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Compassion - The Root of Evangelism

Matthew 9:35 - 10:23

Lesson audio

You will remember that chapters and verses were added to the New Testament many years after it was written. While they form a convenient and useful frame of reference, we must remember that Christ and the Apostles did not think in terms of superscript numbers.

Setting an Example

Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."

(Mat 9:35-38 NASB)

We sometimes miss the point: Jesus taught in their synagogues. He is attempting to reach the people through the religious structures of the day. We should recognize that He did not come to set aside the Old Testament, but complete it. Just what, then, was He doing?

  • He was teaching. Much of the New Testament, specifically the letters, carries that teaching, along with the Gospels. Note, please, that this is first – the position of prominence in the writing of that time. It should be the most common activity in the church. Its lack can be seen clearly.
  • He was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. The evangelical nature of His message is clear. Things are about to change; the kingdom of God is at hand; be ready to welcome the changes.
  • He was healing. We no longer have this power – which the Apostles clearly had and has not been long absent from the church. Indeed, the Pentecostal section of the church still says they do it.
The Good Shepherd

The phrase in this translation says “felt compassion.” It is an unusual Greek word, signifying a very deep emotion, deep to the point of being distressful. It is the picture of one who loves deeply, grieved at the sight of His loved ones. Why?

  • They are distressed. The word can also be translated “harassed.” It’s a picture of those who were greatly burdened with religious formalism. The religious leaders of the day were fond of providing continuous improvement (as we might say in business today) to the Law of Moses. Thus the average man found himself enmeshed in details – the perpetual flea-hunt.[1]
  • They are dispirited. The word in the Greek means something that is cast out or flung away. It is as if the religion of the day examined them, found them wanting and vigorously threw them onto the scrap heap. There seems to be neither joy nor hope for them.
The harvest

To us, the situation would indeed seem dismal. But not to our Lord. He saw with the eyes of the Spirit – He saw a harvest. These people were ready to hear the Good News; they’d lived with the bad news long enough. Let us see this harvest through the eyes of Christ:

  • Even in ancient Judea, limiting Himself to the House of Israel, there is an abundance to be done – if we will just look at it and see it.
  • We are to pray not for superhuman strength and endurance, nor miraculous gift – but for more workers. The worker is not the center of the church; Christ is.
  • We are to pray – which means we are casting the load upon our Father. This tells us that we are not to presume upon Him, but rather ask humbly for some more help. That implies, does it not, that we have accepted the task?
  • The common result of this is well known: if you will cast the care and burden upon Him, acknowledging that He alone deserves the glory, he will amplify you with more workers – and more success.


Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. "And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. "As you enter the house, give it your greeting. "If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. "Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. "Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.

(Mat 10:1-15 NASB)

Having set the example for his disciples, Christ now sends them out. Before they go, He gives them their marching orders. First, they are to work miracles on behalf of the people. Second, they are to preach the Good News.

Would you note, please, that only the Christ could give such a command? It is a present proof of authority that the Apostles on this expedition performed miracles at the command of Christ. Perhaps our inability to do this today comes from our lack of obedience to His commands.


As we see, the Pharisees are quick to condemn these miracles of healing. The accusation is that Christ is in league with the Devil. Many of us, when faced with accusation, wrap our cloak of righteousness about us and pull back. We argue that if they’re going to be ungrateful about it, we can just take our charity elsewhere.

Christ did not. As Chrysostom remarked, “He that ceases to do good because of accusation shows that his good has been done because of men.” Kindly understand that whatever you do for Christ will be a basis for accusation (ask me about my brother-in-law in that regard). So accusation is a test: do you do your good works for Christ, or for the praise of men? When someone accuses you of false motive, how do you react?

If you will react as Christ did, by continuing to do what is right despite the accusation, you are doing God’s work for God’s reward. He will reward you with greater love for others (including your accusers) and a greater joy within. Sometimes he has a few other surprises, as well.


Christ does, however, lay out a methodology for his disciples. They are not to go in whatever style they can afford; rather in the style he prescribes.[2]

  • They are not to view this as either a source of or requirement for money. God will provide as they go. So they are not to take a bag with them (this was the tool of the wandering pagan priest, begging coins for his goddess). Instead, they are to rely on simple hospitality.
  • They are not to seek any improvements in their physical comforts; rather, they are to be content with what they have. Is it conceivable that the wanting for more could be evil?
  • But do not take this lightly; your actions here will be binding in heaven. If they receive you, well and good. If not, Sodom and Gomorrah will have it better on the judgment day.

(I shouldn’t need to point this out, but none of this mandates against paying the preacher a decent salary. Paul makes this point, in passing, in 1 Corinthians 9:7-14).

Shrewd and Innocent

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. "But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. "But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. "For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. "But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

(Mat 10:16-23 NASB)

(It is clear that much of this is prophetic for the spread of the church; as such, we will deal with it in the present tense.)


Why is the Christian to be shrewd and innocent at the same time? It’s simple: persecution is coming, you need to be prepared.

  • The enemies of Christ will use the criminal justice system of the day to persecute the Christian (just ask abortion protestors). To deal with this, be innocent. Factually innocent. It doesn’t mean you won’t be convicted; but it helps with the odds.
  • Others will examine you in public forum. Be shrewd in your replies, knowing the traps of the enemy. But also be innocent; it is a great defense against the subtle wiles of Satan.
  • You will need to do much with little – so you’d best be a shrewd manager of the little.
Prophesied – trials and troubles

Most people rank death as the second greatest fear in life, right after the terror of public speaking. Don’t worry about it; your words will be given to you. You wouldn’t be up there speaking if it weren’t for Him; He will take care of you.

Of course, one of the most distressing aspects of this is not the public side, but the family side. It is clear that as times grow worse the name of Christ will split families – with betrayal as the result. It has happened many times before; there is no reason we should be exempt. But just who is the most important person in your life?

Ultimately, it comes down to this: we will be hated for the sake of the Name of Christ. That hatred, that persecution is our glory.

When persecuted, flee

There is a great comfort in this passage. Not all of us are cut out to be martyrs. Not all of us are able to spend ten years in prison for speaking out against abortion. My son practices Kung-Fu; I practice Run-Fu, the ancient art of achieving inner peace and harmony by getting my rear end out of the way as fast as I can waddle.

How comforting, then, to hear the command to flee. Our Lord knows our courage, or the lack of it. He takes the persecution of the enemy and uses it to spread the Gospel.

There is one last side note: the cities of Israel prophecy. Some hold this fulfilled at the Resurrection; others hold that this is the prophecy of the conversion of the Jews in the holy land. Perhaps it means both. But of this you can be sure: your sacrifices for the Name will not go unrewarded. At His return, many will share in His glory.

[1] The comparison to the current practice of micromanagement is almost inevitable, isn’t it?

[2] As one lady put it, “First class isn’t a ticket. It’s a style.”

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