Read Matthew 11:1-6
When asked by John’s disciples about who he was, Jesus doesn’t directly answer their question, rather he gives a more cryptic answer as Jesus would typically do. Here, he alludes to many scriptures that point to his coming. (Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:4-6, Isaiah 43:6-7, Isaiah 43:8, Isaiah 61:1-3, Isaiah 66:2, Zechariah 11:7). There’s two things that are remarkable here: the declaration of miracles and the declaration of the good news being preached.
These two prongs of Jesus’ ministry where quintessential. While Jesus was a miracle worker, he made no apology about preaching a message of sin, repentance, and salvation for those who would believe. For some, however, this message was offensive and they didn’t want to hear it. If Jesus would have been merely a miracle worker, it’s likely that he would have not offended anyone, but he did manage to get the religious elite stirred up because of what he preached.
Today’s Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit and commanded by to do great deeds in Jesus’ name. Jesus declares later in Matthew that the ones who do so do it unto Jesus (Matthew 25:45). Given this though, good deeds to the world is not a substitute for declaring the Gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16) and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Yes, the gospel will offend some, but to others it will be the best news they ever hear because it means forgiveness and eternal life!
Lord, help me to show others your love and declare the truth of your gospel!
Read: Matthew 10:40-42
In the work of the gospel, there are goers and senders. In the New Testament context, the goers were the apostles (literally, “sent one”) who made it their life’s work to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth and starting churches where they went. The senders were the ones on the other end, supporting the work of the apostles as they went. These senders came from all sorts of backgrounds, but they too played a part in helping advance the gospel.
In Matthew, Jesus is speaking to his disciples concerning the rewards of those who receive the apostles and also do things in accordance with the scriptures. The apostles themselves were the New Testament analog to the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed what God told them to. Jesus’ remarks concerning those who receive the prophets receive the prophets reward make an allusion to the Old Testament when both Elijah and Elisha were welcomed into a home, and the welcoming home was blessed because of it (1 Kings 17:9-24, 2 Kings 4:8-37). To this, Jesus adds that the one that receives the righteous man and also gives a cup of cold water will also receive the just reward.
Being a “sent one” comes a great personal cost the one going. It’s for this reason that God has called the senders to take care of the goers, and to them that receive the goers, there is a great reward. In all things though, the one who does this as a way of life doesn’t discriminate: he could be caring for the goer or a perfect stranger. Jesus says that when one does it to the “least of these” they are doing it unto him.
Lord, help me to care for all people, everywhere!
Read: Matthew 10:32-39
Everyone has seen the emails “Forward this to 10 people, or else…” or the social media posts that say “share” then these emails proceed to (mis)quote Matthew 10:32-33. Taken out of context, one might get the impression that Jesus will deny anyone who denies him before the Father, such that that person would be condemned to hell for doing so. This, however, stands in contrast to what Jesus says concerning salvation: those who are saved can’t be snatched away (John 10:27-29, Romans 8:33-39). In the context, Jesus is talking about the process of disciple making and the persecution one endures while proclaiming the gospel, not justification. Jesus had just reminded the disciples of the value that each one of them had to the Father. The “denial” before the Father here is concerned with the rewards for faithfulness that one receives for being obedient to the call of God.
Verses 32-33 come right before another difficult passage where Jesus uses some rather harsh language. Jesus proclaims that he didn’t come to bring peace, rather to bring a sword. This is another text that, if read out of context, could be construed to imply that Jesus wants people to hate their mother and father. He quotes from Micah 7:6, which is set in the middle of a prophesy concerning a tumultuous time when several long-established institutions will be turned on their head. One’s family will be his or her enemy and one’s former foes will be his family. This proverbial sword, which is the gospel, will cause dissention in families. Those living in places with intense persecution of Christians understand this: families will reject the one who chooses to follow Christ. When one chooses to follow Christ – his or her allegiance is to Christ in spite of everything. The division isn’t because a Christian doesn’t want to love his or her mother or father, rather it’s the other way around. Jesus includes many other paradoxical statements here as well: one who doesn’t carry a cross –the despicable act of a criminal — isn’t “worthy” of Christ and one who loses his life will find it.
Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus command his followers to hate people for his sake, but he does give ample warning that those who do follow Christ will be hated on his account. The call to live for Christ comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost is high – including family. The promise here is that those that find Christ will find a new family in other believers and a new life in Christ. For this reason, it is important to be meaningfully connected to a body of believers so that when persecution does come – and it will – one can endure it with others rather than try to go through it alone and be encouraged (Hebrews 10:24-26).
Lord, help me to be faithful!
Three times Jesus says “Do not fear”:
- The first time in verse 26 is looking in response to those who will call malign a Christian falsely, as they did with Jesus when they said he was the prince of demons, Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24). In a manner of speaking, Jesus says there is no need to fear because their falsity will be brought into the light – that is it will be revealed.
- The second is found in verse 28, where Jesus says they ought not fear those who will kill them either. He justifies this, saying that they can really only kill the body, not the soul. But God who is the judge of all call kill the body and soul.
- The third time comes after and admonition concerning the value of a person. Jesus here makes an argument to the greater saying that if a sparrow worth only a penny is worth something to God, how much more is the person worth to God – it’s really beyond measure and nothing misses his view.
In the context of Christianity, there are two kinds of a “fear”. The first is the “fear of the Lord”. This sort of fear is a “good” fear, and really can be equated with faith. Jesus speaks to this fear whenever he says that one shouldn’t fear the one who can destroy only the body. Proverbs 1:7 starts with this idea: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The second sort of fear is of circumstances that is actually the antithesis of faith. One who fears circumstances, especially when circumstances present themselves as a challenge to faith is actually lacking faith.
The context in which Jesus is speaking about this fear is in light of persecution. The persecution that Christians endure can cause them to want to shrink back. The writer of Hebrews wrote to a persecuted group of believers who were being tempted to abandon their faith. To them, he reminds them to hold fast because of the blessing that come as a result of faith – a rich reward (Hebrews 10:32-39). When persecution does come, Christians should think about the future glory, not about the temporal circumstances and be encouraged to keep on.
Lord, help me to not fear, but have faith in you!
Read: Matthew 10:16-23
Persecution for Jesus’ name sake is given in the Scriptures. Timothy says that anyone wanting to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus gives a lot of practical advice to his disciples after he sends them out. He tells them to expect persecution, to not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit would provide what was needed, and to flee when persecution arises.
Indeed, much of this happened in the New Testament times:
- The apostles were flogged for speaking about Jesus (Acts 5:49, Acts 22:19, Acts 26:11, 2 Corinthians 11:24-25).
- The apostles were put on trial before councils, kings, and governors (Acts 12:1-4, Acts 22:33-34, Acts 24-26).
- When the apostles were on trial, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke boldly about Jesus (Acts 4:8-14, Acts 5:29-34, Acts 7:55-56, Acts 26:1-11)
- When persecution arose, the disciples scattered (Acts 8:1, Acts 9:24-25, Acts 13:50-51, Acts 14:6-7, Acts 14:19-20, Acts 17:10-14, Acts 20:1)
Persecution has existed in the church since the earliest days of Christianity and has been a constant theme throughout all of Christian history, even until today. Western Christianity has for the most part a long period of peace, free from hostility towards Christians, but the hostility is beginning to grow. Globally, research shows even now that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, and as the Day draws near, this trend will only get worse for Christians everywhere.
There are several appropriate ways Christians can respond to persecution.
- When it does arise, when possible flee from it. Christians aren’t called to have a martyr complex where they are looking to get themselves killed for the sake of Christ, rather they should have a heart to want to share the gospel with as many people as possible for the sake of Christ.
- Pray for those who are persecuted and pray for those who do the persecuting (Matthew 5:44). This can be hard at times, especially when one is receiving the persecution. But God has called every Christian to love his or her enemy and pray for them when they revile the believer.
- Rely on the Holy Spirit and be joyful (Matthew 5:10-12) Jesus says that those who are persecuted are actually blessed. This is paradoxical, but knowing that there is a God who is in control and blesses those who remain faithful gives reason to be joyful
Enduring persecution takes great faith. All the apostles except John died a martyr’s death. Paul spent much of his later years writing letters from a jail cell. Even today, Christians all over globe are persecuted for the sake of Christ. The call though is to be faithful see it through, knowing that God will reward those who do!
Lord, help me to endure persecution!
Read: Matthew 10:9-15
Jesus after commissioning the 12 to proclaim the kingdom in Israel, he gives them some specific instructions on how to do it: go into a town and find a person who welcomes them and stay there, and “peace” shall fall upon that house. Jesus tells them not to take anything along, rather to find their way entirely based upon the generosity of those who hosted them. This method insured that the disciples wouldn’t trust in anything other than the providence of God as they went about preaching the gospel. And Jesus says that sometimes they wouldn’t be accepted – in this case they would go to the next town, but before leaving they would shake the dust from their feet as sign of judgment on the that.
This principle of going into a town and finding a “person of peace” was certainly practiced by the early missionaries and apostles as they went about proclaiming the gospel.
- Acts 10 tells the story of Peter going to the house of Cornelius who was a Roman centurion who heard the gospel and believed it. He and his entire household were baptized.
- Acts 16:11-15, 40 tells of Paul and Silas going into Philippi and preaching the gospel to Lydia who was converted. Her whole household came to faith.
- Acts 16:22-24 tells the story of the Philippian jailer who too was converted, he and his entire household because of the gospel.
On all of these cases, there was a single person of influence in a community who was found to be open to the gospel and then received it. As a result, numerous others came to known Christ. In the cases in Acts 16, a church grew out of these conversions, to whom Paul later wrote the letter of Philippians to.
There is, however, one occasion in Acts 13:13-52 where no person of peace is found. Granted, there were some people who believed the gospel and were saved, nevertheless because there was great hostility toward Paul and company, they left shaking the dust from their feet in as a pronouncement of judgement on that town.
The person of peace principle still holds as cornerstone in most any disciple-making strategy. Missionaries all over the world use the model that Jesus gave as a way of extending the gospel into villages, towns, college campuses, cities, communities, and even places of work. Missionaries will find a person of peace in these settings and partner with that individual to help establish a lasting presence in which churches can be started and disciples can be made of all those who will hear the gospel. Applying this principle in one’s own disciple making context will help spread the gospel to places it would not otherwise go and create a lasting presence so that the effort multiplies.
Lord, help me to find a person of peace in my context!
Read: Matthew 10:1-8: Disciple Making
Jesus’ discipleship model was not unlike that which is used today in many fields of study. As when a person begins to study a field, he or she starts with the basic and exercises basic skills in a laboratory environment. As skills grow, so do the task to the point where one is ready to start exercising skills outside the laboratory, but still in a controlled setting under the tutelage of a master. Jesus Matthew 10 is doing just this: he’s sending the disciples out on a mission to do the things that they had seen him doing all through the book of Matthew – teaching (Matthew 5, 6, and 7) and performing signs and wonders to show authority authenticate the message (Matthew 8,9). But here in Matthew Jesus puts parameters on it: he tells them not to go to the nations or into Samaria, rather to go to the people of Israel and do the work among their own, as all the disciples were Jews.
Also of note, this is the only place in the book if Matthew that the disciples are actually called “apostles”. The word literally means “sent one”, which is precisely what Jesus is doing here in the text. The command that Jesus gives them to “go” is the same command given in Matthew 28:19 in the Great Commission. In sending them out, Jesus is appointing them to be apostles to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God.
The command that Jesus gives here and in Matthew 28:18-20 are all about the process of making disciples. The command being carried out here in Matthew and also in the book of Acts reflects a similar discipleship model – a more mature believer will teach and train up new believers and then at some point commission them to do the same thing: go and make disciples. It has been passed on from generation to generation up into the present. Paul expressed this principle to one of his own disciples, Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 where he commands Timothy to teach what he was taught to those who can teach it to others. There are at least 5 generations implied here: Paul’s teachers, Paul, Timothy, Timothy’s students, and Timothy’s student’s students.
Every believer today does well to be both a disciple and a disciple maker. Having another to teach one’s self and also having some one to teach will help bring everyone to spiritual maturity and also propagate the gospel to the next generation. God wants his gospel to go out and he’s given the means to do it!
Lord, help me to be a disciple and make disciples too!
Read: Matthew 9:35-38
Israel during the first century was time of political and religious uncertainty with many competing religious and political factions. For the common person, knowing where to lend ones allegiance was daunting task. Did they give it to the Pharisees? Sadducees? Romans? Zealots? None of the above? When Jesus surveyed the landscape though, he saw this and had compassion – the people were lost “like a sheep without a shepherd”. At some point in the midst of all this, the leaders of the community had lost their influence over the people and had become concerned with other things other than leading the people in godliness and right living. Ezekiel warned of such a time in Ezekiel 34, where God stands against the shepherd, yet promises that he himself will come and seek out the his sheep.
In light of this, Jesus declares that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few and that one should pray that the Lord of the Harvest – Jesus – send out more workers. This motif is typically associated with a grain harvest, but here in the context it is probably talking about the time of year when the sheep would be gather for shearing, which required a lot of extra hired hands above and beyond the role of the shepherd to accomplish.
The motif of Jesus as shepherd is common in the New Testament. John 10 uses the same kind of metaphors talking about sheep, and therein Jesus declares that he us the “Good Shepherd”. Hebrews 13:20 calls him the “Great Shepherd” and 1 Peter 5:4 calls him the “Chief Shepherd”. This motif was obviously something that Jesus taught his disciples concerning the nature of those that lead and those that follow. In his disciple-making model, Jesus follows his exhortation to pray with the command to go in Matthew 10:1-5, wherein the disciples who had seen Jesus demonstrate his authority over all matters in chapters 7,8, and 9 are given the same authority, which culminates in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 when he declares that he has all authority, and he sends them out.
Christians today are among the workers that Jesus is sending. Like he said to the disciples, Christians are to be about the work of both praying and going. They pray to the Lord to send out workers and in some cases become workers themselves. In all cases though, every Christian plays a part in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Lord, send more workers into your harvest!
Read: Matthew 9:27-34
The last two miracles Matthew records again demonstrate Jesus’ authority over matters of life when he heals blindness and authority over demons when he exorcises yet another demon. Jesus’ spreading fame had undoubtedly reached the ears of all the sick who could hear about him. The blind men that Jesus encountered after he raised the young girl back to life were certainly two of them. Blindness was incurable, and if these men wanted to receive their sight Jesus was their only hope. They cry out for the “Son of David” to have mercy on them, and Jesus does. But first be asks them if they are willing, and they said “yes” and Jesus heals according to their faith. Jesus however tells them not to tell anyone, but they did anyways.
The scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus at every turn, but in every case the criticism fell on deaf ears because there was simply nothing they could say or do to discredit. Towards the end of Matthew though, their attempts start to get desperate – they accuse him of casting out demons in the name of the prince of demons. This same accusation was later leveled at Jesus later on when some people ask whether or not he is the “Son of David” (Matthew 12:22-28). The “prince of demons” line something that they continued to use. Jesus in chapter 12 point out the logical absurdity of this claim though – he notes that if he casts out a demons in the name of a demon, then his house is divided, and it cannot stand. In other words, if the prince of demons was trying to establish his authority by casting out demons, his methods are self-defeating. However if he casts out demons in the Spirit of God, then it vindicates that he is of God and the kingdom of God had come. The Pharisees did not want to accept this truth.
It’s peculiar that Jesus wouldn’t want people to spread the news about the miracles that he was performing. The people obviously wanted to tell everyone because it was truly amazing. There are a couple of reasons why: Jesus did not want to miracles to distract people from his message, which was to proclaim the kingdom of God, he wanted the priests to declare a person healed so that the Jews would believe rather than demonize the priests, and lastly too much fame made it difficult for Jesus to move about freely in the villages proclaiming the gospel (Mark 1:45). Yet in even so, Jesus still had compassion on people had healed them anyways. All in all, the people still managed to see Jesus as someone of significance: the Son of David. This was a title that was given to the one they believed to be the Messiah – a theme in Matthew. With Jesus position firmly established as the “Son of David” and with authority over all things, he is able to do what he does next, which is send out the disciples to do the same. For Christians today, Jesus still has the same authority. It is up to those that claim Jesus to act in his authority to boldly proclaim his truth and do so in a way that puts the emphasis on the message and show that Jesus does have authority over all things!
Lord, you reign! Help me to proclaim this to everyone everywhere!
Read: Matthew 9:18-31
Raising the dead was an extraordinary miracle to say the least. Of all the miracles that Jesus does in the context of his ministry, this one would have certainly vindicated his authority over all matters, and in particularly life. But in the midst of this resurrection, a woman made a desperate attempt to get healing that she so dearly wanted. She reasons that touching the edge of Jesus’ garment is all she needs to do. This is probably talking about the edge of his prayer shawl that was worn by Jewish men (Numbers 15:38-41). This particular woman had had discharge of blood for 12 years, so according to the Law (Leviticus 15:25-33) she would have been unclean for 12 years, and unable to participate in many of the community activities that required ceremonial cleanliness. Even touching them would have made someone else unclean. Interestingly, Jesus is touched by the woman and he himself touches a dead corpse.
These two miracles undoubtedly reminiscent of the miracles performed by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-36), both of whom were involved with resurrections of dead children. In Elisha’s case, the son of the Shunammite and Elijah’s the son of the widow with whom he resided. In the case of Elijah, the woman used the resurrection as affirmation of Elijah’s status when she acknowledges that the words that came from his mouth were “truth”. When Jesus came to the house, the mourners though laughed at him when he said the girl was “asleep.” Jesus’ expression here is interesting. By saying she was merely asleep, he was alluding to what he was about to do. She was temporarily dead, not permanently so.
Resurrection and the healing point to a greater reality concerning the power of Jesus. The promise of eternal life is available to all who will believe. 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 uses similar language to describe the temporary nature of death for those who do believe. Paul says that not all will “sleep” as some will be alive when Christ returns, however for those that don’t they will experience resurrection. Regardless though, death is powerless such that it has lost its sting and is swallowed in victory by Jesus who makes it possible. Believers will put on the imperishable and immortal. In the New Heaven and New Earth, such things will be done away with – no more crying, pain, or death (Revelation 21:4). The power of God is manifested here, and in this there is great hope!
Lord, you have power over death! Even life itself is under your dominion!