Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Blessed Adventure and an Arduous Burden - Matthew 10:5-23

The Encouraging Part

5 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Don not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans;

6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

7 "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'

8 "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

9 "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts,

10 or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.

11 "And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city.

12 "As you enter the house, give it your greeting.

13 "If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace.

14 "Wheover does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.

15 "Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement than for that city."

Okay, so why did Jesus tell His disciples to only minister to the Jews? Is this some sort or racist favoritism? Not at all - it's just that the Jews had been following God for centuries, and the Messiah was promised to them, so it is fully appropriate that He would come to them first. This was only temporary - Jesus sent them to spread the Gospel to all people after His resurrection, and He repeatedly made exceptions for individual Gentiles (non-Jews), such as when He healed the Roman centurion's servant and exorcised the Canaanite woman's daughter. Also bear in mind that, as Luke 12:42-48 explains in detail, "From everyone who has been given much [spiritually], much will be required." Because the Jews had more reason to anticipate the Messiah's coming (thus His coming to them first), they would also be dealt with more severly for rejecting Him (like in verse 15, when Jesus compares their sin to that of the two most notoriously sinful Gentile cities which God destroyed in His judgement in the Old Testament). There are two applications here for us: (1) God loves all of us the same - including Jews and Gentiles, and (2) We also ought to realize that the blessings and "spiritual advantages" (like living in a country where we don't get arrested and executed for owning a Bible) mean we're expected to do more with them!

Related to this is how Jesus instructs them to handle their money and supplies. While they are among the Jews - the people who were supposed to be God's people - the people they preached to were supposed to support them. But He later reverses this, telling them that when they go out among the Gentiles, they are to bring money and their own supplies. Christians are supposed to support other ministering Christians, but we should never expect unbelievers or new believers to do the same - that is why so many think that Christianity is a sham and the clergy does it just to make money! Paul purposefully didn't ask for financial support from those he ministered to on a couple of occasions, as well.

The stuff about healing and casting out demons and raising the dead is super exciting...but did you notice how Jesus mentions sharing the Good News before he rattles these off? Yes, God has given us the power to do all this stuff (dependent upon His will and our faith, of course), but remember Luke 10:20, "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." So, we have here in these verses a reminder of some things we've learned from Matthew's Gospel so far: (1) We do have the power to do miraculous stuff, just like Jesus, (2) We need to minister to both people's spiritual and physical needs, and (3) Miraculous power is amazing, but God's salvation is even more so, so we need to keep this hierarchy of importance in perspective.

Now, what's going on with that blessing bit? We don't exactly talk about blessings and curses much in the American Church. On one hand, we know that words aren't magic - God cannot be forced into pouring out blessings or curses on people just because of some special phrase we say. But, He has created some system we can't fully understand where His followers' words have some degree of power - or else why would He instruct the disciples to take back their blessing if it was found to be undeserved? (For more to confuse you on how blessings and curses do and do not work, check out the story of Balaam...lots to think about there.) But there is something in these verses that is easy to grasp and applies universally: Did you notice how Jesus instructs them to give the blessing before they find out what kind of person is there? We are to assume the best of people, and act kind and lovingly toward them from the start, instead of waiting to find out if they "deserve" it.

The Not-So-Encouraging Part

16 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

17 "But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues;

18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.

19 "But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.

20 "For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you."

21 "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.

22 "You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

23 "But whenenever they perseucte you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish goring through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

The verse about being shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves is quite famous. I love how John Eldredge explains it in his book Beautiful Outlaw: <We like the innocent as doves part; that sounds nice. Very Sunday school. But that first bit - hold on now. Shrewd as snakes? When you hear someone say, "He's such a snake," do you think, Oh - what a fine Christian? The things Jesus says. Let's get the religious drapery off this. A dove and a snake. Surely they remember the dove descending on Jesus. As for the snake metaphor - these Jews would have connected instantly to the serpent in the Garden. Be as holy as the Spirt and be as cunning as Satan. You want us to do what?! Jesus is saying, "Look, this is a very dangerous world." The disciples glance at one another, thinking, Right. We've got the Son of God on our side. "I mean it," he continues. "Take this seriously. I'm sending you into the Congo with a butter knife. You are easy pickings. You must be holy and you must be cunning.>

When we give our lives to Christ, we are willfully accepting that Satan has now put a bounty on our heads. Consider what 1 Timothy 3:12 has to say: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." John 15:19-20a echoes, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persectued Me, they will also persecute you..." Jesus elsewhere instructs His disciples to obtain weapons to defend themselves with, and in this passage, He tells them to use their brains and flee if necessary.

But this is another issue with multiple sides (most things in the Bible seem to be like that...). Sometimes, God allows us to be persecuted because that will give us an opportunity to share the Gospel - or even just be an example of how passionately we really do believe in Jesus (that's where the "innocent as doves" part comes in!)- in ways we would not otherwise be able to. If persecution allowed the Early Church to personally interact with Roman rulers - the rulers of the world - then what other influential people could God have in the works for us to witness to today? In these cases, we are not even to plan a speech to defend ourselves, but just to let God speak through us. How can we tell if we should flee or take a stand? By simply listening to the Holy Spirit and acting as He leads. There's also a tangential application here - in day-to-day interactions, such as sharing the Gospel with a friend, sometimes we should plan our "moves" ahead, and sometimes just let the Holy Spirit lead the application (this has happened to me) - and again, the only way to tell when to do what is to head the Holy Spirit's leading.

Finally, we see that the Gospel is so offensive that it can even turn families against each other - to the point that they will turn each other in for execution! There is simply no middle ground when it comes to following Christ. If the world hates us, that means we're either doing something terribly wrong or entirely right.

Count the cost - are you willing?

Questions for You

Have you ever felt put off by Christians expecting payment from unbelievers, or emphasizing the financial aspect far too much? How can we be both "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves"? What has following Christ cost you?

Giving Credit Where It's Due

Image Number One: The Great Commission, at the Cathedral Parish of Saint Patrick in El Paso. Wikimedia Commons. Used by permission.

Image Number Two: The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome, commissioned by William T. Walters. Wikimedia Commons. Used by permission. Public domain worldwide.

Image Number Three: The Lapidation of Saint Stephen by Rembrandt. Wikimedia Commons. Used by permission. Public domain worldwide.

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