Matthew 10:1-7

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Matthew 10

1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 

Did you know that there are numerous national as well as an international town crier competitions? I kid you not! In these competitions, predominantly old men (it would appear from the clips on YouTube anyway) dress as old timey town criers, stand on a stoop, ring their bells, hold aloft their royal statements, and cry the news to the watching crowds! I love the idea of a town crier. Here is a little information on this fascinating relic form the past:

In medieval England, town criers were the chief means of news communication with the townspeople, since many were illiterate in a period before the moveable type was invented. Royal proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, even selling loaves of sugar were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier throughout the centuries—at Christmas 1798, the Chester Canal Company sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the bellman.

The crier also escorted the destitute to the workhouse, installed minor criminals in the stocks and administered floggings. During public hangings he read out why the person was being hanged, and helped to cut him or her down…

The term “Posting A Notice” comes from the act of the town crier, who having read his message to the townspeople, would attach it to the door post of the local inn. Some newspapers took the name “The Post” for this reason.

Town criers were protected by law, as they sometimes brought bad news such as tax increases. Anything done by the town crier was done in the name of the ruling monarch and harming a town crier was considered to be treason. The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” was a real command.[1]

So criers stood as official representatives of the King or governing authority. They were, in essence, his mouthpiece to announce good news.

There is something profoundly New Testament about this. Rightly understood, we are God’s town criers! The church is the town crier of the Kingdom! We stand under the authority of the King and speak loudly and clearly His announcement of good news throughout the world! Those who receive this good news, receive it to life and those who reject it reject it to judgment. But the crier must do his or her job regardless.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the disciples out as His town criers. Let us consider their mission.

The Twelve: God’s Use of Common Folk for Uncommon Impact

Matthew 10 begins with a list of Jesus’ twelve disciples and then moves to Jesus sending them out on a missionary journey.

1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Let us first consider Matthew’s list of the twelve. Craig Blomberg has given us a helpful summary of the meanings of their names:

  • “Simon” comes from the Hebrew for hearing. He is also called Peter or Cephas, meaning rock, in Greek and Aramaic, respectively.
  • “Andrew” comes from the Greek for manliness.
  • “James” comes from the Hebrew Jacob, meaning he who grasps the heel (see Gen 25:26).
  • “John” in Hebrew means the Lord is gracious.
  • “Philip” comes from the Greek for horse lover.
  • “Bartholomew” comes from the Hebrew for son of Talmai.
  • “Thomas” stems from the Hebrew for twin (John 11:16).
  • “Matthew” comes from the same Hebrew phrase as Nathanael (God has given).
  • “James, son of Alphaeus,” is also called ho mikros in Mark 15:40 (the small one or “the younger”), presumably to distinguish him in age or size from James, son of Zebedee.
  • “Thaddaeus” is also called Lebbaeus in some textual variants and Judas son of James in Luke 6:16.
  • “Simon, ho Kananaios” (the Cananean—NIV “the Zealot”), was a man whose nickname meant zealous one…
  • “Judas Iscariot,” infamous for betraying Jesus (26:47-50), was the treasurer for the Twelve (John 12:6). “Iscariot” is usually interpreted as Hebrew for man of Kerioth, the name of cities in both Judea and Moab, which could make Judas the only non-Galilean of the Twelve. Others take Iscariot as from a word for assassin or from a term meaning false one.[2]

These men were as unique and varied as the etymologies of their names. That is to say, Jesus chose ordinary people through whom He intended to do ordinary things. In fact, so common were these men that later, in Acts 4, people will marvel at the sight of these common men doing such uncommon things.

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Did you see that? Here are the two main components of that verse and they are not unconnected:

  • “they were uneducated, common men”
  • “they had been with Jesus”

Here is what we need to understand: there are no common men or women in the Kingdom! With Jesus, all men and women are amazing recipients and instruments of His grace! It does not matter how common your name is. What matters is how exalted His name is!

Howard Foshee tells the following story:

Years ago I read a newspaper feature written by a man who told of his student days in New York City. He related how he used to visit the magnificent Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Once a guide called his attention to a series of niches around the cathedral chancel. In each niche was carved the figure of a man who had been chosen as the greatest of his century. The first century was represented by St. Paul. Columbus represented the fifteenth; Washington, the eighteenth. The nineteenth had been awarded to Lincoln. It was the last niche that really caught his attention. This block of unshaped stone had not yet been carved. Still in rough hewn form, it represented the greatest man of the twentieth century. That name was yet to be chosen—for that person could well be in the process of becoming.[3]

I ask you honestly: Could it be you in that last niche? Could it be me? Could it be us? Surely it could be!

See the calling of the twelve and dare to believe that Jesus can use you greatly for His Kingdom!

Apostles: The Called are the Sent

If you read our passage too quickly you may miss something. We traditionally think of the twelve “disciples,” as Matthew puts it in verse 1. However, in verse 2, Matthew uses another term for them.

The names of the twelve apostles are these…

“Only here does Matthew label the Twelve ‘apostles,’ those sent out on a mission,” writes Craig Blomberg.[4] These twelve were not only the called disciples they were the sent apostles. We see the meaning of “apostles” in the instructions of their sending.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

And notice to whom they were sent. These Jewish apostles were sent first “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We will soon see in Matthew that the mission of God is indeed to all peoples, but this specific mission with these specific disciples at this specific point in time was to Jewish people. And this is in keeping with the missionary impulse of Jesus’ Jewish apostles.

First, let us note that this was the approach of Jesus Himself. Jesus obviously loves the whole world and we have already seen Him offer forgiveness to Gentiles in Matthews gospel. But Jesus came first to the house of Israel and then to the world. Indeed, Israel was supposed to be the means by and through which the good news reached the world!  Therefore, the priority of Jewish evangelism did not mean for Jesus a lack of concern for the rest of the world, for the Gentiles. On the contrary, the priority of Jewish evangelism (1) reflected the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Israel throughout her history (i.e., in Christ the promises were fulfilled and the Kingdom Christ proclaimed was the ultimate land of promise) and (2) was aimed ultimately at the evangelization of the whole world. In terms of evangelism, there was a comma after Israel, not a period. (The false notion of Jewish exclusivism—of their being a period after Israel and not a comma—is shattered in the book of Jonah.) This helps us explain the otherwise troubling (from a human perspective) behavior of Jesus in Mark 7, for instance.

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Jesus came first to the house of Israel, but clearly He did not close a door to Gentiles in so doing. What is more, this was the practice of Jesus’ Jewish apostles. Consider what Paul says (in addition to Paul’s example throughout the New Testament) in Romans 1. This is perhaps the clearest expression of the principle of Jewish priority but ultimate Gentile inclusion.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

It is true that there is a uniqueness in the particulars of this passage. We, the church, are sent to all the world, as Jesus will say at the end of Matthew’s gospel, whereas these twelve at this particular moment were sent only to the Jews of the surrounding towns. However, there is a crucial continuity that we must not lose in the distinction of the particular differences, and that continuity is this:

Disciples are apostles.

The called are the sent.

To be a follower of Jesus is to be sent by Jesus.

At the end of Matthew, in chapter 28, Jesus will speak what we call the Great Commission.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It is the sincere conviction of our church that these words are binding on us today, that to be called is to be sent! We must all be salt and light and we must all point people to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Kingdom: The Message then and Now

And what are the sent sent to proclaim? Watch:

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

I have said earlier that, yes, there are some distinct features to this missionary journey that applied to these original disciples at this particular time. That is undeniable. But it is with regret that I must disagree with the great commentator Warren Wiersbe (who I otherwise greatly respect) when he writes:

While we may learn from the spiritual principles in this paragraph, we should not apply these instructions to our lives. The Lord’s commission to us includes all the world (Matt. 28:19–20), not just the nation of Israel. We preach the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Our message is “Christ died for our sins,” and not “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The King has come; He has already suffered, died, and risen from the dead. Now He offers His salvation to all who will believe.[5]

Yes, it is true that the wideness of the Great Commission is our task and not merely the narrowness of this specific mission to the house of Israel. I agree with Wiersbe on that point. The church is sent to all houses everywhere! What I object to is Wiersbe’s unfortunate idea that “Our message is ‘Christ died for our sins,” and not ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” I would say, on the contrary, that Christ dying for our sins is the message of the Kingdom and King who has come and is coming again!

The gospel is the good news that we can enter the Kingdom through the work of the King. The church is still to proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is still “at hand” in the proclamation of Christ: His work on Calvary and in the empty tomb and His coming again.

The gospel of the kingdom continued to be preached after the ascension of Jesus. Consider the numerous apostolic references in the New Testament to “inheriting” or “entering” the kingdom of God. Consider how Paul sees the values of the Kingdom as determinative for the church in Romans 14:

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

We are to be, in other words, a Kingdom people and live as Kingdom citizens. And consider how, in Colossians 1, Paul brings the news of the Kingdom into his gospel proclamation.

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The non-believer needs to hear of the King who saves and the Kingdom into which He saves us! Properly understood, the message of the Kingdom preached in Matthew 10 is the same message that must be preached in our day as well. For the Kingdom is the “already/not yet” Kingdom, as George Eldon Ladd famously put it. It is the Kingdom that has coming and that is coming, that has arrived and will arrive in fullness. R.G. Lee once thundered from his pulpit about the temporary nature of all earthly kingdoms.

Saddened we are to think of how Babylon—glorious and great—became a vermin-infested, animal-prowling jungle. Sobered we are when we think that ancient Rome with her close-meshed code of laws and her victorious legions became as a branchless tree, dishonorable, fruitless. Regret assails our minds when we think of how ancient Greece, with all her art and philosophy and athletic prowess and philosophers, became a molded crust in history’s garbage can. Saddened we are when we read history’s book and learn how ancient Egypt with all her wealth and wonders, became a shabby sexton of splendid tombs. And we are awed into fear and trembling for other nations of our world today, when we remember ancient Spain, with her piratical ships that harassed all seas and filled the nation’s coffers with gold, felt the hand of God’s retributive Providence, and became a lousy, drowsy beggar watching a broken clock.[6]

But not God’s great Kingdom and not our great King! The Kingdom of God is eternal, unconquerable, majestic, and splendid. It is so because her King is all of this and more! And men and women and boys and girls may yet enter that Kingdom. How? Through the great work of the King who laid down his life!

So let us be the town criers! Let us hold aloft our royal decree and say it loudly and clearly so there can be no mishearing: Hear ye! Hear ye! The King has come and is coming! The King has laid down His life and risen again! The King is inviting you into His Kingdom without end!

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_crier

[2] Blomberg, Craig L., Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (pp. 168-170). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Foshee, Howard B.. Now That You’re a Deacon (pp. 45-46). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Blomberg, Craig L., p. 168.

[5] Wiersbe, Warren W.. Be Loyal (Matthew): Following the King of Kings (The BE Series Commentary) (p. 87). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.

[6] Dan R. Crawford, The Prayer-Shaped Disciple. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), p.68.

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