Judgement or Peace?
Go to the lost, give what you got, and bring peace.
We talk a lot at Hope City about how the Bible is our absolute authority - over tradition, over culture - because we believe it is God’s word to us. We want to be a church which hears what God has to say through it, and a church that tries to put it into practice. But one of the challenges - whether it’s on your own at home, in a small group, or when we’re together as a whole church - is understanding how what the Bible has to say applies specifically to us, here and now.
See, it’s an ancient book - well, library of 66 books - from different genres, written by, and to, different people at different times. At one end of the spectrum, there’s stuff which simply applies directly to us, now, just as it applied to its original audience, then. Like when Jesus told his disciples to “do to others what you would have them do to you”, well, that’s still his same command to his followers today.
But you can’t always just pick up these ancient words and plop them into the present, bring them to us, quite so easily. Sometimes you’ll read words written for someone else, somewhere else, some when else. Christmas is on my mind a lot just now - so what about some of the words from the Christmas story: “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” Now those are definitely not words for me - phew!
But it’s not always that simple - not that simple most of the time, to be frank - and there are two big dangers we face again and again as we’re trying to sit under the authority of what’s written: One is thoughtlessly importing something for someone, somewhere and somewhen else as if it applied directly to us. That causes no end of trouble.
But the other end of the spectrum is a huge problem too: just chucking out what we read, writing it off as only something for someone, somewhere somewhen else - with nothing to say to me. Handy if it’s something I’d rather not have to listen to, right?
How do walk the right line here? Well, the first thing to say is it’s not totally straight forward and obvious all the time. Now as inheritors of the fifteenth century Protestant Reformation of the Church, we believe the critical core of the gospel - how we can saved through faith in Jesus Christ - is so clear that anyone can read that out of the bible for themselves. That’s called the “perspicuity of Scripture” if you want the fancy term. But that doesn’t mean everything is so easy - as they set out this doctrine, they also said not everything is equally clear, and when something’s unclear we should recognise the bible speaks with one voice, God’s voice, and so look to the wider bible.
That why whoever’s preparing to speak each Sunday will have spent hours and hours thinking about the passage they’re going to present and how we should rightly understand it. That’s why we dig through big books written by clever people who know lots of stuff to try hard to understand it right. That’s why there are loads of great books written for all Christians to try and help us better understand what we’re reading. Why you can buy study bibles which add notes on each page to help explain more complicated corners - something I would highly recommend getting hold of.
This morning I want to give you one tool I was taught which can help with this - and then we’re going to use it together on today’s passage to unpack it. It’s really simple principle: first, notice what’s different between you and the original audience - to protect us from taking on board things we really shouldn’t. Second, notice what you have in common with that original audience - to protect us from not taking on board things we really should. [diagram two circles with overlap + colours]
Ready to give it a go? Listen with those sorts of ears as Jesus gives marching orders to his twelve key disciples, preparing them to be sent out. We’re in the book of Matthew, and up to chapter 10 which is on page 975 in these blue bibles. Matthew chapter 10 - big 10 - page 975. And we’re reading from verse 5 - look for the tiny five. And Banke is reading for us this morning. Page 975.
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. “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. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 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, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Thanks Banke. So, remember we’re looking for what’s different to help guard us against grabbing things which aren’t for us - and for what we have in common to protect us from ignoring things which are.
And let’s start with one key difference: we’re living in a different phase of Jesus’ mission. When these twelve are sent out, they’re given sharp geographic boundaries Mt 10:5-6
Matthew 10:5–6 (NIV)
“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.
Should we be respecting these boundaries? Of course not - because we’re not them, and we’re not then. Jesus begins his mission with a special focus on God’s ancient people because that was God’s promise to them, to their ancient forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That phase of the mission is where this passage sits in the big story. That’s where this restriction belongs.
But Jesus will go on to commission those same disciples, and every disciple after them, into a wider mission to all nations - Mt 28:19 - If you were with us as we studied our way through the story of the very first Christians, perhaps you’ll remember Jesus’ marching orders at the very start reflecting the same progression: Acts 1:8 they are to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria - that’s the surrounding area - and then to the ends of the earth. That last phase, that global phase, of the mission we’re still in.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
There are few more subtle differences we should notice as well: they’re sent to somewhere Jesus himself has already been, already spoken, already acted. Mt 9:35
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.
And Jesus is sending these disciples out to a people longing for their promised Messiah - and expecting one. A people Jesus has declared “ready to harvest” - that is, ready to respond to God’s message of hope and help. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus told them just a few verses back - in John 4:35 he tells his disciples it’s also ripe; ready.
We talked last week about how it’s not entirely clear we live in that same harvest-ready moment - it often doesn’t feel that way; and certainly in terms of expectations and direct experience of Jesus, that’s not where we are.
But even as we’re chalking up differences, we should also begin to notice commonalities, too: Jesus’ description of that people as ‘lost sheep’ should make us think back a few verses and remember how he felt such compassion for the crowds around him - because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Think about those around you in your everyday world: how many are wandering aimlessly through life whichever way it carries them? how many would say no one cares for them? harassed? helpless? How many need a “good shepherd” to bring them home by laying down his life down for them? Perhaps there’s more in common between that ancient setting and our world today after all.
Lost is an interesting way for Jesus to speak about this - because it shows us it wasn’t always that way, and isn’t meant to be that way. Lost tells us something’s out of place, not where it belongs. That’s the truth for every human we ever encounter: we were all made for God, to be in relationship with him. That’s where we should be - and when we’re alienated from Him, separated from Him, distant from Him, then things are out of place; something has been lost.
So that’s something in common between what we’re reading our lives today: just as Jesus had compassion on the lost sheep of Israel, harassed and helpless, in the same way he has compassion on the lost around you and me. Just as he sent out his rescue mission for the lost sheep of Israel, so also he sends us out in his rescue mission for the lost around us. We have a God who pursues what’s lost. He doesn’t just write it off and forget it.
That’s the “who” of Jesus’ mission - next thing to consider is the “how” of this mission. Mt 10:7
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Proclaim the message - ok - aaaaaaand.. Mt 10:8
Matthew 10:8 (NIV)
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
Is this an instruction for us? A general pattern for Jesus’ wider mission? Or just something for this particular original audience? Back to our differences and commonality tool. First, we should notice these 12 are specifically given authority by Jesus to perform these signs: Mt 10:1
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
We’re not given that same authority - Jesus has it - he has all authority [cue song] - but we don’t have that same authority. We’ve not been given it like these twelve were.
And this command to heal is not one that’s repeated elsewhere or generalised to all disciples either. It’s true these same signs will accompany a few key advances of Jesus’ mission if you follow the story over in to the book of Acts - but they’re not commanded or universal. It only seems to be this chapter, this moment, where they form a fundamental element of the mission - as if there is something different going on here.
So there are differences - can we just write the whole thing off then? Not before we think about commonalities too. Did you notice what Jesus added next? Mt 10:8
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
They were given this authority, this power for free - and they were to give it away for free. But they were given more than just this authority to perform signs; they - and we - have been given something far more precious; something we are to freely give away: the message of the Kingdom of Heaven having drawn near, being at hand, in touching distance, at our fingertips.
These amazing signs the twelve were given authority to perform were only temporary: if you had been healed, you could get sick again - particularly this winter in Scotland, so it seems. If you had even been restored to life, you would still grow old and die again. But the Kingdom of Heaven is better than its signs - it changes things forever. And just as they were sent out to proclaim the Kingdom, so are we
There’s an amazing thing here which is easy to overlook, another thing we have in common: the surprising truth that God chooses to involve us, his people, in his mission. Incompetent thought we might feel, messed up though we certainly are - God, in his wisdom, has chosen to use us to spread the message of his Kingdom, not just push us out the way and go do it himself. It’s been this way from the beginning - this passage is Jesus’ first step in passing his mission on to his followers. God uses us, chooses to use us, as a critical part of his mission.
Feel like we’re getting somewhere? We’ll need to move a bit more quickly, but let’s take on the next chunk of what we read here: Jesus directions for the practicalities of this mission he’s sending the twelve on: what they should take, where they should stay. Travel ultra-light; depend completely on hospitality.
Now, are these directions for our mission too? Is this the rule for all missionaries? All church staff? For everyone carrying Jesus’ message - for all of us? Well, if this is how we should always send someone, we could afford a lot more missionaries! But let’s bring our what’s different / what’s common tool to bear.
What’s different? Remember earlier we talked about the way these towns were “ripe and ready”, hungry for Messiah and already visited by Jesus himself? I think that can help explain Jesus’ expectation that there’d be someone worthy and willing to take in and host the disciples in each town they visit. If you imagine a missionary situation today: perhaps carrying the message of Jesus to a remote tribe, or to a challenging inner city, you don’t have that same foundation, that same ripe-ness to build on.
His instructions about travelling light along with the instruction to not even greet others you pass on the road you’d find in Luke’s gospel communicate the urgency of this particular mission - but we can see these instructions are specific to this situation, not enduring directions for all missions, because Jesus himself updates them later in the story: Lk 22:35-36
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
So it’d be wrong to pull these directions out of their context and say they apply to every mission. We can see from this passage it’s appropriate to prepare for what’s ahead; and we’d see the apostle Paul doing exactly that, for example, in Romans 15: putting resources in place for a planned mission to Spain.
But before we put them aside entirely, let’s pull out the other half of the tool and consider what common ground there is here. Two things stuck out to me: first, God provides for the mission he calls us into. This is common ground these directions presuppose. He keeps the disciples safe on the road; he places worthy homes in each town for the disciples who’d brought nothing. He provides.
He does that still - in mundane and in surprising ways. I have a picture frame in the office with the words “what God orders, he pays for” and a $100 note as my personal testimony to that. I was at a conference imagining next steps forward for us as a church but wondering how we could possibly pay for them. Out of the blue, an American hands me a brown paper envelope stuffed with money; apparently someone gives him a stack of envelopes each time he’s back home, and tells him to hand them out as God directs. What God orders, he pays for - like he always does. we believe that. God provides for the mission he calls us into. Common ground number one.
Common ground two: the worker is worth his wage, or worth his keep, as it appears in this gospel. Jesus’ phrase is picked up and quoted in 1 Tim 5:18 as common ground, a standard pattern that’s been true from the days of these first disciples. Notice this is provision, though: A worker’s keep - the word used here - is his daily food portion. Not his private jet. Those sent out on mission, those working for the gospel, should earn a living from their work. Not a fancy one, but absolutely enough to live on.
With me? Ok, final stop: what do we make of Jesus’ instructions about leaving and shaking off the dust when they’re rejected? Is this a general pattern for us, an enduring command that we should be observing? Or specific only to this moment? This is important: is this what we are meant to do when someone doesn’t welcome the message of the Kingdom? Or should we patiently persist in reaching out with love?
Last time, let’s do what’s different, what’s common, and see where we get to. First up, we’re not all roving missionaries going town to town on Jesus’ follow-up visits. Most of us are settled for the medium term in one place - so we should be cautious taking these instructions for ourselves. More importantly, we’re not in the midst of a people longing for Messiah - at least not a people who know this is what they long for.
If Jesus’ words feel a bit judgemental, a bit sharp, perhaps we should give more weight to this context: the people knew someone was coming; they knew what signs would accompany him - the ones being done right in front of their noses. Remember a few weeks back we were talking about the last two miracles of Jesus in a long series: opening the eyes of the blind and loosing the tongue of the mute - signs that pointed clearly to who he is: God come to rescue. And faced with these signs, some of those watching close their eyes, cover their ears, and reject him.
We see this sort of shaking off the dust and moving on a couple of times in the story of the earliest church - but each time it follows rejection by Jews who in the same way should have known better. These instructions are for a different setting to where we find ourselves; it’s probably not appropriate for us to huff and move on when we’re not welcomed or not listened to. We probably need to take the more challenging path of gentle, patient persistence.
But finally, what’s common. And this is the thing I want to leave you with this morning. What we share with these disciples is the reality that some will embrace the message of the Kingdom while others will reject it. That’s true with our fumbling words - and true even when they get socked with a miracle right between the eyes! These two responses are our common ground with even those first disciples. They were rejected, ignored - just like we sometimes are. And you know what they had to do? Pick themselves up and keep going - exactly what we have to do.
And the reason this is so important is the final piece of common ground: because through the same message we proclaim - Jesus come as Messiah, Saviour and Lord - instead of judgement, some will find peace. A peace which lasts, which rests upon them. And this is peace not just in the sense of no war, absence of hostility - but peace in larger sense of the Hebrew word shalom: Right-ness. Everything in it’s place. Everything as it should be, as it was made to be. No longer lost. Finally home. The Kingdom of Heaven come near.
When we put all this common ground together, here’s the message for us: God sends us out in pursuit of the lost to announce his Kingdom coming near - freely giving what we have freely received; he provides what we’ll need for his mission, and even though some will reject us, others will welcome the message and find peace instead of judgement. So go to the lost, give what you got, and bring peace!
Go to the lost, give what you got, and bring peace.
lost sheep - losing themselves? Is 53:6, Ps 119:176; shepherds failing to pursue Ezk 34:4 so God will shepherd Ezk 34:11. Actively led astray by false shepherds Jer 50:6 and Is 53:6 LXX
signs and wonders: confirming the message Act 14:3 “the marks of a true apostle” 2 Co 12:12 though also by Stephen Act 6:8 and Philip Act 8:6 - not uniformly authoritative though cf Mt 24:24 false prophets will perform great signs and wonders to decieve = Rev 13:14
peace to you I’ve read a bunch of clever people on this whole peace giving and peace returning thing and no one is very sure what to make of it beyond a spoken blessing. This is the only place the idea of a peace that belongs to you, a peace that you give or take back, shows up in the Bible apart from and Jesus leaving “his peace” with the disciples in John 14:27. Lots of ‘peace to you from God’ in the epistles but that’s God’s peace not yours. Peace not just the absence of hostility but shalom = right-ness; without the message of the Kingdom, there can be no right-ness cf SoM hunger for righteousness will be filled