2nd March 2023
Read (Matthew 9v37-10v15)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
As Jesus gazed upon the people He understood their pitiful condition. They were like sheep without a shepherd or in other words they had no one to guide them or care for them or protect them. The Lord lamented this state of affairs and said “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (v37-38) Christ used agricultural imagery to describe the Gospel reality. The harvest of souls to be brought into the Kingdom is plentiful but the number of those prepared to evangelise is few. This remains an issue for the modern church and therefore we must continually pray that the Lord would call and send out Gospel workers.
The Lord's lament was answered by the calling of His twelve Disciples also called His twelve Apostles. Who were these men? Simon Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen (v2a). James and John were the sons of a man called Zebedee and they also made their living as fishermen (v2b). Philip (v3a) was from Galilee and after Christ called him, he immediately brought his friend Nathanael to Jesus. Nathanael (v3b) is also called Bartholomew which means Nathanael the son of Tolmai.
Thomas (v3c) was a twin but Scripture is silent about his twin brother or sister. Matthew is the author of the Gospel of Matthew and he is sometimes called Levi and was the son of a man called Alphaeus. Matthew was no fisherman, instead he was a hated tax collector (v3d). James' father was also called Alphaeus and James was referred to as James the younger or sometimes James the less (v3e). Thaddaeus is little known among the Disciples and he is sometimes referred to as Thaddaeus, Judas or Lebbeus (v3f). Simon was called the Zealot (v4a) and at one stage in life was active in the movement to remove Roman rule from Israel. Finally, Judas Iscariot (v4b) looked after the money and would go on to betray the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave these twelve "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction" (v1) and with this authority He sent them out. This was more than appropriate as the word "apostle" means "one who has been sent". The Apostles were the envoys of Christ the King and they were sent with specific instructions. Their ministry was firstly to the unsaved Jews, called "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (v6). The time would come for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles but the Apostles primary mission was to go the Jews.
Their message was the same as both John the Baptist and Jesus had declared "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." (v7) It was a message of good news that the Messiah had come and it was a call to repent and believe the Gospel. To authenticate their message the Apostles were enabled to perform signs and wonders. They were to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons (v8). The Apostles had received the Gospel freely and so they were not to seek to profit from their labours (v8b). Additionally the Apostles were to travel light. They were not to carry extra money (v9), they did not need a bag to carry food (v10a) and they didn't need extra clothes, sandals or even a staff for protection.
The Apostolic mission sounds deeply unappealing for most of us - would you like to leave your comfortable home and take to the highways and byways barely prepared? Probably not! Nevertheless, just as Christ had nowhere to lay His head, so His Apostles were not to expect the comforts and delights of this world. However as representatives of Christ they deserved support (v10b). Jesus told His Apostles that if they entered a town or village where they were treated well they were to stay in that place in the home of someone "worthy" (v12). This person was someone who greeted the Apostles with joy and acceptance of their message. In turn the Apostles were to stay with that individual and pronounce a blessing of peace over the home (v12-13).
However not every town or village would welcome the Lord's Apostles or receive their blessing. Jesus said that His Apostles were to shake off the dust from their feet as a sign of judgement in any place that they were not received or listened to (v14). Remarkably, the Lord counselled that it would be more bearable in the judgement for Sodom and Gomorrah then for the town that rejected the Lord's envoys (v15).
In today's passage we are witnesses to the foundational ministry of the Apostles. These men who took the Gospel to Jews would later take it to the ends of the earth and the church of Jesus Christ is built on the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles with Christ Himself as the cornerstone.
The Apostles are all gone and yet the challenge remains the same. The world is lost and in the grip of sin but the church is bored and obsessed with gimmicks. Who will heed the Lord's call to take the Gospel to the nations? Who will pray earnestly for the conversion of the lost? Who will be prepared to endure the scorn and the shame that will inevitably come to a follower of Christ? Jesus said “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”
Q90 How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation? That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.