Text: Matthew 9:36-10:15
After recounting a genealogy, birth account, launch of the ministry of Jesus, and his ethical and practical teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospel of Matthew records in chapters 8 and 9 several of Jesus’ remarkable miracles. He cleanses a leper, then he heals the servant of a centurion whose faith doesn’t even require Jesus to go to see the ailing servant, something that astounds Jesus. He heals many others, including Peter’s mother-in-law. He calms the sea as the disciples, hardy fishermen, fret over their lives. He casts out a legion of demons into a herd of swine. He heals a paralytic with four very faithful friends, calls a tax collector to be a disciple, gets questioned by the Pharisees, raises the dead daughter of a synagogue leader, and then is accused of performing miracles through the power of Beelzebub – the Lord of flies and ruler of demons.
And that is how we arrive at the passage we just read. Jesus was just accused of being in cahoots with the devil, but instead of reacting angrily or stopping his ministry, he does something we might consider unexpected. In verse 36, Jesus takes a good look at the people who are seeking him, and his heart is overcome with splanknizomai, that is, heartfelt sympathy and compassion, two words which just touch on the meaning of the Greek word. The idea Matthew is trying to communicate is a kind of emotional outpouring that is not satisfied with just seeing and sympathizing: it’s an emotional connection that drives one to action. It’s a reaction that drives one to service.
Jesus first responds by telling his disciples that they need to pray for workers – servants – for the rich harvest. Then, not only does he pray for workers, but he specifically names several of his followers to go out and do the work that splanknizomai tells him needs to be done. He names twelve of his followers and gives them the authority necessary to do the just what he has done in chapters eight and nine: cast out unclean spirits, heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Divided into six pairs, the service of Jesus now can do seven times the work, because they can now be in seven different places.
Splanknizomai is precisely what we need as we seek to become faithful servants of God. Jesus looked out on the crowd that day and had splanknizomai on them. Likewise, we need to look out on our community – our community of faith, and our broader civic community – and have the same emotional response that demands action. Jesus is looking for workers – servants – to reap the harvest for his kingdom, right here at Monte Vista Baptist Church, in Pittsylvania and Campbell Counties, and around the world. Splanknizomai is where servanthood begins.
Matthew 10, where Jesus sends the Twelve to do the work in Galilee which Jesus so strongly felt needed to be done, is a treatise about servanthood – what it looks like and what they should be doing as they serve, what they can expect to encounter in their work. Over the next few weeks, we will examine what Matthew 10 says about servanthood: how we are to go, what we can expect, what our attitude should be, and what the end results of our serving will be. Today, we will start by looking at what Jesus says about how we are to go, looking at Matthew 10:5-15. From Jesus’ commissioning of the Twelve apostles for missionary service to Galilee, we can learn at least five principles for our own servanthood on behalf of God and His Kingdom.
First, we can learn that we are to go where God tells us to go. Second, we are to go with a specific message. Third, we are to go for [other] people, not ourselves. Fourth, we are to go as we are. Fifth, we are to go where we are productive. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Go where God sends us
In verses five and six of Matthew 10, Jesus puts some severe limits on the work of the twelve. We are accustomed to the Great Commission that will come at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. We are accustomed to what Luke recounts as Jesus’ last words before His ascension: that we are to go preach in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. We are accustomed to Jesus sending us – his disciples – everywhere. But here, Jesus specifically limits the disciples to a particular group of people in a particular geographic region. A lot of commentators struggle over this – what they call “particularist” – limitation. At first blush, it seems like Jesus is saying that the Gospel message is not for the Gentiles or even Samaritans, but only for the full-blooded descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who worship at Jerusalem, and, in this case, live in the region of Galilee.
But I don’t think that’s the point of his message at all. Particularly in light of the other verses I mentioned already that will come up later, even in verse 18 of this chapter. I don’t think Jesus is telling his disciples that the Kingdom is only for Jews – even at this early stage of ministry. Rather, I think Jesus is telling them: we are here in Galilee, preaching a message of God’s Kingdom. The people here in Galilee have seen and heard me. They are primed and ready. This is where we are. This is where we can be effective. Focus all of your efforts here, on these people.
You see, individually – even individually as a single corporate local church body – we are limited. We cannot go everywhere and see everyone. We cannot, on our own, take the message to the ends of the earth, despite the fact that this is the ultimate stated goal of Jesus.
It is not practical for us to cover all areas – even those that are nearby and within easy travel distance. We cannot reach everyone. What we need is a focus on who we can reach. Who are we gifted at reaching and incorporating into our body? Who are we equipped to teach, disciple, and train? The disciples were only twelve men, and they were divided into six pairs. They were limited. That limitation meant that their ministry needed focus. They needed to serve a particular group and not spread themselves too thin by trying to proclaim to everyone and everywhere.
Like them, we are sent to serve a particular group. God’s Kingdom is for everyone. But our own service is for only a small segment of that “everyone.” So we need to be aware of where we are to go and who we are to reach. Where is our Galilee? Who are our Jews? That’s where our ministry will be most effective. Our first lesson in servanthood is that we need to go where God is sending us.
Go with a particular message
Second, we need to take a particular message. Jesus sent the disciples out with a clear message: the Kingdom of God is at hand. That’s shortened from how John the Baptist began preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” But it’s the same message. Their message is our message. It is the Gospel. The Good News. That is what we are taking to the people. That is how we are going to serve them. Of course, we are going to meet physical, emotional, and other spiritual needs as we go – even as the disciples echoed Jesus by healing the sick, casting out demons, and so on. But the point of our serving isn’t the meeting of needs, the point is the message. As Paul tells Timothy in his last letter: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
Always, every day, with every step and every word, be ready with the message which we have for the world. “As you go,” Jesus says in verse 7, “preach.” That’s the second thing we need to know about servanthood: we do not go just to meet a need, we go with a particular message.
Go for people
So we go where God is sending us. We go with a particular message. The third principle we can learn about servant is that we go for people. Jesus said in verse 8, “Freely you received, freely give.” So often we give of our resources – our time, our energy, and our money – based on what the return is going to be. What are we going to get out of it? Many times, I’ve heard people talk about how mission trips are more about our lives changing than changing the lives of the people of wherever the tri p is to. Now, that may be true – and I truly believe that service changes the servant as much as those being served – but the danger comes in our deciding to go on a mission trip or train as a Disaster Relief volunteer for the sake of our own spiritual growth. That’s not the point.
Service isn’t about what we can get out of it. It’s not about growing spiritually ourselves. It’s not about increasing our reputation as a good Christian. When God sends us somewhere, he’s not taking us there to keep us comfortable. Nothing about servanthood has anything to do with personal benefit. Serving is entirely other-oriented. Everything is about the people and the places we are going to. Remember, servanthood begins when we are moved by splanknizomai. We have seen great need, and we desire to take action to meet that need. That’s what serving is about. It’s not about duty. It’s not about worship. It’s not about personal growth. It’s not about obedience, not even primarily about obedience to Christ. It’s about the people whose needs we are meeting. We serve for the people we are sent to serve.
Go as we are
Fourth, we go as we are. In verses 9 and 10, Jesus tells the disciples, “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.” It seems strange to list such things. That word which in the New American Standard Bible is translated as “acquire,” is not just talking about taking something for a journey, but specifically carries the idea of heading to Wal-mart and stocking up for this particular trip. I have two aunts that like to go camping. When they go out on a camping trip, they fill an ice chest with all of the food that they are going to need. But that’s precisely what Jesus is telling the disciples not to do. Instead, he wants them to rely on God’s provision via the social conventions of hospitality that were prevalent in their day.
We don’t benefit from the same social conventions today. We rely on hotels or stocked ice chests, and that’s okay. I think the point of Jesus’ demands on His disciples’ luggage is that when God calls you to serve, He has already provided what you need to accomplish the task of serving. Often, we put off obeying God’s call to serve in one capacity or another because we feel that we don’t have the right credentials, sufficient time, or an appropriate set of skills to adequately fulfill the task. But the lesson here is that when God tells us to serve somewhere, we do not need to pause to acquire new skills, to attain more knowledge, to receive greater training, or whatever. We are already ready. When Jesus commissioned the Twelve for the ministry to Galilee, they could literally walk off the side of the mountain and get started. There was no reason for them to wait. They could start immediately.
That’s the point. When we are called to servanthood, we can go exactly as we are. We are already fully ready for the task that is set before us. We may deny it. We may not understand how we could possibly be ready for it. But we are. Now, I will also say, that God may call us to serve by getting more training, going to a class, or acquiring a new skill. His call may be precisely to that so that we can be ready for another task tomorrow. But whatever he is telling us to do today, we are already ready for. We already possess the prerequisites. We can begin serving exactly as we are. There’s nothing to wait for.
Go where we are fruitful
Go where God tells us to go. Go with a particular message. Go for other people, not ourselves. Go as we are. Finally, we are to go where we are productive and fruitful, not lingering in areas or among people who are rejecting us, our message, our Lord, and our God. Verses 11-15 of Matthew 10 recount a lot of particular customs for travelers during that time period. Greetings, blessings, revoking of blessings, shaking dust off of feet – all of these things sound strange to us, and they are. What these things are are ways to test the waters and see if the people are receptive to the Gospel message. Galilee was already primed. The disciples could know in one night’s stay whether they were in a good area or not.
Today, it may take a missionary a lifetime of work in a seemingly closed area before any evidence of fruit happens. Jesus had already been working in Galilee. They already knew who He was. They had heard the message. They were aware. The point of these verses isn’t to find modern Sodom and Gomorrah’s and leave town with exceptionally clean shoes. The point is this: serve well. Do the things you know to do. Share the message. But when you have done all of that thoroughly, if there is no response, move on. There’s a whole world that needs to hear. Once one neighborhood has had their chance to hear and respond, don’t linger if they refuse to do so.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have received numerous requests for assistance to the church office. Such requests can be difficult to discern. Some needs are genuine. Some are just abusers who go from church to church living on handouts and a free ride. Every Christmas, the church where I previously served receives phone calls asking for help buying presents for kids, or a turkey for their table. It was amazing, but some of the callers would get downright offended if they were told we could not or would not meet their demand. I quickly discovered that if I helped one person, the number of calls I received suddenly and dramatically increased: word got around that someone was flush with help and “aid.”
Matthew 7:6 says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” In the words of one commentator, “one should not remain ministering indefinitely to a hostile audience.” I would add to hostile those who are unreceptive and unrepentant.
We have to be wise with our ministry. We have to go where we are sent. Preach the message that we have. Focus on others. Not wait to serve until we are “ready” – we’re already ready. And we must be wise about our ministry – our service should be productive. The end goal of our serving is not the meeting of needs, but the growth of the Kingdom of God. We want repentance and new disciples, not people eager for another healing miracle or some kind of dramatic display of goodness. There is no end to that.
Matthew 10 records Jesus’ first sending out of others to do the work of service and ministry. After this group of twelve, Jesus would send another group of 72 disciples. And, of course, finally, he would send out all of his disciples to go to all of the world. We are all called to service. Here in Matthew 10 we learn what servanthood looks like. This first part of the chapter tells us how we are to go. Next week we’ll look at what we can expect to come across as we go. Then we’ll talk about the kind of attitude we should have. Then, we’ll look at what the whole goal of serving is.
All of us who seek to follow Christ are called to be servants. We are all ministers. We are all sent. We all have a duty and task that is assigned to us, right here, where we are. I hope as we explore servanthood, you become challenged to grow deeper in your knowledge and understanding of what your place of service is.
Perhaps today you don’t know Christ and are not called to the service of His Kingdom. I would challenge you to hear his message: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. We need to repent because each of us has sinned. We have fallen short of the glory of God. We have missed the mark of what we are supposed to be and do. All of us have. Because of that, we are under the condemnation of God for failing to fulfill his desire for us. Scripture says that the wages of our sin is death. But, thanks be to God, because Jesus, God’s own Son, has both fulfilled the law perfectly and died our death in our place if we will but repent, acknowledge his actions, and accept his work on our behalf. This is the good news that we preach and proclaim. Death does not have the last word through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is the message we servants carry to every place we are sent. If you do not yet know this, please come talk to me now as we sing. If you do know this, perhaps you want to talk to me about how or where to serve. We can together discover what God’s ministry for you is. Either way, don’t leave here without dealing with God today.