“He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of the classic characters from American television history is the Lone Ranger. This hero of western lore was a symbol for justice in the untamed American West. He fought villains and protected weak wherever he went. Since his original introduction in a radio series in 1933, the Lone Ranger has been an American icon. He is what we should all aspire to be: brave, just, honest, kind, gentle, fair, and true. There are other elements of his persona that reflect the American spirit as well. Perhaps the most notable of these is the fact that he is the Lone Ranger. He’s on a solo quest against injustice. He can do it all by himself. That sounds so rugged, so adventurous, so noble, and so likely to fail spectacularly. In real life, Lone Ranger-type quests rarely make a splash. Jesus understood this. And so while He was actually the one person in human history who could have done it all Himself, He refused to take that path.
While all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for shaping us to be more reflective of our heavenly Father, and while I’m sure there have been epic sermons preached on this text, this story has always functioned as more of a transition moment to me than something truly central to Jesus’ ministry. But, transition or not, what Jesus does here is important in its example for us.
Jesus was doing fine in His ministry. He was gradually making His way from town to town, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, and healing the sick as He went. He was drawing enormous crowds and they were getting more and more turned on to His message. Things were going really well. In that kind of a moment, there is a very great temptation to consolidate all that momentum in yourself and keep plowing forward on your own. After all, if you’ve created this thing and you know how it is supposed to work, why entrust its care and operation into the hands of anyone else? There’s just too great a likelihood that they’ll mess it up and leave your whole movement broken.
And yet, when we are operating on our own, there’s only so much we can accomplish. That is just as true for us as it was for Jesus. He was subject to the same physical limitations that we all are. He could only be in one place at a time. And if He was in one place, that meant He couldn’t be somewhere else. He couldn’t travel instantaneously either. Once He finished up teaching in one town, He had to walk to the next. He got tired and hungry and needed to take breaks. He could have kept going until He finally gave out, but His total reach would have been severely limited. If He was really going to see His message brought to the whole world, He was going to need help.
As a result, after He had accepted some disciples and trained them by both intention and example, the time came for Him to send them out to expand His own reach by their efforts. He equipped them with the power and authority they were going to need to do the job He was sending them to do, and then He sent them off to get some on-the-job training opportunities to put everything He taught them into practice.
Now, the details of their sending I do not believe are prescriptive for every missionary effort His followers have undertaken since. I think these were specific to their mission. I don’t even think it’s necessary or wise to try and find interpretive spins on them and how they apply to us. This was simply how He sent His followers then. The point here is that He sent them to expand His own impact. Later on, He called them to raise up their own students who would be sent out to expand His impact through them even further. The growth of the kingdom in this way would be exponential.
The point? If you are a follower of Jesus today, you are part of a line of kingdom expansion that stretches all the way back to this moment. Even as Jesus sent them, He is still sending you and me today. We are called to go and share the good news of God’s kingdom with those who have not heard it. We are called to bring the relief of the Gospel into the lives of those who need it. We are called to love as Jesus loved with everyone we meet. The growth of God’s kingdom has never been a solo-venture effort. There are no successful Lone Rangers in the church. If you are finding success in your Gospel-expanding efforts, you need to raise up others to follow after you and expand your mission. If you don’t, it will end with you. That’s a failure. So, share the Gospel actively, but make sure you are training those coming after you to do the same. The kingdom depends on it.