In Mathew’s Gospel we have been tracing Jesus’s words and we have noticed his growing conflict with the Jewish leaders, heading towards the End of the (Mosaic) Age culminating in his coming visitation in judgment and vengeance on those who rejected him and killed him–their Messiah! A totally new covenant and age would then come–a time we now experience. Praise our mighty God and his Redeemer! There is an urgency in the mission to the Jewish people—the time is short.
In the long passage, Matthew 9:35 to 10:15, we read about Jesus’ words and actions in the lead-up to this important Jewish campaign. Jesus went about all the towns and villages, teaching in synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom. He was also healing every disease and every sickness among the people. We noted that the Kingdom of God does not consist merely in talk but in power. It is dynamic.
But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. So then he turns to his disciples saying, the harvest indeed is plentiful, but the labourers are few.
Few indeed. It seems the only labourer is Jesus himself!
So he calls the disciples to pray that the “Lord of the harvest will send out labourers into his harvest.” And who is this Lord of the harvest? Jesus the Lord of course! And he is the Sower! He sows the Word of God among four kinds of ground as we have seen in the Gospel stories. It seems God always invites people to share his desires by asking them to pray to him.
Then, as if in answer to his call to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for workers, he then called and gave these twelve disciples sensational abilities: authority to throw out unclean spirits, and to heal every disease, every kind of sickness. They had seen him do these miracles now it was their turn. Heal every disease, every sickness, and throw out every oppression of evil.
They were to pray and then they were to act, obeying his direction, becoming themselves the answer to his prayer, equipped with the same awesome spiritual power and authority of the Spirit which they had observed in the Master. He gave them no techniques, no tools, no stuff, just his awesome authority and supply of their need.
Jesus sent these twelve out, and commanded them for this mission, saying, ‘Don’t go among the Gentiles, and don’t enter into any city of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give.’
Why were they forbidden to go to the Gentiles, or even the Samaritans?
There was a great urgency, first seen in Jesus at the beginning of his work and now here, to get the message of the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel. Some seeds will fall on good ground, some will obey the call to repent, realizing that the Kingdom of God was imminent.
He continued to instruct them: Into whatever city or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy; and stay there until you go on. As you enter into the household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you.
Why? We saw that by staying there in that household before going on, they had opportunity to bless and demonstrate the Kingdom of God among the members of the household and leave behind these and others believers in Messiah Jesus to further his message of the Good News of the Kingdom.
He warned the 12 that urgency was critical: Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust from your feet. Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.
“That city!” The poor soil. Hard. Those prophetic words would soon become reality. Many towns and cities will crumble and be ravished in the terrible tribulation of 67-70AD, a day of judgment—the “end of the age”, a judgment far more dreadful than even that of Sodom and Gomorrah. History confirms this. The Son of Man would come in awesome judgment, not just upon Jerusalem, but also the towns and cities of Judea and Galilee using the hands of the Romans under Titus. Hence the great urgency of this mission—get the job done before it’s too late.
Thus the scope of this mission was to Israel only because judgment was soon to come. That Israel is in view is confirmed by Jesus’ warnings to the 12 to beware of being delivered up to councils, and being scourged in their synagogues. And also by the typical hospitality expected to be shown by ‘worthy’ persons in the Jewish culture.
Jesus assures the disciples, You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee into the next, for most certainly I tell you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man has come.
There is a time limit set and there will be a sudden end to this mission to Israel. The time is short. Jesus later told his disciples that even he does not know the day or hour the end will come when the mission will conclude.
By “the end” Jesus was referring to the end he foretells more than once in the Olivet discourse (Mat 24)—the coming of the Son of Man. This is not the end of the world nor is it a visible coming of the Lord—the scripture makes that clear. He came in judgment on unrepentant Israel using the Romans, just as God used pagan rulers and armies in many events of judgment in the Old Testament as his agents, his ‘servants’.
Clearly, Jesus expected that the Son of Man would come before the disciples would be able to finish their mission to the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’. History records that in 67AD Vespasian and Titus ravished the Galilean towns and finally destroyed the town Jodapatha, then under the command of the later Jewish historian Josephus, as well as subduing Tarichaea, which brought an end to the war in Galilee. Conquering town after town, Titus quickly advanced through the hill country of Judea and Jerusalem looting and destroying all resistance. This mission of the 12 was urgent before the terrible times ahead.
|“From one end of Galilee to the other there was an orgy of fire and bloodshed; no horror, no calamity was spared; the only safety for the fugitive inhabitants was in the towns which Josephus had fortified…. “ — Josephus, The Jewish War 3.59 (3.4.1|
Is there any justification for insisting on seeking the ‘worthy person’ in other times and cultures? This practice was enjoined by Jesus for a specific time in history and has a practical early 1st Century Jewish context. In the NT book of Acts you can find no references to finding a ‘worthy person’. This disappears beyond the Jewish mission described in the three synoptic gospels.
Does anyone go on mission today take literally all the other instructions Jesus gave to the 12? Today we don’t ignore Jewish people do we? And are we disobeying the Lord by taking along things we deem necessary? Maybe we ought to take along less things because God always keeps his promise to provide for our needs, as Joan observed.
On the other hand, is Jesus’ promise to the 12 that they would be given the words of wisdom and of knowledge of to speak by the Holy Spirit when brought before courts no longer valid today?—of course not! Yet how often do we see the spiritual gifts of First Corinthians and Romans etc being encouraged?
Attempts have been made to see the ‘worthy person’ principle operative in stories like Paul and Lydia but they are inconclusive and seem artificial. The Cornelius household story was precipitated by the vision Peter received in Joppa. Philip met the Ethiopian on the road and interrupted him without any attempt to find a ‘worthy’ person. The Philippian jailer encounter was the result of a supernatural earthquake! Certainly, these and others were key people to have met and to have received the Lord. That is something about which we should pray.
In fact, while we busily (and possibly legalistically) search for a ‘worthy person’ we may miss many opportunities God may provide.
More. Is God telling us today to ‘pray the Lord of the harvest to send . . . . .’? Again this has a context and should be seen in that setting—the urgent mission to Israel before the End when such work would no longer be possible as the people of Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee would be either killed or have escaped these areas. Of course, we still ought to pray for more workers to join in the harvest. Jesus is still the Sower, sowing and preparing soils and the many await the harvest.
Rather than the many specific instructions Jesus gave the 12 for the unique Jewish mission, later disciples were given and led by the Holy Spirit. Are we not often neglecting, even ignoring through unbelief, the critical spiritual gifts of God promised in the NT and putting instead tools, methods and strategies not practised by the first Christians?