Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian

“The First Christian Missionaries” (Exposition of Matthew 10:1-15)

The 18th century British Baptist William Carey is often referred to as the “Father of Modern Missions.”  He began the modern missions movement with a sermon which called upon British Baptists to forsake their view that if God was going to convert the heathen, He would do it without our help.  This sermon called upon Christians to use means for the spread of the gospel among the heathen.  He called upon his hearers to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.

But Carey’s call was simply an echo of the original call of Jesus to take the gospel to the world.  Jesus Himself was the first missionary, sent by God to this world.

Galatians 4:4-5  But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  (5)  to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Jesus then sent out His disciples and continues to send us:

John 20:21  As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.

This morning’s text contains the account of the first Christian missionaries.   They are missionaries because the word “apostle” which is used to describe them refers to those “sent on a mission.”  They are Christian because they are sent out by Christ with a message about Christ’s kingdom.  And, they are the first, well because they are the first ones sent out on mission by Christ.

In this text Jesus is sending a specific people out to a specific place for a specific purpose.  However, in spite of the differences in the situation, there are still enough similarities for us to learn from their mission.

Here we see the first missionaries, the mission field, and their mission.

And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.  (2)  Now 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;  (3)  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;  (4)  Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.  (5)  These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.  (6)  But go rather 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, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.  (9)  Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts,  (10)  nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.  (11)  “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  (12)  And when you go into a household, greet it.  (13)  If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  (14)  And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet.  (15)  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!  Matthew 10:1-15

I.    The Missionaries, vv. 1-4.
The first missionaries were none other than Jesus’ 12 disciples.  This is the first mention of the twelve, although the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew are recorded in earlier chapters.  By this point, Jesus has obviously called all 12 of His disciples.  In this text He commissions them for a specific mission.  These twelve, as I said earlier, are referred to as “apostles” which means they are sent on a mission.  The lists of the twelve are interesting (cf. Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, Acts 1:13).  Simon Peter is always listed first.  There are three sets of four which always appear together.  Peter, Andrew, James and John are always in the first set of four.  This is not only because they were apparently the first ones called by Jesus, but also because of their prominence in the ministry of Jesus and afterward.  Judas Iscariot is always listed last which should not be a mystery to us.  It is interesting that only in Matthew’s account is Matthew himself referred to as “the tax collector.”  I believe this is included by Matthew as an expression of wonder that he, though a sinner, should be called by Jesus.  The most striking thing about this list of men is their ordinariness.  John MacArthur has written a book about these men titled simply, Twelve Ordinary Men, and they certainly were.  Fishermen, tax collectors, nobodies.  These are the kinds of people which Jesus calls to be missionaries.  In other words, people like you and me.  The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31,

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  (27)  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;  (28)  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,  (29)  that no flesh should glory in His presence.  (30)  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption  (31)  that, as it is written, “HE WHO GLORIES, LET HIM GLORY IN THE LORD.”

There is a method behind the apparent madness of God choosing people like you and me.  It is in order that no human being would ever be able to stand in the presence of God and boast of their worthiness.  Instead all the glory goes to God and God alone!  We dare not miss this lesson from the calling of Jesus’ disciples and their commissioning as the first Christian missionaries.  If you are a believer, then you too have been commissioned by Christ in Matthew 28:19.  This mission is not yet complete.  The call is still extended.  We must heed the call.  We are either go-missionaries, co-missionaries, or no-missionaries.  To be a no-missionary is not an option for the child of God.

II.    The Mission Field, vv. 5-6.
One of the key differences in the mission of the first Christian missionaries and our mission today is the mission field.  Jesus sent His disciples specifically and exclusively to the nation of Israel, i.e., “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”   This is in keeping with God’s design for the gospel message to first be preached among the Jews.  This is encapsulated even in the ministry of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who said in Romans 1:16,

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

This mission, however, will change.  Not that the Jews are to be neglected.  By no means!  But our commission is to take the message of the gospel to “all nations” (Matt. 28:19),  and “the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  There are hints about this shift even in chapter 10.  In fact, I believe there is a shift in between verses 15 and 16 from the disciples’ immediate mission to Israel and the churches’ future mission to the Gentiles.  For example, see Matthew 10:18, “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”

Our mission field today is the world.  We, as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, have the privilege and responsibility of taking the message of the gospel to the entire world.  That means we have to be actively sharing the gospel here.  We have to be willing to go there.  We have to be giving to support those who are willing to go there.  We seek to do this with our own outreach in our community and our giving to missions both North American and Internationally.  These offering envelopes are not charity, they are a means of obedience to the command of King Jesus.  We must be about this mission of taking the gospel to our mission field, just as the disciples had to be about their mission.

III.    The Mission, vv. 7-8.
There is a five-fold mission outlined by Jesus in verses 7-8.   Preach that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, Heal the Sick, Cleanse the Lepers, Raise the Dead, and Cast out Demons.  There is a continuity between the ministry of Jesus and His disciples.  These five things are exactly what Jesus Himself had been doing.  We see this continuity in the book of Acts where the works of the apostles are shown to be a continuation of the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The key component of the mission, however, is the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.  The other four components of the mission are signs of the reality of the message.   These were a fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the coming of the kingdom.  When the kingdom came there would be healing of diseases.  Just as Jesus told the disciples of John in the very next chapter when he sent them to ask if Jesus was truly the Messiah,

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:  (5)  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

The message which Jesus commissions the disciples to carry is the message that the kingdom of God has come in His own person.  This is what John the Baptist preached (3:2), what Jesus Himself had preached (4:17), and it is the message that you and I continue to proclaim.  Jesus is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  His Kingdom is an eternal Kingdom.  Therefore, all must repent of their sins and rebellion against this King and trust in Him as their saving Substitute.  We have a message to proclaim:

2 Corinthians 5:18-21  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,  (19)  that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (20)  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  (21)  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus makes clear in verses 11-15 that His messengers were to be received as if He were Himself speaking to them.  To reject their message was to reject the Messiah and to be judged accordingly.  It would be worse for those who reject the message of the disciples than it was for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.  To reject the message of Christ is to invite severe judgment.  Instead, embrace the message of Christ and Him crucified and escape the wrath to come.