and can’t go until they pay off the debt. Get a little training, but don’t focus on a diploma. Those who get degrees come out over educated, indebted with school loans, and have become way too proud to be missionaries to remote unreached peoples. If you feel you need more than a few years of training, go to a school that is not accredited, or you will be so proud or so over-educated that God himself will close the doors on you to go to remote unreached people groups. It would be better to take courses at a community college or somewhere where they are not going to give you a diploma. Whatever it is in the modern educational system, it ruins you for the mission field. You will no longer be a simple, obedient servant with faith in Christ. You will be a career missionary who has learned the business of missions and who is full of missiology and full of yourself. You will be one more reason we have not finished the great commission. Again, God will literally close the doors for you to enter into remote unreached people groups.