“These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them…” (Matthew 10:5)
This is now the second Sunday that we’re stopping to smell the roses in the 10th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel. Next Sunday will make the third and there’s bound to be some overlap from one Sunday to the next. Matthew’s 10th chapter is called Jesus’ ‘Missionary Discourse’ because it’s all about His sending His apostolic missionaries out into the “harvest that is plentiful.”
“When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-37)
And before they even have a chance to pray as they’ve been instructed, Jesus is already answering their prayer. “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”
Matthew identifies each of the 12 by name and then tells us, “these twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them…” He gives them ‘instructions’ as to where they are to go and where they are not to go and He tells them what kind of response to expect and how they are to respond.
I. First to the Jews
First, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, ‘the kingdom of God is at hand.’
This of course raises all kinds of questions like, ‘Doesn’t Jesus want EVERYONE to believe in Him?’ ‘Why are they NOT to go to the Gentiles and ONLY to the Jews?’ And the answer is, YES Jesus wants everyone to hear the gospel and by hearing believe and by believing be saved. And YES, He will send them out to the Gentiles too. By the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus will send these same 12 minus Judas out with instructions to “go to ALL NATIONS, baptize them and make disciples…”
But it’s the Jews first. They get first crack at the good news that the Kingdom of God “is at hand.” The Jews are the ones who have been waiting for since father Abraham. They are the ones who have hearing the preaching of the Prophets who have prophesied that this day was coming, don’t lose hope, stay faithful, be ready.
So it’s first of all to the Jews that these 12 are to go with the good news. Even though Jesus knows perfectly well the “lost seep o the house of Israel” will not believe the news and kill the messenger. And Jesus laments their rejection. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
Only after their rejection, are these 12 to take the good news to the Gentiles. Which does not mean that the Gentiles will welcome and embrace JESUS CHRIST any more than the Jews. The prophet Isaiah had all men in mind when he declared that JESUS CHRIST would be “despised and rejected by men.” (Is.53:3) There is no RACIAL BIAS or DISTINCTION to be found among those who either believe or reject the gospel.
II. Disciples not above their teacher
As we said last Sunday, Jesus does not enter into NEUTRAL TERRITORY when He comes into this world with His announcement that the KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND. It is a HOSTILE WORLD and the ruler of this world – who is the devil – is not about to surrender without a fight. It’s an all-out war that is fought to the bloody death – WHICH IN A COMPLETELY SURPRISING WAY, turns out not to mean what everyone thinks it means.
The point here is that as Jesus sends these twelve out, they are not entering NEUTRAL TERRITORY either. Because “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” The disciple is IDENTIFIED with his teacher. The servant is KNOWN by his master. “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake,” He tells them. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”
So as Jesus sends these 12 out, with His NAME and His AUTHORITY to “announce that the kingdom of God is at hand,” and to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons,” He is sending them into a HOSTILE WORLD. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
III. Wise and Innocent
So, this is no time for naiveté. They are to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” “Wisdom” comes from knowing something about this TEACHER at whose feet they have been learning, and this MASTER whom they have been called to serve. HE’S A BIT PECULIAR! In fact, HE’S QUITE STRANGE! “His ways are not like our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” For Him, His weakness is actually His strength. And He uses rejection accomplish His best work. And the foolishness of the word of the cross is really the wisdom and power of God.
In other words, with Jesus, things are not always what they seem. Rejection and persecution and suffering and even death are not necessary BAD SIGNS. In fact, with Jesus, these are typically signs that things are going as they should and that the disciples are saying the right things and doing the right things. Conforming their message to what everyone wants to hear and that is politically correct and issues no demand for repentance – may be the SAFE thing to do – but it’s not the FAITHFUL thing.
Therefore, “be wise” and don’t be foolish. Don’t be surprised that the Kingdom of God does not operate the way the Kingdom of this world does –
• where ‘weakness’ is for ‘losers’ –
• and ‘rejection’ is ‘failure’ –
• and ‘success’ is the only thing that matters, whatever the cost might be.
Be INNOCENT as doves, Jesus tells them. THE END DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS. The disciple of Jesus is accountable to Jesus who will judge him – not based on the results he produces – but on his faithfulness to his calling as disciple and servant. The results are beyond your control. Too much focus on results leads to all kinds of trouble to do whatever WORKS whether it’s faithful or not.
These disciples whom Jesus is sending out will be NEITHER WISE NOR INNOCENT until the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit gives them both WISDOM and INNOCENCE. In their foolishness and guilt…
• They will demand that Jesus call down fire from heaven on those who reject Him.
• One will draw his sword to cut the head off one of the arresting soldiers, fortunately only hitting an ear.
• Two of them will lobby for the top spots in His kingdom.
• One will deny three times that he is one of His disciples.
• Another will become so disenchanted with Him that he will betray him for 30 pieces of silver.
• Rather than going out PROCLAIMING that the Kingdom of God is at hand, they’ll lock themselves in a secret room and worry about their lives.
But after the day of Pentecost, they will preach and teach with all WISDOM AND INNOCENCE.
• So that when ordered by the authorities, “not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus,” they’ll bravely say, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
• They’ll sing hymns of praise from their prison cell.
• And they’ll count it the highest honor and privilege to be put to death for the sake of Jesus.
It is a tremendous responsibility that Jesus is entrusting these 12 men with. It is through them that the news that Kingdom of God has truly come in the person of Jesus Christ is to go out to ALL NATIONS, beginning with the “lost sheep of Israel.” This kind of responsibility is enough to intimidate the most confident disciple, let alone the most timid.
But Jesus knows how weak and vulnerable they are. He warns them, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (vs. 19-20)
On the Day of Pentecost, Jesus sent the Spirit of the Father to them and it was really He who spoke through them.
The boldness and confidence with which these 11, very ordinary men, proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God is given to them by their teacher and their master. He sends them with words of promise – “he who endures to the end will be saved,” and “have no fear of them…” Apart from the Spirit of the Father, these men would never have ENDURED TO THE END. Their fear would have overcome their faith and they would have remained SAFE AND SILENT.
You and I are not one of those 12 whom Jesus sent out. But we are the direct beneficiaries of what God did through them. We are heirs of the Kingdom of God because their Apostolic Word went out and has been faithfully passed along from one generation to another. And now it’s our turn to pass it on as well.
In many ways, we face the same kinds of resistance to this work as they did – rejection and even persecution is a very real consequence for “acknowledging Jesus Christ before men…”
And we also have all of the worries and fears that they did. And your teacher and master knows this. And so His word to them is also for us. “Have no fear of them… rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
In one of his Tabletalks, Luther said that when he felt intimidated by the rejection and the condemnation that he faced for proclaiming that we are saved by grace ALONE through faith in Christ ALONE, and was ordered to recant or be arrested, he would envision the Lord on Judgement Day saying to him, “Why were you more afraid of them than Me?”
Maybe Luther had these words of our Lord in mind, “rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
It is the Lord whom we should fear – not other people or even the devil himself. Jesus Christ is the One who, as we confess, “will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead…”
And so the psalmist tells us that it is this FEAR OF THE LORD that is the beginning OF WISDOM. This is the wisdom and the innocence of the disciple and servant of the Lord that comes to us from above.
It is to our FEAR that our Lord speaks His tender words of comfort. “You are more valuable than many sparrows.” He knows how weak and vulnerable we are. But He loves you. And though He has a perfectly accurate count of the number of hairs on your head – yet He cannot count even one sin in you – because He has forgiven them all.
In His great love for you, He has destroyed neither your soul nor body in hell, BUT RATHER, He has redeemed them with His precious blood, which He shed for you – at the hands of those who despised and rejected Him. And He will raise both your soul and your body to heaven, to live with Him forever in heaven.
So with all wisdom and innocence, we confess Jesus Christ before men even as He confesses us before His Father in heaven. And by His grace, we endure to the end, which is our salvation.