In learning a new skill, there is a point at which being told how to do something isn’t enough. You need hands-on experience. You need OJT.
When Jesus decided the Disciples needed some OJT, He sent them out to do two things: proclaim the Kingdom of God and heal. To equip them for this work, He gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal all diseases. He wasn’t giving them ability but authority. They could only act on His behalf as they represented Him.
An ambassador represents the country from which He’s sent. More specifically he/she has authority to speak on behalf of the President or King. So, in essence, the ambassador’s words carries the weight of the one who sent him as though the one who sent him was actually speaking.
Paul and John demonstrated this authority with a crippled man at the Temple in Jerusalem. Act 3:6-7, 12, 16 But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene--walk!" And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened…But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? …And on the basis of faith in His name [authority], it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
They were very clear that this wasn’t an ability they had, but an authority granted to them by Jesus. What Jesus gave them authority to do, they could do, but couldn’t claim credit for doing it. It was Him working through them.
So back when He gave that authority to the Disciples, Luke says: Luke 9:6 Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.
Then, Luke 9:10 When the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done.
But it raises the question: how extensive was this authority? Was it for this one mission trip or was it now part of their ministry privilege? Could they heal anyone at any time? Or were they only able to do so when the source of this authority wanted it done?
Because of the human tendency for pride to overshadow our accomplishments, Jesus knew these men could never handle being given the freedom to heal as He could. He had no restrictions. These men didn’t have God’s wisdom regarding each person’s life. They knew what would be good, but not what was best.
That’s why He could never give them a gift to use at their discretion. At this point He couldn’t trust them.
In the Book of Acts, there’s a story about a magician named Simon who had a rude awakening about the gifts of God:
Act 8:9-11 Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, "This man is what is called the Great Power of God." And they were giving him attention because he had for a long time astonished them with his magic arts.
Act 8:18-21 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
This story is after Pentecost. Peter now has discernment. So, though Simon said authority, Peter knew he meant ability because he wasn’t interested in operating this gift under the Spirit’s direction. He wanted to give the Spirit to whomever he wanted. That is a gift operated by selfish desires.
To teach the Disciples this same lesson, so they might avoid such a battle later, it is possible Jesus took that authority back for a bit. Luke 9:10b-11 Taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing.
I would think that with twelve men authorized to heal, this would be a great time for them to step in and share the load, help Jesus heal all who came to Him. But, still, Jesus did all the healing Himself. Why? Because maybe they needed to learn what He gave them was never to replace Him.
The people were seeking Jesus as their answer, not His representatives. When someone wants the real thing you don’t send in a substitute.
You and I never want people to come to us thinking we’re their answer. Our job is to point them to Him. An ambassador never upstages his president.
A bit later in this chapter Jesus meets a man whose son has a demon. The man came looking for Jesus to heal his son. I like Mark’s version better:
Mar 9:17-18 And one of the crowd answered Him, "Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it." Mar 9:22-23 "It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus said to him, “If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes."
The disciples had been given the authority to cast out demons, why couldn’t they take care of this one? It was nine against one. Did you know we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes? Michael Jordan said once that he learned more from missing a shot than making one. You can accidently make a shot but you can’t accidently miss. Perhaps failing at something would better teach them how things were to operate.
Jesus told them: this kind can only come out by prayer and fasting. What does that mean? Prayer and fasting are acts of humility—admitting with prayer and demonstrating by fasting that we are dependent on God. They reboot us, refocus us on the One who is in charge. They are, as Jesus prayed in the garden, moments that remind us it is His will we seek and not our own—that He is the One who is in charge, not us.
Was He sensing arrogance? Were they confusing authority with ability?
So, to clarify the difference, a little test: Luke 9:12-17 Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, "Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place." But He said to them, "You give them something to eat!" And they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people." (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, "Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each." They did so, and had them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.
Asking them to provide for so many people was beyond the scope of what they knew they could do. He hadn’t given them all power, only limited, specific power over demons and to heal, and perhaps only for that mission trip. So why tell them to feed the crowd? Again: to humble them. It’s humbling to have to admit we can’t do something.
When the Spirit would be given on Pentecost, they would be receiving tremendous power to accomplish God’s will. But today, at this point, they couldn’t handle that power. The power of God is designed to accomplish God’s purposes, not their own.
Pride would have them assume they were the source. This test reminded them He is the source. He is the one meeting the needs, not them.
He had to show them it was not always the spectacular moments when God works but also in meeting everyday needs.
On the scale of life-impacting moments, this miracle seemed less significant than the others but Jesus had to show them the promises not only covered big problems but also affected the regular stuff of life.
When God said through Peter: 1 Pet 5:7 cast your cares upon Me for I care for You, did He put any restrictions on what qualified as a care?
When Paul wrote: Phil 4:19 My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, were there any needs not covered?
When David wrote: Ps 138:8 The Lord will accomplish what concerns me, were there any loopholes he forgot to mention?
In the Model Prayer, Jesus told us to ask: Give us this day our daily bread. Why would we need to acknowledge God for something we can provide on our own? Because it’s easy for us to think we, and what we have, is the source of meeting our own needs. Things we can do for ourselves, without acknowledging God’s provisions, lessens our dependency upon Him. Was that what He was afraid that the Disciples would do? That’s why He gave them authority rather than ability, so they wouldn’t lose their need for Him.
Deut 6:10-12 Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“I just don’t want to bother God with petty stuff.” Most of life is petty stuff. I don’t think we want to leave God out of most of our life?
Sure I can take from my income and go to Kroger and buy bread, but in the bigger picture, my income, my physical ability to go to Kroger, their availability of bread are all things I can thank God for.
James said: James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
God calls us to acknowledge Him as the source of all the blessings in our life—not just those we characterize as spiritual. So, here’s Jesus doing an incredible miracle of making dinner for thousands out of a handful of ingredients and having plenty left over. He showed them His blessings are not limited by what He has to work with. So Paul, later, could write: 2Co 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; Can we acknowledge that?
That’s the lesson: neither the authority given to the Disciples, nor our own sufficiency, are able to meet all our needs. We cannot do for ourselves what Jesus can.
So, after we learn that lesson, we now can honor Him, love Him and depend upon Him. When we do, we will agree with Paul: Eph 3:20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Never think you don’t need the Lord.
Never just keep Him in reserve for the things you can’t handle on your own.
Never limit His concern over you.
Never stop depending upon Him.
Never believe you know better than God for what’s best in for your life.
- Jesus never intended to be an add-on to our lives, another interest among several; He must be the vital piece that completes us.
- It is within His plan that we remain dependent upon Him for all our needs.
- Any part of our lives in which we say, “I don’t need the Lord here,” weakens our commitment to follow Him completely.
- As we learn to yield more of ourselves to Him, we will discover there is no such thing as conditional surrender to the Lord