Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 14 2013 - Matthew 10:1-23 – The lost sheep of Israel

In the previous chapter we read of how Jesus viewed the crowds as, "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (9:36). His response is to commission twelve of his followers who will be his special disciples. These he sends out to minister to these crowds – they are to go to "the lost sheep of Israel" (10:6). The choice of these twelve disciples or apostles is an indication that God is now at work to create a people who will be his own treasured possession as he had done before through the twelve children of Israel (sons of Jacob).They are to proclaim that "The kingdom of heaven has come near" and are to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons" (10:7-8).

We are left with the inevitable question of the extent to which this ministry of the twelve can be seen as a model for contemporary mission. There are some obvious differences. Jesus' emphasis that the disciples are not to go to the Gentiles, or even to the Samaritans (10:5 and 23) is in stark contrast with his commission in the closing verses of Matthew's Gospel. This mission was to serve a very particular purpose; it was to announce to Israel that the kingdom they had longed for had now arrived.

The miracles the disciples performed were signs of the kingdom. But so too was to be their behaviour; they did not come as mighty rulers demanding obedience and submission. Paradoxically, they came in the form of those who were poor and weak even though they were proclaiming that the kingdom was coming in power. They came in the likeness of their master who had said "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (8:20).

Clearly there are differences between this ministry of the twelve and the commission that the risen Christ has given his disciples. Nevertheless, Matthew records this mission not only as an interesting historical story, but for the benefit of his readers. We need to learn that the kingdom is not served through aggressive evangelism or dramatic confrontation. It is not advanced through the means used by the kingdom of this world – means such as clever and often deceitful marketing which seeks to manipulate others and use them for one’s own profit. But neither are disciples to be characterised by timidity. On the contrary, the kingdom is advanced through determined but humble and compassionate service of those to whom we are sent. We are to give freely to others what God has freely given to us.

The power of the Gospel is hidden power. It comes from the Spirit of the crucified and risen Saviour, the Spirit who transforms us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. It is resurrection power that shall at last transform the world and make all things new. But to know this resurrection power is also to share in the sufferings of Christ (see Philippians 3:10). Jesus warns the disciples that they will suffer for the sake of his name as they follow him in the work of the Gospel. But the same Spirit that animated the Saviour will enable them to bear clear witness in his name.

Lord Jesus, I am so conscious that I live in a troubled world where many are confused and lack hope and direction. Fill me with your compassion for a lost world. Help me to bear faithful witness to you, both in the words that I speak and in the conduct of my life. Help me to give away what I have freely received. Keep me both from timidity and from a desire to control others. Fill me with your powerful, servant Spirit.

Peter Misselbrook