Sent By The Lord
1. Today's passage of scripture starts out at the place where Jesus called his twelve disciples to his side. The people who were called disciples must have been a great number already at this point in time. But, in particular, in this text the twelve are made distinct from the others and are called aside. The names for the twelve are given in the record. The details are different from each other, but the list of these twelve men are also given in both the gospels of Mark and Luke as well. We see that the twelve also had special meaning for the church afterwards. As a matter of fact, going by this gospel account, it finishes by their being sent out into the world by the risen Christ. (Originally speaking, at that point in time since Judas Iscariot was missing, there were eleven of them, though.) Before long they go out into the world in accordance with the word of the Lord, "You will go and make my disciples of all peoples," (Matthew 28:19). Thus then, The Gospel According To Matthew sees the sending of the twelve apostles (actually eleven) by the risen Christ as the starting point for ecclesiastical history.
2. In today's passage of scripture, it tells us of the extent to which these twelve had been sent into the surrounding towns and villages by Christ during his life time. You might say that this is a practice run before being sent out [again] later by the risen Christ. As to be expected, this event and the words of Jesus at that time must be understood and told as not only having to do with the disciples who were there then but for the work of the later disciples and for the later church. Of course, in that sense, it also involves us as well. Today, through this scripture, I would like for us to remember three things in particular in relation to our being the church and our being Christians.
Sent By Christ
3. First, we need to remember that we have our raison d'etre (reason for being) in that we are a church sent into the world. "In sending the twelve, Jesus commanded them as follows," (verse five a). They are called "the twelve apostles," (verse two). "Apostle" means "the one who is sent." In saying "the one who is sent," it means to say that [that person] does not exist for himself or herself. Therefore, the church that starts from the sending of the apostles did not exist for itself alone. It existed for its sending Lord and for the world its target. We set our minds on the formation of the church, and we wish for it to mature and grow. But, the church is not for itself. The church is for serving God and the world. The reason we are given the faith and are made Christians is not simply for our salvation. It is so we are sent into the world.
4. It is important that we understand sufficiently that when it says that "the church serves the world" it is saying that [we] serve as "ones who have been commissioned [by God]." The important thing for those sent out is that they do the will of the Sender. In that sense, this motivation for the work of the church draws a line between [our] human based sense of mission and call [and our commissioning by the Lord].
5. Please look at the second half of verse five. Christ commanded his disciples as follows: "Do not go on paths [to] Gentiles. Do not enter into Samaritan towns. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," (verses five b and six). These words sound bizarre in our ears. Did Jesus make a discriminatory statement like this? We need to consider carefully how the later church has passed this statement on considering it important, a statement which we hear as discriminating the Gentiles and the Samaritans. That church was a church which also evangelized Gentiles. They knew that Christ had sent the church even unto the Gentiles. They accepted as important the fact that Christ said to go to the lost people of Israel and not the Gentiles "at that moment" and the fact that the disciples obeyed that command.
6. There are a lot of things it seems that we should have done better in this world and there are a lot of things we should do better. But, in a general sense, what one should have done better or what one should do is not always what "one should do at that moment" for the one being sent. I repeat. [It's ] because the important thing for the one being sent is to be in obedience to the Sender and not to obey out of one's own sense of mission and calling. In that sense, it is right for the church to look to Christ 'before' looking at the world. It is right to give a good listening to the words of Christ 'before' giving a hearing to the voices of the world. Don't make a mistake of the order in that.
In Order to Proclaim The Kingdom Of Heaven
7. Then second, we need to give careful thought as to the purpose of our being sent. What does the church which is sent into the world do in the world? Christ said, "Go and proclaim, 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' You will heal the sick and bring the dead back to life, cleanse those suffering from severe skin disorders, cast out evil spirits; for, you have received it free, so you will give it free," (verses seven and eight).
8. The world into which the church is sent is a world where there is sickness. It is a world where there is death. It is a world which is filled with all kinds of real pains and problems. The church has business with these different pains and problems as represented by these sicknesses and death. It serves on behalf of those illnesses. Does it literally happen as it says, "You will heal the sick and bring the dead back to life?" It may or may not happen in a literal manner. But, regardless of the form, when we serve as sent by the Lord, then healing takes place in that.
9. But, the main thing, what happens in that, is the sign pointing to the kingdom of heaven. It becomes a sign pointing to the so gracious rule of God. Therefore, it says that we do not serve just for healing, but we have a message that we're suppose to inform them of before doing the healing. It tells us to proclaim 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'
10. 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' -- This was the message that Christ himself had proclaimed. It appeared back in chapter four and verse seventeen. There the text said, "Repent. The kingdom of heaven is near," (4:17). Thus, in proclaiming "The kingdom of heaven is near," we are also giving out a call to "Repent." [The word] "repent" means "turn to God." God has come near for us. The kingdom of God has come near. However, in order to enter into it, a person must change direction and turn to God. The disciples were sent out for the purpose of passing out that information. In the same way then, the church, too, has been sent into this world.
11. Therefore, also given as a command there in the text is "Drive out evil spirits." Evil spirits pull people away from God. Demon spirits try to tie humans up in knots of sin and separate them [from God]. When it comes to demons, one shouldn't be thinking of them as merely something from occult dependent phenomena. These peculiar phenomena are no more than a little glimpse into [what evil spirits are]. The multitudinous types of different miseries in this world so separated from God really show forth the powerful rule of wicked spirits. The Lord has commanded that [we] drive out those evil spirits, which plainly put is nothing other than restoring people back to the gracious government of God and out of the dominion of demons. Therefore, driving out demons is the same thing and no different from proclaiming the kingdom of heaven and proclaiming repentance.
By The Authority Of Christ
12. Third, we need to give careful thought to how we will fulfill our roles. In sending out his disciples, Christ said the following words, "Do not go and put into your belt any coin, cash or currency [of any kind]. Do not go on a journey with even a bag or two sets of garments, or shoes or cane. The working person is deserving to receive food," (verses nine and ten). Thus, the Lord almost sent his disciples out nearly in the shape of beggars. Despite the fact that he sent them out and gave them a great task, they were not permitted to bring one thing with them that they thought they might need in order to do that work.
13. But no, it wasn't that they didn't have anything. Please read verse one again. It says, "Jesus called aside the twelve disciples and endowed upon them power against defiled spirits," (verse one). This power and authority is fundamentally the power and authority of Christ himself. They receive that authority from Christ and they are permitted to go out taking that authority with them. This was given to them as a gift of grace. Therefore, he commanded them, "For, you have received it free, so you will give it free." Their work was to be accomplished only by what they have been given freely, by what has been given them as a gift of grace and not by any other thing which they have brought along with them.
14. So, this story seems a bit extreme to us. If you don't have anything, wouldn't it even be impossible to do any work of proclamation or even to keep your traveling going? -- We would always see it like that. But then, today's church is in a very different situation. We have so much. We are independent economically. The church also has people with a full line of talents. [It has people who] have received educations. [It also has people who] have accumulated wisdom. Since that is so, often times, we end up thinking that because we have so much as we do, the preaching work of the church continues on by these things. Or, we drift into thinking that the church has so much that it can give to the world. Or, we might think the opposite. We've got nothing to give because we're not rich, we lack skills, have no education, no knowledge, no experience. We might think that way as the church or as individuals. Why is that?
15. In fact, if we take the early church in ancient times, I don't think all of the churches were just poor and looking like beggars. It wasn't a situation where they typically had no shoes, no cane, or garments. The situations in which the church has been placed under change with time. Whenever it has become rich, it also becomes poor. But, I think it's for that very reason that the church has carefully passed on this message which Jesus had spoken to his disciples at that time. [He spoke] about the work of preaching so that we do not forget that it depends on that which is given freely as a gift according to grace. In other words, it is the power of the gospel itself, which is already given to us as the authority of Christ, who has been with us. The disciples, who used to go out not bringing anything with them, nonetheless, certainly were empowered to proclaim the kingdom of heaven and to drive out evil spirits. We mustn't forget that.