Choosing the Disciples | Matthew 10:1-4
At first glance, it appears that Jesus has chosen his inner-circle poorly. This motley crew of uneducated Galileans, which included a tax collector, a revolutionary and an eventual traitor, hardly carries with it the kind of pedigree and political clout that an ambitious rabbi would have needed in order to see his star rise. But Jesus wasn’t interested in national prominence. He knew his reputation would rise and fall with the people’s whims. His selections were based on the needs of his people and looked well beyond his own lifetime. Jesus was interested in was Kingdom building and providing a way for his people to escape from the captivity of their sins. He was not interested in mounting a political campaign, starting a revolution or consolidating power for personal glory.
The twelve men that Jesus selected filled their roles well. Eleven of them progressed from faithless cowards to faithful saints who would one day sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Gospel out of their love for the Lord. And even Judas played his role to fulfill Scripture. He was not a throw away choice or Jesus’ greatest mistake. Judas served God through his refusal to serve him when it matter most, and the vacancy he left paved the way for an equally wicked man to be captured by grace and shaped into arguably Jesus’ greatest disciple.
Christ gave his disciples full access to the Kingdom in order to share his work. He gave them a taste of the world to come and to share his sufferings in order to prepare their hearts for the greater, more difficult work that lay ahead for them in carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And Christ has chosen us, pitiful sinners rejected by the world, who like his first disciples are invited to be shaped in molded by his grace.
Sending the Twelve | Matthew 10:5-15
Jesus sent the twelve into Israel in accordance with Scripture and God’s covenant with Israel. It was God’s plan that the Jews would be a light to the nations and that this once forsaken, insignificant people would become bearers of God’s great plan that all nations would share in. It was God’s plan that the Jews would be guided through history, preserved in spite of the powerful empires of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and now Romans in order to receive the Messiah who would spread his Gospel through his people. And so Christ laid the foundations of his Kingdom starting with the Jews, in order to prepare them to share his Good News with the rest of the world.
Jesus sent the apostles into the Israeli countryside armed with truth and power. He commanded them to do as he did and to demonstrate his power among the sick and poor.
Here we see that Kingdom work is faithful and unselfish work. Jesus instructed his disciples to take no money in exchange for the work they performed and instructed them to take no provisions for their journey. His disciples were to rely on the Father for all of their needs and they were charged to go out and make disciples among the people.
It is important that we notice the warning Jesus gives about rejecting the Gospel. If a town was unwilling to hear the good news, the disciples were instructed to take of their sandals and to “shake the dust from their feet” – signifying that they were leaving it for the doom that would come on all who reject God’s Word. God is God of love, but also of justice. He will not delay his wrath forever and his compassion has its limits for those who reject the gift of his Son.
Christ’s warning may seem harsh and frightening to us, but it is not unreasonable. As sinners, we quickly forget the security the Gospel offers us. In Jesus, we find refuge from what we have done. Through Jesus, we are given a precious gift whose promises are backed and guaranteed by the blood of God himself. And though there are certainly those who will the reject the Gospel at first and will turn later, we should not presume on God’s kindness for us should we reject Christ.
We should also not worry nor give up when people reject the Gospel. Faith includes trusting the God of the Gospel, even when others don’t, and our faith should never hinge on the approval of others. Our faith should always hinge upon Christ and on the power he holds and gives freely to those who ask.
Expecting Persecution | Matthew 10:16-23
The Gospel was never designed to win the approval of the world. It is a spiritual irritant designed to pierce hearts and divide souls (Hebrews 4:12). The Gospel threatens the most basic, deeply engrained of human perceptions and the oldest traditions. It tears down conventional wisdoms and chases superstitions back into the dark.
The idea that you can become your own god is the deepest evil inside us all, and yet it is the hardest thing to purge from our souls. Why? First and foremost because it is a condition that we can’t even admit exists. Second, because we are so terrified of losing control, a control that we have never truly possessed. So instead of humble submission before God, we will deny the problem until our dying breath. For peace in our hearts and joy in our souls, we trade the dream of having control over our lives, control over our futures, control over our bodies and control over other people. We are obsessed with control because we are obsessed with being God.
The tragic irony of the human condition, is that though we cannot truly control anything, we parade around like fools as if we do. But because the Gospel so deeply threatens this universal human convention, it’s not surprising that it draws out the very worst of human behaviors. Our craven ambition to be God is the reason the human heart is a cesspool of evil that doesn’t even know itself well enough to know that it lacks the capacity to surrender itself before God. So when Jesus warned his disciples about the persecution to come, he did so because he fully understood the human heart. Jesus knew he was mixing nitrogen with glycerin when he unleashed his Gospel. He knew of its explosive properties once the undisturbed darkness was touched by the light he was brining.
The Gospel is a living truth uttered from the lips of God himself, and it is a truth that simply asks us to stop chasing the lie that control and self-sufficiency is attainable. So it asks us to surrender ourselves before God through faith in Jesus Christ.
When the Gospel was first preached, men panicked. Here was a message that overthrew economic systems because the message changed cheating hearts. Here was a message that threatened deeply engrained political and social systems because the message released believers from being slaves to the status-quo, to religious misconceptions about revolutions and insurrections, and to worshiping their rulers as God.
Jesus warned his disciples that the world would be turned upside down by his message, and he warned them to expect a backlash as his message undermined the most basic foundations of the world. As long as there is sin in the human heart, any friend of the Gospel will be harassed, attacked and ridiculed – and in the most severe cases, they will be hauled before judges and rulers to be persecuted. But this is why Christ’s friends must immerse themselves in the Gospel’s message and this is why persecution must be expected by Jesus’ people. Only by resting and depending on Christ, will they have the strength to stand up to persecution and trust that the Holy Spirit will give them everything that needs to be said.
Not Peace, But a Sword | Matthew 10:34-42
Jesus was determined that his disciples understood that his Gospel would cause division. Jesus did not come to affirm the spiritual status-quo, but to trample it. He did not come with open hands acquiescing to the evil unchecked evil, but to conquer it in Spirit and in Truth. Jesus also did not come to affirm the injustice and hatred in the world. He came to provide a way that would separate his people from it, to separate out those who believed in him from those who would not. Jesus also unveiled greatest of all challenges with his coming: to love him more than anything or anyone, even family.
In ancient Jewish societies, families were as much about one’s identity as they were a source of comfort and protection. It was common for children to live with their parents all their lives. So what Jesus was proposing here was radical and struck hard at the heart of Jewish culture.
Jesus was not asking his disciples to love their friends and family less, but to love him more. This is a critical distinction that speaks of the supernatural kind of love that is needed because a true love for Jesus must transcend the love of friends and family. It isn’t just enough to obey his commands; one must find their life, their existence, and their whole being in Jesus Christ.
The Gospel strikes at the heart of all other philosophies and belief systems today as well. The Gospel is impossibly high and cannot be achieved through good works, special prayers and positive thinking. Salvation through asceticism also cannot be done. Salvation comes through faith and with this faith comes its authentic stamp of love for Christ above all things.
Any mother or father who loves their children will tell you that to love Jesus more than a little boy who calls you “Daddy” or a little girl who calls you “Mommy” is simply impossible apart from divine intervention. And yet here Jesus says that those who love their children more than him are not worthy of him. Though Jesus closes the chapter by saying that the simplest kindness in his name will be rewarded, no true act of kindness can come without the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in the heart causing that heart to love Jesus above all else. Even the smallest kindness has to come from faith in Jesus Christ, and this faith only comes from the finger of God himself.