Last Sunday as we joined up with Jesus, Matthew summarizes what He’s been at work doing since He began to work. “Jesus went throughout all of the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”
But now today, we see that the focus of our Lord’s ministry changes. The 10th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is sometimes called Jesus’ ‘MISSIONARY DISCOURSE’ because it’s all about His sending His 12 Apostles out into that harvest of souls that is so plentiful. In fact, so plentiful that there are not enough laborers to bring all the harvest into the barn.
This is the harvest of men and women, boys and girls that Jesus SAW and HAD COMPASSION on because they were HARASSED and HELPLESS, like sheep without a shepherd. They’re ripe and ready to hear the gospel – like when you tell someone about Jesus or about your church and they say – “it’s just what I’ve been looking for.” “It’s just what I need."
He tells His disciples, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And before they ever have a chance to pray, 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…”
“These 12 Jesus sent out, instructing them, ‘go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Jews are to get first crack at the good news that the Kingdom of God “is at hand.”
• They are the ones who have been waiting for this since the promise was first given to Father Abraham.
• They’re the ones who have had the Prophets for generations telling them, ‘don’t lose hope, stay faithful, be ready, the time will come.’
• To them, the disciples are to “PROCLAIM” that the time has now FULLY COME. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Only later will they be cleared to “go to all nations.”
In addition to ‘PROCLAIMING,’ Jesus gives them His power to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” There a ‘comprehensive health care plan’ that no government on earth can match. AND IT’S ALL FREE. “You received without paying; give without pay.” Can we even begin to imagine how program like that would be received?
No wonder then that as Jesus’ reputation spreads throughout the region Matthew tells us that people came from even as far away as Syria, ‘and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” (Mat. 4:24-25). That’s exactly the reaction to Jesus you’d expect. “Let’s go find Jesus. We need what He’s giving!”
And now, to make this Good News even better, He is multiplying His work times 12. Later, He will multiply His work by 72. 12 plus 72 = 84 agents of Jesus Christ working in the towns and villages of Galilee – each one PROCLAIMING and HEALING in the name of Jesus?
Going to any of these agents was like going to Jesus Himself in that they get all the goods from them just as they would have gotten them from Jesus Himself – except you didn’t have to travel so far. It was like having Jesus Himself in 84 villages and towns of Galilee that you could go to for healing and exorcism and the Good News.
And oh, won’t the crowds be grateful! And oh, won’t these agents of Jesus be honored and thanked for their service!
So, why then does Jesus warn the 12 (and the same warning also applies to the 72) that rather than expecting gratitude they should expect rejection and scorn and even death? “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake…”
And the rejection is going to get very, very personal and hit very, very ‘close to home.’ “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child and children will rise against parents and all for my name’s sake.”
Is this really the response that they will receive in return for their ‘PROCLAMING’ that the Gospel and for HEALING their diseases and CASTING OUT their demons? And the answer is, NO. Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Free health care that’s REALLY FREE is always going to be very popular and attract great crowds – AND THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL STATEMENT!
And yet, all these dreadful things that Jesus is warning them of, actually do happen to them. . NOT NOW. NOT YET. But there will come a time when all the crowds will desert Him and He will be rejected and despised by men. WHAT MEN? Those who have been HEALED and from whom demons were CAST OUT? It’s hard to imagine. But there may be some.
No, the reality is that wherever Jesus Christ is at work with His authority and power to PROCLAIM the Gospel and HEAL our diseases and CAST OUT our demons and bring salvation – there will also be a dark force at work to prevent it and stop it. There is an evil one in this world who is opposed to the Holy One of God AND HIS ‘HOLY ONES.’ And with a jealousy that consumes him, he has been working to oppose and discredit the God who threw him and his legion of darkness out of heaven in the beginning.
Wherever and whenever the Kingdom of Heaven is proclaimed as ‘at hand,’ wherever and whenever the Holy Christian Church – the agent of Christ in this world – is carrying out the work of Christ in His stead and by His authority – the evil one is also working to overthrow it and establish his Kingdom of Hell.
Even as Jesus was turning the hearts and the minds of men and women to the one, true God in worship and praise and obedience, the Evil one was turning the hearts and minds of men and women against Him.
As the crowds that followed Jesus grew larger and larger, and proclaimed Him to be the Promise of a better future more and more fervently, and as they mount their campaign to make Him their King – the dark forces of evil were at work against Him.
And Jesus, who knows all things because He is the ‘omniscient One,’ knows all of this – and sees all of this.
But the disciples don’t see it. How could they? Just because every prophet of God in the Old Testament was despised and rejected by man and suffered rejection and shame for the sake of the PROCLAIMING and HEALING that they did in the name of God as His agents, surely that would never happen to Jesus – or to them.
Matthew writes, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised. But Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke him, saying’ far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Mat. 16:21-22)
But it will. And why? Because “the ruler of this world” cannot tolerate it any more than the “Ruler of All Things” can tolerate a peaceful coexistence with evil. The Offspring of the Woman has come into the world to “crush the head of the serpent,” AND THE DEVIL KNOWS IT. And he will do all that he can do to prevent the Kingdom of God from establishing itself in this world.
He will do what he knows how to do. He will lie, because he is the father of lies. He will stir up in HIS agents the “works of the flesh,” which include “idolatry, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,” even “murder.” (Gal.5:19-21). And all of this will be targeted against Jesus – AND THE AGENTS OF JESUS.
And Jesus knows all of this – and sees all of this. And so He says to His ‘agents,’ whom He loves – “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake…” “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but wonder what these 12 men must have been thinking as they heard their Lord say these things to them. I suspect that, like so much of what He told them, they could not begin to understand it – “look at these crowds, look at the success you’re having Jesus. Things couldn’t be going better for You and we’re so honored and happy that You have chosen us to share in your glory.”
But then later, when things began to turn, and the resistance made itself known, and things started to get nasty… the false accusations, and the twisting of His Words, and the dirty politics, and then the guards bursting into the garden and binding Him and taking Him by force…, and the fury they felt, and then – the fear they gripped them, and then – the running, and the hiding, and the locked doors.
He had said to them, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”
At the time, they couldn’t have understood. But when they did, I can’t help but wonder how many of them didn’t make the words of Jeremiah their own. ‘O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived…” (Jer.20:7)
What will they do? Will they take the “JEREMIAH OPTION” and say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name”?
They’d certainly try.
• “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” “I do not know what you mean.”
• “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” “I do not know the man.”
• “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” “I do not know the man.” (Mat.26:69-73).
But as with Jeremiah, so with them. “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in.”
A “burning fire shut up in my bones” is what Peter must have felt when he heard the voice of his Lord,
• “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? Feed my lambs.”
• “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Tend my sheep.”
• “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17).
What disciple of Jesus can hold THAT FIRE in?
It was this same fire shut up in their bones that has moved men and women in every age to confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” And they were hated for it – and still are. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb.11:38)
He had told them, “Have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” And on Easter Sunday, that which had been covered and hidden in the eternal counsel of the Holy Trinity from before creation – was ‘revealed’ and ‘made known.’ “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia.” He has turned the works of the devil against him into the very means by which he gains the victory.
And all of His PROPHETS of Old and APOSTLES of New and all His AGENTS in every age share in that victory and the joy and the praise of God that goes with it – “acknowledging Him before men” – come what may, but without fear because There is a burning fire shut up in our bones too that we cannot – we dare not hold in, because the harvest is ripe.