Click here for a print-friendly version
Called to Mission
Spring Quarter: Discipleship and Mission
Unit 2: Call to Ministry
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 7, 2019
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Matthew 10:1-15
Key Verse: Matthew 10:1
- Explain Jesus’ mission instructions to the 12.
- To learn to accept the authority Jesus gives us to further his mission.
The purpose of today’s lesson is to learn to accept the authority Jesus gives us to further his mission.
It is generally understood that the writer of Matthew’s Gospel used a great deal of material from Mark’s Gospel, but also added five discourses that include specific teachings of Jesus. Perhaps the first discourse, which is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), is the best known.
However, the second discourse begins at Matthew 9:35 and goes through Matthew 11:1. And it is this section that includes today’s text. Matthew informs us that Jesus had compassion on the crowds who came to hear him “because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Then Jesus pointed to the massive opportunity that existed and the need for assistance. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37,38).
Our lesson today immediately follows this call to prayer. The 12 disciples Jesus sent out were an important part of God’s answer to that prayer.
Called to Imitate
Jesus calls his disciples to him. This is the first time in Matthew that these followers closest to Jesus are designated by the expression “twelve disciples.” Matthew is the only New Testament writer to refer to the “twelve disciples” (11:1; 20:17), although the title “the twelve” occurs regularly elsewhere, almost two dozen times in the New Testament (example, Luke 9:1).
These 12 (named below) are the ones Jesus chooses to extend his ministry, which includes spiritual and physical healing. The word translated “disciples” occurs more than 250 times in the Gospels and Acts. It refers to those who subscribe to the lessons and lifestyle of a great teacher (Matthew 10:24, 25; Luke 6:40). The common practice is to live alongside one’s teacher in order to imitate the Master’s behavior. So Jesus called his 12 disciples and empowered them to carry out the same kind of ministry in which he had been engaged.
In the same verse of our text (10:1), the action verb “called” is now followed by the action verb “gave.” Prior to sending the Twelve on their mission, Jesus empowered them to do the same miracles they have seen him do (Matthew 4:23, 24). If God’s will is to be done on earth as in Heaven (Matthew 6:10) – and it shall indeed be done in fullness on earth when Christ returns – then there should be no impure spirits or disease or sickness. And the message that is to accompany the exercise of power over there is described in Matthew 10:7.
Next, Matthew lists the names of the Twelve. Alongside the rare designation “twelve disciples” is the equally rare phrase “twelve apostles.” The meaning of the noun is “messenger,” which is how the word is translated in John 13:16. The fact that this is the first time the Twelve are called “Apostles” is quite appropriate since this is the first instance of Jesus sending them to preach his message.
Now, the term “apostle” has a significantly different meaning than “disciple.” The latter designates anyone who has believed in Jesus, while “apostle” designates one who has been commissioned to be his representative or envoy or ambassador. This is basically the role of the Twelve. As disciples, the Twelve are examples of what Jesus accomplishes in all believers; as apostles, the Twelve are set aside as the leaders within the new movement.
There are four listings of the Twelve in the Bible: Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13, and (lacking Judas the betrayer) Acts 1:13. The names in verse 2 of our text are always the top four in those lists, which seems to indicate their importance related to the other eight. Peter, James, and John are sometimes referred to as Jesus’ inner circle, being privileged to witness things the others are not (The Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-9; the raising of a young girl from the dead, Mark 5:37-42; and Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-36).
However, the listings of the Twelve are consistent in that Simon Peter is always listed first; Philip is always listed fifth; and James, son Alpheus, is always listed ninth. The three names following each of those three are always the same (with Judas Iscariot absent from Acts 1:13), although their ordering differs.
Suffice it to say here that the collective identity of the Twelve Apostles is perhaps more significant than their individual biographies. All are close associates of Jesus. They are familiar with his lifestyle, teachings, and methods of ministry. They are therefore well prepared to continue and expand his work.
Important to remember is that these were ordinary men who were called by an extraordinary God. These Twelve didn’t come from great social standing, fabulous wealth, or superior academic background. They were just ordinary people called to serve Christ.
Someone correctly stated that “Jesus is looking not so much for extraordinary persons, but for ordinary persons who do ordinary things in extraordinary ways.” The work of the kingdom is done by ordinary persons, and that is comforting to me and should be to you.
Years ago, one of the youth groups in a church I served put on “Jesus Christ Superstar” in nine other churches around the conference. One young lady got up one night after the performance and told a church full of strangers, “I wandered away, but the youth group brought me back.” As I said, the work of the kingdom is done by ordinary people.
Commissioned to Do
Jesus begins with a surprising prohibition: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” The mission is shockingly restricted to Jewish Galilee, which was surrounded on all sided by Gentiles except to the south, where lay Samaria. The expression “the lost sheep of Israel” denotes all Israel being called to make a decision about the gospel of the kingdom.
Jesus was so inclusive! How could he have possibly made that statement? Here is Jesus, in the scripture, talking to a woman from Samaria and telling immortal stories of a good Samaritan. Here is Jesus healing the daughter of a Syro-Phoenician woman and again, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” Jesus was so inclusive; how could he possibly have made that statement, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the last sheep Israel.”
Certainly one person who would understand why Jesus said that was an officer in the military. This person would understand that you have to limit your objective if you are going to be successful. You don’t attack on all fronts at the same time.
When I lived in Dallas, Texas, they were having mammoth problems in certain areas of the city. So someone came up with the “Adopt a Block” program – one block at a time, minister to the needs, find out what the needs are, minister to those needs, work on healing, stop the crime, help the people economically, then move on to another block. The first thing we knew, the kingdom of God came among the “Adopt a Block” program.
To be sure, the instruction Jesus gives is not ethnic or racial discrimination. Jesus has a plan that includes an offer of the gospel to everyone. But the plan must unfold in an orderly, focused way. The plan’s progression is later laid out for the apostles as witnessing “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16; 2:9, 10). At this point, the focus is on restoring and renewing the Israelite people.
The number 12, for its part, corresponds symbolically to the 12 tribes of Israel. Since the forthcoming mission focuses on calling Israel to return to God, it is fitting that Jesus chooses 12 envoys to extend his ministry.
As we know from scripture, Jesus often proclaimed, “Here comes the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 4:17). The message he gave the Twelve to proclaim was a consistent extension of his own message and that of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1). The message itself doesn’t change, only the messengers.
However, even at Jesus’ death, the disciples didn’t seem to “get it.” These new recruits Jesus was sending out in Matthew 10 certainly did not fully understand all the theological implications of Jesus’ proclamation regarding the kingdom of heaven.
In addition to proclaiming the kingdom of heaven is near, the disciples were to minister to the physical, spiritual, and psychological needs of those they encountered on their way. And the clear instructions Jesus gave to his disciples are also instructions for those of us who want to follow him today as well. The point is, God cares when we are sick, lonely, hungry, depressed, or overcome with bills we struggle to pay. Consequently, Jesus instructed his disciples to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast our demons (evil powers). And the instructions or mission have not changed. “Empower us, oh God!”
Among other instructions, Jesus told his disciples to travel lightly. Jesus made it clear that his followers must never place great value on material goods. While rejecting materialism, Jesus did expect his followers to support those who responded to his call and dedicated their lives to serve him. He and his disciples received the support of others (example, Luke 8:2-3).
While the Twelve are not to solicit money for their preaching and healing ministry, they are allowed to accept room and board. They should expect this from those to whom they minister (Luke 10:7; I Corinthians 9:14). “Worthy” does not refer to people who are unusually spiritual, but rather to those who are receptive to the disciples’ message and willing to provide hospitality (3 John: 5-8).
Then Jesus encouraged his disciples to be careful about whose hospitality they accepted. Since they would not always be known by the locals and had little time to establish their own reputation, the reputation of those they associated with was crucial. And since they accepted someone’s hospitality, they were to stay with those people and not move around seeking more luxurious accommodations.
Verse 12 says, “As you enter the home, give it your greeting.” This verse envisions that the disciples will take their message from door to door in each new village. As they enter a house, they are to invoke the usual Jewish form of greeting: “Peace [shalom] be on this house.”
“Shaking the dust from one’s feet” was a visual demonstration that one was finished with trying to communicate with or minister to someone. Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet when they were driven out of the city of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:51).
In verse 15 we see that there is judgment for rejecting the mission. “I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” The preaching of the gospel becomes for Israel a threat as well as a promise. Those who have been exposed to Jesus’ ministry and the witness of the disciples have greater responsibility for the privilege (Matthew 11:20-24).
So Jesus warned that those who failed to welcome his messengers invited a worse faith than those in “the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day, whose land was destroyed for their lack of hospitality (Genesis 19).”
The situation is urgent! The time of Jesus’ earthly ministry is short, and both the blessings of the kingdom and the punishment of judgement are riding on the decision of Israel.
Seeing the Need
Our text tells us that Jesus gave his disciples the authority to carry out the mission they had been given. Jesus also sends us out to touch the lives of hurting, broken people who need to hear the good news about God’s compassion and willingness to forgive. Question: are we committed to the same kind of holistic ministry to which Jesus calls his disciples, and do we trust God’s Spirit to empower us? If so, the harvest is plentiful!
- What are some of the ways to live out our own discipleship better as people sent by God?
- Which will be more important in presenting the gospel, the accuracy of the presentation or the perception that we are acting in the other person’s best interest? Explain your answer.
- What can modern Christians and church do to demonstrate that God’s kingdom is present and active in the world?
Resources for this lesson:
“2018-2019 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary,” Uniform Series “International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 273-280
“The NIV Application Commentary, Matthew” by Michael J. Wilkins, pages 382-391
“Adult Bible Studies, Spring 2019, Discipleship and Mission, Teacher, Uniform Series,” by Gary Thompson, pages 52-58
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).