Updated: May 2, 2022
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 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.” Matthew 9:35-38
The last chapter we studied in Matthew seemed to end mid-thought as Jesus commands His disciples to pray to ask God to send laborers into the harvest field because the harvest is plenty but those willing to do the Lord's work are few. Now a joke you may hear in some church circles is that you should not pray for patience if you don't want the Lord to provide you with opportunities to be patient. Yet we know this is really the wrong attitude to have if we want to grow closer to Jesus and be more like Him then we need those opportunities even if they cause us to go through difficulty. No sooner then Jesus commands them to pray for workers to be sent into the harvest field, He then commands them to go into the harvest field themselves!
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. Matthew 10:1
Remember that in the last chapter Matthew not only made the case for Christ's authority from God to heal and to forgive sins, he also showed us how those who had been sent as shepherds of God's people if they had been trusting and obeying Him, should have had the same authority. But they had neglected their duties as shepherds allowing the sheep to be scattered, battered, and cruelly destroyed. Now Jesus invests His authority in His disciples to shepherd the people/labor in the harvest field as He has been demonstrating to them. Just as He has cast out demonic spirits, they now have that same authority. Just as he has been healing every kind of physical suffering, they now have that same authority.
The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; 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, who betrayed him. Matthew 10:2-4
Something interesting to note as we're introduced to the twelve disciples is that Matthew must have been writing to an audience of people who were familiar with some if not all of Christ's ministry because Matthew specifically refers to Judas Iscariot as the one who betrays Christ which doesn't happen until the very end of Christ's ministry on earth.
Then Jesus gives them very specific instructions as to how they are to use the authority He has given them at this time. We'll consider how these instructions change when Jesus gives His disciples the Great Commission at the end of Matthew.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 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. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Matthew 10:5-15
The first thing Jesus commands them is where they are to go. He is sending them at this time in their ministry just to the Jews. They are not to go to the towns or neighborhoods of the foreigners/Gentiles living among them or to the towns of the Samaritans. The Samaritans were a group of half-Jewish half-Gentile people born from the descendants of Israelites left behind during the nation's captivity in Assyria. It is interesting that Jesus makes a point of commanding His disciples not to go to them at this time because culturally Jews already would avoid Gentiles and Samaritans at all costs. If you'd like to learn more about why this people group had been separated from the Israelites, I found this article helpful.
As we look at Jesus' next command for their ministry, remember what Jesus Himself has been doing up until this point: proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and healing people. Now Jesus commands His disciples to go out and proclaim, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." This is very much like what we heard John the Baptist teaching (Matt. 3:2) as well as he prepared the way for Jesus' ministry. The message is two-fold, part one the Messiah is finally here and part two... therefore repent and follow Him. Then Jesus commands them to heal the people just as they have watched Him heal. They are not to ask or expect payment for either their teaching or their healing, but He commands them to take nothing with them because God is going to provide a faithful person in each place they go to give them food and shelter. However, if no one in the town they're ministering in will welcome them, but rejects them, they are to leave shaking the dust of their feet in judgment of that place's rejection of Christ and His Kingdom. God says it will be worse for those places on judgment day than it will be for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
After giving them these instructions Jesus continues on to give them both a warning and encouragement for what they will face in His service.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 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. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 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. Matthew 10:16-25
It is clear to me that though, the instructions were for their ministry at that time, Jesus' warning and encouragement were meant for the rest of their lives and even for us as we go about serving to build up Christ's Kingdom. Jesus warns them that they are going out to face great opposition from every corner: religious authority, political authority, their families and friends, and the strangers they've been sent to witness to. The encouragement is that they don't have to worry about what they will say when all of this great persecution comes against them, because the Holy Spirit will be there to give them the right words in that moment that through their persecution many more would hear the good news. Why do I say this is clear to me? Because Jesus says that they will not have even gone through all the towns of Israel doing as He instructed before He returns and He also says that the one who endures to the end will be saved. Finally, He reminds them of what the religious leaders had already been saying about Christ Himself, that they believed He received His authority from the Devil and not from God. If they were willing to say that against Christ then how much more malice and venom would they spew at His disciples?!
Now for the encouragement...
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:26-33
They have no need to fear the opposition and persecution that is going to come against them because they serve the One who has the power over the soul! God is sovereign over whatever will come their way and will use it for His glory and the benefit of His Kingdom. They are to love and fear God first, above any anxiety or love they may have for those they've been sent as witnesses to.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 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. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 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. 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.” Matthew 10:34-42
We have seen this come about historically just as Jesus warned them. Nations, communities, and families have divided over whether they will accept or reject the Gospel of the Kingdom. Each person must choose to receive Jesus for themselves and how they receive the messengers of this Gospel is a great indicator of how they have received the Lord Himself. Jesus' final encouragement to those who will receive them, is that they will not lose their reward.
This final encouragement would have sounded familiar and comforting to the disciples on another level because of the promise that God made to their forefather, Abram.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3
From the descendants of Abram, at last, the Messiah had come to rescue His people from the bondage of sin and death it caused in their souls. Through Him and His disciples, this wonderful news would spread to the world. Just as with their forefather, those who would receive them would be blessed and those who would reject them would be marked for judgment.