The Mission of the Twelve: Matthew 10:5-15
In an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Sheriff Taylor and his deputy Barney Fife are going through an old chest full of Barney’s things. Among these things was, oddly enough, a rock. When Andy asked Barney what the rock was doing there, Barney admitted that the rock wasn’t worth anything but that he kept it because it had a lot of nostalgic value to him personally. Now the fact that the rock meant something to Barney didn’t make the rock valuable to anyone but himself. But now suppose that this rock was shown to be valuable to a historic figure, like Abraham Lincoln for example. This fact alone would immediately make the rock more valuable. Like an old pair of boots that belonged to Elvis Presley that recently sold for almost $45,000 at an auction in the UK. It’s almost incredible that anyone would pay that much for these boots because these boots are not only old, they really are hideous. But the fact that they belonged to a legend makes them valuable. In other words, the value of something is a function of the person or persons who put value on the object. The importance of the person who values something makes the value of it rise or fall according to the importance of the person.
Another thing that makes something valuable is the demand for it. If a lot of people want a thing, it becomes valuable. If, for some reason, a million people wanted the rock from Barney’s chest, it would become more valuable than if just Barney himself wanted it.
Now I don’t want to press the analogy too far, but I would argue that it follows that what God values is most valuable. For the importance of God’s person is infinitely greater than the importance of even the greatest human being. As Flavel put it, the distance between men and worms is not so great when compared to the distance between men and God. And though the importance of an individual may change, God’s importance and value and worth never changes. What the apostle Paul expressed as a doxology is true: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).
Moreover, as God upholds all things by the word of his power, as he holds the breath of every human being in his hand – “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) – it follows that God is worth more than every human being. What God values is worth more than if every human being that every lived or will ever live valued it.
Also, though the worth of many things depends upon the views that people have of it, there are some things that we would say are valuable in themselves. We might say that honesty is valuable in itself or that water is valuable in itself. The character attribute of honesty is valuable no matter how insane and dishonest a society becomes. Water is valuable in itself, no matter what people might think of it, because without it we die. Even so, God is valuable in himself. In fact, the value of things to which we ascribe inherent value actually owe their value to God. Water is valuable because God so made us that we need it to survive. Honesty is valuable because it is a reflection of the character of God. In other words, the things that we would say are inherently valuable really are valuable only because God has put this value in them.
Thus, it can safely be said that whatever God values is valuable and ought to be valued by us. In fact, the tragedy of sin is that when we sin we value what God hates. When we sin we are putting worth upon something that is inherently worthless. Thus, when we abhor that which is evil (Rom. 12:9), we are seeing something (sin) for what it really is: as hateful and disgusting. On the other hand, when we don’t hate sin, we are lying to ourselves: we have been caught in the web of sin’s deceit (Heb. 3:13).
How does this relate to our text? It relates to our text because in it we see that God values something very much. And that thing that God values is the gospel. The gospel is therefore the most important message that we could ever hear. How is it valuable? First, we see its value in its connection to the promises of God. We see that the gospel is something that is at the very heart of God’s action in human history. Second, we see its value in the context of the message and ministry of the apostles. It is about the kingdom of God. It is demonstrated in miracles. Third, we see its value in the way Jesus sent out the apostles: God will take care of those who proclaim this message. God values the gospel and therefore values those who preach it. Finally, we see the value of the gospel in the warnings attached to it: those who reject will find a fate worse than that of Sodom. Now if God so values the gospel, should we not?
Now there are many things about this text that are historically unique. God doesn’t send us out today with the same instructions. We are not sent out with the same ability to perform miracles as the disciples. We are to go to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. The instructions concerning what they were to take or not take was for the apostles during the earthly ministry of our Lord; we are not meant to take this as a commission for every missionary who goes out today. Nevertheless, the gospel that the apostles preached is still the same, though its audience is wider. And we need to hear these words because in a day when the true gospel is ridiculed and dismissed, we need to be reminded again and again of the surpassing worth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to have the same estimate of it as did the apostle Paul: the gospel is the message of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
Before we look more closely at this text, I want to make one more preliminary point. The point is this: God values the gospel because he values people. Remember, the background behind this commission is the compassion of Jesus recorded in Matthew 9:36, where Jesus sees the people as sheep without a shepherd. This language is recalled in the actual commission in 10:6. This teaches us that the gospel is not primarily a set of doctrines to go to battle over – though there are times we do need to go to battle over the gospel – the gospel is primarily God’s good news to sinners. It is the announcement of what God has done to bring us back to himself. There would be no gospel and no message of salvation if God was not a God who loves and saves sinners. Even so, we cannot truly value the gospel if we do not value people. Let us value the gospel so that we value people.
So let us look at four ways in which it is seen in this text that God values the gospel, and why therefore we should value the gospel.
First, we see it in those to whom they were sent: the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v.5-6). Why did Jesus tell the apostles to go only to the people of Israel? This might seem puzzling for many, especially considering the fact that at the end of his earthly ministry, in the Great Commission, our Lord instructs his disciples to “go . . . and teach all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Why not start that way?
The reason lies in God’s promise to Abraham. God’s promise to Abraham was that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). God separated the people of Israel for himself as a nation, and gave this nation the status of being the people of God. Israel thus had a special status that was not enjoyed by any other nation upon the earth, then or since. Part of this special status lay in the fact that God gave Israel his word: “He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Ps. 147:19-20). This is the point that Paul makes in his letter to the Romans. He tells us that the Jew has definite advantages over those who are not Jew, and this advantage lies in the fact that “unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2).
But since Israel had the word of God, they also had the promises of God concerning the Messiah, the Son of David, who would save them from their enemies. It was therefore only right that when the Messiah did come, he would first address those to whom these promises were entrusted. And even after our Lord ascended into heaven, the apostles recognized the priority of bringing the gospel to the Jew: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
Thus, this mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” has God’s action in history, going all the way back to his promise to Abraham 2000 years earlier, as its background. And here we see the value of the gospel. God has been shaping human history, creating and casting down nations and kings, in order to bring the Christ through Abraham’s family into this world. The gospel is so important that God spent thousands of years of human history just to bring it to us – through the nation of Israel.
And then there is the fact that they are called the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” What does this imply? It implies that God is looking for them. God is doing what he promised to the prophet Ezekiel: “For thus saith the Lord GOD; behold, I even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seekth out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day” (Ezek. 34:11-12). This is also the picture that our Lord used when he responded to the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes that he received sinners and ate with them. Jesus tells them that he is like a shepherd who, though he has ninety-nine sheep safe at home will spare no trouble to rescue the one sheep that is lost (Luke 15:1-7). What is interesting about the three parables in Luke 15 is that in each case that which was lost was valued, and that is the reason the lost item was sought after. Even so, God seeks the lost sheep of the house of Israel because he values them, because he loves them. And he values the gospel because the gospel is the instrument he uses to rescue lost sheep.
But it is the same today. We ought to value the gospel because we ought to love people. The thing that every human being needs the most is that which is offered to us in the gospel: the forgiveness of our sins and acceptance before God through Jesus Christ. And what was true of the house of Israel is true of us: we are all lost sheep. There is none that does good, no, not one (Rom. 3:9-18). Let us out of love to God and Christ and love to the souls of men, value and prize the gospel. Let us be like the apostle Paul, who described his commitment to the gospel this way: “For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us” (2 Cor. 5:13-14). If God seeks the salvation of people, we ought to want people to be saved, too. And therefore we ought to value the gospel of Christ.
Second, we see the value of the gospel in the ministry they were sent to perform: to declare the kingdom of heaven is at hand and to demonstrate that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (v. 7-8). Moreover, this ministry was free: “freely ye have received, freely give.” The disciples didn’t merit their place in the kingdom of God. They received it of grace. And their message was therefore to be a message of grace, and their lives and ministry among the people was to be consistent with their experience of the grace of God in their lives. Their message was the message of Isaiah: “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1).
But is it contradictory to say that the gospel is valuable on the one hand, and on the other, to say that it is free? No. That would be like saying that water in a barren land is not valuable because the people who live there can’t pay for it. The reason the gospel is about the free grace of God is not because it is inexpensive or without value. The reason why it comes to us freely is only because we have nothing valuable in ourselves to pay for it. The gospel is like water in a midst of a famine: it is infinitely precious. In fact, this is the way it is describe in another part of Isaiah’s prophesy: “Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Isa. 44:2-3). The gospel is a message to those who thirst, to those who feel and see the infinite worth of the message of God’s grace: “And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
Yes, the gospel is free and it is precious. It is precious because it is the glad tidings of the nearness of the kingdom of God. For God’s kingdom to be near meant that its blessings were near. This was demonstrated in the miracles that the disciples and our Lord performed: “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Mt. 12:28).
What are the blessings of the kingdom? The fact that the gospel comes to us in the language of the kingdom ought to tell us something about its blessings. Calvin says that the reason why this language was used was to tell the Jews three things. First, it is the kingdom of God – this is not a kingdom that we build. We are let inside by the grace of God, not the kindness of men. Thus, we owe our restoration to divine favor to God’s power, not our own. Second, it tells us that “under the reign of God their condition would be prosperous.” This is the kingdom of heaven, and though the kingdom awaits the future for its fullest manifestation, the miracles in Jesus’ time pointed the Jews to the nature of the kingdom. It is a kingdom in which sin in all its manifestations would be finally conquered. Finally, it is to tell us that “the happiness which had been promised to them was not earthly and fading, but heavenly and eternal.” Can you think of anything more valuable that what is given to those who inherit the kingdom of God? How precious then is the message that brings such blessings to us!
Third, we see the value of the gospel in how they were sent: relying on the providence of God to supply their needs (v. 9-10). Our Lord tells the apostles to go with just the bare essentials and not to weigh themselves down with things. The temptation would have been to carry a lot of stuff so they could be self-sufficient. They might have wanted to take extra money to buy food. But our Lord tells them to “acquire no gold or silver or copper” for their belts (v.9, ESV). They might have wanted to take extra clothing (v.10) in case what they were wearing wore out. Maybe they thought they might need two tunics (“A long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin.” ESV note) in case they had to sleep outside in the cold. But our Lord forbids all of this. And the reason he gives is that “the workman is worthy of his meat.” In other words, they don’t need to take any of this stuff because they will be provided for by the people with whom they stay (v.11-13).
But in our Lord’s words in verse 10 are not only instructions but also a promise. They will be provided for. Our Lord forbids all the extra stuff because he knows they will not need it. It will just slow them down. God will take care of them. Yes, he will do it through the generosity of people. They shouldn’t expect a raven to feed them like Elijah. But it will still be God’s provision. And the reason why God will provide for the apostles is precisely because he cares about the message they are carrying.
By the way, it is the same today. No, these specific instructions are not to us. They were to the apostles. But we still carry the same message that they carried. All who belong to Christ carry this message. And the fact of the matter is that God will take care of you just as he took care of the apostles. Regardless of
what role we play in the church of God, we are to seek first the kingdom of God, like the apostles, knowing that as we do so, “all these things will be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33). “All these things” are the things we think we need to get along in life. They are the silver and gold and copper for our belts and tunics and sandals and staffs. But our Lord says to us, just as he said to his disciples, “Seek my kingdom first and I will take care of you.” The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I not fear what man shall do unto me” (Heb. 13:5-6).
Finally, we see the value of the gospel in the authority with which they were sent: whoever rejects them rejects Christ and brings judgement upon themselves (v. 11-15). Our Lord wanted the apostles to make it clear to those who heard this message that this wasn’t a “take-it-or-leave-it” thing. If people rejected the message, even if they had been staying in their home, they were to be told that not only were they not to have God’s blessing and peace upon their home, but that they could be certain of God’s judgment.
One way they were to do this was to shake the dust off their sandals whenever they left a home or city that had rejected the gospel of the kingdom. One commentator explains: “A pious Jew, on leaving Gentile territory, might remove from his feet and clothes all dust of the pagan land now being left behind, thus dissociating himself from the pollution of those lands and the judgment in store for them. For the disciples to do this to Jewish homes and towns would be a symbolic way of saying that the emissaries of the Messiah now view those places as pagan, polluted, and liable to judgment.”1 This action would have been shocking and outrageous to the Jews, but it underlined the seriousness with which the gospel should be taken.
In fact, it is so serious that according to our Lord, to reject the gospel is to do something worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, for it makes a person liable to a greater judgment than they received. In terms of earthly judgments, one cannot really get worse than what happened to these two cities. But according to our Lord, it will be worse for those who reject the gospel in the face of such evidence as the cities in Galilee received during the ministry of the Lord and his apostles.
It is still a serious thing to reject the gospel. The judgment for us will still be worse than that for Sodom because we have the gospel and they didn’t. We need to remember what J. C. Ryle said many years ago: “Men are sadly apt to forget, that it does not require great open sins to be sinned, in order to ruin a soul forever. They have only to go on hearing without believing, listening without repenting, going to Church without going to Christ, and by and bye they will find themselves in hell!”2
Yes, God values the gospel. But that means that if we reject it, it is a serious thing indeed. The Bible is clear: “We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb. 2:1-3). What are we doing with the gospel? Have we truly received it? Have we become disciples of Christ? Then all is well with our souls! But if not, then there is nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment which will devour the adversaries. May we all know the preciousness of the gospel by personal experience!