Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Disciples' Mission

Thought I'd throw up some excerpts from my second Jesus book these next few days.  Here's one about Matthew 10.
The Sermon on the Mount is the first of the five large sermons in Matthew. It was arguably meant to present Jesus’ earthly teaching in a nutshell. We might call the second of the five sermons the “Mission Sermon,” and it appears in Matthew 10. Jesus sends out the disciples in Mark 6, and Matthew is likely drawing on that incident here.

One of the most striking features of the Mission Sermon is the fact that Jesus tells his disciples to go only to the “lost sheep of Israel” (10:6). They are not to go into the towns either of Gentiles or Samaritans (10:5). This is striking because, in John 4 for example, Jesus goes through Samaria and witnesses to a Samaritan town. And of course in the Great Commission he tells his disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news to all the nations (28:19).

Surely we need to think of Matthew 10:5-6 as “Phase 1.” While Jesus was on earth, his focus was on Israel, not Gentiles or Samaritans. In fact, his focus was not on Jerusalem but his own region of Galilee in the north. Indeed, even in Galilee his focus was not on everyone but the “lost sheep,” those spiritually knocked off track, like tax collectors and prostitutes. “Phase 2” was then after Jesus’ resurrection, when the target audience expanded to the whole world and all ethnicities.

Perhaps this is a good reminder that God can call us to minister to specific groups of people at specific times and places. The danger is to make this an excuse. “I only minister to this sort of person,” when in fact God wants us to broaden our service. Even Jesus himself occasionally ministered to those outside of Israel (e.g., Matt. 15:21-28). When God brings someone into our reach, he wants us to touch them (cf. 1 John 3:17).

While the Mission Sermon begins with what is clearly Phase 1 instruction, I can’t help but feel that a lot of this sermon was not only for the time while Jesus was on earth and not just for the disciples. Why would Matthew preserve instruction that was only for the disciples? Wouldn’t anyone hearing the instructions of Jesus about the mission—especially Christian leaders—have heard a word for them as well? Don’t we hear Jesus speaking to us today as well?

This is especially true when we get to verses like 10:16-23. This is talking about how Jesus’ followers will be dragged before governors and kings (10:18)—something clearly after the resurrection, during Phase 2. These verses talk of the coming of the Son of Man, which reminds us of other passages like Matthew 25:31 that refer to Jesus’ second coming to earth. It’s a very puzzling statement which, whatever it means, surely refers to the time after the resurrection, not just to the Phase 1 mission Jesus sent his disciples out on while he was still on earth...

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