Sunday, September 16, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Special Agents"

“Special Agents”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
September 16, 2018 :: Matthew 10:1-16 

We’ve reached a new section in this book.

Matthew chapter 10 is what is often called the “Mission Discourse” or “Jesus’ Major Teaching on the Mission.” And we will quickly see why it’s often called that.

Jesus is going to send out His disciples on the first ever Christian short term missions trip. And He’s going to give them a bunch of instructions.

And many of the instructions were specific to just that trip. We’ll see that in a second. But a bunch of the instructions have an ongoing long-term application to us today.

This is the second major block of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew.

What was the first major block? The Sermon on the Mount, right?

I promise you we won’t take 5 months to get through this one!

We won’t do it all today. We’ll just make it to verse 16. But I don’t see us taking more than 3 weeks to get through all of the Mission Discourse in Matthew chapter 10.

I could be wrong, of course. There’s a lot of good stuff here to digest.

“[Jesus] called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”

Up until now, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus disciples don’t do much of anything except listen.

They are called by Him. They sign up to be fishers of men. They drop what they are doing. They leave their jobs. They begin to follow Him.

But now, Jesus is going to hand pick 12 of them and bestow special authority upon them and send them out.

This is a commissioning passage.

Now, how much authority does Jesus have?

Authority has been the key word ever since the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

“The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had...authority!” Chapter 7, verses 28-29.

The centurion was a man under...authority with soldiers under his authority, and he recognized Jesus’ authority over sickness. “Just say the word.”

But not just sickness.

The storm, right? “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Chapter 8, verse 27.

Or the demons? One word, “Go!” and they had to go.

What else?

Jesus has authority over death.

Jesus has authority, chapter 9, verse 6 “to forgive sins.”

How much authority does Jesus have?

All authority, it appears.

And now Jesus is delegating some of that authority.

To these twelve special agents.

That’s what I’m going to call this message today, “Special Agents.”

Because that’s something we know about these days, unlike “Apostles.”

What are apostles?

Apostles are authorized representatives.

They are people sent on behalf of someone else with some of that person’s authority delegated to them to represent that person to others.

Kind of like an ambassador?

Of course, we don’t know that much about what it’s like to be an ambassador, either.

But a lot of our favorite TV shows have special agents in them!

So, let’s run with that.

Jesus is commissioning twelve special agents to go on a mission for His kingdom.

At the end of chapter 9, Jesus pointed out the harassed and helpless crowds. He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

And He told His disciples to pray. He told them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest field.

And guess what?

Chapter 10 shows the Lord of the harvest answering those prayers!

“He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”

We don’t know exactly what that looked like, but it sure sounds exciting!

Jesus has been doing this sort of thing. Now these 12 special agents will be doing it, too.

I’ve got two headings for today’s message. Here’s number one. These special agents were:


Did you see that in verse 1? “He called his twelve disciples to him.”

Now, I don’t want to make too much of that. As if Matthew was making a big point about it, but I do think it’s helpful to point out that before Jesus sends anybody out for Himself, He first calls them to Himself.

Remember, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

First, we come to Him. Then we are sent by Him.

Here, of course, they are just being gathered around. Twelve special agents given special authority. V.2

“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.”

There’s a lot there in those 3 verses! I thought about preaching a whole message just on that list.

How many apostles were there? Twelve.

How come?

We don’t know. Many Bible scholars suspect that there is a connection here with the twelve (what?) tribes of Israel, right?

Twelve sons of Jacob, therefore twelve tribes of Israel. Now a new community is being birthed and there are twelve leaders of that.

I think there is something to that. I don’t want to take it too far, but there’s obviously something about the number twelve.

Notice that they are bunched into groups. What kind groups? Well, there are clearly pairs. Two by two. Simon and Andrew. James and John. Philip and Bart, etc.

There are also 3 groups of four. And every time these guys are listed (which is 4 times in the New Testament) even though the order is different each time, Peter is always first and Judas is always last and there are 3 groups of four. Probably teams within teams.

Now, what else do you notice about these special agents who were called to Jesus?

One of the things I notice is how different they are from one another.

Jesus calls different people to Himself. Jesus loves diversity.

I mean some of these guys have nothing in common with each other.

Some do. Some are brothers. There’s at least two sets of brothers. How fun is that?

And some of them did the same job. There are at least 4 former fishermen.

But then you’ve got this tax collector in there. Or at least a former tax collector.

We saw that the last two weeks.

What kind of men were they?

Traitors, right? Sell-outs. Extortionists. In bed with the oppressors.

They were in league with the Romans!

Is there anybody on the other side of the political spectrum in this bunch?

Simon the what? The Zealot.

What does that mean?

That means he hated the Romans. And was, at least before he came to Jesus, a nationalist who probably supported insurrection.

He was anti-Romans. He wanted to overthrow the Romans.

How do you think those two got along?

My guess is that they got along just fine. Because they were both called to Jesus.

They probably had some interesting discussions. Maybe some heated conversations.

But the important point in both of their lives was that they had been called to Jesus.

Let me ask you. Is that the most important thing in your life? That you have been called to Jesus?

And can you love and work together on the mission that Jesus is sending us on even with people who are very different from you in significant ways?

The people in this room are not all the same. In fact, there are a lot of differences in this room. Politically. Economically. Racially. Vocationally. Educationally. Physically. And the rest of Jesus’ church in America and worldwide is even more diverse!

Can we work together? On mission?

Some of you here are “Make America Great Again” red cap Trump supporters. Some of you here are “I sure miss President Obama” folks. And there are lots of people here somewhere in between.

Can we love each other?

Can we fulfill the Great Commission together?

We can, if we think of ourselves as first and foremost called to Jesus.

One of these men betrayed that calling.

He saw himself as primarily called to serve himself.

And his name has now forever been linked to treachery. V.4

“Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”

You know it’s interesting. Something else I noticed is that none of these guys were rabbis before. None of them had been to seminary.

Nobody had previously trained for the ministry.

There were no “Pastor Matts” in there.

Jesus called men from the workplace, from the marketplace, from everyday walks of life.

Jesus loves to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

He trains them as they need it.

He loves to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things because He loves to get the credit.

Because it’s His authority. Because we are called to Him.

By the way, most of these guys, we don’t really know what happened to them after the book of Acts.

I mean Peter and John, sure, but how about Thaddaeus?

I’ve got a really good book called After Acts by Bryan Litfin that explores the lives and legends of these apostles. You’d be welcome to borrow it if you’d like to know what we know and how much we know about them after the Bible was completed.

We could note more in verses 2-4, but let’s move on.

These twelve special agents were called to Jesus and then they were:


I was going to say “sent FROM Jesus” because that’s true, too. But I didn’t mean that he was sending them away from Him like in a punishment. And there’s something here about being sent FOR Jesus, as if they were sent in His place.

They are representing Him.

Let’s look at it. V.5

“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, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Let’s stop there for a second.

Those are some pretty special agents, aren’t they?

I mean look at what they get to do in verse 8!

I don’t think those are instructions for us today. I don’t think the church today has been given that delegated authority like the apostles had at that time.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”

Who does that sound like?

That sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it? Doesn’t that sound like chapters 8 and 9 that we just got done with?

Jesus is telling His special agent to replicate His ministry.

And it’s the same message, too. Isn’t it?

“As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'”

John the Baptist said it. Chapter 3, verse 2.

The Lord Jesus said it. Chapter 4, verse 17.

Now the apostles are to say it. “The kingdom of heaven is near!”


Because the King has come.

That’s good news, isn’t it?

The promised kingdom has drawn close.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Of course that means repentance is called for.

Jesus doesn’t say it in verse 7, but that was the upshot of it before, and I’m sure it still is here.

The King has come, turn away from any other kingdom!

You see how these special agents were supposed to represent the King?

To whom were they to go?

At this point, just to the Jews. To the Jew first. V.5 again.

“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Does that mean that Jesus doesn’t love the Gentiles? Or that He didn’t love the Samaritans?

Of course not. He’s already reaching Gentiles and Samaritans by this point in His ministry.

But see that word “sheep” in verse 6? I think that ties into the “sheep without a shepherd” in verse 36 of the previous chapter.

Jesus has a heart for those crowds of Jewish men and women harassed and helpless.

He is their Messiah, and for THIS TRIP, He is sending His special agents to tell them about the kingdom and to prove that it has come through miracles.

Later, the instructions will change. By the end of this book the mission will be to go to the whole world and make disciples of every nation. Even people in Central Pennsylvania!

But for now, they are to go specifically to Israel, and announce the kingdom.

And they are not to charge anything for it. “Freely you have received, freely give.”

These special agents didn’t pay any fees to receive this kingdom, they don’t charge any fees to give it away to others.

In fact, they are called to travel very light. V.9

“Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.”

Again, I think these instructions are just for this particular missions trip. I don’t think that missionaries today are not supposed to take money or bags or a change of clothes or anything like that.

Jesus envisions a short trip that won’t require a lot of long-term resources.

And He expects the people they will talk to will provide hospitality. Not a fee. Not a salary. Just these people who get to hear about the kingdom will want to provide food and room and board for the special agents of the King. V.11

“‘Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. [A worthy person is someone who receives the message of the kingdom.] As you enter the home, give it your greeting. [Shalom!] If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Now, again, I don’t think that this gives us timeless instructions for how to do missions or how to do ministry today.

Though maybe we ought to think our way through it.

There may be principles here about frugality and generosity and supporting those who do missions work. And principles here about total dependence on God and about looking for those who are receptive to the message of the gospel.

But what I notice most of all is that these special agents are sent FOR JESUS. They represent Him.

They take His message about His kingdom to people.

And if they are received, then He is received.

But if they are rejected, then He is the One who is really rejected. Look at verse 14 again.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words [where did they get those words? Those are Jesus’ words! That’s the gospel of the kingdom! If they will not listen to your words...], shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Who brought judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah?

God did.

Jesus is saying that if these special agents are rejected, it will be as if they rejected God Himself. Because they are.

That’s really helpful to me.

I mean when I think about being rejected when sharing the gospel. I tend to think about myself.

But if someone hates me for following Jesus, it’s really Jesus they hate.

Because it’s all about Him, right?

So that should make us bold, shouldn’t it?

I mean, here we are tasked with being His own representatives!

Special agents for the King.

We may not have the authority that the apostles did.

But we are called to share the gospel with the last, the least, and the lost.

And if we are received, then so is Jesus!

And if we are rejected, so what? They are really rejecting Him.

Do you need to hear that today?

Do you need to see yourself as a special agent of King Jesus?

Not a secret agent!

We should be known for following Him.

But we should be representing Him to the rest of the world.

Does that make you bold?

Notice again just who does He think He is?!

If the special agents of Jesus are rejected, what does He expect will happen to those who reject them?

It will be worse than Sodom and Gomorrah for those who reject Jesus.

That means that Jesus sees Himself as equal with Yahweh, the God of Israel.

And now, He’s sending out His apostles. Look at how they are supposed to see themselves. V.16

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

We’re going to start there next time.

The next section talks about how dangerous it’s going to be for these apostles and for many other agents of Jesus throughout history.

Sheep among wolves.

So therefore, they (and we) need to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.

Wise and strategic and shrewd like a snake.

And at the same time, loving and holy and pure like a dove.

Chew on that for the next couple of weeks.

And commit to being like yourself.

As you represent Jesus to the world.

Called to Jesus by faith to be saved and to be His disciple.

And sent for Jesus to represent Him to the rest of the world.


Previous Messages in This Series:01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem