So find Matthew 9.35 in a Bible, one you brought with you or one in the chair in front of you. I’d like all of us who can to stand as we listen, just as we've been learning us over the last few weeks. So let’s listen to what Jesus says to us through Matthew 9:35 through 10:8.
Jesus went through all the town and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” Amen?
In three of our four Gospels--in Matthew’s story, in Mark’s story, in Luke’s story--Jesus’ first words to his followers are “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” This is important. When Jesus gathers us to himself and turns us into a fellowship of followers, he gives us a purpose and he gives us a mission.
And it wasn’t just the first handful of followers Jesus gathered along the Galilean lakeshore. Paul talks about his favorite churches in the same way. He praises the young believers at Thessalonica because the Lord’s message rang out from them, so that their faith has become known everywhere. Or hear his words to the Philippian believers: I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel, . . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
What I want to say this morning is that unless we are a church going out and living out and shouting out the gospel of God’s kingdom--unless we are a missionary church--we are no church at all. Let me say that again: Unless we each and all take up Jesus’ mission, we are not a church.
This is what Jesus says. In the introduction to his first sermon about the good news in Matthew, he tells his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. . . . Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” The rest of the Sermon on the Mount spells out more particularly how we are to be the salt and the light.
In the words of some Christian friends, the church is “called to proclaim and to be a sign of the kingdom of God. Christ has commissioned the church to be his witnesses” (Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Art. 10).
I’m saying a lot right now. I’m making a pretty big claim. We all have our own preferences and desires and hopes and thoughts and convictions about what the church should be about--about what this church, Dry Creek Bible Church, should be about. I suspect, in fact, that in the troubled times our church is making its way through these expectations and desires may be even stronger and closer to the surface than usual. It’s critical, if we want to walk out of this wilderness with our souls and our fellowship intact, that we pray and listen for the Spirit in our conversation and in scripture--that we pray and watch.
So let’s listen to what Jesus says to us in Matthew this morning. Look again at Mt 9.35. Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus tells us to pray for more workers, and I believe that this is something we do at this church. We are committed to sending and supporting missionaries--in Belize, in Haiti, in Poland, in Belgium, across the globe. We are also a church that prays for a harvest locally. We have Sunday School classes focused on evangelism. We pray for our neighbors, invite them to Bible studies. We patiently and lovingly confront Jehovah Witnesses at our door. We care for our friend sand neighbors through a food pantry in the basement.
These are beautiful things, but I believe Jesus calls us to follow deeper into his mission. Let me quote my Christian friends again. They confess, “The church is called to witness to the reign of Christ by embodying Jesus’ way in its own life and patterning itself after the reign of God” (Art. 10). We only follow Jesus fully into his mission--which means we are only fully the church--when our lives look like his life.
Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in the end of Mt 9 and beginning 10 poses two questions that help us to evaluate how we are responding to Jesus’ call to mission. The first question comes out of those closing verses of chapter nine that we just read. Matthew shows us Jesus living his mission, the purpose his Father set for him. He goes from town to town and village to village announcing the good news that God’s kingdom is arriving.
“God’s kingdom” has always been hard phrase to pin down. So Jesus demonstrates for us what it means: he heals every malady. Here Matthew says “sickness and disease,” but he’s already told us stories in his Gospel about Jesus’ welcoming an outcast with leprosy back into the community, casting out demons, reversing death, and bringing sight to the blind. We could also go back and listen to Jesus’ sermon about God’s kingdom in chapters five through seven--its upside-down blessings, its promised rewards.
We when we read the phrase “the kingdom of God,” we should think “the world the way God wants it to be.” It’s the way God has always wanted the world to be, beginning in Eden. People trusting and loving God, people free of fear and anxiety, people with good food to eat, with friends and family gathered at the table around them. No more violence, no more arguing, no more advertisements. No more hatred or infidelity or deceit. This is the world God longs for, and the world God’s Spirit in our hearts groans for. This is the world Jesus announced in his words and in his actions.
This is Jesus’ mission: reconciling the world to God. Matthew’s Gospel pictures it as Jesus leading a new exodus people away from the broken world into a new-creation promised land. So no wonder that Jesus’ heart aches when he sees the crowds in Galilee. Heart ache--that pain in your stomach, that heavy-chested feeling--that’s what “felt compassion” means in the passage. The Greek word means to hurt in your innards. The crowds lived far, far away from the world that God desires. They were “harassed and helpless.” Another translation would be “anxious and oppressed.” This is not what God wants.
We are familiar with this sort of crowd. Maybe we’re part of this crowd sometimes. The folks in Galilee were poor, farmers struggling to make ends meet, always in debt, always owing more in taxes than they could pay. They were anxious about money. They were sick. Their bodies were breaking down, and no one seemed to be able to heal them. They felt looked down upon and judged. They knew they weren’t living up to their commitments to God (the Pharisees were quick to remind them of this). There were wars and terrorists, accidents, senseless violence. Death confronted them in every shadow.
Worst of all, they were left on their own to deal with this. They had no one to guide them out, no one to rescue them, no one to give them hope. So they scraped by, fought to hold on to what they could. I could go on and on. And despite our indoor plumbing and savings accounts and cable TV, I think that we today are just as harassed and helpless, anxious and oppressed as they were without Jesus’ good news.
Looking out on these scattered flock, Jesus feels compassion. So he prays that God would send--not just God’s Son--but more workers. Chapter 10, then, where Jesus sends out his followers, is God’s answer to this prayer.
So the first question is this: Do we feel compassion like Jesus? Compassion--being hit in the gut--motivated Jesus in all he did. He longed with all the love of God for the world to be made new, to be made right, to be justified. But he lived in our world, a world and a people handed over to sin and death. And here--in our world--his heart ached.
When we see the crowds, how do we feel? I’m going to be honest. Harassed and helpless people are not lovely. Yes, to some degree, we are all oppressed by sin and death--celebrities and saints too. But when it begins to become obvious in someone’s life--when death starts to leave its marks in drug addictions or violence or bad financial choices, or even in old age, in homelessness, in mental illness--I have trouble feeling compassion. I face this in myself daily at my job in a pharmacy. I meet all kinds of people, and I know myself to be much quicker to avoid eye contact with those people who reek of death than to try to work toward their healing with kindness. In the face of such people, Jesus felt compassion, but do I? Do you?
I’ll ask the second question directly: Do we announce the kingdom of God? That’s another way of saying, do we do what Jesus did? Read verse 1 of chapter 10: Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. This is exactly what Jesus has been doing throughout the gospel. In v 7 Jesus says, to those he has “apostled” or “sent out,” “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” These actions read like a summary of what Jesus has done in chapter 4 through 9. Jesus wants us to do what he did. He wants us to announce, in word and deed, that in him God is making the world new.
But maybe you’re thinking, “Wait, Josh. Sure, Jesus wants us to be missionaries, but these instructions were specifically for the twelve apostles, not for us.” True, Jesus is talking to the original twelve, and parts of this apply more to them than to rest of the fellowship of Jesus’ followers. Jesus says in v 5, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” We know that Jesus has sent us to make disciples of all nations, Jew and Gentile, Muslim, Hindu, cult members, new agers, and secular alike. In fact, if we look back to Mt 8, we hear that Jesus had already made a trip to the Gentile region of the Gadarenes and saved two demon-possessed people there. He already had healed the servant of a Roman military officer. But for these twelve, Jesus has a specific itinerary.
He also has specific itineraries for us. He has led Cindy and me to Macedonia, to Chicago, to Bozeman, and now to Saskatoon. He’s led Aaron and Briana to Pakistan and Arizona and Dry Creek and he’s still leading them. He’s led Paul and Cindy to St. Lucia and to Belize. He has specific mission itineraries for each of us; God know the hairs on our heads, the flight path of each sparrow. But if we follow Jesus, we walk every path, make every stop as missionaries, heralds of God’s kingdom. The question, then, is where does this mission lead us? Where does it lead Dry Creek Bible Church? Will we go?
And what will we do as we go? Jesus tells the twelve to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. In short--bring God’s kingdom to where people are in need. Welcome them into the world that God is making new. Welcome them into life set right with God. Set right by God. If they are sick, heal them. If they are dead, raise the. Outcasts? Welcome them home. Demon-possessed? Cast out the evil.
These are miraculous deeds. Signs, we might call them, because they are signs. They signal the arrival of God’s kingdom, the reunion of the broken world and broken people with God’s desire for life, love, peace.
But I am no faith healer, I don’t bring back the dead, I am not an exorcist. Not many of us are, especially in the West. But there are other signs--even other miraculous signs--of God’s desires being done on earth as they are in heaven.
I was a youth pastor at a church in Chicago last year. Once a month the church had a potluck, and a handful of homeless people would gather around the tables with us, sharing food and conversation. They were welcomed as family. There was another time when a group of Nepali refugees moved to the neighborhood. Late in the fall we discovered they had no shoes, only sandals. By the next Sunday they all had shoes. I could name people who were hanging onto hope by a thread who, through long-suffering conversation and hospitality, found life in Jesus. I could name people who thought like they had life all figured out, but who were confronted by God’s call and moved their lives in completely new directions.
These are little signs--very little miracles, perhaps--where we see what is actually good about the news Jesus brings. We follow Jesus when we bring life into hearts, into lives and homes and towns ruled by death. What are the needs in the lives of your neighbors? How does Jesus’ good news answer their need? Jesus tells us to bring that to them.
We have found life in Jesus. With no hope in the world, with nothing to show for all our efforts at making things better, God came down and saved us. Freely we have received, so now we must freely give this life away.
Jesus asks us to follow him in announcing that in Jesus God is reconciling the world to himself, making it right. We name ourselves followers of Jesus, who is the Way. But if we really are his followers--whether alone or, especially, together--we must follow in his way. In Luke 4, Jesus summarizes the purpose, the mission he lives for: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus, filled with all the compassion of God, gave his life for this mission; if we are his followers, so must we.