The Kingdom of heaven is near! 9:35-10:15
Jesus' declaration that the workers are few, his selection of the twelve apostles, and his sending them out to proclaim the gospel, introduces the second discourse, 10:5-11:1, Mission and Martyrdom.
v35. From 9:35 to 10:4, Matthew deals with the topic of spreading the news of the kingdom. In this verse Matthew summarizes Jesus' gospel ministry - Jesus teaches in the synagogues and proclaims the gospel in word and sign to the crowds.
v36. For Jesus, the crowds represent the scattered and desolate people of Israel, a people unable to help themselves. The gospel is for the lost, the "sick" (sinners). The language of this verse derives from Ezekiel 34 and Numbers 27:17. Note how Joshua serves as a type for Jesus the shepherd.
v37-38. Jesus tells his disciples that the day of judgment is at hand, "the harvest-crop is abundant", a terrible day when some are gathered into the heavenly kingdom, while others are scattered to the wind.
10:1-4. Jesus now commissions twelve apostles (sent ones, messengers) to further the work of evangelism, and to do so with authority and power. The number twelve obviously represents the twelve tribes of Israel such that the apostles represent the last-days people of God. They even have authority over the powers of darkness. Such messianic signs proclaim the gospel in a visible way to a people who have an understanding of the Old Testament.
v5a. Jesus now gives his apostles mission instructions.
v5b-6. The apostles are to evangelize the people of Israel in Galilee and are not to go north to the Gentiles, or south to the Samaritans. They are to go to "the lost sheep of Israel." Jesus' mission is exclusively to Israel because he is the prophesied messiah who, as the true Israelite (the faithful remnant, son of God), comes to the lost children of Abraham to gather together a last-days community. Only then can the promise to Abraham be fulfilled - a blessing to the whole world.
v7-8. The gospel message is outlined in its traditional form - "the kingdom of heaven (God) is near." The introduction, "the time is fulfilled", and the response, "repent and believe", are left out. The "signs", now fully listed, are visible ways of proclaiming the message. A Jew, waiting for the kingdom, could easily read the significance of the signs. As Jesus said, "If I by the finger of God cast out Satan, then you know the kingdom of God has come to you." On the financial side, the disciples are reminded "you have received without cost; give without charge", NEB.
v9-10. They are to take no money on the mission, nor an extra coat, sandals or staff. They are to rely on hospitality under God's providence. The instructions are clearly for this particular mission to Israel, cf. Lk.22:35-38. The attire of the apostles validates them in the eyes of the people of Israel, and so, like the prophets of old, they must be given a hearing.
v11-15. Those who hear and believe, who are "worthy", are blessed. Those who reject the message are treated as pagans awaiting the judgement of God.
The business of evangelism
Today the stress is on the mechanism of evangelism, rather than on the message. Technique - dinners for six, welcoming teams, "relevant" services .... - are all designed to "access" the enquirer into gospel acceptance. Evangelism then becomes a process dependent upon the skill of the evangelist.
Our passage for study gives us three insights into Biblical evangelism. Marketing methodologies may well build a strong institutional church and therefore promote institutional survival, but methodology will not build the kingdom of God.
1. The theology of evangelism
"The Lord of the harvest." The image of a harvest right and ready and of the Lord sending out his harvesters, reminds us that the business of evangelism is the Lord's business, not ours. Evangelism is not the business of making converts, but of gathering those who seek after the Divine. On behalf of the Lord of the harvest, we but announce the way to those who wait.
2. The message of evangelism - the gospel
"The kingdom of heaven is at hand." The message is simple and positive. Jesus is risen from the dead, and because he lives, we also can live under God's peace - his friends for eternity.
3. The method of evangelism
"Search for some worthy person." Effective communication is the name of the game. We are to seek out the seekers, where they live, work and play, communicating a gospel message to them that is culturally relevant. Opposition and compromise is the constant danger, but Christ's supportive power is always with us.
Use the above three points to develop your own evangelism action-plan.
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