The Sent Ones
Topic: Expository Scripture: Matthew 10:1–10:42
Synopsis: In Matthew 9:36-38, Jesus asked his followers to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.” In Matthew 10, Jesus sent them out in answer to their own prayers. Before he did, he prepared them by telling them what to expect and how they were to respond as representatives of the king, engaged in kingdom work. In this message, The Sent Ones, we examine the implications of Jesus’ instructions; which ones were for the disciples specifically, and which ones are applicable to us today and what can we expect as we carry the message of Christ and his kingdom to the world.
There are many models for educating people. The model that is most common in our world today is that of the classroom; students sitting in rows, listening to a teacher impart information. But that model is actually a rather recent one. For most of human history, educating was based on an apprenticeship model. People learned by watching and imitating. Sometimes this was done informally. Other times it involved a more formal contract and relationship. But the venue for learning was not the classroom, but the real world; the marketplace, the field, the blacksmith’s shop.
A remnant of this model for learning has been preserved and continues in our day in the form of internships and medical residencies and practice teaching; periods of training in which learning is done through a combination of observing and practicing under the eyes of an experienced practitioner of the skill or art we are seeking to acquire.
In the Gospel of Matthew, in chapters 5-7, we have seen Jesus in a kind of “classroom mode”. His disciples and a large crowd of interested people gathered around him and he “taught them, saying…”
Then in chapters 8-9, we see Jesus in “demonstration mode.” He is among the people, doing the work of the kingdom; not only preaching, but also healing the sick, delivering people from demonic oppression, setting captives free. And his disciples were following him, observing him, learning from his example and actions as well as his words.
There is a significant turning point at the end of chapter 9. We read this in verses 36-38: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, 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.”
This is important. This is the recognition that even Jesus, as God in the flesh, could not physically do it all himself, limited as he was at the time in a human body. The work of the kingdom is a big work. It is a large field that needs to be harvested. The harvest is plentiful. There was a need and it was time to multiply harvesters.
It is interesting that Jesus begins by enlisting his disciples to pray. I believe that this is a prayer request that still stands today. I would encourage all of us to memorize verses 37 and 38. Recite it and then obey it – by praying that the Lord of the harvest will continue to multiply laborers and sent them out.
But before you do that, let me warn you. This is a dangerous prayer to pray! Why? Because just a couple verses later, Jesus sent these same disciples out as the answer to their own prayers! So be careful. Don’t pray this prayer unless you are also willing to be a part of the answer yourself.
So far in Matthew’s gospel, we have read the account of Jesus calling several of his individual disciples. We saw him call the two pairs of brothers: James and John, and Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing boats and follow him. We have also read the account of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to follow him. There have also been several references to an undefined group called “disciples.” But here in chapter 10 we have the first reference to this special group of twelve disciples who formed his inner circle. It is interesting that he refers to them as “his twelve disciples” in verse 1 and then just one verse later, for the first and only time in his gospel he refers to them as “the twelve apostles” and then goes on to name them. The word “apostle” came to have a technical use in the New Testament church referring to these twelve men who became the pillars of the early church. But here it may have a less technical force and simply reflect the content of this passage. The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word “apostello” which simply means “to send out”. An apostle, then, is simply a “sent one”. And that is exactly what Jesus did to them in this passage in verse 5: “These twelve Jesus sent out…”
It was time for their internship. They have been listening to the lectures. They have been observing the Master Teacher in action. Now it was time for them to practice what they have been learning. It was time to take the training wheels off the bicycle and let them learn to pedal and balance the bike on their own. But before they go, Jesus has some final words of instruction for them. Those instructions make up the content of Matthew 10.
Having said that, I would also add that Matthew 10 is a rather difficult passage to interpret and apply. What makes it difficult is that there are different kinds of instructions in the chapter. There are instructions which were specific to this particular mission and specific to the twelve apostles. And there are also instructions which have broad application to all who would enlist in kingdom work.
Let me illustrate. When I was in university, I had several opportunities to attend evangelism training courses at Arrowhead Springs, the headquarters for Campus Crusade for Christ. During those courses we had lessons and practice sessions on their campus. But each afternoon they would send us out to nearby beaches or parks to practice sharing the Gospel. So during the lessons, we would learn general principles for evangelism. But just before we went out to the beach, there would be some additional instructions. “We’re going to get on buses. Take a jacket (or hat, or sunscreen, depending on the weather). Take a bottle of water. Go in groups of two. Use the survey to open the conversation. Men should approach other men and women approach women. Be back at the bus at 5 pm. Etc.”
These were valuable instructions that we needed. But they were specific to that particular outreach effort, and did not necessarily apply to every witnessing opportunity we would face in the future.
Matthew 10 contains such a mixture of instructions. What makes it difficult is to discern which instructions and warnings were specific to the Twelve and which are relevant and applicable to all kingdom workers. There are different opinions among interpreters. My tentative conclusion in broad terms is this:
Verses 5-15, which we read in the Scripture reading, have primary application to the Apostles and to this specific mission; the limiting of the scope of the mission to Israel only and the specific instructions on what to take, lead me to this conclusion.
Verses 16-23, which we also read, are more difficult to categorize. They do not seem to fit the specific mission in view – since there is no record in any of the Gospels of the disciples being subjected to persecution in this early ministry. Yet the warnings are specifically described in a Jewish context and persecution that would come from Jewish courts and synagogues. So it is my conclusion that these warnings and instructions related to the Twelve, but not to the immediate mission but to their ministry and the spread of the church from Pentecost to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Verses 24-42 contains principles, warnings and promises that are applicable to all of church history and to all who would answer God’s call to be workers in his harvest field. We have not read these verses, so let’s take the time to read them together now.
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 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.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
This is the section where I want to focus this morning. But even as I do so, we will find that there are some common points of application that run through all the sections of the chapter. I want to focus on two broad points as they relate to us as those who would engage in the work of Christ’s kingdom. The first is Promises. What can we expect as we engage in the work of the harvest, as representatives of Christ’s kingdom in the world? Then we will look at Applications. What should we do and what are the implications we should take away from these promises?
As I survey these verses, I find that Jesus promises his followers four things.
First, he promises us persecution.
Now, how is that for a recruiting strategy? But Jesus pulls no punches here. He refuses to recruit under false pretenses by promising his followers an easy path. Look at verse 16: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves… That is not a very encouraging metaphor, is it?
He goes on in verse 17: Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to court and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake.
Look at verse 21: Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
It is not a pretty picture. But maybe you’re paying close attention and recognize that I have been reading from the part of the passage that I said had particular reference to the period when the Apostles were still ministering, from Pentecost to the Fall of Jerusalem. Yes, I have, but lest we become complacent, let’s drop down a bit to verse 24-25: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 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.
Or drop down a few more verses to verse 34-36: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.
These are broad, general descriptions from the section that we have identified as belonging to all who will follow Christ and obey his call to be a worker in the harvest. There will be persecution. This should not totally surprise us. We have seen this before. We saw it in Jesus’ opening words of his sermon, all the way back in the beatitudes. Remember the 8th beatitude?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10) Jesus then went on to elaborate on this final beatitude in verses 11-12: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So this theme of persecution for the followers of Christ is introduced in the very earliest teaching on the kingdom. And here it is again as he sends out the first wave of workers into the harvest. Be prepared for persecution. As we survey the history of the church down through the ages, we clearly see that it is a “promise” that has been fulfilled. It has not been uniformly intense in every age or in every place. There have been times and seasons and places of relative peace and calm for the church. We are not required to seek out persecution. But as followers of Christ, we should never be surprised when it comes. We are soldiers of the kingdom and we are operating in enemy territory. We should not be surprised when we are shot at.
Most painful is the warning that the opposition may well come from those who are nearest and dearest to us; our own families. Those of us who were raised in Christian families may have been spared this reality, but if you have come to Christ out of a home and a family that does not follow Christ, or may be committed to another belief system – you know what Jesus was talking about here, don’t you? I have had the opportunity to be close to a number of people who have come to faith in Christ out of other religions. Inevitably, their greatest struggles have been caused by their own family members. Jesus warned us that it would be so.
What else are we promised? He promises us his provision. This was Jesus’ promise to the Twelve as he sent them out. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. (Matthew 10:9-11)
What Jesus tells them is that they will be taken care of. God would provide for them through the people they would meet along the way, in each town or village. What Jesus was doing here was teaching his disciples to trust his provision. This was a laboratory experience for them. Here is where we must tread carefully in our interpretation. We are not expected to follow Jesus’ specific instructions of what to take and what not to take with us. In fact, look at Luke 22:35-36 where Jesus draws on this lesson, but gives a different set of instructions: And he said to them, ‘When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘Nothing.’ He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’
This might sound contradictory, but in fact in harmonizes nicely. The preparations for a short term and a long term mission may vary – but the principle remains the same. God is our provider. He will provide for the needs of his workers. I believe it was Hudson Taylor, the pioneer missionary to China who said it this way: “God’s work, done in God’s way, will not lack God’s supply.” As we pursue God’s work, God’s will, God’s kingdom purposes, God will provide for our needs. Remember the promise of Matthew 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things (referring to food and clothing) will be added to you.Jesus is giving his disciples a practical, laboratory chance to test that promise.
What else are we promised? He promises us the Father’s loving care.
Now I struggled with this one and I have worded it carefully. I was tempted to say “He promises us his protection.” I had a nice string of “p’s” going for alliteration purposes and it would be wonderfully reassuring to say that we can count on God’s protection. But if we define protection as being kept safe from harm, how could I say that when Jesus has just been describing his followers being arrested and flogged and even being put to death? And what about the realities of church history, and even the experience of Christ’s followers today in many parts of the world? If Jesus promised us protection, he’s not doing a very good job of keeping his promise!
But if Jesus doesn’t promise us physical protection from harm, what does he promise in these verses? Look at verse 29-31: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
He promises us the Father’s loving care. We are of great value to our heavenly Father. We are much more valuable to him than a sparrow – and he knows when even one sparrow falls to the ground. He even has the hairs on our head numbered. He cares about us. He knows every time we suffer and everything we suffer – especially when we suffer for righteousness’ sake and for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. This is his promise to us. We may suffer, but we will never suffer alone and we will never suffer in vain.
That brings us to the fourth and final promise. He promises us rich rewards.I have said it before, that there are numerous promises of rewards in Jesus’ teaching. In fact we found this all the way back in the beatitudes, when Jesus mentions persecution. This is how he wrapped up his explanation in Matthew 5:12: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
He returns to that theme in this chapter. One thing he promises is that he will acknowledge us before the Father as we see in Matthew 10:32: So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.
He also refers to rewards for kingdom work in a kind of backhanded way in verses 40-42. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
I say it is “backhanded” because he is expanding the scope of kingdom work to the support roles as well as what we might call “front-line” roles. Those who labor and give support to others who are engaging in kingdom work are also doing kingdom work and all will be rewarded. Even the smallest effort – the giving of a cup of cold water to someone engaged in kingdom work as a follower of Christ – will receive a reward. This is the promise of Jesus.
So this is what we have been promised if we would engage in kingdom work, the work of the harvest; persecution, God’s provision, God’s attentive, Father-care, and rich rewards. So what are the Applications? What is the take away? How should we respond?
My time is almost gone, so I will cover these quickly; just 3 points.
1. Don’t be afraid.
This command is given repeatedly in this chapter. In verse 26: “Have no fear of them.” In verse 28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Verse 31: “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
One of the risks of Jesus’ words of warning is that we would “go to ground” and become timid and defensive. Jesus wants to be sure this doesn’t happen. Look at these words in verse 27: What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. In other words, be bold.
But this command is balanced by the next application we need to make from Jesus’ words.
2. Don’t be foolish.
This is clearly stated in verse 16: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. “Wise as serpents.” Snakes are generally very clever at avoiding trouble and staying out of harm’s way. That is a good trait. Of course there is another side to the reputation of snakes. They bite! And their bite is full of poison. So Jesus balances that analogy: “Innocent as doves.” It is a fine balance that should characterize the disciple of Christ as we seek to represent him and extend the boundaries of his kingdom.
Elsewhere in Jesus’ instructions, he tells his disciples to use discretion. In verse 23 he says, When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next… This pattern is particularly clear in the missionary journeys describe in the Book of Acts. A number of years ago I preached through Acts and saw this repeatedly; Paul and his companions would enter a town and preach the gospel and keep preaching until there was a backlash of opposition – then they would move on. It is not only to escape the persecution, but to further spread the Gospel message. So we are to be wise, not foolish in our strategic decisions. How to balance boldness with discretion is often the most difficult strategic decision kingdom workers are asked to make.
The final application we are to make from Jesus’ teaching is simply this:
3. Don’t give up!
This is stated repeatedly in different words. In verse 22: But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Interpreters differ on the significance of the words “the end” in that verse. The end of what? But I prefer to focus on the word “endures”. That is what we are called to do. Endure. Remain. Persevere. Stay the course, regardless of the cost. It is the endurance of the distance runner who refuses to quit until he crosses the finish line. It is the courage of the martyr who refuses to deny his faith in Christ – even at the cost of his own life. According to the traditions of the early church, 10 of the 11 apostles to whom Jesus delivered this address died as martyrs for their faith in Jesus. They refused to give up.
We may not be asked to give that “last full measure” of devotion. But surely the greater includes the lesser. Are we willing to hold on to our faith in Christ even when the going gets tough and we experience the hostility, the ridicule, the opposition of those who reject Christ’s claims? This is what Jesus is asking. Are we willing to put our loyalty to him above every other loyalty in life? This the ultimate question of discipleship. See how Jesus words this challenge in verses 37-39:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
This is the call to the grand bargain or exchange in life. Simply put: Are you willing to pay the ultimate price for the ultimate prize? It is a question that the true disciple of Christ answers, “Yes!” How will you answer it?
- Read the chapter together.
- Now read Matthew 9:36-38. How does this paragraph set the stage for chapter 10? What are the implications for kingdom work today?
- Pastor Cam divides chapter 10 this way: verses 1-15 are instructions for the disciples in light of the immediate mission. Verses 16-23 are instructions for the disciples in light of their future ministry from Pentecost to the fall of Jerusalem. Verses 24-42 are instruction for the disciples and all kingdom workers who will follow them. What clues do you think led him to this division? Do you agree or disagree? What are the implications of this approach to the chapter?
- Have you ever been persecuted for “righteousness sake” or for being a follower of Christ? If so, share the experience. If not, why do you think you haven’t been?
- Read verses 34-36. How do we reconcile this with Jesus’ title of “Prince of Peace”?
- In the message, Pastor Cam distinguished between “protection” and “the Father’s loving care.” Why did he make this distinction? How are they different?
- Discuss the implications of Jesus’ words “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” How do we find the balance between boldness and discretion in ministry practices in Abu Dhabi?
- Discuss the meaning and implications of Jesus’ words in verses 37-39.