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The Ambassadors of the Kingdom, Part 1: Called and Ordained

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 14, 1997

Matthew 10:1-4

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In our text today, we see Him commission His disciples to go out into the villages and towns of the surrounding region and preach the message of the kingdom.  So what we have in Matthew 10:1-4 is basically an ordination sermon, a message that the Lord Jesus Christ gives to His disciples as He commissions them to their first gospel task.  They had been called to Him as disciples.  Now they are being sent out after a period of testing and training.  This is one of six long messages or discourses that Matthew records from the lips of our Lord.  He gives it, of course, directly to His own disciples, to charge them as they go out.  Let us hear then, the word of God, in Matthew 10 beginning in verses 1 through 4:

Matthew 10:1-4 

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this word, it is Your word for Your people.  It is meant for our spiritual nourishment.  It is also Your word for the nations, O God, draw us to Christ through this message.  Build us up in Him by it.  Give us spiritual hearing that we might hear the word, and apply it to our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, for we ask it all in Jesus name, Amen.       

 

I. Jesus made His disciples apostles (1)
The Lord Jesus had already called these disciples to be with Him.  Luke tells us that, and we’ll look at that in just a few moments.  But these men had been with Him for some months.  He had called them to be with Him, to follow Him, to learn from Him, in short, to be His disciples.  Now, He sends them out as messengers, heralds, angels, His own representatives.  In this brief passage, I want you to notice three or four things we learn.  The first and very important thing that I direct your attention to is that Jesus made His disciples apostles.  It was those who had been followers, close associates, acquaintances, men who had been with Jesus, that He sent out to represent Himself to the nation.  These ambassadors of Christ were first followers of Christ, friends of Christ, acquaintances of Christ, before they went to witness for Him. 

Look at the first verse.  Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and He gave them authority.  Jesus doesn’t send out novices to the task of ministry.  He doesn’t send out men who are unprepared, unequipped, unfamiliar with presence with Him, life with Him.  He sends out men who had been spending day and night with Him for months, in His presence, learning from His teaching.  These men that He sends out into the field of labor had been with Him for some time.  We mentioned before that Luke tells us in 6:12-13, and also in v. 20, that these twelve had been with Jesus since before He preached the Sermon on the Mount.  These men knew the Lord Jesus, they had intimate access to Him, and they had fellowship with Him, the opportunity to commune with Him, to eat with Him, to ask Him questions, to watch how He lived.  These were the men that the Lord Jesus would send into the field of labor.  It was a time of probation, of testing, a time to see how they would do under the pressures of ministry.  A time to prepare them for  the ministry they would have, that the Lord Jesus had given them.   

The Lord Jesus never sends anyone into the field of ministry that He does not first, in some measure, equip and prepare for that ministry, and it is one of the tragedies of the church today, that so many are sent into the fields of labor with no preparation, tangible or experiential.  The Lord prepares these men in two ways.  First, by taking them to be with Him, and secondly, by teaching them.   There were many who heard the Lord Jesus’ teaching, and these men heard that public teaching as well, but the Lord Jesus also offered them private opportunities for teaching.  He taught them, they learned from Him.  Before you can be a teacher, you first have to sit at the feet of a master.  Before you can be a teacher, you first must be a learner.  And so these men had learned at the feet of the Master.  But more important than the teaching, even, was the very presence that they had with Christ, the fellowship they had with Christ.  Matthew Henry once said, “The best preparation for the work of the ministry, is acquaintance and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Later, in the Gospel of John, people would say of these men, “They perceived that these men had been with Jesus.”  What greater compliment could be given to ministers of the word, that people perceive that they had been with Jesus. 

In Matthew 9:38, you remember Jesus said, ‘O.K. disciples, I want you to pray that the Lord will raise up ministers who will go out into the field of labor and reap this harvest to the Lord.” These very men that Jesus had told to pray, He was now sending them into the field to labor.  Be careful when you pray for the Lord to raise up missionaries, He might just do it, and it might just be you.  And that’s precisely what has happened here.  He instructs His disciples in Matthew 9:38 to pray that the Lord would send out laborers, and He says, by the way, I want you to lead those laborers, as you go into the fields of harvest. 

There’s much that we can learn from this, but surely we must learn this: if we are to serve Christ well, in whatever capacity, in whatever vocation the Lord has put us, if we are to serve Christ well, we must know Him, and be known of Him.  We must be His disciples, we must fellowship with the Lord.  We, I trust, have all met Christians of whom we were keenly aware that they had been with the Lord Jesus.  It would embarrass him, if he were here, to mention his name, but so many of us have a close friendship with Douglas Kelly, and we know that one of the distinguishing marks of that dear man, is that it is very apparent that he is with his Lord frequently.  It shows in his conversation, his interests, in his presentation of the gospel, and all of us joy to be with him, because we know that he has been with the Lord.  And many of us have had experiences of that in our lives, not just with ministers, but with ordinary Christians who absolutely were shot through with the evidence that they had been with the Lord.  I well remember one of the elders at the church that I first served as a youth intern.  He was a Gideon, an ex-Marine, and he beamed the word of God.  He beamed the love of the Holy Spirit.  It was evident that he had been with the Lord.  Every time you were around him, you were drawn closer to Christ because of the love that was evidently in his own heart. 

I remember one of the first sermons that I heard in Scotland was preached by a particularly famous minister, and I remember reading the words of Geoffrey Thomas, who described this man preaching, he said, “This man mesmerizes his audiences by ignoring them.”  And I always wondered, ‘What does Geoffrey Thomas mean by that?’  Sure enough, when I got into the service, I don’t believe this man ever had eye contact with the congregation at all, he was sort of looking off into the clouds up there.  About five minutes into the sermon I suddenly realized that he was in this conversation with God, and I was just along for the ride. It was the most incredible experience I have ever had.  It was clear that he was close to God.  He had been with the Lord Jesus, and it showed even in the way that he spoke.  Whatever we do, whatever vocation we are in, if we are going to be faithful witnesses for Christ, we must be with Him, we must fellowship with Him. 

Now we can’t be physically present with the Lord Jesus like these disciples, so how do we do it?  How do you commune with Christ?  Well, we can’t do an entire sermon on that right now, but can’t we say that at the very least, if we are to be with Christ, to fellowship with Christ, that is in part going to mean studying His word, being in His word, memorizing His word, meditating on His word, reflecting on His word. Are you a beaver for the Bible?  Do you love to study the word?  Do you want to master it, to know it, to know the stories that it teaches, to understand the implications, the applications of it for your own life?   Is that something that’s a desire for you?  That’s a mark of a disciple, because it draws you close to your Lord.  Those are the words of your Lord, and as you hear those words and reflect on those words, you get a taste of  your Lord.

Another way that we grow close to the Lord is through faith in Him.  We think of being justified by faith, and that’s a glorious truth, but did you know that faith is a very important part of sanctification and discipleship?  Learning to trust the Lord Jesus Christ in difficult situations is one of the ways that He grows us, it’s one of the ways He grew the disciples.  He taught them to exercise faith in Him when He would tell them things that looked a little bit difficult to believe in the context in which they found themselves, and the Lord causes us to grow the same way.  He tells us to trust in Him even in circumstances that may seem dark and improbable.  We also grow in fellowship with Him in prayer; that is how we converse.  It’s business with God, conversation with God, we commune with our Lord Jesus in prayer and in meditation upon Him and upon His word.  In all these ways, in all these means of grace, we grow in fellowship with the Lord, we are with Him. 

Being a disciple means being with Jesus, and we cannot witness as disciples until we have been with Him.  Being a disciple may mean leaving your current vocation.  The Lord Jesus may call you to be His disciple, and it may mean leaving the vocation, the calling that you’re in now, and following Him.  Or, it may mean staying right where you are now, with a new emphasis and direction in your work.  It may mean that you are in precisely the vocation that the Lord would have you in, but, He wants you to approach that vocation more Christianly than you ever have before.  It may be that being a disciple means staying precisely in the business that you’re in now, and witnessing to the integrity that a Christian ought to have, when, perhaps, an associate or a partner suggests a business dealing which is less than ethical, and you take a stand: ‘No, as a believer, a Christian, I cannot do that.  That would be unethical, even though it costs you.’  Or, it may mean taking some unpopular course, or giving yourself to some area of service.  Whatever the case, being a disciple begins with being with the Master.   

II. Jesus vested His apostles with His own authority (1)
There’s a second thing we learn in this passage.  Also in verse 1, we see that Jesus vests His apostles with His own authority.  The Lord Jesus does not intend these apostles, these ones who were sent out, He does not intend for them to do their ministry in their own strength.  He intends for them to be entirely dependent upon His power.  In this passage we read that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.  The Lord Jesus imbues them, He endows them, with spiritual power for these great feats.  And this reminds us that all true Christian ministry is done by the power of Christ.  Christ gave them His own power over the forces of evil and sickness.  We’ve already seen in Matthew 8 and 9 Jesus manifest that power over and over and isn’t it a testimony to His divinity that He has the capacity to give that same power to His own disciples.  What kind of man can perform this kind deed and is able to give this kind of power to others?  The Lord Jesus Christ is able to.  He transfers that power to His representatives and tells them to minister in that power, and it was so vital that He give them that kind of authority and power.  There are many reasons, but three of them immediately come to mind why it was so vital that the Lord Jesus give these disciples this power. 

First of all, these disciples were called to bear witness to a message that was going to be very hard for Israel to swallow.  Israel had had the Law.  Israel had had the prophets.  And Israel had religious teachers who were telling them that the Law and the Prophets did not mean what Jesus’ disciples were going to tell them that the Law and the Prophets meant.  And so the Lord Jesus gives them His power in order that they might do attesting signs to show that their interpretation is not just the interpretation of people who have self-appointed themselves, but is the interpretation of men who are imbued with divine power, because God’s works, His miracles, attest to His word in their ministry.  These men were not just hucksters, these were men who had the power to relieve sickness and to cast out demons, and so the very signs that were given to them attested to the truth of their interpretation of the word. 

There’s another reason why it was so vital for the Lord to give them this authority.  These men lacked earthly credentials.  Over and over in the gospels, we see the official religious teachers of Israel accusing them of being ignorant and unlearned men.  Well, they weren’t scholars, they had not been through formal rabbinic training, they had not been to the seminaries of their day, they had merely studied with the greatest theologian ever in the history of the world, God.  But that was a qualification that the rabbis did not particularly care for, because they did not accept Jesus’ claims about Himself.  They lacked earthly credentials, and so their very manifestation of the authority of Christ was a manifestation that they did not go out in their own credentials, but they went out in the power of the Lord Himself.  Calvin says, “As in men’s eyes, the apostles held virtually no position, the appointment Christ gave them was divine.  They were not outstandingly clever or fluent, but the excellence and novelty of their mission demanded more than human gifts, they had to have their authority from elsewhere.”  You know, in their very lack of credentials, were not the disciples pushed in the right direction, to trust in God alone for the accomplishment of their mission, and never to take credit to themselves for the astounding things that they would accomplish for the Lord?  None of them could have said, ‘Well, you know, it’s this incredible training regimen that I’ve been through that’s enabled me to do this.’  No, it was presence with the Lord and their endowment with His power. 

There’s a third reason why they needed this power from the Lord Jesus Christ, this authority, because the establishment of god’s kingdom always entails the destruction of Satan’s kingdom.  When the kingdom of God is built up, correspondingly the kingdom of Satan must be torn down.  In their manifestation of miracles, and in the casting out of demons and in the healing of sicknesses, these men manifested the kingdom of God has come with power, and that the kingdom of Satan and the results of the Fall are going to be defeated and reversed.  The establishment of Christ's kingdom means the tearing down of Satan’s kingdom, and so their power, given to them by Christ, is leveled against Satan himself.  In all these ways, we see the reasons why Christ gave them power and authority.

But there’s a lesson for us in this too, my friends, because all true Christian ministry is done not in our power, but beyond our power.  All true Christian ministry is done beyond our personal resources, and that means that if we are going to do Christian ministry, we must do it in dependence upon the Lord.  Our best strategizing, our brightest minds, our best plans will not bring us success in and of themselves.  We must be prayerfully dependent upon the Lord Jesus Christ, because His grace accomplishes its goal.  His gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not our designs, not our particular strategies. 

Isn’t it ironic that it is precisely when we are most aware of our own limitations, that we are most useful to the Lord.  Because a vessel which is broken and aware of it, is ready to be used by the almighty hand of God to accomplish something that no human power could accomplish.  And so, when we recognize that all ministry is done by the power of Christ, we recognize that our profound limitations are not the limits to our usefulness.  I may be able to say, I have meager gifts, and I may covet in my heart the gifts of certain other ministers, I do.  But my limitations, thank God, do not limit God’s use of whatever gifts He gives to me.  It’s the same for all Christians.  I may be looking across the pew at an incredibly talented person who God has gifted in multiple areas and thinking, “I could never do what she does, I could never do what he does, he’s so talented.”  I may look at my one, tiny little gift and think, “What can I do for the kingdom?”  But my limitations are not the limit of what God can do through me, if we will be but aware of our weakness and dependent upon the strength of God, we not only can but will be used for the sake of the kingdom of God.       

III.  Jesus made His disciples apostles (1-2)
There’s a third thing we learn in this passage today, and you see it again in verses 1 and 2.  Notice that Jesus made His disciples ‘apostles’ here.  These disciples who had followed Him, He sent into the world as His messengers, He made His disciples to be ‘apostles’ and the word simply means ‘a representative sent out, one who is sent as the official representative of the master.’  Notice the words of verses 1 and 2, “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples, and then in the first words of verse 2, “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these:”  Those disciples that He had called many months before, now He sends out as apostles.  He sends them out on an evangelistic tour, as His official representatives. 

To be an apostle is simply to be a representative, a herald, a messenger, and the word apostles is not here used in its fuller and later sense.  The Lord Jesus has not yet commissioned these men to go into all the world.  First, the Lord Jesus commissions them to go the lose sheep of the house of Israel.  First, they are to go to the villages and towns of Galilee and into Judea and minister the word of Christ to the people of God of the Old Covenant, to bring the message of salvation to the Jewish people, and then a foundation will be built of those who are of the remnant, who believe in the Lord God, and only at the time of the Pentecost and after the ascension of Christ, will these men be commissioned to go out into the world.  There is, of course, a foreshadowing of that mission, because all, save one, of these men will be precisely those that the Lord Jesus commissions as His apostles upon whom the foundation of the church will be built. 

These men are sent out two by two, Mark tells us that in chapter 6 verse 7 explicitly, they are sent out two by two.  But Matthew gives you that hint, if you notice that between each of these names an ‘and’ is affixed, indicating that these men were being sent out in pairs.  Notice, Simon and Andrew; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew; James and Thaddeus, Simon and Judas.  These men are sent out two by two, again indicating ministry in God’s kingdom will not even be done by apostles as ‘Lone Rangers’ but together in mutual support.  Here again, we are reminded of the truth for us, that the world needs to hear the message that only the church can give it.  The world needs to hear the message that God has placed us as His children in the world to bear.  That message is truth, and it is necessary and therefore it must be taken into the world, and it’s our responsibility, and it’s not just our responsibility to give money towards the cause of the spreading of the message, it’s not just our responsibility to pray toward the spreading of that message in our own land and elsewhere, it is our responsibility to be involved individually.  That may not mean doing the same thing as everyone else does with that regard.  We all have different strengths, but all of us are responsible individually to be involved in the spreading of that message.  It may be having a cup of coffee with a neighbor who is having marital trouble and ministering the comforting and strengthening words of Christ.  Or, it may be standing firm in the context of your work and witnessing to the truth and integrity that the gospel brings.  Or, it may be talking to a friend whose life is falling apart and who is grasping for meaning and sharing with them the truth of the gospel and the way of salvation.  But all of us are called to bear witness to Christ. 

IV.  Jesus, by His selection of this diverse inner circle, aims to found a through their ministry, a New Israel
Finally, in this passage we learn that Jesus, by His very selection of this diverse group of disciples, aimed through their ministry to create a New Israel.  Isn’t it interesting that He selects twelve, notice twice that it’s stressed, twelve disciples are now made twelve apostles.  That number is not accidental.  The Lord Jesus was well aware of the fact that the twelve sons of Jacob had been ceremonially and symbolically represented in the twelve tribes of Israel, and in saying that He would establish His kingdom via these twelve disciples, the Lord Jesus is paralleling the old Israel in its structure, and He’s saying, ‘I’m going to create a New Israel, and these are going to be the elders of My New Israel.’  And their very diversity is a witness to the Lord Jesus’ greatness.  Look at some of these men in the list.  The very first one, Simon, he is called the first.  He was certainly the spokesman, the first and foremost of these apostles, Simon Peter.  But even in his name, we are reminded of his own weakness and dependence upon the Lord.  The Lord Jesus had renamed him Peter or Cephas in Aramaic, referring to the ‘rock’ a foundation stone for Christ's church, but he’s called here in the listing Simon Peter for it’s as if Peter doesn’t want to let go of that previous name, for he remembers what he was, and he feels somewhat unworthy of that title, the rock, so he is Simon Peter.  Notice James and John, the sons of Zebedee.  James was the first apostle to be martyred.  In Acts 12, he was martyred, and the Lord took him home to be with Himself.  His brother, John, was the last apostle to go home to be with the Lord, many years on the earth, perhaps 30 years on the earth after his brother was gone, he would be the final apostle to go home, and he would write before he died the great book of The Revelation.  Philip and Bartholomew.  Bartholomew who is Nathaniel, and you well remember how the Lord called Nathaniel to Himself, and we can’t help but smile when we remember that story.  Think again of Thomas and Matthew.  Matthew records in this passage two things that indicate his humility.  First of all, if you look at the other gospel accounts, that when Matthew and Thomas are mentioned, Thomas’ name is mentioned last.  In this passage, Thomas is mentioned first.  Matthew puts himself after Thomas.  Notice also in this passage Matthew is called the tax collector.  He records for the remembrance of posterity that there was a day in which he was a tax collector for the Roman state, a sinner in the sight of Israel, and yet by grace, God had made him to be an apostle.  And in this list, there is even one as evil as Judas who betrayed his Master. 

What an incredibly diverse group of men, and the greatness of our Lord is seen in the kind of men that He drew to Himself.  William Hendriksen said, “Included in this little bank was Peter the optimist, but also Thomas the pessimist; Simon the one-time zealot who hated taxes and was eager to overthrow the Roman government, but also Matthew who voluntarily offered his tax collecting services to the Roman state; there were Peter, John and Matthew who were destined to become renowned through their writings, but there was also James the Less who remains obscure to this day, but who must have fulfilled his mission.”  What an incredibly diverse group that the Lord Jesus drew to Himself. 

There are at least two messages in that for us, my friends, and the first one is this: Bad ministers do not disprove the gospel.  Even in Jesus’ inner circle, there is a Judas, and it is not a disproof of Jesus, in fact, it’s the opposite.  In the early church, critics of Christianity used to say to the early church fathers, “You teach falsehood because there are ministers who are scoundrels and hucksters in your midst, and there are hypocrites within your ranks.”  And the early church fathers used to respond like this, “No, the fact that there are false shepherds, far from being a disproof of Christianity, is a proof of its truth, because the Lord Jesus told us there would be false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing coming up even in our ranks, and so every time we see a false minister, it is proof that the words of Jesus are true.”  And so Irenaeus and Tertullian and Origen responded to the atheists of their own day.  Now we too face that kind of challenge.  We live in a day in which many scandals have hit the church, and many great ministers, not simply those who were showmen, but great ministers have fallen morally, and it’s discouraging, but this is not a disproof of Christ, of Christianity, of the gospel.  In fact, it’s proof.  If it didn’t happen, the Lord Jesus would have been wrong, but He told us a long, long time ago, to be prepared.  Bad ministers are not a disproof of the gospel. 

But more importantly, my friends, contemplating the fact that the Lord Jesus is establishing a new Israel, ought to remind us of our obligation to be committed to really be the New Israel.  Turn with me very briefly if you would, to I Peter chapter 2 verse 9.  Peter meditates on this truth, the truth that Jesus is creating the New Israel. He says, “But you are a CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  There’s our witnessing function.  “For you were once NOT A PEOPLE, but now you ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD;  you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.  Beloved I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  

He’s saying, my friends, you are a new people, you are a people created by God, you are His people, you are chosen, you are a New Israel,  pursue Him in godliness that you might in fact be the New Israel and that your lives might be a testimony to the Gentiles.  You are no longer of that carnal, fleshly nature, but you’ve been reconstituted, remade, and you’re being conformed to the image of Christ.  We are the new Israel, what a blessing, may God help us to live in accordance with the reality that has been created by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Let’s look to Him in prayer: 

Our Father, we thank You for the richness of Your word, and we ask that You would bless us Spiritually, nourish us, and draw sinners unto Yourself, for all these things we lift up in Jesus name, Amen.

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