Mission: Possible


Matthew 10

Matthew 10 is one of those chapters that cults have latched onto in terms of how they carry on their missionary activity.  But context is everything.  The instructions that Jesus gives in this chapter are not for the Christian, the Mormon, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They were given to 12 men, the Apostles.  If we keep this context in mind, Jesus’ instructions here will make all the sense in the world.

Our Lord had preached His famous “Sermon on the Mount/Plain,” and given His followers the “ethic of the Kingdom.”  Following the sermon, Jesus came down from the mountain and He performed a dozen miracles.  With this chapter, He commissions the twelve apostles to go to the nation of Israel to preach the gospel of the Kingdom.

1.  Instructions for the mission, Matthew 10:1—15

Empowered by Christ, verses 1—4

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of sickness and disease.  (TLB)

Here Jesus does something very important.  He gathered His twelve disciples—His 12 handpicked workers—to Himself, making them “ambassadors” of the Kingdom, carrying with them as they travel His authority.   The authority of Jesus is also the power of Jesus.  So these men, from this moment onward, had been changed; they had been clothed in supernatural power—the same essential power that Jesus had just exercised in the miracles He performed.   This authority or power was their “credential” as it were.  It served to prove the veracity of the words they preached.

An interesting point here actually began back in 9:38—

So pray to the one in charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields.   (TLB)

What prompted Jesus to say this to His disciples was the mass of people following them.  They were needy and they were lost and they had no one to show them the way.  We can almost sense an anguish in Jesus as He looked over that crowd and said,

The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few… (Matthew 9:37a  TLB)

At this point the workers were truly few!  Only Jesus, and for a while  John the Baptist, was engaged in the work of the Kingdom.  Here’s the interesting part:  the very men Jesus had just charged to pray that the Lord would send out workers to meet the needs of the lost have, with 10:1 become the very answer to the prayer they were to pray!   What a powerful lesson on prayer: be careful what you pray for because you yourself might end up being called to be the answer to that prayer.  Duncan Campbell said:

How easy it is to live more or less in the enjoyment of God’s free grace, and yet not realize that we are called to fulfill a divinely appointed purpose.

Go!, verses 5—7

Jesus sent them out with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep.  Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  (TLB)

Jesus was pretty clear:  don’t go to the Gentiles or Samaritans.  The mission of the twelve was solely to take the message of the Kingdom to Israel.   This was the mission of the twelve disciples for that point in time; it is not our mission and that particular mission changed substantially later on.  Our mission, and the early church’s mission is found in Acts 1:8—

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection.

At this early juncture of Christ’s ministry, His concern—His compassion—was for His people, the “lost sheep of Israel,” exemplified by the crowd that had been following Him around.

Their message was to be a simple one:  the Kingdom of God is near.  In other words, the Kingdom was literally in their midst, in the Person of its King.  One day, the King will build a literal Kingdom, even as as it is being built spiritually now.   It was not the job of the disciples, and it is not the job of the church, to build the Kingdom; that’s the King’s job.  Their job, and ours today, is to the tell everybody that will listen that the Kingdom is coming.  In that sense, our mission insofar as its message is concerned, it the same as the mission of the twelve.

Guidelines given, verses 8—15

The guidelines given to the disciples, however, were for them, they are not necessarily for us.  And, honestly, some of them don’t make a lot of sense, like not taking any money or even clothes.  Obviously, these instructions for the moment; they were, in fact, temporary.  We read this over in Luke 22:

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you were without money, duffle bag, or extra clothing, how did you get along?”

“Fine,” they replied.

“But now,” he said, “take a duffle bag if you have one and your money. And if you don’t have a sword, better sell your clothes and buy one!”  (Luke 22:35, 36  TLB)

Times change and God’s way of doing things changes, too.  By the time of Paul, it was expected that Christians would support Christian ministries, like churches:

In the same way the Lord has given orders that those who preach the Gospel should be supported by those who accept it.  (1 Corinthians 9:14  TLB)

So, the strict guidelines given here were temporary because the upcoming missionary trip would be short.  There would be no need for tons of luggage and so on.

2.  Opposition to the mission, Matthew 10:16—25

Jesus made it clear to His disciples that eventually they would encounter persecution.  This prediction of persecution, it appears, was not only for the upcoming missionary tour, but it would be something they would have to deal with whenever they doing the work of the Kingdom.  The book of Acts certainly proves that Jesus knew what He was talking about.

Should Christians expect persecution for the sake of the Gospel?  Certainly the world, generally speaking, is at odds with the message of Scripture.  That’s not to say that we should run around looking for or eagerly anticipating persecution!  We should, however, be prepared for it if it should overtake us.

These two verses need to be considered briefly because they are often misunderstood:

When you are arrested, don’t worry about what to say at your trial, for you will be given the right words at the right time.  For it won’t be you doing the talking—it will be the Spirit of your heavenly Father speaking through you!   (Matthew 10:19, 20  TLB)

These are very comforting verses, to be sure, but they by no means suggest that we should never seek to deftly defend ourselves or prepare carefully the sermons we preach!   Christians need to be prepared to defend the Gospel and they need to “work smart.”

Quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord, and if anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way.  (1 Peter 3:15  TLB)

The coming of Jesus and the entrance of the Kingdom of God into our realm did not bring peace and unity!  But this was something Jesus knew would happen:

Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, rather, a sword.  I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s worst enemies will be right in his own home!  (Mattew 10:34—36  TLB)

Satan will not give up his kingdom without a fight!  That’s why Jesus said what He said.  And that’s why Jesus promised His followers would experience what He did and what He would:

A student is not greater than his teacher. A servant is not above his master.  The student shares his teacher’s fate. The servant shares his master’s!   (Matthew 24, 25a  TLB)

In other words, why would we, students and servants of Jesus, expect to fare better than He did?  The promise, though, is that through it all, we will have strength and power to endure.

3.  Encouragement, Matthew 10:26—39

Whom to fear, verses 26—31

Don’t be afraid of those who can kill only your bodies—but can’t touch your souls! Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  (verse 28  TLB)

As Christians, we so often get things backwards.  We fear the wrong people!  We fear those who are in opposition to our message of the Kingdom when, in fact, we ought to be fearing God!  So should Christians be afraid of God? What Jesus is getting at is this:  We often give far too much weight to the threats of those who oppose us.  They may be able to hurt us temporarily, but there is One with much greater power.  God, whose power is infinite, is the One we ought to fear!  If you’re going to be afraid, be afraid of the right Person!

It was John Knox who exclaimed,

Live in Christ!  The flesh  need not fear death.

Mutual loyalty, verses 32, 33

If anyone publicly acknowledges me as his friend, I will openly acknowledge him as my friend before my Father in heaven.  But if anyone publicly denies me, I will openly deny him before my Father in heaven.  (TLB)

It makes all the sense in the world that if we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior then we should have no problem acknowledging that fact before others, especially as it relates to our testimony and witness.  And Jesus declares that confession works both ways:  if we confess Him, He confesses us.  Of course, confession is also a double-edged sword that slices both ways.  Negatively, if we deny Christ before people, we run the risk of being denied by Christ ourselves.

On the subject of Christian loyalty, Vance Havner wrote:

A wife who is 85% faithful to her husband isn’t faithful at all.  There is no such thing as part-time loyalty to Jesus Christ.

A divine mission, verses 34—39

If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.  “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it.”  (verses 38, 39  TLB)

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this section of Matthew’s Gospel is simple and to the point:

Those who have a saving interest in Christ must be willing to part with all for Him—leave all to follow Him.  Whatever stands in opposition to Christ or in competition with Him for our love and service, we must cheerfully quit it, though ever so dear to us.

Jesus demands complete loyalty from those who claim to love Him and want to serve Him.  There are a lot of people who want the “trappings of Christianity.”  People like this enjoy Christian fellowship and camaraderie.  They might enjoy being around true Christians because they see in us the “something” missing in their life—the joy, peace, contentment, the “whatever” that comes from knowing your sins have been forgiven.  Sadly, until they want Jesus more than the “something” missing, they aren’t really saved at all.  It takes a lot of work to serve the Lord; it takes a lot of effort to enjoy the blessings of the Lord.  It takes all we have.

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