Jesus increases the impact of his mission by commissioning the Twelve. He sees that the mission is great - and still is today. The need for workers is still true.
Jesus increases the impact of his mission by commissioning the Twelve. He sees that the mission is great - and still is today. The need for workers is still true.
Hello and welcome to the beginning of Series 6 Episode 1: ‘Jesus sends Out the Twelve’ The text we're looking at is from Matthew 9: 35 - Matthew 10: 4.
Introduction and Recap
This is the beginning of something new in the ministry of Jesus. This series is about the third tour of Galilee and something fundamentally changes at this point in the ministry of Jesus because he releases his Apostles to travel around in pairs, independently of him, in order to multiply the ministry and the impact of his message.
If we go back in the earlier parts of our study, we'll remember that Series 3 described the first tour of Galilee. This was the very beginning - the early days - where Jesus travelled around and performed many wonderful miracles and taught in many different places. He was gradually gathering together a group of dedicated followers, or disciples, during this time and, at the end of that first tour, he appointed twelve Apostles. We're going to look at the appointment again, because it's very relevant to what we're looking at today. Immediately after that appointment, he then spent some time in the Sermon on the Mount (which we described in Series 4) describing the values, ethics and the religious practices of his disciples as they were developing. These are formative events: creating a group of Apostles and then creating a body of teaching concerning what we might describe the lifestyle of the Kingdom.
Then in Series 5, which we've just finished, we have a description of Jesus' second tour of Galilee and during this tour his twelve Apostles are travelling with him and they're being trained. They know, from the very beginning, that they're going to be commissioned to go off and to represent Jesus in different places. It hasn't happened yet fully. In Series 5, in the second tour of Galilee, they're just travelling with him and learning as they go. This all changes now - and Matthew describes it most fully. In fact, we're going to spend more than one episode looking at the sending of the twelve because the actual act of sending is then followed by lots of teaching about how they should conduct themselves as they're travelling around the country. This forms itself, in Matthew 10, into what is described by Bible teachers and theologians as a ‘discourse’ - an extended body of teaching.
As we've mentioned from time to time, Matthew has focused on these discourses as a major part of his Gospel. We've already studied two of them. The Sermon on the Mount is the first discourse about the lifestyle of the Kingdom, which is in Matthew 5 to 7. We've already studied Matthew 13, which is the series of seven parables about the growth of the Kingdom. We need to note here that we're following the chronological order of Luke which suggests that that discourse may have taken place before the events that we are describing now, in the second tour of Galilee.
We're coming to the discourse in Matthew 10, which is about the mission of the Kingdom. There are going to be two more discourses: one in Matthew 18, which describes the dynamics of the community of the Kingdom - the Church community. We're going to study, in Matthew 24 and 25, the final discourse, which is about the future of the Kingdom and Jesus' return. There's a lot of teaching material in Matthew and in our next episode we'll find that Jesus begins to teach, in-depth, to his disciples, his Apostles in this case - how they should conduct themselves as they are travelling around. We're going to start by reading the introduction to this moment of sending; these are very famous and significant words.
Jesus' Wide-ranging Ministry
We're going to read the words of Jesus before he sends the Twelve and commissions them in Matthew 9: 35 - 38,
‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”’Matthew 9:35-38, NIV
Let's go back to the first verse, verse 35. This is a description of the wide-ranging ministry of Jesus. He
went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues (and) proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.’Matthew 9:35, NIV
This is a summary statement of Jesus' early ministry. As I've already stated, Matthew spent quite a lot of time writing about travelling and preaching. By the time he makes this statement, he's had two tours of Galilee, which we described just a few moments ago and which are described in Series 3 and Series 5. There's many months of ongoing, consistent travel. Even from the very beginning, remarkable things were happening. Matthew records, back in chapter 4: 23 - 25, a statement about what Jesus began to do - which is now summarised here. It says there:
‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.’Matthew 4:23, NIV
That's a very similar statement to the one we've just had, isn't it?
‘News about him spread all over Syria, and (the) people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.’Matthew 4:24-25, NIV
That's right back at the beginning; the enormous impact that Jesus had, even then, and now as we reach the end of the second tour and the beginning of the third tour, we have another summary statement. What's really interesting is verse 36. This is tremendously important:
‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’Matthew 9:36, NIV
The key to Jesus' ministry, in one sense, is his compassion. He experienced great inner identification with, and affection for, people in distress and need - he felt their pain. He wanted to come alongside them; he wanted to identify with them; he wanted to release them from their pain and suffering and see their lives restored. There is no shortcut to compassion in the Christian ministry: it's a love for his neighbour; it's a love for the needy person; it's a love for the oppressed person; it's a love for the sick person; it's a love for the outsider; it's a love for the elderly; and it's a love for the disabled. Jesus had this love and he had this compassion. He described them as ‘sheep without a shepherd.’ The religious leaders in the Jewish faith were often described as shepherds: their responsibility was to spiritually guard the people, protect the people and feed them. Jesus said, “They're without their shepherds. Their shepherds are failing in their tasks.”
The previous passage indicates this really graphically. In the very previous verse, Matthew 9: 34, at the end of some remarkable miracles, which we described in the last episode (Series 5, Episode 17). We described the miracles of the healing of two blind men and a mute man, and we noted that the Pharisees said at the end,
“It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”Matthew 9:34, NIV
These are the shepherds! These are the religious leaders and they are not protecting the flock; they are not guiding the flock; they are not leading the flock to salvation; and they are confusing the flock. ‘“They are sheep without a shepherd.”’
A Few Workers
Then comes this amazing statement about the harvest:
‘“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”’Matthew 9:37-38, NIV
This is a commonly quoted statement when the Church is addressing its mission responsibilities: ‘the harvest is plentiful.’ In other words, many people are open to the Gospel. Let me say that again, many people are open to the Gospel - but the workers are few. There aren't enough people who are working for the Kingdom and its mission, to reach those people who are open to the Gospel. That's the creative tension of the Christian Church with regard to its mission. Notice here that there's a distinction between believers and workers. Not every believer is working for the mission of the Church: some are sitting in comfort, some are inactive, some are merely filling churches, some are going about their own lives without an awareness of the great mission that is their responsibility. Jesus says, ‘“The workers are few”’ and, therefore, we need to ask the Lord, we need to pray that people are turned into workers.
Jesus' own experience was that the workers are few. He was, as it were, working on his own with just some assistants behind him up until this point. He needed a multiplication, if his message of the Kingdom was going to get to every town and village in Israel - which was his goal. Ask the Lord and then God will answer that prayer by sending people. Some of you following this episode are those who God is calling to go, to be sent into the mission field: maybe to another country, maybe to another place, maybe to plant churches, maybe in your own community - to get much further into that community. Jesus had had a similar discussion with his disciples, when he was in Samaria, in the incident that followed the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman by the well (as recorded in John 4) and then she introduced Jesus to her village community and many of them believed. Jesus reflected on the significance of this sudden response in John 4: 34,
‘“My (will),” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don't you have a saying, ‘It's still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.”’John 4:34-37, NIV
The same analogy used of evangelism and mission, of sowing and reaping a harvest, is in this passage - it's a similar teaching. Jesus is calling for workers; he's calling for the availability of people to be actively involved in the mission of the Church; and he's calling all of us who are concerned about the mission to pray that workers will be raised up.
Commissioning of the Twelve
It's a powerful passage and it is the precursor of the actual commissioning of the Twelve, which is now the climax of this episode and the crucial thing that happens here - this unlocks amazing potential of the Kingdom of God. Let's just read Matthew 10: 1 - 4, the second half of our passage:
‘Jesus called (the) twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.’Matthew 10:1-4, NIV
Here Jesus is transferring his authority to other people, in the first such occasion when he formally commissions people to represent him. They will have the authority of his message but they'll also have power - power from the Holy Spirit - that will enable them to deal with evil spirits and enable them to bring about physical healing by prayer, for people who are sick. This is absolutely remarkable! Up until this point, the whole focus had been on Jesus himself: everybody came to him because they knew he had the power to heal. Now, Jesus begins a process which, ultimately, ends up in equipping the whole Church with the gifts of the Spirit, by which others are commissioned to represent him and are given supernatural power and supernatural authority.
The twelve disciples are the Apostles - sometimes they're just called the disciples, sometimes they're called the Twelve, sometimes they're called the Apostles and these names are more or less interchangeable - and they'd been appointed at an earlier stage in Jesus' ministry, at the end of his first Galilean tour. As I mentioned, just before he delivered the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus went up on a mountainside to pray and chose twelve out of a larger group of disciples and appointed them Apostles. This is very important, we're going to go back to this now - to contextualise what's happening here at the beginning of Matthew 10. We're going to go back to Mark 3: 14,
‘He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons’Mark 3:14-15, NIV
- then he gives the names of the Twelve. This is interesting. What was this appointment? First of all, ‘that they might be with him’ - so privileged access to Jesus was given to the Twelve. This is the end of the first tour of Galilee, Series 3. Series 5, which we've just completed, is the second tour of Galilee and they have been with him throughout that second tour of Galilee. ‘And that he might send them out to preach’ - from being with him with privileged access, now comes sending out to preach, which was anticipated by the words in Mark, now being fulfilled later, in the third tour, here in Matthew 10. ‘And to have authority to drive out demons’.This is the same representative authority, representing God's authority over the powers of darkness and over sickness. These were authorised delegates and authorised messengers. That's the best way of describing Apostles: authorised delegates and authorised messengers. Very often, people liken Apostles in the Bible, in the New Testament, to political ambassadors. In the modern world, nations send an official representative of their government to another country and this individual person represents the authority of that government, the wishes of that government, and the message of that government, in communicating to another country. In my own particular nation (the United Kingdom) theoretically, the ambassadors of the United Kingdom are the representatives of our Head of State, the Queen - our current Queen, Elizabeth II. In the current situation, they're representing her government, the government of the Head of State and they will have messages coming over and they will give those messages to any who need to hear in the country where they are working. They are a very high official, representing the full authority of that government in another country. That's a little bit similar to an Apostle of Jesus Christ, the Twelve - they are representing the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God originating from heaven, is breaking out here on the earth during their lifetime. They are representing that Kingdom in another country, so to speak, another spiritual environment, and an environment which involves other kingdoms, other powers, other forces, seeking to control human destiny - notably the power of evil spirits and the power of darkness. Hence the significance of the fact that they had authority over demons to cast them out of individual people who were responding to the faith.
We need to think of the Twelve, or the twelve disciples, or the Apostles (whichever phrase is used in the Gospels) as incredibly important people in Jesus' ministry. What they're going to achieve is to multiply the impact of Jesus, by enabling his message to be in many places at once. In the next episode they are going to be sent out two by two and various instructions are given, but that means that, if Jesus is in one place and he has twelve Apostles sent out in pairs, he has six teams preaching the same message in six other locations - that means there are seven locations (where Jesus is and where they are) in which the same message is being preached. That's a big multiplication of impact and that's the sort of multiplication that the Church always needs to think about as it seeks to get its message out.
These twelve Apostles are listed four times - in Mark 3, Matthew 10, Luke 6 and they're listed again in Acts 1 (when Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus has died, through suicide, and is replaced by a man called Matthias). These are the same Twelve described. Some of them have more than one name and so they can appear by one name or another - Matthew, for example, has the name Levi; Bartholomew has the name Nathanael, which John's Gospel used, Thomas has also the name Didymus Some lists will give one name or the other and many of these people had two names anyway (like Simon Peter) - but it's the same Twelve who are described in every context. They are vitally important in our understanding of Jesus' ministry and then, equally, the foundation of the Church.
Some reflections for us concerning this very important step forward that's taking place as Jesus sends out the Twelve and commissions them. Some reflections about the harvest field: that's the metaphor Jesus frequently uses for humanity, lost humanity, who can be brought into God's Kingdom, harvested into God's Kingdom.
First reflection is that we need to get our perspective right - we need to realise the depth of human need. Paul, and other theologians in the New Testament, described this theologically at a very profound level saying ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3: 23) Jesus described it here in Matthew 9 in another way, ‘“they're harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”’ People who are lost, need help! There's a depth of human need that the Gospel is designed to meet - and the only way the Gospel can meet that need is if individual Christians play their part in being the agents of that mission, in one way or another.
Alongside this, we also need the right motivation. The right motivation is the compassion of God - the very motivation that is described of Jesus, ‘he had compassion on them,’ This expression is used several times of Jesus: a profound identification with human needs - that's what you and I need to have if we're going to be effective in the mission of the Church. That compassion sometimes reduced Jesus to tears - for example, when his friend Lazarus had died and then he later raised him from the tomb. It says, as he encountered that moment, that Jesus wept. (John 11:35) He had compassion; he cared about people; he reached out to them; he was willing to sacrifice his time and energy for needy people.
We not only need the right perspective and the right motivation, we need good character - we need trained workers. The Lord is going to ‘send out workers into his harvest field’ , according to verse 38. Workers need training; they need to know what they're doing, and some of that training is going to be represented by the teaching that follows immediately, which we'll begin to study in the next episode.
We also need prayer. We need to pray for the mission of the Church, we need to pray that God will open up the minds and hearts of people to believe the truth. We need to realise that the mission of the Church is rooted in Jesus giving us authority to preach. That authority has been given to the Apostles, here, for the first time in a local and specific situation to go on a one-off mission but that authority is underlined later on in Jesus' ministry - not least in Matthew 28: 18, in a passage known as the Great Commission - when Jesus spoke to them on a hillside, having been raised from the dead. And he said these famous words, verse 18:
‘“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”’Matthew 28:18-20, NIV
This magnificent commission, given first of all to the Twelve, shows that Jesus is transferring his authority to his followers and commissioning them to go to all nations, making disciples, baptising and teaching them, and promising that he'll be with them through the power of the Spirit, to the very end of the age - that's when he returns. If that's the case, then the commission isn't just for the one generation; it isn't just for the first Apostles. It's a commission that is transferred to the Church; it's a commission for you and I, if we are believers.
Finally, we need a good strategy. The strategy of the mission will vary significantly from place to place, from time to time, from context to context, from generation to generation. We all live in very different countries and cultural contexts - even those of us who are sharing this episode together. We'll represent many nations across this earth, with all sorts of different contexts. We need a strategy that is instigated and led by the Holy Spirit. He'll show us how most effectively to reach people in our own culture - and it will vary. Jesus had a particular strategy here for his Apostles in the first generation, and in the first mission, and it comes out in the next verses - which we'll study in the next episode. He says, ‘“Go...to the lost sheep of Israel”’ “(Don't) go to...the town(s) of the Samaritans.” initially. He said, “Go to the people who are nearest to you, who are in the same ethnic group, who still haven't heard the message. We'll get to those other nations, like the Samaritans, later on. You focus, first of all, on one specific group.” There's a leading, a sense of perspective and focus, on how to start the mission. We all need some leading of the Holy Spirit to know how, most effectively, to conduct the mission that God has given us. I believe that as we take to heart this teaching, and as we apply it relevantly in our cultures, then God will lead us (as he led the first Apostles) to show us how we can reach people for Christ; how we can bring the good news of the Kingdom; how we can bring that plentiful harvest in. Thank you for reading.