We’re about to look at some pivotal verses in Matthew’s Gospel. In Matthew chapters 8-9, Jesus had proclaimed the kingdom of heaven, and cured the sick, and raised the dead, and cast out demons. Now in this text, Jesus is going to effectively say to the twelve disciples, “You see everything I’ve just done in Galilee? Now go out and do that in the towns and cities around us!”
(If I was one of the twelve, I’d be saying to Jesus, “Do what now?!”)
It’s the first time in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus sends the disciples out on their own with the kingdom message. It must have seemed like an impossible mission for the twelve!
And on the one hand, this is a completely unique moment in the history of God bringing salvation; on the other hand, there are lessons we can learn about what it means to be disciples on a mission in our time and place. We’ll be looking at both of those realities as we work through Matthew 10-11. And my aim this morning is to give clarity for our identity and energy for our mission as a church from this text.
There are three movements in this morning’s text. And we could see it as a chain reaction:
1) Jesus Sees the Mission (9:35-38)
2) Jesus Summons the Twelve (10:1-4)
3) Jesus Sends Them Out (10:5-15)
We’ll trace through this chain reaction, and then at the end of the message we’ll tie it together and step into applying it in our time and place.
1) Jesus Sees the Mission (9:35-38)
We’re picking back up with a few verses back in Matthew chapter 9, because something big is going on in Galilee with Jesus’s teaching and proclaiming and healing.
I want us to see how Matthew stacks up two different metaphors to drive this home: First, we see the metaphor of a sheep without a shepherd, in verse 36. Again, this taps into some vivid imagery from the OT. If you look at the writings from Israel’s prophets—Isaiah 40; Ezekiel 34; Zechariah 13—this theme of sheep and a shepherd is a huge theme. And the image of scattered sheep symbolized exile—the people of Israel scattered from their homes out to the ends of the earth. Even though they physically returned from Babylon, like we’ve said—“you can take the people out of Babylon, but you can’t take Babylon out of the people!” For a long time in Israel’s history, they’d waited for a true Shepherd—a true leader, to come and gather them together and rescue them from their sin. And now the time had come.
And that brings up the second metaphor: the metaphor of the harvest in verses 37-38. Jesus says that God is launching his kingdom—it’s the season to bring people into the space where God is present through the reign of King Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hopefully we can see from these metaphors that Jesus’s mission is not land. This isn’t a project to fight over and take back geography. People are the mission. People inhabit the space where God’s kingdom intersects with earth. And so Jesus sees the crowds, sees the individuals, and has compassion on them.
When we look out at Flora and Carroll County, do we see what Jesus sees? Do we see the community and the individuals? And are we motivated to bring God’s kingdom—to help people become whole again under the reign of Jesus and in the strength of God’s Spirit?
Our aim isn’t *necessarily* to have more people attending our church or to have more baptisms, or to have more programs, as important as those things are. More foundationally, our mission is about people. It’s about walking with people toward a deeper life in the kingdom, just like Jesus did. Which leads us to the next movement of the text.
So we’ve seen the first brief movement: 1) Jesus Sees the Mission. Now let’s see the next: 2) Jesus Summons the Twelve (10:1-4).
Have you ever scratched your head when you’ve read the end of the last section? It does end in a bit of a surprising way. Jesus remarks on the size of the harvest to his disciples, but he doesn’t send them out right away—he tells them to pray. It’s a surprising move.
We get a clue at the beginning of chapter 10 though. When we read “disciples” at the end of chapter 9, we should probably think of a group that is broader than the 12 that we find in chapter 10. Many people followed him throughout the Gospels, but the 12 are the ones that Jesus specifically chose. So we could picture Jesus pointing out the great harvest to the big group of disciples, then calling the twelve specifically to be the ones to go to work in the harvest.
But here’s another question: why did Jesus narrow in on 12 disciples? The number is important, because after Judas betrays Jesus, the 11 have a meeting and say, we’ve got to appoint a twelfth one so that the number is full again! Why did Jesus choose 12 disciples specifically?
The best answer, especially in the context of Matthew’s Gospel, is that Jesus is regathering the twelve tribes of Israel. There were twelve sons of Jacob/Israel that eventually became the twelve tribes of Israel and settled in the promised land. Those were the twelve tribes that were scattered to the corners of the earth. And now, by choosing 12 men again, Jesus is saying, “I’m gathering Israel back together again.”
This is the first and only time in Matthew’s Gospel where all 12 disciples (or apostles) are spelled out. And you’ll probably find many of the names to be familiar:
“…first Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew;
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.”
The list generally starts with the disciples that are closest to Jesus and moves out from there (we start with Peter, and end with Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus). And if you notice, the list of twelve is made up of 6 pairs…and we see in the other Gospels that Jesus sent out the apostles two-by-two…the buddy system is happening here!
You see familiar names in the list, but I want to help us personalize the list. My hope is that today and in the coming weeks you’ll hear Jesus call your name and commission you for his mission to your neighbors and communities. My hope is that you’ll see your name on the list of harvest workers: Jesus has empowered you and sent you out to represent him in the spaces and relationships that you go into.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit. And you’re probably thinking, how can I see myself in this picture? In 10:1, Jesus gives the apostles authority over demons! Over sicknesses! How does that make the leap into our lives and neighborhoods?
That takes us to the final movement of this text. We’ve seen how Jesus 1) Sees the Mission, 2) Summons the Twelve. Let’s see how Jesus 3) Sends Them (and us) Out (10:5-15).
The tension that we’re feeling is that Jesus sends the 12 on a mission that is so separate from our experience. Even verse 5-6 here show this when Jesus says not to go down gentile or Samaritan roads. Later on in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus broadens the mission to include the gentiles (in the Great Commission at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel). But for now the mission is narrow. It’s specific. And it’s separate from our experience.
We get that sense in the instructions Jesus gives in verse 8b and following when Jesus lists all the things that the disciples weren’t supposed to bring on their trip. The point of those instructions is to help the twelve have the right motives and even to show people that they had the right motives—the disciples are not going out in the hopes of material gain. Instead, they go out in faith that God’s paving the way for them and that he would provide for them as they leaned on the hospitality of those who welcomed the message.
So we may be able to make sense of those instructions about the gold/silver/copper/backpack/coats/extra pairs of sandals. We get it—we’re not buying into the mission because of money that we think we could gain from it. We’re not into going out and doing ministry because of material gain.
(That should go without saying, but sometimes we need to say it! Because there are many highly publicized ministers who at least appear to be in ministry for the money.)
So we can make sense of the instructions about the gold and the sandals. But what about the commands back in verse 7-8a? “proclaim the good news, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” How does that connect to our experience today? How does it connect to living as a follower of Jesus in Carroll County, IN, in 2022?
Big picture (and this is how the mission connects to our world): at this point in Jesus’s life and ministry, these are exactly the things that Jesus said. These are exactly the things that Jesus did.
At its essence, the disciples were commissioned to represent Jesus. They were empowered to say the kind of things that he said and do the kind of things that he did. And that is where the text takes the leap into our lives and world. You are commissioned to represent Jesus–to say the kinds of things he said and do the kinds of things he did for the good of your neighbors and your world.
This is the point of the message this morning: you are commissioned to represent Jesus—to say the kinds of things he would say and do the kinds of things he would do for the good of your neighbors and your world.
So we’ve seen the chain reaction of this passage. We’ve seen the three movements and how Jesus 1) Sees the Mission, 2) Summons the Twelve, and 3) Sends Them Out. We’ve seen how we’re empowered and even have the responsibility to represent Jesus.
As we step into applying this as a church, I want to speak to two groups of people. For the first group, maybe you are terribly conscious of how we as Christians and as the church are commissioned to represent Jesus in our world. Maybe you’ve been on mission tirelessly for years or decades, and to be honest, you’re tired. Especially after the last few years, you’re burnt out. Let me encourage you it’s okay–even important–to take a step off the front lines at times. Jesus values you for more than what you can contribute.
When I think of our mission as a congregation, I want that mission to be sustainable. I think of a few details in this passage: Jesus doesn’t send out the disciples alone; he sends them with a friend. Jesus doesn’t send them to stay where they’re not welcome; he sends them to people of shalom. So I don’t want you to feel like you have to strike out by yourself, and I don’t want you to try to stay with people who won’t welcome the kingdom.
For the second group, maybe you’re still back at the “Do what now?!” stage. Maybe this talk about mission and representing Jesus is a shift in how you think about following Jesus. And maybe it’s a bit disorienting to you, and you don’t know where to start. The bad news is, things will probably get worse before they get better. Because for us, as we get serious about our mission to our community, I think more change is coming. We’re going to need to try to do some things differently. This isn’t just changing things for the sake of changing things. It’s bound up into the nature of sharing the kingdom—it’s bound up into the nature of loving people and working the harvest—that we’ll often need to change our methods in order to live out our mission.
The good news is, as we embrace the mission and work through the trial and error involved, we will grow into our identity as those who represent Jesus.
Our identity as a church in 2022 involves this inescapable reality: we’ve been commissioned to represent Jesus—to say the kinds of things he said and to do the kinds of things he did—for the good of our neighbors and our world.