Instructions for the Disciples
In the passage we looked at last week, we saw that the disciples, perhaps to their surprise, were being sent out by Jesus to the towns and villages surrounding Nazareth. This was a big step for them, they had never done anything like this before. I imagine as they geared up their minds for this adventure, it would have been easy for them to be slightly anxious. Fortunately, their faith, belief, and trust had just been boosted in a big way after having witnessed Jesus calm the storm, cast out a legion of demons, raise a dead girl back to life, heal a diseased woman, and give sight to the blind. They had seen a progression of Jesus working despite a lack of faith, to Him working in conjunction with others’ faith, to Him saying “according to your faith it will be done”, (Matthew 9:29) to Him now entrusting His followers with the responsibility that they themselves do His kingdom work.
And before they went out two by two, He gave them special instructions for their mission. We’re going to look at this charge to His followers in Matthew 10. As His words fortified and encouraged His disciples in their task, may His same words fortify and encourage us in the task He has given us as His disciples.
We’ll work through this verse by verse, starting in verse 1. (Matthew 10:1) Now there were many people at this point following Jesus, that perhaps could have been described as disciples, but there was an inner circle of 12 that were His closest companions. And to that specific 12, He gave them a special anointing to do the miraculous works that He had been doing. So, in verse 1 we see the 12 described as “disciples”, but notice that the term changes in verse 2. It says: “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these…” So, the “disciples”- meaning students and followers of their master, became “apostles”- meaning sent out ones. And notice that Matthew grouped their names in twos, even recording the details of who went with who. Now look down at verse 5, the beginning of Jesus’s instructions. It says… (Matthew 10:5-6) Now this was a specific commandment to them, at a specific point in history. Later we see that Jesus tells His followers to go out and “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), but for right now, for this specific trip He wanted them to just stay within their own people group and culture. It was their first experience, perhaps they weren’t quite ready yet for cross culture ministry. Jesus tasked them with a specific mission that He felt they were equipped for: sharing with their own people about this man Jesus they had come to know.
Verse 7 (Matthew 10:7) They were to share the very same message of John the Baptist, and Jesus Himself - the message they had seen presented over and over - that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (has drawn near) This is what they were to preach, and the word preach here means to proclaim, to announce, to tell of.
Verse 8 (Matthew 10:8) For this task at hand, He gave them the gift to do the miraculous works that He Himself had been doing. And according to the high-level authority and power of that gift, they were to in return give of that gift freely.
Verses 9 (Matthew 10:9-10) The meaning of verse 9 is perhaps twofold, the apostles weren’t to gather a bunch of money in order to carry with them and sustain them, nor were they to be tempted to “sell” the authority and power they had been given. As verse 10 implies, they weren’t to over prepare with supplies, extra coats, sandals or staffs, but they were to go out as they were, and rely on God’s provision through the people they were ministering to.
Verse 11 (Matthew 10:11-13) These missionaries were to ask questions, and determine which house might be the most receptive, finding that person of peace, and then stay with them the whole duration of their stay. Jesus had often taught in the synagogues, but for this specific task they were instructed to stay in homes. Perhaps they weren’t quite ready for public appearances; and their task would be easier and more relaxed in the setting of a home, sharing with people - perhaps over meals - sharing all that they had witnessed concerning this Jesus Messiah. They were to bless the household they stayed at, unless they ended up being rejected, and in that case their blessing would return back to them.
Verse 14 (Matthew 10:14-15) The Jews of Israel considered the land so particularly holy that if they ever traveled to a neighboring country, upon their return they shook or wiped off the dust of that country from their feet before entering Israel, so as not to pollute their holy land. Jesus was basically telling them that those who rejected His kingdom were to no longer be considered holy, rather they would be considered as idolaters- on the same level as the neighboring countries who had rejected a relationship with the Almighty Creator God. Jesus compared them to those of Sodom and Gomorrah. The sin of the people in Sodom and Gomorrah was recorded as being extremely wicked. (Genesis 18:19) If you remember, God had a conversation with Abraham and promised not to destroy the cities if there were only 10 remaining righteous people found living in them. Two angels were sent to Sodom and Gomorrah and were welcomed into the home of Abraham’s nephew Lot. That night a mob of people from the city beat on the door of Lot’s house, demanding for Lot to send the angels out, so that they could rape them. At Lot’s refusal, they threatened to do the same to him and determined to break down the door. The angels caused the mob to go blind, and Lot with his family escaped out of the city before God destroyed it with fire from heaven. (Genesis 19:1-26)
Sodom and Gomorrah were filled with so much evil that God could not allow them to exist in this world any longer. He was compelled to take care of business right then and there, and yet Jesus states that the eternal judgement will be less for the inhabitants of those cities than for those who reject Him. Jesus is serious business - of all the greatest evils and horrors in the world - the worst evil one could commit would be to reject Jesus. To know of His forgiveness, to know of His love, His authority and power, and yet to say no - I don’t want you Jesus in my life - that is the worst crime you could ever commit. That is the greatest sin to be on trial for during the day of judgement.
In the verses that follow, it appears that Jesus moved from instructions for that particular mission, to broader, more general instructions for His “sent out” ones. But before we look at those verses, I want you to note the raw simplicity of what Jesus was telling these ambassadors to do. They were to take only what they had, and not to worry about what they might in the future need. They were to have simple, relaxed conversations in other’s homes about the Kingdom of Heaven being near. Keep in mind that these apostles probably had a much smaller understanding than we do of the total scope of the gospel. At this point they didn’t realize Jesus was going to die for the sins of mankind, and that He was going to rise again from the dead, paving the way for His followers to rise from the dead as well. They hadn’t been through evangelism training, they hadn’t studied the ABCs of the gospel. A- Admit you are a sinner (Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”) B-Believe that Jesus died for you (John 1:12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”) C- Confess that Jesus is Lord of your life (Romans 10:9 “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”) They didn’t know the gospel as expressed in those simple terms. They had heard Jesus say “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) But no one had told them to say that the perish death part was over here, with a gap in between it and the eternal life part that is over here, and that God’s love for the world through Jesus on the cross bridged that gap, allowing those facing death to enter into life. At this point in history, the disciples were not able to put together all the pieces of exactly how this Jesus Messiah was the Savior of the world. So, they went out, with what they had, as they were, in combination with a special anointing from Jesus. Lord, may it be so among us!
Verse 16 (Matthew 10:16-20) Now as a follower of Jesus, I really don’t like these several verses. I don’t want to be called a sheep surrounded by wolves. That is not a position I want to be in. But whether I like it or not, that description has been fitting for followers of Jesus from the time of His death, throughout history, all the way up to current times. Jesus’s advice for His followers is to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” In Genesis 3:1 we read that the serpent was craftier than any other animal. A snake has very unique strategies, mannerisms, and techniques that it uses for its survival. Followers of Jesus are to likewise do the same in order to preserve themselves from the attacks of the surrounding wolves. We are to avoid unnecessary dangers and traps laid out for us, being careful not to give offense, or to provoke others to want to harm us. As Paul says in Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Saint Augustine was quoted as saying “innocent as doves that we may not harm anyone; cautious as snakes that we may be careful of letting anyone harm us”. We are to live wisely, knowing that because we hold tightly to God’s truth, we are an enemy to this world. Yet in living wisely, shrewd as serpents, we are to also maintain the innocence of a dove, being harmless, blameless- never seeking revenge. We aim to be humble, peaceful, men and women of upmost integrity, following our life’s calling of obedience to our King Jesus.
Perhaps not on this short mission trip that the apostles went on, but just a few years later, they were indeed put in situations in which I’m sure they recalled Jesus’s words here in this passage. As they proclaimed Jesus’s Kingdom, they were brought before governments and given opportunity to proclaim truth to their captors. What an encouragement they had, and that we have, that in those moments of defending Jesus’s truth, we don’t have to be alone. The spirit of God himself speaks through the followers of Jesus. Don’t be anxious, God will give you the right words at the right time.
Verse 21 (Matthew 10:21-39) Wow, that’s some really heavy stuff. We’ve talked before about how Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but even as he functions in that role of bringing peace, there are those who violently oppose Him and His people. He is not directly the one aiming to set family members against each other, no - He desires for families to be reconciled, restored, and healed. But He realizes the reality that many will reject Him and thus will create the strife and tension mentioned in these verses.
There has been some debate over the meaning of verse 23 (Matthew 10:23). Some take “His coming” to be the outpouring of His Spirit a couple years later during Pentecost. Others refer to “His coming” as being a reference to Jesus rejoining the disciples after this particular mission. Some say it has a general meaning that there will still be some Jews who haven’t accepted Jesus upon His second coming. Many theologians believe “His coming” to refer to the time of His soon coming judgment upon Israel, the destruction of the temple and complete conquering of the nation that occurred about forty years later in 70 AD. In any case, Christianity has survived nearly 2000 years of persecution, due to Jesus’s followers heeding His instructions here in this verse and the surrounding verses.
Christianity has been, currently is, and I believe will continue to be the most persecuted religion in the world. Yet those who follow Jesus hold tightly to Him, realizing they have nothing to fear, knowing that this life is worth losing, it is worth persecution, it is worth missing out on because the true reality life to come can only be found by valuing it higher than this temporary life. There will be reward for the difficulties associated with shining light in a dark world. And there will be equally great reward for those who respond in receiving that shining light. Verse 40 (Matthew 10:40-42)
Note in verse 40 the implications for those who accept the messengers of Jesus. If they receive the messengers, they are receiving Jesus, and if they are receiving Jesus, then they are actually receiving God - the one who sent Jesus. And the reward of the messenger for his work, will also be enjoyed by the one who received the messenger. And Jesus describes the messenger as a prophet, a righteous man, and a disciple / little one. Now I think there’s something really significant to what Jesus is saying here.
Perhaps there is some sort of meaning in the order to which these titles are arranged. Is the prophet the greater messenger than the righteous man, and the righteous man the greater messenger that the disciple / little one? You think about some of the great prophets - Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah. Surely they were highly revered among those who followed the Lord. They were set apart, chosen messengers of God’s words, who were honored by righteous men below them. And it would be easy to see these disciples, these little ones as Jesus calls them, as being naïve, men of all kinds of colored pasts, standing in some sort of inferiority to the righteous men and prophets of God before them.
But then we remember Jesus’s words concerning the great and righteous prophet John the Baptist. Jesus said "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11) I believe Jesus was not listing these 3 titles in a descending order, but rather an ascending order. There could be a prophet who was not righteous, such as Balaam (2 Peter 2:15). And surely the Pharisees and religious leaders around them were considered to be righteous men of their day, yet in their rejection of Jesus they proved themselves to be wicked. A disciple of Jesus, as little as He may be in the eyes of the world, is above one considered good and righteous. A disciple of Jesus is considered even above a prophet, if that prophet is not a disciple of Jesus.
The greatest aspiration you can have in life is to be a disciple of Jesus. That calling is higher than the calling of a pastor or missionary, it is more important than a life of doing good deeds, it is a calling more blessed than having been blessed with the greatest of gifts and talents. If only we could see status and classes of men as God sees! And what’s beautiful, is that no matter the perceived greatness or lowliness of Jesus’s messenger, no matter what level of reward they will receive for their efforts, the same reward is available to all who receive Jesus. Jesus is the great equalizer. All man-made titles, classes of people, differences in race, economic and social status - all are leveled in humility and equality at the feet of Jesus. It’s like this: The messenger Billy Graham spoke the words, and the lowliest of low received him and his words - and they both share in the same reward!
Realize that in receiving the message of God’s Kingdom, you are no lesser than the one who shared that message. Realize that even if you consider yourself a lowly disciple of Jesus, a little one - that is exactly who Jesus sent out to share His kingdom message. These 12 weren’t super righteous, they weren’t super hero prophets, they didn’t even have a complete concept of the gospel. Some of you might say: “I’m not a pastor, I’m not a missionary, I’m not a bible scholar”- even so- it’s my hope today that you realize your value and significance as a disciple of Jesus, and that you will fearlessly talk about the Kingdom within this culture that God has placed you in. You are equipped with Jesus’s words. You are equipped with an advanced understanding of the gospel. May you go as you are, with what you have, relying on God’s provision, and bless others with the news of the kingdom that is at hand. May you be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Realize that it is not you who speaks, but it is God’s spirit that speaks in you. Don’t fear rejection. If you are rejected here, go share it there. May you receive these words, and may others receive your words. And together, we will share in the glorious reward of our great God and King Jesus Christ!