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The Mission

Date: Feb. 28, 2016

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Matthew 9:35-10:42

Key Verse: Matthew 9:37

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’”

We are just under three weeks from the start of our Easter retreat, Forever. It starts on March 18. Is anybody here stoked about that? That is not a lot of time, and it seems like there is a lot of work to do. Bob, Mike and I are working with our brothers in the Loyola ministry to put together the program and iron out all the details. It is a true collaboration. However, as we move from planning to preparing, the number of people involved grows as each passage needs a preacher, Bible study leaders have to be chosen, musicians choose songs and practice, and people go and invite others to come. Each person is given some tasks that they own and it is their mission to carry out those tasks. That word “mission” is an interesting one. Sometimes Christians get this warm and fuzzy thought about mission. It is very nebulous and free-flowing, but when you think about the word “mission”, it is very specific in its meaning. For those of us who have more of a military mindset, mission means something else. Mission is the specific tasks that are given to you to carry out with a specific goal. A mission can be to liberate a town from the enemy or it can be to stand guard and protect the group. A mission is specific and in this passage, Jesus gives his disciples a mission to carry out.

For the past few chapters in Matthew, Jesus has been going around and teaching and healing a variety of people. Our passage, today, starts out with the same thought, “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.” (9:35) This verse is a bit of a conclusion to the passages of healing and summarizes Jesus’ ministry as a whole. Jesus went around to a lot of towns and there were lots of people who came to hear him and be healed. Although Jesus is the all powerful and omnipotent God, at this time, he was still a man walking this earth. He could only move so fast and could only go to so many places. He could cure all disease, near and far, with a blink of an eye, but then they would not hear Jesus’ message. Jesus wouldn’t be able to share the message of God’s kingdom with everyone in his short time. So he looked out at the crowds surrounding him. “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.’” (36-38) Jesus didn’t want to abandon the people. He loved them and wanted to help them because they had no one to guide them. They were all so thirsty but there were not enough cups so that everyone could drink. It was about supply and demand. Demand was high, but supply was low.

Jesus knew that it was time to begin preparing people to help in his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of heaven is near, so he told his disciples to ask the Lord to send out workers. I’ve got to be honest about this. Sometimes, you have to be careful what you ask for. Jesus told his disciples to ask for workers, and what happened was that those very disciples were the ones to be sent out. If you look at the first verse in chapter 10, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” (10:1) Prior to this point, Jesus had twelve special disciples. There were a lot of people following Jesus and learning from him, but these twelve were the core group and among them there was an even tighter inner circle. Jesus called these twelve to him and gave them the authority to carry out the mission at hand. Jesus had a plan of what was going to happen. He created a set of tasks with a defined goal: a mission, and once he had that mission, he called disciples to that mission. You can see from this that a mission is different from a calling. A mission is independent from a calling, but someone is called to a mission. When the twelve were called, Jesus made sure that they were prepared for what is to come. Jesus didn’t just send out twelve guys who were following him around. He gave them what they needed, so that they could do what was required.

These twelve guys have been with Jesus a bit and he sends them out in pairs. “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.” (10:2-4) This is the only time that the twelve are referred to as apostles in Matthew. Apostle means someone who is sent, and since Jesus was sending these twelve out, they become apostles. Each of these apostles is paired with someone. In this way, the apostles did not have to rely on themselves alone, but they had someone to back them up. We don’t live as Christians in a vacuum. We live in a community of believers. We are not alone in our serving Christ. This is important to remember, because on our own, we have a tendency to rely on our own strength. When we rely on our strength, we find out that there are limits to that strength. We falter and fail. We get burned out, but when we have support, we don’t have to bear the burden. We have someone who is going through the exact same thing and that can strengthen the resolve to complete the mission.

Not only did Jesus give them the authority that they needed to carry out the mission, he equipped them with instructions. “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.’” (10:5-8) This first paragraph in the instructions gives the basic premise of the mission at hand. They were to go to the towns of Israel. Jesus explicitly told his disciples to not go to the Gentiles or Samaritans. Throughout Jesus’ time on earth, the focus of his ministry was the people of Israel. He had come for the whole world, but since Israel knew about the Messiah, the first believers would come from their ranks so that they could proclaim the message to the whole world. However, at this time, the focus is still on Israel. Israel needed to hear the message because their hearts were the ones that were most ready to hear the message.

The first thing Jesus told his apostles to do was to proclaim a message that the kingdom of heaven had come near. The message is of the utmost importance. The message about the kingdom of heaven is the same message that began with John the Baptist and continued with Jesus. The message didn’t change because time had passed, and the same can be said for right now. The message that we proclaim today is the same message that was proclaimed by Jesus. Some people might think that since it is the same message, it must be outdated. Jesus’ time was 2,000 years ago; surely people have changed since then. We’ve got smartphones, selfies, Facebook, airplanes, rockets, locally roasted coffee, cronuts, and even cat videos. There is so much that is different from 2,000 years ago that we, as people, must be different. When you think about it, though, we are not really any different. What drives us, drove people for thousands of years. Money, things, sex, power, and pleasure drove people thousands of years ago and it still drives us. The message of the kingdom of heaven isn’t outdated; it is timeless because people all struggle with the same things even across time. We all need the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom is perfection. It is healing. It is redemption. It is salvation and a new life, and that is something that we could all use.

The second thing that Jesus told his apostles to do was to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, and drive out demons. These were not easy tasks. So far, it is only by God that the dead have been raised and leprosy healed. These were among the two hardest things to reverse and only God had the power to do so. Each of these things that Jesus mentions here, he has already done. Again, Jesus is commissioning his apostles to be just like him. He tells them to give the same message he gives and to do the same things that he does. These miracles that he tells his apostles to perform are signs that the message is true. The news about the kingdom is true because God has stamped these men with his Spirit. They speak on God’s behalf and their acts prove that God is on their side, because only God can do what they are commissioned to do. Think of it this way: if only God can raise the dead and these apostles are raising the dead, then it follows that these apostles are sent by God. And, if they are sent by God, then you had better listen to what they have to say. The miraculous signs are only proof that the message is true.

Now, everyone here is hearing this message on mission. You might have already been called or you might just be hearing the faintest of inklings of a calling, but in God’s eyes, we all have a mission to carry out. We are called to a mission, and it is up to us to answer that calling. Now, all of our missions are not identical. There are people that only each of us can reach based on the uniqueness of our lives. Based on what we have gone through in our lives, our mission is shaped by on what shaped us. What each of us is called to may be different from person to person, but there is some commonality to each mission. The root of all mission is the message. We all have a message to give. It is the same message that Jesus gave and the same one he told his apostles to give, “the kingdom of heaven is near.” Some people preach it, some have discussions about it, some people live it, but at the root of all mission is that message because it is timeless. You might be called to invite many people, then your message is about he kingdom. You might be called to help people develop their faith, then your message is about the kingdom. You might be called to help people feel at home, then your message is still about the kingdom. Our tools and methods may change from person to person, but the message remains constant, because without that message, there is no place to lead the people to.

Right now, my mission is pretty focused. My mission is two-fold. One part involves me standing up here preaching God’s word to you. Another part is extremely unique to me. How many people use our website at iitubf.org? How many have ever been there? It is a part of our ministry that I think not many of us think about. We post our sermons there and have an archive of Daily Bread devotional. Everyday, the Daily Bread is automatically posted to Facebook and Twitter. This allows people to share the devotional with others. Now, getting the sermons online might seem like a trivial thing. But doing it properly allows people to find it through searching on Google and the other search engines. This area might seem insignificant, but just this past year, in 2015, we have had 5028 unique sermon read, with the top sermon receiving nearly 1300 unique reads. We had 1300 people reading one sermon in 2015, who we would not have reached otherwise. People are coming to our site from around the world to read and listen to our sermons. We’ve had people from India, the UK, Kenya, the Philippines, NIgeria and South Africa visiting. It is my mission to ensure that the message that we share finds its way to people that we couldn’t reach otherwise.

Another commonality in each mission is the fact that, no matter what we do, our lives should reflect what Jesus did. Jesus called his apostles to heal like he healed, and he calls us to be like him, too. We need to be full of the same love, grace and understanding that Jesus possessed. You know, nowadays, Christians are thought of as narrow-minded bigots because we keep ranting on what we think is wrong. Jesus didn’t do that. He was recognized as a friend of sinners, full of grace and compassion. He embraced those who acknowledged their sins and cheered them when they chose the path of life. The love and grace that Jesus had should permeate throughout our lives, so that people will know that the message that we share comes from God because we are like God. This is something that we all struggle with in some point of our lives. It is so easy to not reflect Jesus because we can get caught up in the reality of living. We trust and rely on ourselves and become so focused on our own lives that we forget Jesus and what he has done for us. When that happens, the light in us dims and people don’t see Christ in us. Unfortunately, when people don’t see Christ in us, they cannot accept the message we have to share.

Jesus recognized this, so when he sent out his twelve apostles, he did not want for them to trust in their own strength. He told them, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” (10:9-11) Jesus wanted the twelve to trust that God would provide for their need. The work that they were going to do was so important to God that he would provide for all the needs of his servants. When we are carrying out the mission that we are given, we don’t have to worry about all the minutia of life. God makes sure that we are taken care of so that we can serve him as needed.

Now, the message that they will share will not be universally accepted. There will be people that do not want to hear what we have to say. There will be opposition. In the short term, the twelve would just leave the place where the message was not received. In the long term, however, situations would be much harsher. “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (10:17-18) In the larger mission, there are people who really don’t want to hear the message of God’s kingdom because that message requires us to realize that we all have fallen short of God. It requires all of us to recognize that we are wrong, and many people don’t like hearing that they are wrong. Today, right and wrong have been replaced with a spectrum of personal uniqueness, so that right becomes multi-faceted to the point that almost anything can be viewed as right. In this climate, nobody is actually wrong, there is just a difference of opinion. While this should lead people to be more open to others, it also has the effect of people not being able to accept that they can be wrong. People have been so coddled and never told “no” that they cannot accept it. These people will react to being told that they have sinned and done wrong in God’s sight.

But when we are pushed, we can find solace. Jesus says, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (10:19-20) God promises that he will help us to know what to say. When we are in serving our mission, we are not acting on our own behalf. We are acting on God’s behalf and he will provide us with whatever we need. Even when we do not know what to say, he will give it to us. When people push back and people persecute believers, we can be taken aback. We are often surprised at the response, but God will see us through.

It is true that we are often surprised when people persecute Christians. This is a nation that has religious freedom, but more and more it feels like this country has religious freedom for everyone but Christians. And yet, this surprises us. Jesus said, “You will be hated by everyone because of me”. (10:22) Just because we align ourselves with Jesus, people will hate us. Just this past week, Mary was trying to buy the flooring for our building. The place where she was buying it from had a strong policy in place. As a church, we are a non-profit organization and receive tax-exempt status. As a church, we don’t have to pay taxes, but the flooring store has a policy that they won’t honor the tax-exempt status for a church, and they were starting to get all rude to Mary. You can talk to her about all the details. Everything was all ironed out through our contractor, but simply because we are a church, the store was throwing a hissy-fit. It takes us by surprise but Jesus said that this would happen and it is not without precedent. Jesus said, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” (10:24-25) We are not greater than Jesus. Jesus saw much opposition in his mission. If he saw it, then we should really expect it when we carry our our mission. If people insulted Jesus, he shouldn’t be surprised that we are insulted because we follow him.

This can be discouraging, but Jesus calls for his apostles to stand fast and not be afraid of them. God loves us and cares for us. He watches after the birds, surely he will take care of us who are worth even more to him. We cannot succumb to the hostility that is thrown our way. We have to remain steadfast in our devotion to Jesus. Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (10:32-33) It is a serious offense to live before people and not God. We do it because of fear. We are afraid of what people might do, so we back down. But we should be afraid of what God might do. The worst that people can do is kill us. That sounds very serious, but God can do more than kill us. We can be tossed into hell and eternally be burning, forever separated from the good, good Father. When faced with persecution, we need to face the reality of the situation that God is a far worse enemy to have than any person who might threaten you. We have to take up the burden, the cross and follow Jesus to the complete end.

Now, this sounds like a dangerous mission. I mentioned that we have a choice to answer the call to that mission or not. Based on what Jesus said about people’s reaction, we might not want to answer the call, but the difficulty that we will face is insignificant to the mission itself. The mission to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near is so important because we all need it, and if we don’t proclaim it, then who will? I’ve not talked specifically about this message, yet, because I want to bring it up here at the end. The message “kingdom of heaven is near” is the good news that God is close. He is not as far away as most people think he is. We have lived a life that is separated from him. The decisions we have made have led us further and further from God. The emptiness in our hearts yearns for something more than this world can offer and that is God’s kingdom. This world is broken and Jesus’ message is an invitation to leave this world behind and come to perfection. Our sins deserve death. We deserve to die in this dying world, but Jesus offers life. He died on the cross, so that we could be cleansed of the filth that has accumulated in our lives and enter into the kingdom where life never ends. We don’t have to live burdened with the pain and guilt that we have held on to for so many years, because Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection have taken it away. Now that we have been given a mission, we have an opportunity to share that story with other people. If we don’t share it, then who will? If we don’t give people the opportunity of life, then we are responsible for their death. The mission really isn’t all that dangerous because we already have that life and no one can take it from us.

Today, I bring to you an opportunity. We know that a mission is laid before us and we have an opportunity to choose to take it or not. The mission will not be easy, but we will be protected. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go out and proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near, and to live your life like Jesus did so that the message can have weight. It will not be easy. In fact, the mission may feel like it is impossible, but nothing worth doing was ever easy. The lives of billions are at stake. The devil is drawing near, but people need to know that God’s great kingdom is even nearer. Will you take up that mission? Let the lost be found in Jesus’ name. Let the church arise to shine your light to the world. This message will self-destruct.

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