Last Sunday we read Matthew’s version of the Great Commission. Today, we read Matthew’s version of an earlier commission, one where Jesus sent the disciples into the world in pairs to preach, heal, cast out demons and raise the dead. They were not men of rank and office. They were plain men of good sense, fair character, great honesty with favourable opportunities of ascertaining the facts to which they were witness. They were ordinary people who could fulfill the commission. We as ordinary people are also capable of fulfilling the same commission.
The word “compassion” suggests strong emotion and means “to feel deep sympathy.” Christ’s humanity allowed Him to show compassion for sinners in terms of human emotions. He was literally moved to tears over the plight of sinners. He knew their spiritual needs were more desperate than the need for physical healing. The only way to meet that need was to have more workers.
Jesus saw these people as “weary and scattered…sheep without a shepherd” because the religious leaders, who should have been their shepherds, were trying to lead them away from the one true shepherd. Jesus saw people burdened with the rites of religion, the doctrines and teachings of the Pharisees and neglected by people who should have been enlightened teachers.
Jesus knew that the number of people who flocked to His ministry was great. He knew people expected the Messiah and were prepared to receive the Gospel. He also knew that there were few people engaged in teaching the multitudes.
Because Jesus saw the great need of the multitudes, He urged His disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for more labourers. That prayer, which is at the core of the modern mission movement, is still the only hope for the “lost sheep” of each generation. We have a duty to pray for the conversion of the world. The harvest is just as plentiful now as it was in the time of Christ. Millions of people have not heard the gospel, and there are very few people to teach them. Evil runs wild in our world today. Only God can qualify those who go and preach the gospel to the world. We have a duty to pray to God to have pity on the world and send faithful people to tell the world about Jesus.
In the last verses of chapter 9, Jesus urges His disciples to pray for labourers. These verses summarize Jesus’ ministry of compassion. It is a presentation of the compassionate shepherd. It also shows the kingdom happens wherever Jesus is ruling. The kingdom creates a dualism in society, one that often pits Christians against the world and its evils. The kingdom calls us to a decision in the world.
In the first verses of chapter 10, He calls them to become the answer to their prayers as “sent ones.” They would be sent forth to share His presence, power and purpose. The answer to Jesus’ request came after prayer. Prayer conditions us to the will of God. Jesus prayed to God for more workers, and God answered His prayer. Prayer prepares us to share with Him. God often uses us to help answer our own prayers.
The 12 apostles were specifically told to take their message to the Jews and not the Gentiles or Samaritans. The message was for the Jews first. Jesus saw them as sheep without a shepherd. They were God’s chosen people. They spent a long time looking for the Messiah, so it was appropriate that the Gospel should be shared with them first. If the Jews accepted Jesus as their King, the nations would be blessed through them.
Because God had freely given the apostles the resources they would need to perform their ministry, they were not to sell their services and make money for what they did. If they sold their gifts for money, they could have made a fortune. At the same time, they would have obscured the message of Christ’s grace. They could accept support to meet their basic needs. Similarly, we are not to sell the gift of Christ’s grace for money, but those of us who are ordained and preach the Gospel can accept support for our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
In the late 19th century, William Carey felt a call to travel to India as a missionary to share the Good News of Jesus. Fellow ministers scorned him, saying, “Young man, if God wants to save anyone in India, He will do it without your help or mine!” They missed the point of partnership. God does very little on earth without people like us.
Our ministry, like that of the apostles, falls into three categories. We are witnesses for the resurrection. We are teachers. We build on the foundation for the church. If we want to fulfill this ministry, we must be motivated. If we don’t have the motivation, we aren’t going to do anything.
Doing this ministry won’t be easy, just like the disciples’ ministry wasn’t easy. Jesus told the disciples that the world would be hostile to their message. He did not give them false hope. Hostility toward the disciples would not cease until they were martyred. Similarly, we will face various forms of persecution. The world is still hostile to the Good News.
A young person once told Billy Graham that he or she would be going on a mission trip with a church youth group. The group planned on serving a village in a very poor country, helping to put a roof on their church and doing some Bible programs for children. The young person asked Billy Graham for advice.
Billy Graham replied:
“But God not only wants to work through you to help others. He also wants to work in you while you’re serving the people of this village. Be alert to His leading, therefore, asking Him to use this experience to teach you new things about Himself and what He is doing in the world. You may discover, for example, that in spite of their poverty, the people of this village are actually rich in faith and love. Sometimes our wealth and comfortable lifestyle get in the way of a true commitment to Christ.”
“God may also want to open your eyes to the needs of the world. Most people today have very little, compared with what we have; many, in fact, face hunger and disease almost daily. Do we care? Many also do not know Christ, and have never had an opportunity to hear of His love.”
Billy Graham’s message is also a message for us. As we serve others, God will work in us and teach us new things about Him and what He is doing in the world. He will teach us about other Christians through other people.
If we are to serve others, we must serve them as they need to be served and not as we decide to serve them. It is important for us to make faith in Christ an option-making faith a possibility to people. In doing so we respect their freedom while making them aware of their responsibility.
The nourishment Jesus offers us as the Bread of Life provides us with the fuel we need to serve others, and that’s what the life God gives us is about. God has given us the message and commissioned us to take it to the world. He has given us the methods. All He needs is for us to work together and do our share to reach the world for Christ. Will you make a commitment to help spread the Gospel and thereby be a part of what God is doing in the world today? I urge you to get out of your comfort zone. I urge you to care. I urge you to share. I urge you to pray, and I urge you to ask God for the boldness you will need to carry out His orders.