Jesus continues his teaching about mission - in Galilee but also generally. He warns of difficulties to come but these are viewed in the light of eternal glory.
Jesus continues his teaching about mission - in Galilee but also generally. He warns of difficulties to come but these are viewed in the light of eternal glory.
Hello and welcome to Series 6 and Episode 3. In this episode 'Jesus teaches the Twelve, his Apostles, about the challenges of mission work.'
Introduction and Recap
We're in Matthew 10 and, if you've been following the episodes of Series 6, you'll know that we started just at the end of Matthew 9 and into Matthew 10 with the description of Jesus sending out his twelve disciples, or Apostles, on their first mission trip in pairs around Galilee. We're now in the third episode which is describing this process: the first one described the moment of calling and the context for the calling and described some things about Jesus' own mission - his compassion, his desire to reach people, his statement about the harvest being plentiful but the workers being few and praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send out labourers into the harvest - and then his commissioning of the Twelve. In the last episode, we looked at some of the specific instructions that Jesus gave them just before they went out on this mission on his behalf. We're now continuing with that teaching where Jesus is explaining further about different aspects of going out on mission.
Let's remind ourselves of the wider context of these particular events. In Series 3 we described how Jesus started his public ministry in Galilee; he went around preaching and teaching in different places, healing the sick and doing many miracles and attracting a tremendous following of local people and also people willing to travel long distances to come and see him. During that first tour of Galilee, he gradually gathered together disciples - people committed to following him. At the end of Series 3, the end of his first tour of Galilee, Luke 6 and Mark 3 described the moment when Jesus chose, after prayer and reflection time, twelve men to have a particular role (which he described as being Apostles) to be with him and then to go and preach in his name and have his authority. That was a very important moment and it was the beginning of the process of Jesus moving from being a one-man ministry, so to speak, to being a team leader and having a team working for him and multiplying his ministry.
Then came the Sermon on the Mount, immediately after that appointment (virtually the same occasion on the same mountainside) and this teaching described the lifestyle of the Kingdom, the way that disciples would live as they followed Jesus. In Series 5, we discussed the second tour of Galilee and, on this occasion, the Twelve are with Jesus all the time. They know their role; they know they're going to be involved in mission in a very strategic way in the future, and they are being prepared to be sent out in pairs in due course - they may not have known the details but they knew that was the general process that would take place.
In Series 6, we're in the third tour of Galilee and Jesus is changing his tactics fundamentally. He is releasing the Apostles, in pairs, to spend some time travelling on their own in different directions around Galilee, preaching and teaching and extending his message - while he goes off in another direction to teach and preach. In effect, that means he's creating seven mission teams: himself, with others following him no doubt, and the pairs going off in six different directions. Obviously, they didn't really know what to do and so the instructions he gives them are very important. The instructions we looked at last time are very specific about who to go to; what to do when you get to a village or a town; how many things you take with you; what you do when you receive hospitality; what you do when you don't receive hospitality; what to say on the street; what to do about healing - all sorts of practical things were discussed in the last teaching.
In the second half of this chapter, which we're going to study in this episode, Jesus moves from discussing specific issues relating to the immediate mission to giving more general advice about the challenges of mission in all contexts. He's now spreading the discussion to a more general, open discussion. Everything he says here will be relevant, to some measure, to the Apostles in their first mission but he extends the teaching so that it helps them (and others, of course, who read the text like we are doing now) to understand some of the key principles that we need to bear in mind. This is incredibly relevant and is a great joy, to me, in this particular section at the beginning of Series 6, to spend some time focusing on the question of mission. It's very close to my heart and I believe that it's the vital task that the Church must give itself to in all generations. One of the ways of renewing our mission is to go back to the life of Jesus and see how he did things and, in this particular case, see what instructions he gave to his followers - and they are very helpful, as you will find.
We are going to look at Matthew 10: 24 -Matthew 11: 1. We'll read it in sections and I'm going to comment on each section that I read which gives words of advice, warning and principles that help us in our mission. First of all, Matthew 10: 24 and 25,
‘“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. (It's) enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of (the) household!”’Matthew 10:24-25, NIV
The head of the house, so to speak, is Jesus and he has been identified by the Pharisees as operating under the power of Satan, the prince of demons, who also went by the name of Beelzebul or Beelzebub. The Pharisees, on a number of occasions, very directly accuse Jesus of being a false messiah, operating under demonic power. One occasion is in Matthew 12: 24; but the occasion that happens just prior to this event is recorded in Matthew 9: 34, where Jesus has performed some remarkable miracles - healing two blind men and one man who was completely mute and unable to speak - and the Pharisees said (9:34) ‘“It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”’ It's a massive accusation! It's an incredible claim that Jesus is utterly false, has nothing to do with God, has nothing to do with the Spirit of God and his remarkable power, but is operating under the power of demons. That's the sort of thing Jesus has in mind when he says that ‘“the head of the house (might be) called Beelzebul, how much more the members of (the) household!”’ In other words, expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented if you're a follower of Jesus. Let me say that again, if you're a follower of Jesus expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented when you're on mission. It is a reality that will sometimes happen, not always, and it's not something Christians should ever seek out or desire - far from it - but it will happen. People will negatively represent us as selfish, as a cult, as inspired by demonic power or any other accusation that suits the social context of their culture. Expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented. In that expectation, comes a certain joy because, when we look back at the life of Jesus and we see how incredibly courageous he was when he faced such opposition, then we can take strength to be courageous ourselves when we also face opposition for the things that we do and the things that we believe. That's why we need to go back to the Gospels again and again.. We need constant inspiration from the life of Jesus for the many different issues that we face in our own lives and here's one very good example.
Let's move on, verses 26 - 31:
‘“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”’Matthew 10:26-31, NIV
What can we learn here? A very simple truth: do not be afraid of your opponents, even if your life is endangered by them. The perspective here is the perspective, not of this life but of eternity. Everything about the Christian life must be seen from the context of eternity - it is not just for this life that we act and live and hope for good things. We have our eyes set on our eternal destiny; the Christian faith really doesn't make any sense without a strong perspective of eternal security. When Christ comes into our lives by faith (and we have our sins forgiven because of his substitutionary atonement on the cross and his resurrection from the dead) then we enter into a new life, of which this is only the foretaste and the beginning. We sense the life of the Spirit within us but we anticipate his return, we anticipate the resurrection of our physical bodies after we've died, and we anticipate entering into a new heaven and new earth - a new realm of existence, in eternity, of glory and power and joy and activity and all sorts of wonderful realities, free from suffering. That's the Christian perspective which is behind this saying. Jesus is encouraging people to be afraid of God ‘who can kill both soul and body.’ In other words, respect him, come under his authority, come into his Kingdom, be concerned about what he can do; rather than concerned about the terrible things that could be done to you in this life. Suffering and martyrdom are a real possibility in the Christian life - it's not a popular topic and in some countries people don't want to talk about these things at all, especially if the Church is in a secure situation at that time but we have to face this reality and I know that around the world there are people who are reading or viewing this episode, who have personally experienced a life of suffering, who know what persecution is like and may even know people who have been martyred or killed for their faith and so these words are a great comfort. Do not be afraid of your opponents, even if your life is in danger because our reward, ultimately, is in heaven.
‘ “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”’Matthew 10:32-33, NIV
Christian faith requires us to be honest about our allegiance to Jesus Christ - to acknowledge him as is appropriate, not to disown him, not to pretend that we are not Christians. This acknowledgement of him, before others, will bring an eternal reward that our heavenly Father will acknowledge us in eternity, he will acknowledge us as one of his children. Christians who are not following Christ wholeheartedly often choose to start disowning him - it's a risky thing to do. We need to acknowledge Christ, even in hostile circumstances.
Let's move on to the next section, verse 34 to 37:
‘“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me (isn't) worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me (isn't) worthy of me.”’Matthew 10:34-37, NIV
This section tells us that the Gospel can cause division in families - I wonder whether you've experienced that? Our first reflection on this, by the way, should be that Jesus experienced this very division. We saw, in the last episode of Series 5, Jesus' second recorded return to his hometown, Nazareth, that local people and family members were taking offence at him - they lacked faith in him; they didn't acknowledge who he was; and some of them were opposed to him. Family division was the experience that Jesus had, even in his own family. Whilst his mother wholeheartedly believed in his identity and supported him, his brothers and sisters, by all accounts, did not do so for a long period of time. The brothers only came to believe in him at the very end of his life or through the resurrection. Even Jesus experienced family division; it's a tremendously common experience for Christians, that their family members are not always choosing to agree with them or to join in that journey of faith. There will be conflict and division and Jesus, here, quotes a passage from the book of Micah (chapter 7) which describes the situation that took place in ancient Judah, just before their exile, when they were coming under judgement., As a result of moral decline, there were conflicts between people - between those who were following God and those who weren't. He's saying something similar is going to happen in the situation of the Church. This is a tough saying and there are tough challenges that face us. We need to be faithful to the Living God, even when our family members are sceptical or opposing us - that is a really big challenge! Jesus is encouraging us to press forward with that challenge and he's giving us a perspective to help us understand what it means to be opposed by people in your family and we find that in the next two verses.
Verse 38 and 39:
‘“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”’Matthew 10:38-39, NIV
This is the first mention in Matthew's Gospel of the word ‘the cross’ and this is a symbol of suffering that is really vivid in their culture. We know, of course, that Jesus died on the cross but what we need to remember is that the Roman's first method of execution was crucifixion. They used this method to intimidate local populations because people could see, vividly on the side of the street, the fate of those who sought to break the laws of the Roman Empire or even challenge the Empire itself. Crucifixion was a long and painful death as people were tied to, or nailed to, a wooden cross on the side of the road and they died by multiple wounds and also the loss of the ability to breathe as time went on. ‘taking up the cross’ is a metaphor for the willingness to suffer. We have to decide in advance, if we're followers of Jesus Christ, that we're not choosing an easy life. We're choosing a life which can involve suffering and cost to us but what we're motivated by is the absolute certainty that we're on the right track: that we're following a true path; that we have been saved from our sins; that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah; and that he holds the key for our identity both now and in the eternal future and that whatever suffering we experience now will pale into insignificance compared with the glory that will be revealed in us in eternity. That's the context in which Christians decide that they're willing to make costly sacrifices to follow Jesus Christ. It's very interesting that Jesus' emphasis on the costliness of discipleship is in the context of mission - as the Church pushes out and reaches out to people, that's when it experiences most of its opposition.
Let's now turn to the next section as we come to the end of this passage. Matthew 10: 40 - 42,
‘“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”’Matthew 10:40-42, NIV
Here's something on the positive side because, although there's suffering, opposition and difficulty predicted by Jesus, he also predicts that people will welcome us. Of course they will! People welcome followers of Christ all over the world. They welcome the message and they welcome the messenger; there'll always be people open to the Gospel. We need to be encouraged by this. Jesus said (in Matthew 9: 37) ‘the harvest is plentiful,’ using a metaphor of harvest for the salvation of people - and there are always people who welcome the Gospel.
Followers of Christ, here, are described in four different ways: they're described as ‘you’ (verse 40) which is a reference to the Apostles themselves; verse 41 ‘prophet’ or ‘righteous person’ and verse 42 ‘a little one who is my disciple.’ All these terms added together mean that this act of welcoming and blessing is applicable to all believers - not just the Apostles but anyone else who follows them, who is a true believer, who is speaking the message of Jesus. There will always be people open and there will always be those who will bless us as we come with the Christian message.
Some reflections as we come to the end of this episode. This has been quite a big study, in the last three episodes, as we've looked at Matthew 10 and the sending out of the Twelve Apostles. We've looked at the details of Jesus' teaching about mission - some of it very specific to the Twelve at that time - and then, as the chapter progresses, it becomes more and more generalised and more applicable to a wider context. Everything we've discussed in this episode is applicable to you and to me in our situations, in our churches, in our countries and in our contexts.
In Matthew 10, we have the beginning of a development of a missionary process. It all started with Jesus on his own, but now in Matthew 10 (and the parallel passage in Luke 9) we see the Twelve commissioned. Then in Luke 10, as we'll see later on, we see Jesus commissioning 70, or 72, workers to go in pairs and preach the Gospel. Then in Matthew 28: 16 - 20, we see a universal commission: the Apostles and all who follow them to all nations of the world. In Acts 1: 8, we read that when the Spirit comes the Apostles will be the witnesses of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. What starts here in Matthew 10, is going to keep developing. This is a local mission in Galilee, amongst Jewish residents of Galilee, conducted by the Twelve, but it's like the precursor of bigger missions. It's the beginning; it's the start; it's like the template for something bigger and some of these principles that we've been looking at today and some of this teaching, is incredibly relevant in all contexts.
There is a great cost in mission; there's also a great reward and we have to take up our cross when we are spreading the message. Our motivations will be that ‘freely you've received, therefore freely give’ (Matthew 10: 8) thankfulness; and we'll be motivated also by eternal rewards (Matthew 10: 32) as we keep our eye on the eternal rewards that we will receive. Jesus completed this teaching and then in Matthew 11: 1, Matthew gives a summary statement of what had finished and what was going to happen next with the following words:
‘After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.’Matthew 11:1, NIV
The implication of this is he went in one direction and they went in six others - and so the mission has multiplied, quite suddenly, and there are more and more people sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's God's intention always that his mission will multiply across the world and he's doing that today. My prayer is that the teaching of these three episodes, (Series 6 Episodes 1, 2 and 3) describing the sending of the Twelve and all the teaching associated with it, will be a real blessing and be used by God to stimulate the mission of the Church, for you and for me, in all the different places that we live and worship.
Thanks for studying.