I don’t know if you remember back to the beginning of our study of the Gospel of Matthew. That was before we knew we were in a pandemic, so I don’t expect you to remember. But when we started our journey through Matthew this year, I pointed out that Matthew constructs his Gospel on five pillars, five blocks of Jesus’ teaching, mirroring the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah. By the way he constructs his Gospel, Matthew shows us Jesus as the new Moses. And in this second block of teaching in Matthew 10, that we are going to read this morning, Jesus is focusing on the topic of mission. Listen for God’s word to you from Matthew 10:5-42…
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. 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 tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 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? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“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 one’s foes will be members of one’s 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 up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
This text raises the question: how are we to go? Jesus answers that question in Matthew 10:5-42. I believe Jesus gives us at least 8 lessons about mission in these verses, 8 lessons about how we are to “go” for him. We are going to look at the first four lessons this week and the last four lessons next Sunday.
Lesson #1: we must go expecting God to work miracles.
Jesus told his first disciples, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”
The kingdom of heaven is near in the person of Jesus Christ. Wherever he is, miracles happen. Jesus doesn’t call on us to give what we do not have. He calls on us to give away what we have received. And we have received power from him, power that will point people to him. We just need to dare to use that power.
William Carey, the founder of the modern-day missions movement often said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” But do we expect God to work miracles today?
Lesson #2: we need to go expecting to be poor but also to have enough resources supplied by the Lord to get the job done.
Jesus said, “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.”
Can you imagine missionaries functioning this way today? Most missionaries today spend a year or two raising financial support before they go on to the mission field. I am not saying that is necessarily wrong, but that is not what Jesus instructed his first disciples to do. Basically, he said, “Go and trust me to provide for your needs along the way.”
When the Lord made it clear to our family that he wanted us to go and serve him in Ireland in 2004 we didn’t know where all the resources were going to come from. We didn’t even know how long he wanted us to be there. We just asked the Lord to close every door he didn’t want us to go through and open the one door he did want us to enter. That’s how we ended up going to Ireland to serve with Doug and Merrie Gresham in their house ministry. We went on one-way tickets, not knowing when or even if the Lord would want us to return to the United States. It was scary, but also exciting to see how the Lord provided for us. And then when it was time for us to return to the United States it was amazing to see how the Lord arranged for the plane tickets and the exact place where he wanted us to live, as well as providing a car for us to drive and everything we needed to serve him.
Most servants of the Lord, serving him in mission, are not wealthy people, but they have a Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. I wonder: would you dare to attempt something so great for God that it is bound to fail unless he is in it? Would you dare to offer yourself to go on some sort of mission, not knowing how God might provide to make it happen? There are hundreds of Christian organizations that could use your service in some sort of short-term mission, either in the US or overseas. Why not look into it and see what the Lord might have you do and how he might expand your horizons? Or maybe there is some sort of “mission work” God has for you right here in Stowe, in Vermont. I wonder what that might be.
Lesson #3: Jesus says we need to go looking for the “person of peace”, that one person who may be receptive to the message and the messenger.
Jesus instructed his disciples, “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
I believe Jesus wants us to be looking around us, searching for the “person of peace” or “worthy person” he has placed near us. What do I mean by that? I mean that there are people who are open to the message and there are people who are closed to the message of the Gospel. The Lord doesn’t want us to waste time trying to tell the good news of Jesus to people who are going to be offended by it and oppose us. He wants us to move in where there is an open door to share the good news of Jesus.
For example, I think I have mentioned before a young woman named Jennifer whom Becky and I met when we were living in San Diego. From the first time I met Jennifer she was asking me questions about what I did for work and where my church was located. By her own admission, Jennifer was not a believer in Jesus when we first met but when I asked her if she would be interested in studying the Gospel of John with Becky and me, she jumped at the chance.
Jennifer was an example of a person of peace. Eventually, Jennifer gave her life to Christ one weekend when she was house-sitting for us.
Becky and I have known other people, in the many places where we have lived, who would never have been open to that kind of approach. But while these people were not open to the message, they were open to us as messengers. So, we built relationships. When we lived in South Carolina and again in Pennsylvania, in both situations Becky built friendships with female neighbors who eventually gave their lives to Christ as a result of Becky’s relationship with them.
We need to be on the lookout for the persons of peace all around us who are open to the good news of Jesus. And even where people are not open to the message, if they are open to us as messengers, I believe God will help us to love them to Jesus.
Lesson #4: we need to go prepared for opposition.
Jesus said, “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. . . Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 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.
“A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 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, how much more the members of his household!”
Michael Green has written, “It is bound to come. Disciples who are not being opposed from some quarter or other are in all probability not saying anything worth opposing.”
I once had an international evangelist tell me, “If you want to face opposition, just start telling others about Jesus.”
Why is that the case? You would think everyone would want to hear the message of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. Unfortunately, not everyone does want to hear that message. To receive God’s forgiveness in Christ one must first recognize that one is a sinner and many people simply do not want to recognize that. Consequently, some oppose the message of Jesus and those who preach it. And so, we must be prepared for opposition. As I have often said, “Jesus promises us four things: peace, power, purpose and trouble!”
But there is one important distinction to keep in mind. Let us be sure that the offense is in the message, not in us as the messengers. Another way to say this is that “attitude is everything”. What is our attitude in telling others about Jesus? Do we want to share his love in word and deed because it has changed our lives? Or do we simply want to prove ourselves right and others wrong?
1 Peter 3:13-16 says,
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
Gentleness and reverence—that’s the attitude we need to have as we give the answer for the hope that we have in Jesus.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You are thinking: “But I am not an evangelist. I am not a missionary. I am not a preacher.” I know what you mean.
And that is when I come back to my favorite definition of evangelism. Evangelism is overflow.
When we are filled to overflowing with Jesus, opportunities to share the love of Jesus in word and deed will naturally present themselves to us.
One of the most striking examples of this in my own life came when I was in college. I walked into class one day and sat down next to a girl I knew.
Observing the look on my face and my demeanor, she asked, “Why are you so happy?”
And I responded, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
And she said, “Yes, I would like to know.”
So, I said, “Go out to dinner with me and I’ll tell you.”
By the way, this was long before I met Becky!
Anyway, I did go out to dinner with that young lady, and over our meal together I was able to tell her everything I wanted to tell her about my relationship with Jesus. And you know what? She didn’t walk out on dinner!
Lloyd Ogilvie once said,
The people around us can always read our hearts by our faces. The inner things we live with will always show up on our faces. The soul is dyed with the color of our commitment. Our task is not to argue, philosophize, speculate, cajole, but to live a life that demands an explanation. Is there anything about us that would force people to say, “Now that’s living! That’s the way I wish I could live!” A joy-filled life will always demand an explanation—but too often we want Life without having to change our life-style.