In 1989, electronic synth-pop band Depeche Mode released their song ‘Personal Jesus’ and it was a world-wide hit. The famous lyric from the song reads, “Your own personal Jesus; someone to hear your prayers; someone who’s there.” At the time, Christian preachers and evangelists could be heard asking the question, “Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?” and despite, ironically, the song not being about God or Christianity, many Christians connected with it. Even Johnny Cash, who held a strong faith, produced a cover of it as he thought it was a gospel song, feeling it summed up a theology of Christianity where God was our personal saviour; that Jesus died for ‘me’ so that ‘I’ might be forgiven.
The problem with summing up Christianity in this way is that it puts ourselves at the centre. Note that you can find I in the middle of other words too, notably the word pride! Perhaps it should come as no surprise that some of us Christians have shaped Christianity around ourselves. Despite it being true that Jesus did live, die, and be resurrected for us, it is not the whole story but only part of it. It is part of the wider story — what we call the grand meta-narrative — where God is renewing, redeeming, and restoring the whole of creation, to which we are called to play our part.
Therefore, Christianity, for Christians at least, is a two part thing. God comes to us in the person of Jesus, and then, filled with his Spirit, Jesus sends us out into the world as his agents or representatives.
In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10, Jesus appoints a further thirty-five pairs of disciples and sends them ahead of him into the towns where he intends to go. Their job is twofold. They are to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God and do miraculous works.
Why did Jesus send his disciples out in pairs? Well, perhaps as a reminder that in God’s Kingdom there are no Lone Rangers! There is a wonderful passage in the Hebrew Bible from a book of wise writings called Kohelet, written a thousand years before Jesus walked the earth. It reads:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
The inference is that the third strand is God. You see, it was a dangerous world out there and not everyone would be welcoming. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs so they could share together, protect each other, encourage each other, be accountable to each other, support each other, and offer each other wisdom.
Not only did Jesus ask his disciples to travel in pairs, he also asked them to travel light. Why?
Firstly, the message of Jesus was urgent and he needed his disciples to be able to be adaptable and respond quickly. Secondly, Jesus did not want his disciples to be distracted by material possessions so they could be focused on the task ahead. And thirdly, Jesus wanted his disciples to rely and depend, not on their own skills or strength, but on God for all their provisions. They needed to be responsive, focused, and trusting.
In the same way that God sent his disciples ahead of him, Jesus sends us Christians ahead of him into the world: into our schools, homes, work-places, community, and the environment. We need to be adaptable and responsive, we need to be focused on what God is calling us to do, and we need to trust in God to provide. So, the faith lesson we can learn from Jesus’ own example is to ask, what baggage is holding us back or weighing us down?
I was once the pastor of a church that had a dwindling and ageing choir. They robed, they processed, and refused to sing anything other than traditional ancient anthems. They were desperately holding onto the past, and over the preceding ten years they had failed to recruit any new members. In its last death throes, the choirmaster asked if he could pay children to join the choir but no children came forward. Eventually, the choirmaster retired and the choir disbanded. The following week, the church having no choir, decided to start a gospel choir, where anyone from the wider community or church membership could join. No robes, no processing, and a repertoire of lively songs and spirituals. At its first rehearsal forty-two people turned up, and today, the choir is still thriving.
Why do I mention this story? Well, the mandate from Jesus is the same as it has always been — Christians are called to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and be witnesses to God’s love — but the method is up for grabs.
We live in a world that desperately needs the forgiveness that comes through Christ and a touch of God’s love. Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him where he was about to go, and so I want to leave — certainly all the Christians reading this article — with this simple question. Where is Jesus “about to go” in your community?