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Life of Christ (2007-2009)

Sending the Twelve

Matthew 10

Lesson audio

It is probably the most famous advertisement which never happened. Ernest Shackleton, the famed British explorer of the Antarctic, is quoted as placing the following ad in the classified help-wanted section of some newspaper:

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."

Whether he placed this ad or not, we do know that he got over 5,000 applications for something like 56 openings. As of this writing, no one has been able to provide the name and date of the newspaper. But apocryphal or not, he should have done it – it’s the only way to recruit those who are willing to risk the Antarctic. In this chapter Christ shows a similar spirit.


Mat 10:1-16 NIV

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil[1] spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. (2) 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; (3) Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; (4) Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (5) These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. (6) Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. (7) As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' (8) Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[2]drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. (9) Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; (10) take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. (11) "Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. (12) As you enter the home, give it your greeting. (13) If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (14) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. (15) I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (16) I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Nature and authority of the Apostles

To understand the nature of this mission, we must remember how authority is given in the kingdom of God:

  • Authority is the natural result of the responsibility given. It is suited to the job; no less, no more.
  • From responsibility there comes also the power to do the job. Sometimes this arrives miraculously; sometimes providentially – and sometimes it was there all the time.

We might note one thing: Jesus sends out not only the “worthy” apostles but the unworthy. Matthew makes just such a point here. Mark and Luke do not add the phrase, “the tax collector” to their list of apostles in this incident. That is grace in their writing; this is honesty in Matthew’s. Even Judas was empowered. Which brings up the question: why was Judas included?

  • First, it is to accomplish Christ’s passion. Betrayal was necessary for this; the betrayer had to be one of the apostles, with the same experience as the others.
  • It is also a superb example to us of Christ’s suffering – he had to put up with this evil man, without complaint, for three years.
Traveling light

Christ is wonderfully specific to his apostles at this early stage in his ministry. How often we suffer under a boss who can’t make up his mind, or issues vague instructions! These are a model of clarity; they tell the apostles:

  • Where to go
  • What to preach
  • What to do.

These instructions have an objective: the Gospel is to be delivered in holiness. You can clearly see the moral instruction in freely received, freely given. In effect, Christ makes it clear that the Gospel is not for sale.[1]

Indeed, Jesus goes beyond that and liberates the apostles from suspicion and cares. How so?

  • By sending them forth with no material means other than what they could wear, commanding them to accept hospitality from the first available house, he frees them from worry about material goods. They don’t have any; they’re not supposed to collect any – so why worry about any?
  • He also eliminates suspicion for them. Who is going to suspect them of ulterior motives when they don’t even have a bag to put the coins in? They may be seen as weirdoes, but at least they are sincere ones.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but note the way Christ puts it: “for the worker is worth his keep.” We pay preachers who work and are worthy.

Harshness of evangelism

Christ makes it clear to them: not all doors will be open to them. It is a compliment for a house to be chosen for this, but there will be rejection. For those who welcome them, their peace is upon the house. If not, shake dust – for the city will be worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah when the judgment comes.

That sounds a little harsh, but I submit that this is a harshness built into evangelism. There is only so much time in the day. Worse, there are hostile forces out there.

Be on your guard

Mat 10:17-23 NIV "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. (18) On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. (19) But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, (20) for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (21) "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. (22) All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (23) When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Shrewd and innocent

Life sometimes is a balancing act. In this instance we balance two characteristics:

  • We must be shrewd. The enemy is not going to “play fair.” We need to be alert to the schemes of the devil.
  • But that does not mean we are to match scheme for scheme. On the contrary, we are to be innocent. The word for “innocent” used here can also mean “unmixed.” Revenge is not ours. The straight arrow flies true.

Of course, there is this little problem of public speaking. We are told by some surveys that death is only the second greatest fear for most people; public speaking is number one. But God has that one covered for you. Not only what to say, but how to say it will come to you. The “how” covers your nerves; the “what “ covers the content.

Trials and Tribulations

Christ is certainly not shy about letting the apostles know that trouble will accompany them. The more senior of us will recall Joe Btfsplk, Al Capp’s incarnation of the world’s worst jinx. He’s the traveling companion for the apostles. Why does Christ tell them about their troubles to come?

  • First, that they might know that He indeed does know the future.
  • Next, so that they should not consider such trials as a failure of the power Christ has given them.
  • Also, this prepares them so that troubles will not come upon them suddenly and unexpectedly. No surprises!
  • It also prepares them in some ways for the passion of Christ – so that it will not seem so strange when the time comes.
  • Most of all, it teaches them a new method of warfare. Force is not opposed to force, but good overcomes evil in Christ’s way.
Reactions to persecution

So how are we to react to all this? First, we should expect it. It’s the Christian variation of Murphy’s Law. Your love for Christ is to be greater than your love of family – which is going to produce problems.

Next, we are given instructions to flee. Run away. Go someplace else – and continue to preach the Gospel. This sometimes provokes a proud reaction in some Christians – they consider it cowardly to run away. But consider:

  • If you stay, you are announcing yourself as a candidate for martyrdom. It is utterly presumptuous of you to accord yourself so high a distinction. This is pride, which is still a sin.
  • Sometimes, it takes greater courage to appear to be a coward than it does to be a hero.

Either way, the test is simple: endure to the end. Those who do are promised salvation.

Servant and Master

Mat 10:24-42 NIV "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. (25) It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,[3] how much more the members of his household! (26) "So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. (27) What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. (28) 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. (29) Are not two sparrows sold for a penny[4]? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. (30) And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (31) So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (32) "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (33) But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. (34) "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (35) 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 - (36) a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'[5] (37) "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; (38) and anyone who 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) "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. (41) Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. (42) And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

Not above

There is a very blessed point here. It is very tempting, when in the company of non-believers, to feel that there is something shameful about being a Christian. “You believe what?” The temptation is to compromise, telling ourselves that they wouldn’t really understand the whole Gospel; let’s try a fragment that agrees with them. But if you are really a disciple of Christ, you must recognize that Christ never did such a thing. You are not in the position to pick and choose which bits of the Gospel you think worth proclaiming. He sacrificed his pride to the point of the Cross; is yours still in the way?

For this he refers to us as his household – in other words, his family. It is a powerful thing; we are not alone. It therefore is upon us that we must see that he is not alone either. He suffered; and he is God. Why do we refuse?

Darkness and light

Dwight Eisenhower relates a story from his youth. It seems his father came out one day to find some other kid chasing Dwight around. Dad asked why he was running; he answered that dad had forbidden him to fight, and he was much more afraid of dad than he was of that other kid. His father promptly told him, “Chase that kid out of this yard!” Ike did. We’re like that sometimes; we fear the social pressure but not the God of the universe.

How do we deal with this? By our contact with God, our actions “in the darkness.” These are the times of prayer, meditation and study of the Scripture which are solitary. God seems so clear in these times alone. But we seem so hesitant in the light!

The reason for this is our failure to see how much God loves us. In public we feel we’ve been left alone. That’s why Christ tells us about the sparrows. If his eye is on them, how much more is it upon us!

Indeed, the hairs on our heads are counted. This would have particular meaning in this time. Anything that you counted, you watched carefully. (Remember, no computers). You counted farm animals; size of your crops and your coins. God cares for you so much that he does the same for the hair on your head.

And what does he ask? That you confess him in public. The literal translation would have this be, “confess in him.” You do so in the strength of Christ.

No peace, but a sword

Think back to your history lessons about the American Civil War. The bloodiest of our wars, it pitted father against son, brother against brother. What could possibly have been so important that families would be split? For some it was defending their homes; others saw it as liberating the slaves; still others found their motivation in preserving the union and its democracy, so unique in the world. It is the same with us in our families. The love for Christ should be greater than any earthly love – and when it is, division is often the result.


But not all seems bleak here. If the forces against us can do such harm, surely there must be some compensation. And indeed there is; Christ’s love is such that his rewards are out of proportion to our suffering.

Note, please, that we do not receive our reward from the one we serve. If we receive the righteous man, we get his reward – but not necessarily from the righteous man. Yes, it’s delayed gratification.

But even in this we see Christ’s love. Perhaps you don’t have the means to entertain the traveling preacher. But surely you can give a cup of water to a small child? If you do this because you are a disciple of Christ, your reward is sure.

And why not? If someone treats my granddaughter well – he certainly earns my favor. It does not matter that my granddaughter is short and unable to reward; if you do it for her, you do it for me. How much more will Christ reward those who care for his little ones?

For action

  • Travel light – you’re just passing through.
  • Know that trials and troubles are bound to come.
  • Remember – you are the light of the world, whatever the trials.

And may the Lord reward you richly when he comes.


[1] I am indebted to Augustine for this point.

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