Mark 16:15-20 (NIV): He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
This is a summary of Jesus’ commands and promises, drawn from several different places in the gospels and the Acts.
- The commission to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” is Mark’s version of Matthew 28:18—20, the Great Commission, and Acts 1:8. Jesus’ ultimate emphasis was on reaching the whole world with the good news (the “gospel”), not just “the lost sheep of Israel,” (Matthew 15:24), although His mission while on earth was predominantly to the Jewish people, because they had been prepared more than anyone else to receive Him. But after He had accomplished His work on the cross, the mission for God’s people, the church, was to “preach the good news to all creation,” to “make disciples of all nations.”
- The criteria for salvation was (and is) very simple: believe and be baptized. Believing was both belief in who Jesus was (sometimes called “believing in His name – cf. John 1:12-13), and believing that His death and resurrection paid for our sins, and grants us eternal life. This belief is what Jesus was referring to in John 14:6, when He told His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That sounds too narrow and exclusive to many today, but Jesus proved by His resurrection (something no other “religious leader” was able to do) that He was, and is, unique.
- The list of signs is taken from the list of things that Jesus and the apostles did, both in Scripture, and in tradition. Jesus Himself promised that those who believed in Him “will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things that these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) And the early apostles fulfilled that promise:
- They drove out demons (cf. Acts 5:16, 16:16-18).
- They spoke in new tongues that enabled them to preach the good news across language barriers (cf. Acts 2:4-12).
- They were saved from the bites of poisonous snakes (cf. Acts 28:3-6).
- They placed their hands on sick people and made them well (cf. Acts 2:43, 3:1-8, 5:16, 8:6-7, 9:33-34, and many others).
- And they did many other miracles, which lent huge credibility to their message.
- The sign of not being affected by drinking poison is not attested to specifically in the book of Acts, but is referred to in the traditions of the Church.
Jesus’ ascension into heaven to the right hand of the Father is witnessed to in Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11, as well as in Stephen’s vision of Jesus in Acts 7:55-56. And, of course, the rapid expansion of the gospel, empowered by God’s presence and the Holy Spirit, is chronicled throughout the book of Acts and the epistles.
Father, it grieves me that there is so little of this power demonstrated among your people today. As a rule, at least in most places in the west, Your good news is losing ground relative to population growth. We don’t see many Christians doing signs and wonders, healing, casting out demons, and doing “even greater things” than Jesus. Instead, most of Your people seem to be powerless, unable to do what You promised that “anyone who has faith in (Jesus)” would be able to do (John 14:12). Some have taught that miracles like that don’t happen anymore; that thy were just for New Testament times. But I don’t draw any comfort from that, because I don’t see it in Your word. And the truth is that we need Your power, Your presence, Your mighty acts working though us today to help us to reach the millions in our own nations who don’t know You, Lord. I’m not asking this for my glory, but for Yours; not for my own comfort, but so that I can move Your agenda forward in Your power. Lord, visit Your people again with power. Refresh and renew us by the presence and power of Your Holy Spirit flowing through our lives. Help us to do what Jesus did, and even greater things today, so that we can reverse the slide of our cities, our nations, into darkness, and so that we can once again be empowered to bring thousands into Your light. Amen.