• 13 October 2023

Matthew Chapters 10-12 – Mind the Gap!


In our experience at EPW, one of the biggest difficulties facing pastors and believers in the majority world is the gap between the reality they see and God’s promises in scripture. For example, the gap between the daily persecution of Christians and God’s promise of a perfect world. Or the gap between the acute pain felt by some and God’s promise of life to the full. Do you or those in your congregations know that tension? What makes us doubt that it is worth serving Christ today and this year? Wonderfully, Matthew writes to encourage and equip us to live and speak for Jesus and chapters 10-12 are a helpful reality check for us.  

Matthew unpacks the nature of our mission (chapter 10) and the Lord who stands behind it (chapters 11-12). After Jesus revealed his compassion for the lost in 9:36-38 and urged us to pray for God to send out workers into the harvest field, it is not surprising that he should go on to speak about mission. However, although Jesus’ teaching on mission appears in various chapters of Mark and Luke, Matthew presents it in one place in ch10.

1. This is Jesus’ mission … so let’s commit to it passionately (Matthew 10)

First, we see who is involved in mission (10:1-4). Despite being familiar with the Apostles, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a very surprising list. In this gospel, most of them only have walk-on roles and very few even have speaking parts. Only one of them, Peter, does very much at all. Do you see? They are not the founders of Christianity. There is no permission here to portray them in stained glass windows, make statues of them, or name churches after them. Matthew’s point is the exact opposite. Jesus enlists an ordinary group of people to carry on his glorious mission. Do you see? It is all about him rather than about them or about us.  

And this point is underlined as we see what is involved in mission. To engage in mission is to be caught up in a task launched by Christ himself (v1, 7-8a). The message of the Apostles is to be the same as Jesus’ message. Their gospel will be authenticated in the same way as the Lord’s, including even healing the sick and raising the dead.  

It is worth pausing to remember that this is clearly the launch phase of Jesus’ mission. Matthew wants us to see that it starts dramatically. But these miracles are not even sustained to the end of Jesus’ ministry in the gospels, let alone the end of the New Testament. Therefore, it is unhelpful to suggest that raising the dead will be an everyday occurrence today. It was not even an everyday occurrence in the gospels. Calvin, the great reformer is helpful: ‘this ability wasn’t an inheritance for them to hand down to their descendants but a seal of the preaching of the gospel for that occasion.’ Instead of reading such things into descriptive narrative passages, let’s grasp Matthew’s key point. Jesus’ mission is continued by ordinary people like us rather than by superheroes.  

And notice that they first took the gospel to God’s covenant people. Matthew has already hinted that the gospel will go to Gentiles, such as the Magi, Levi and the Centurion. But Jesus’ focus here is on the gospel going to Jewish people, who are, v8-10, to be offered the gospel for free. Money is never to be a motive in ministry. History demonstrates that mission is always fatally compromised when money becomes the goal. So, in v11, the apostles are to find someone who is sympathetic and make their home a mission base. In all they do, v14-15, they are not to lose sight of the seriousness of the gospel message. Jesus’ mission results in salvation for those who accept his message and judgment for those who reject it.  

It is no great surprise that such a divisive mission results in opposition and persecution, v16f. The Lord knows that those engaged in his mission will be easy targets (v16) and yet he sends them out anyway. It is a good caution for us. Sometimes, we want to believe that if only we are reasonable enough and respectful enough, people will warm to us and like us. FD Bruner is more realistic and reminds us of the ABCs of mission – namely, ‘arrests, beatings and confrontations’.  

However, v19-20, the Lord will ensure the apostles have the resources they need because it is Jesus’ mission. How honest of Christ to warn the apostles, v21-22, that nothing can protect them from hatred and hostility and that even family ties may be found wanting. How should they react? Jesus tells them, v22-23, to press on in mission. It is inevitable, v24-25, that Jesus’ disciples will share his experience. Do you see? It is easy for us to assume that if only we are careful and charming and sensitive that, somehow, we can succeed where Jesus, the perfect preacher (who was also the Son of God) failed. It will not happen. We cannot please everyone. We should never seek to be deliberately difficult, but we need to be realistic – we will still face rejection.  

And when we do, we need to fear the God who sends us rather than the people to whom we are sent (10:26-28). Ultimately, it is the awesome God, the judge of all the earth, to whom we are accountable. And yet, wonderfully, he also pays attention to insignificant sparrows and knows the number of hairs on our heads. So, pastors, hear Jesus’ reality check about mission and don’t fear people. Instead, have a right fear of the Lord God.  

2. Jesus is the Lord … so let’s listen to him wholeheartedly (Matthew 11 & 12)

Behind this mission stands the Lord Jesus himself. Christ is the one who commands, equips and motivates us as we live and speak for him. He defines and shapes not only our mission but every aspect of our lives. And in chapters 11-12, Matthew presents many portraits of the Lord as he warns us to listen to him. He points us to Jesus as the promised Messiah (11:1-19), the coming Judge (11:20-24), the Son who reveals his Heavenly Father (11:25-30), the Lord of the Sabbath (12:1-14), the Spirit endowed servant (12:15-37), the greater prophet (12:38-45) and the head of a new family (12:46-50). However, this is more than simply a portrait gallery. In each encounter, we are urged to listen to Christ and respond rightly to his gospel. 

It is evident across chapters 11-12 but let’s see how it works in Matthew 11. Remember that John the Baptist had a clear view about how God’s King would come with his axe and winnowing fork to bring justice (3:7-12). He was no doubt sustained during his own imprisonment by the hope that, at any moment, he would be vindicated as the Messiah brought justice, overthrew the Romans, and freed him from jail. And yet, despite Jesus’ impressive ministry, the Roman tyranny remained in place and John remained in prison. Do you understand his confusion? There was a gap between the reality John saw and the expectations he had about Christ. Thankfully, John asked his question (11:2-3) and the answer Jesus gave him corrected his confusion.  

First, Jesus asks John to consider his works, v5-6, and see that he was God’s promised King. Jesus tells John not to be offended by what he does or doesn’t do because believers won’t experience all of the blessings of Christ’s rule in the here and now. It is easy for us to be puzzled by how Jesus works today if we see him as the King come to sort out the mess in the world. But we are not to be outraged if Jesus doesn’t heal that loved one or prevent bloodshed in that country or free a godly prisoner from that brutal regime. Jesus is God’s King acting in line with his priorities and his timing. We are blessed if we’re not offended by him and reject him because we have wrong expectations about who Christ is or how he will act. God’s King always does the right thing in the right way and at the right time.  

Second, Jesus calls the crowds to consider John‘s ministry, 11:7-19. Why did they get up early and drag their family and friends out into the wilderness to hear him? It wasn’t to hear a people-pleasing preacher who bowed to every wave of political correctness or a smooth operator who would never say anything awkward (11:7-8). No, they were a spiritually starved people who had not heard the word of God for 400 years. They went to hear John because they heard echoes of God’s word in his blunt messages about God’s Messiah. Jesus says, v9f, that John was more than God’s prophet. He was the final messenger preparing the way for the Lord himself. Do you see? If that is who John was and if that was why they made all that effort to hear him then how much more should they listen to the Lord, whose way he prepared? How much more should we listen to Christ and want to be in his kingdom?  

John was a great one. And yet, v11, so great is Jesus and his kingdom that the least in it is far more privileged than the greatest member of the old order. John marks the end of the age of promise. Jesus’ arrival brings in the age of fulfilment. John pointed forward to the King and his kingdom. Jesus invites us to join his kingdom. John outlines the shadow of salvation to come but Jesus calls us to humbly listen to him to enjoy the substance of it. Yes, forceful men like Herod and the religious leaders, v12, will oppose Jesus’ kingdom. However, because it is infinitely greater than the old order, it will be unstoppable.  

Do you see the challenge? If John, the final messenger pointed forward to God’s glorious kingdom, how much more should we listen to Jesus, God’s great King (v13-15)? We shouldn’t be like the childish people in Jesus’ day who clung on to their caricatures, mocking John as an irritable party pooper and writing off Jesus as an immoral party animal (v16-19). It didn’t matter whether the message was to repent or rejoice, these people would never be satisfied and wanted messengers to dance to their tune. They ignored John’s call to listen and turn back to God and they ignored Jesus’ welcome for all who trust in him.  

And Matthew arranges his material to teach us that such a failure to listen is very serious. Did you notice? Clinging to childish caricatures resulted in their armchair inactivity (v20-24). The cities that had witnessed Jesus’ miracles in chapters 8-9 were very privileged but they ignored the evidence and refused to repent. They may have been religious and respectable but they wanted Jesus to dance to their tune. And Matthew wants us to see that their refusal to listen to Christ meant they would not turn back to God and so when Christ returned to judge, it would be more bearable for notorious OT cities, such as Tyre and Sidon. It is possible to be greatly privileged, enormously responsible and in desperate peril … to be no better off than Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgement.  

Such people may have thought they were wise and clever, but Jesus says they will be unable to understand and act as if the truth has been hidden from them (11:25f). For all who cling to childish caricatures and refuse to repent, God will not allow them to treat the Lord of heaven and earth like an equation to solve or a subject to study. But did you notice the glorious hope held out at the end of ch 11 – the wonderful promise of understanding for the humble and rest for the weary? All who are humble enough to admit they don’t know it all, all who are not wise in their own eyes and so willing to listen, all who come empty-handed like little children, the Son who knows the Father offers to reveal him to us (11:25-27). And all who are weary from the back-breaking burden of religious rituals, there is an invitation to come to Christ, who is gentle and lowly in heart to find rest for our souls.  

Pastors, let us give thanks for the mission of the Apostles and those down the years who modelled Jesus’ mission in chapter 10 and brought the gospel to us. And then, let us hear the challenge of chapters 11-12 to listen to our Lord wholeheartedly. Only then will we come humbly to Christ, repenting of our own sin and stupid self-sufficiency, and rejoicing in his welcome and rest for our souls. 

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