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The Ambassadors of the Kingdom, Part 2: Go and Preach

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Dec 21, 1997

Matthew 10:5-15

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Would you please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 10.  Last week we began to look at this passage in verses 1-4 where the Lord Jesus commissions His disciples, those who had been close to Him, those who had been following Him, those who had trusted in Him and in whom they had placed their hope.  Now these who had walked near with Him were to be sent out as His witnesses, as His representatives, as His ambassadors to preach the message.  In the verses that we will study now, we will see His charge to them, His ordination sermon to those apostles as they go out to serve the Lord in Judea. Let's hear the word of the living God beginning in Matthew 10:5.  

 Matthew 10:5-15 

Our Father, we ask that You would bless this reading of Your word.  And we ask that You would open our eyes that we might understand the truth of the word.  Apply it by the work of the Spirit to our hearts.  We would understand the instructions that Christ gave to His disciples here, particularly in the truth that they contain for us.  And so make us aware of that truth O, Lord, make us willing in our heart to follow that truth out.  Aid us with spiritual illumination because we ask it all in Jesus' name, Amen.  

In Matthew 10:5-15, Christ gives explicit instructions to His disciples about this specific mission on which He is about to send them.  I want to remind you that this is not the same commission that He gives to them when He sends them out into the world.  Their work here will have to do specifically with bearing witness to Israel and will specifically be contained over a short period of time.  The Lord Jesus' instructions have some particulars in them that are very specific for the situation.  They are not universally transferable. There are instructions here that are not to be applied to every missionary that has ever gone out.  This is not a prohibition, for instance, about missionaries raising support.  Jesus' words cannot be interpreted that way.  He's speaking to a specific situation.  There is no universal prohibition on missionaries taking a little extra clothing with them when they go to the mission field, even though the Lord Jesus makes the most Spartan restrictions upon His own disciples here.  And remembering that will keep us from misapplying the instructions of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But even though there are some things that are specific for the apostles as He sent them out in this first mission, there are many principles in this passage that are equally applicable to us today.  There is much that we learn about the kingdom of heaven and our service in it from this passage, and I'd like to direct your attention to a few of those things.   

I. The Messiah has come in search of His lost sheep!
The first one you'll see in verses five and six, where the Lord Jesus describes the people that He is sending His disciples to.  There in verses five and six, we have a description of the people to whom the disciples are being sent.  And there is a great message even in that, because in focusing the ministry of these disciples upon the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the Lord Jesus is virtually declaring that the Messiah has come in search of His lost sheep in accordance with prophecy.  Look at the words of verses five and six:  “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.’”  The gospel of the kingdom, the Lord Jesus says, must first be brought to Israel.  It is not primarily to the Samaritans or the Gentiles that these disciples are to be sent.  First they are to be sent to Israel. 

Why? Because of what you heard in the reading of the Old Testament today.  The Messiah came for the sake of establishing the remnant of Israel in righteousness.  The promises of God had been given in the Old Testament to Abraham and His descendants.  The children of Israel had strayed.  They had been sent into exile, and in the midst of their misery God through the prophets promised them that one day He would send a Messiah to them who would call them back to God, who would reunite them in faith and in fellowship with the living God and the Lord Jesus Christ by sending His disciples out to the Jewish people of Judea is fulfilling the promises of God in the Old Testament to Israel.  It will not be all Israel who will respond to these disciples as they preach the gospel of the kingdom.  The Lord Jesus is aware of that.  That's why in verses 11-15 of this passage, He makes it clear that they are going to be some who reject the message and there are going to be some who accept the message.  But it will be to those lost sheep of the house of Israel that the disciples will be sent.  

And there are at least two good reasons why Jesus' ministry would be done this way.  One of them is theological and the other is practical.  It's nice how those go together.  The theological reason is because God had made His covenant of grace and His promises to Abraham to the descendants of Abraham and so the Lord Jesus Christ sends His disciples to Israel because of the special place that Israel has in God's plan.  Christ has a particular love and concern for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  They are beloved as Paul says in Romans 11:28.  For their Father's sake, because of the covenant which God has made with Abraham and because of that special role that Israel plays in the plan of God,  God sends His apostles, the Lord Jesus sends His disciples to the Jews first. 

There's a practical reason as well.  We know from the gospels, especially Luke, that there were many godly people in Israel who were waiting for the Messiah to come.  Simeon and Anna are just two examples of godly Jewish folk who believe the Old Testament and they were waiting for the Messiah to come.  What better place to send the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to make the foundation for the Christian Church, which will break across national and ethnic lines, which will go to the ends of the earth.  What better place to build a core group of followers of the Lord Jesus Christ than those who already embraced the word of God in the Old Testament and who already embraced the promises that the Messiah was coming.  And so the Lord Jesus Christ sends the disciples out first to the Jewish people. 

As He sends them out and uses that phrase, “You are to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” the Lord Jesus is telling us that He is the Good Shepherd.  If you can remember back to last week, if you were here with us on that snowy day, in Ezekiel 34, in our Old Testament reading, we read in Ezekiel 34:1-11 that God rebuked the leaders, both the priests and the judges, or the political leaders of Israel for not fulfilling their responsibilities.  Their responsibilities were to establish Israel in righteousness and to establish Israel in holiness.  And the shepherds of Israel, He says in Ezekiel 34, had not done that job.  And so in Ezekiel 34:11-12, God says because the shepherds of Israel have failed, I will myself come and shepherd Israel.  The Lord Jesus, by sending His disciples out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, is as much as saying, I am the Good Shepherd.  The Messiah has come, the Lord Himself has come to seek and to find the lost sheep of the house of Israel in accordance with the prophecy of the Old Testament. 

There are so many practical lessons we learn from this point, we couldn't possibly enumerate them, but you'll notice here that Jesus’ mission and His approach to mission is the same as the apostle Paul.  You remember in Romans 1:16, Paul says that the message of the gospel of salvation is to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  He begins first with evangelizing the remnant of Israel and then He branches out to the Gentiles around Him.  The Lord Jesus' ministry proceeded along the same lines.  And so Christian ministry has always reached out both to the Jew and to the Greek.  Both to those who are of the physical stock of Israel and of Abraham and to those who are not.  Both to Jew and to Gentile. 

By the way, when you do that today, many people will accuse you of anti-Semitism.  How could you possibly present the gospel to those who are of the Jewish race?  That's anti-Semitic.  You're somehow suggesting to them that they are somehow less than you are.  I was in a lecture in this town at a college where a lady from a university in Tennessee, which will remain unnamed, presented a paper in which she suggested that the Reformation and Christians descended from Luther and Calvin, and the Reformation churches, were responsible for the holocaust and anti-Semitism because of their view of the place of Israel.  But you see, the Lord Jesus Christ is here saying we must go to the Jewish people with the gospel. It would be anti-Semitic for us not to go to Israel.  Notice it is a Jew, the Lord Jesus Christ, telling us to take the gospel to the Jewish people.  And it's His Jewish followers, the apostles, who are to take the gospel to the Jew as well as the Gentile.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Savior of mankind, and therefore He must be preached to everyone indiscriminately.  It is not an act of hatred to do so.  It is the greatest act of love that we could ever possibly do, because we want to see all mankind united in faith with their Creator.  And so the Lord Jesus Christ calls on us to preach the gospel to both Jew and Gentile.       

Notice, by the way, that the Messiah comes looking for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Sheep are befuddled by ignorance and by sin.  They're wandering aimlessly and helplessly and it is to those in that helpless estate that the Lord Jesus Christ comes.  Sometimes we think that we need to fix ourselves up before the Lord Jesus Christ can come and do us any good.  The Lord Jesus Christ came to those who are lost sheep, and it is precisely those sheep who realize, come to that realization that they are lost, for whom He has come.  There is nothing that we do to prepare ourselves.  He has come for us in all our lostness.   

II. The Messiah’s ministers go forth to bring good news
We learn another thing here in verses 7 and 8.  There we see the proclamation that the disciples were to preach.  And there we see the power that Christ entrusted to them as they made that proclamation.  The proclamation that they were to preach is the gospel of the kingdom.  These ministers of the Messiah were to go out and preach the good news of the kingdom of God.  And Jesus gives the shorthand of it in verse 7: “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”  The message of the kingdom of heaven is the message that, in accordance with Scripture and the prophecy of the Old Testament, the Messiah is here to establish God's reign in the hearts and lives of His people.  That is the glorious good news of the gospel.  That in accordance with the prophecy of the Old Testament, the Messiah has come to establish God's reign in the hearts and lives of His people.  The kingdom of the Messiah who is the Lord of Heaven, is now set up according to Scripture.  That is the message that they were to go and preach to the people who knew the Old Testament, the people of Israel, the Jewish people. 

By the way, note the difference in emphasis of that message.  Compare that message to Jonah’s message.  Jonah goes to Nineveh, and what is his message:  Ruin is near, but there is a chance of salvation if you'll repent.  There is a different thrust in Jesus' message: Salvation is near.  Do not be ruined by rejecting that salvation. 

The positive thrust of the message of salvation preached by the disciples is apparent, and I would mention that this is the same message that was preached by John and it's the same message that was preached by the Lord Jesus at the beginning of His ministry which He is now giving to the disciples to preach.  Good truth, good truth always ought to be repeated in preaching, because we need to be reminded of those truths that we have once learned before.  And so the apostles go out preaching that message.  They are sent out confirming that message with miracles to do good.  They are sent out as public blessings to show the love and the goodness that are of the gospel and so they take that message out as a fulfillment of prophecy again. 

In Ezekiel 36:22-38, the prophet Ezekiel tells us that when the new covenant comes, when the Messiah comes, God is going to bring a new heart and a new Spirit to us.  And one of the things that is going to occur when we receive that message of the kingdom is that we are going to repent.  And so Mark tells us in this same parallel to the passage in Mark 6:12, that the response to the message, ‘The kingdom is at hand,’ is for us to repent.  The message of the gospel always brings both joy and repentance.  Simultaneously we realize our own unworthiness and our own undeservingness and simultaneously we are filled with joy because of the provision of God's grace in Christ.  And so the message of the gospel is always truly received in both joy and repentance. 

Notice as well in verse eight, Jesus explicitly expresses to His disciples that as they have been given their miraculous powers freely; they haven't paid for them, they haven't earned them.  They've been equipped with them by Christ Himself.  They are also to freely give to others. They are not to take advantage of those powers to build up themselves.  They are not to take advantage to make a profit off of those powers.  It would be very tempting, wouldn't it, having the power to raise the dead.  You could make a profit fairly quickly with that kind of power.  And the Lord Jesus Christ said, you freely received that power, you freely give it.  The ministry of the gospel is not to get.  It is in order to give.  And isn't that a mandate for the whole of the Christian life? 

The proper response to the Lord Jesus' instructions, to the incarnation of Christ, and to the preaching of His kingdom is a life of giving.  We live in a time where this season of the year is perhaps most associated with receiving.  The commercialism of this season has something to do with that.  And the whole tenor of the Incarnation is in another direction.  It is in the direction of giving.  The consideration of Christ's freeness in doing good to us should make us free in doing good to others.  The disciples were to go out not to get, but to give the hope of salvation.  They were not to go out in order to make themselves great or to improve their own condition, but to freely offer the gospel to the remnant of Israel.  Should that not be our posture, too?  It is precisely that self-giving love for others that says I am not looking for any return in this for me.  I am simply looking to give you that which is best.  There is no answer to that love. 

I was told by some of our missionaries in Costa Rica a few years back that they were evangelizing a little village at the same time that the Mormons were attempting to evangelize that village.  And the missionaries got together and said, “How are we going to distinguish ourselves in the minds of these villagers from the Mormons.  It's going to be a confusing thing —we go around, they go around — how are they going to tell the difference?”  And they had no idea.  They just said, “We've got to go out and share the word of the gospel and minister to their needs and hope that the Lord raises a very apparent difference between us and them.”  And they determined that they would go around house to house and instead of going in and first trying to get those people to come to their church or to their meetings, they would simply go house to house and say nothing but this: “We have come today to pray for you.  How can we pray for you.?” After they got to the third house, one of the villagers spoke up and said,  “You are different from those other people who are coming around.  All they want is for us to become a part of their group and to give money to their group.  You come offering to us.  You come giving us.  You don't want something from us.  You want to give, therefore your teaching must be the true teaching.”  There is something to be said for that.  Christ calls us to the Spirit of giving, not of gaining for ourselves.   

III. The Messiah’s ministers must learn to trust in Him
Notice also in verses nine and ten that we see the providence of God, that the disciples are to trust and the Messiah's ministers must learn to trust in Him in their mission.  He says, “Do not acquire gold or silver or copper coins for your money belts.”  The disciples are not to prepare in that way for this particular mission.  They are not to take a bag for their journey or even two coats or sandals or a staff.  The Lord Jesus Christ, because of the shortness of the journey, but probably more important because of the urgency of the mission that He is sending His disciples out on, tells them, ‘Don't take time, don't encumber yourself with trying to collect all these other things.  You just trust that the Lord will provide for you on this particular mission.’  The disciples are told to travel light, and that forces them to trust in God's provision, and it forces them to trust in Jesus' promise that God would provide.  And they learn a great lesson in that. 

First of all, they learn a great lesson about the urgency of the mission that Christ is sending them on.  It's so important that they go, that they are sent out, that they cannot take time to be concerned with their own provision.  And we ourselves must never allow the urgency of the gospel to be lost on us.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Who knows, as we are with our friends and neighbors, our relatives in this season of the year, whether it will be the last time that we will be with them.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Do we bear witness to Christ?  Christ has made us witnesses.  That's what we are.  It's not a question of whether we are witnesses or not.  It's a question of whether we're good ones or bad ones.  He has made us witnesses.  How will we bear witness to the urgency of the gospel itself?  The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 

We are also taught in this passage about trusting in Christ's provision.  We are to trust in His provision in the work of ministry.  As we said before, this is not a universal command that the Lord is giving to missionaries.  He is not saying, ‘OK, missionaries.  Don't raise support, don't go out with any material clothing, don't go out with any extra clothing, don't go out with any funding.’  That's not what He's saying here.  But in this case, He's demanding that His disciples trust in His provision as they go out on their mission. That is very important for us, especially when we have so much.  The more we have, the more important it is to trust in Christ's provision in ministry.  The more the Lord has given you, the more tempting it is to trust in what He has given you as that which is necessary for ministry.  Even as a church.  The more He has given us as a church, the more tempting it is for us to say , “Well, we have all the resources we need.  All we need to do is do a little planning.”  But Christ's ministry is carried out only in His power.  And the more we have, the more we need to purpose ourselves to trust in His provision for that ministry, because it does not matter what we bring to the table.  Our resources mean nothing in the work of the kingdom.  His resources mean everything, and we must learn to trust in Him just like those disciples that He sent out here in Matthew 10.       

IV. The Messiah’s minister’s message is of eternal significance
Finally, I would point you to this.  Notice the procedure that He gives to the disciples to follow in verses 11-15.  In verses five and six, He told His disciples the people that they were to go to.  In verses seven and eight, He told them the message that they were to proclaim, and He gave them power to go along with confirming that message.  In verses nine and ten, He told them to trust in the providence of God.  And now He gives them the procedures that they are to follow in verses 11-15.  And there He makes it clear that the message they are going to take to Israel is of eternal significance.  “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 that 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 of 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.” 

The disciples are called upon to display in this mission an extraordinary balance of generosity and discernment.  They are to be generous in the sense that everywhere they go, if they are received, they are to pronounce their blessing on that place.  They are to pronounce the peace of God upon those who receive them into their homes.  But they are also to be discerning because those who reject their message are to be rejected. In fact, He tells them, ‘You shake the dust off your feet.”  That was a symbol from ancient Israel.  When one was outside the land of Israel one was on Gentile territory, pagan land.  And when you came back, before you came back into Israel, you shook the dust off your feet so that you would not bring pagan soil into the holy land.  And the Lord Jesus is saying, “If someone rejects the message of the kingdom, you shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them, that you're not going to bring that pagan soil back into the holy land.”       

We must recognize the gravity of the message that Christ entrusted the disciples.  It divides the world, doesn't it, into those who accept Him and those who reject Him.  In this season of the year, when we all enjoy the sentiment of the Christian message and when perhaps we have in our minds associations from pleasant times with our family and friends from days past, it is so important for us to recognize that the Christmas message divides the world.  There are those who accept it and those who reject it, and there is no in between.  And the acceptance or rejection of the Christmas message means either heaven or hell.  It is of the utmost gravity.  And the apostles were to remember that as they went out into the world.  We must also remember my friends that Judea, the Judea of the disciples, never heard the gospel like we have had the pleasure and privilege of hearing the gospel.  If Judea in Jesus' time was more culpable because they heard the disciples, whereas Sodom and Gomorrah had never had that privilege, then how much more culpable are we who have feasted under the gospel - most of us, for all the days of our lives, in Christian churches where the word has been read and where the story has been told.  We are culpable.  And the only possible response, the only good response to that message is that we would embrace it, embrace the kingdom, trust in Christ, place your faith in Him, rest in Him as the provision for your sins and as your only Savior, and by grace find all the blessings of the promises of God.  Let us look to Him in prayer. 

Our Father, we thank You for the truth of Your word and we pray that we would embrace that truth really and savingly.  For Christ's sake, Amen.

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