As Christians, we are sometimes very reluctant to share our faith with the others.
There are all kinds of reasons for this. Some of them are internal. Maybe we lack confidence. Or maybe it’s inclination we need. Or if it’s not that, maybe we worry how we will be received. What if we share something that is very precious to us, only to find out their friends don’t want to know? Or maybe it’s external. Perhaps we tried to share our faith in the past, and had a bad experience. Perhaps we worry that life might get more difficult for us if we don’t just keep our faith to ourselves.
There are all kinds of reasons why you might be reluctant to share our faith. Many of those reasons come together in the story of Victoria Wasteney. The senior occupational therapist had been suspended by her NHS Trust employer following complaints made against her. Over a number of months, she had built up a genuine friendship with a Muslim colleague. In the context of that friendship, she gave her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity; she prayed with her, having obtained her consent beforehand, and invited her to church based events with her. All the feedback she was receiving from her friend indicated that these were a welcome and natural gestures. Until, out of the blue, the complaints came in, after pressure from colleagues. She appealed against her suspension, and on Thursday she lost the appeal.
Combine the nervous disposition that some of us have, with uncertainty as to how witness could be received, with stories like that in the news, it’s understandable that some of us are a little reluctant.
None of these things are remotely new. Over the next few weeks we will look at Matthew chapter 10. We will see that Matthew included in his gospel to encourage the church to keep proclaiming the good news of Jesus, and to keep doing so even when the culture is hostile to it.
This morning we look at the opening verses. Matthew wants to start to build our confidence to share the Jesus we know with those around us. So if, like me, you are sometimes reticent, and this chapter is for us.
I’ve got two headings for us this morning as we look at this material.
Jesus’s heart drives us to tell people
First, Jesus’s heart drives us to tell people. Jesus’s heart drives us to tell people.
We will not understand what this chapter is doing in Matthew’s gospel, unless we remember that it follows on from chapter 9. The chapter divisions in our Bibles were inserted at a later date; the original text is designed to flow.
We looked at the end of chapter 9 a year or so back. Let me read from verse 36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. ”
He had compassion. His heart went out to them. Because they had no leader. He’s the perfect ruler, who wants to use all his authority to guide and leave us safely through life. But there are vast crowds of people in this world, now and then, who know nothing of Jesus’ saving power, or his loving rule.
Jesus longs for those who do not yet know and follow him to do so. And he wants us to share his heart for the lost. And as you start to care, like Jesus does, for those who do not yet love him, you pray. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” You pray that God would raise up people who can tell these crowds about the Lord Jesus. You pray. And Jesus’s disciples prayed.
But what happened next? Verse 1 of chapter 10, Jesus gathers his 12 disciples together and gives them some of the authority that is uniquely his. And then verse 5: “these twelve Jesus sent out.” They become the answer to their own prayer. As we start to care, like Jesus does, for those who do not yet love and follow him, we pray. We pray for workers, for people who can spread the good news. But then we go. We go and we tell them. We spread the good news ourselves.
Jesus’s heart drives us to tell people.
We do needs to be a little bit careful, however. We are not the twelve.
There are a number of markers in the text that tell us that Jesus’s 12 disciples are unique. Let me point us to two. Firstly, Jesus had many followers. The crowd was vast. And even those who followed him along the road must have been more than just this dozen. Of the many followers who were told to pray for workers, only 12 got sent.
Second, Jesus gave these 12 his unique authority. Verse 2: “These are the names of the twelve apostles.” The word “apostle” simply means “sent one”. But in the writings of the New Testament, it almost always refers to the twelve leaders of the New Testament church. The men that Jesus gave particular authority to teach, to speak as his representatives, so that what they say he is what Jesus says. Jesus chose a exactly 12, to mirror the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel.
We are not the twelve. These men were quite unique. And so a lot of what is said here is unique to their particular mission.
For example, verses 5 and 6: They had to stay within Galilee. Jesus is not saying that they were not to talk to any Gentiles, but they were not to stray into Gentile territory to the north, or Samaria to the south. That is unique for them.
Or there is verse 8: “heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Those are exactly the miracles that Jesus himself was doing in chapters 8 and 9. Matthew is stressing that they were a continuation of Jesus’s own ministry. Nowhere in the rest of the New Testament are ordinary Christians given authority to raise the dead. Or even to heal the sick, with the 100% success rate the Jesus or on earth. This is unique to them.
Which means there are other details of how Jesus sends them that may also be unique to them. They were not to buy any new equipment to take with them. They were to stay in the same house for as long as they remained in any single town. And so on.
We are not them. But what Jesus says to them still applies to us. We saw in chapter 9 that Jesus wants all of his followers to share his compassion for those who do not know him. That is to drive all of his followers to pray. And so it drives all of his followers to go. Matthew shows us that this chapter is not limited to this first group of 12, by including details later in the chapter that only make sense at a later date.
Realizing that Jesus only sends some of his followers at this point is reassuring. We will go and tell others of Jesus in different ways, using different approaches, some of us more than others. But for all of us, once we share the heart Jesus has for others, it drives us out to tell them about him.
On Thursday this week an aid worker named Liz Clegg was at a conference in New York when she received a text message. It was in very broken pidgin English, and came from a seven year old Afghan boy. Here is what it said, once translated: “I need help. Driver isn’t stopping. No oxygen in the car. No signal. I am in the container. I am not joking. I swear by God.”
It came from a mobile phone the boy had been given by the same charity at the Jungle camp in Calais. The lady who received it found a colleague in the UK, who phoned the police. To cut a long story short, a little while later police rescued the child and 14 adults from a shipping container at Leicester Forest East Services.
The scenes of vast numbers of migrants crossing land and sea to reach Europe is heart-breaking. Were moved when we see their suffering, their desperation, their urgency to reach a better life. We long to help, but there is so little by most of us can do. We can lobby those in a position to help. We can ask the government or politicians to send the resources to help these people. We can give food, clothing and other supplies to some of the charities who are helping. But we feel powerless.
The plight of these migrants is visible. Broadcast to us on the news and on the web. You cannot see the desperation, the suffering, of those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to be our shepherd, to lead us, and to rescue us out of hell and for heaven. But the suffering and the pain that comes from not knowing him cannot be seen with the physical eye. But Jesus could see it, and by faith we can too. And as we start to care in the way that he cares, we can lobby those in a position to help. We can ask God to send people to tell them about Jesus.
But this time there is something we can do as well. We are not powerless. We can tell them ourselves. Tell them of the Jesus who loved them enough to die for them. Tell them of the Jesus who is King of the universe, and would like to be in charge of their lives as well. Tell them how good it is to be a sheep in Jesus’s sheepfold.
Jesus’s heart drives us to tell people.
The response is not up to us; our job is to tell people
Second, the response is not up to us; our job is to tell people. The response is not up to us; our job is to tell people.
Jesus tells them what they are to do as they enter a town. Verse 11: “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.”
They come bringing peace. The good news that God and we no longer needs to be enemies or strangers. God has made peace, and we can know his rich blessing. The prophet Isaiah foretold the day that the Messiah would come. Isaiah 52, verse 7: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
God has come to live among his people. And the messengers Jesus sent came to bring the good news of God’s peace.
And if they are welcomed, their peace will rest on the house where they stay. And as the paragraph develops it applies the whole towns as well. If the town receives and welcomes these disciples, then they get to keep the peace that the disciples brought with them.
But that won’t be the only reaction. Let’s pick up verse 13 again: “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.”
If they are not received, the peace returns to them. It’s like an unbanked cheque. They came, offering out God’s blessing in an open hand. It was there for people to receive from them. They offered the good news of Jesus. But the people did not want it. And so the messengers take it back again. And the people lose out.
In fact it’s worse than losing out. They end up in a very bad place indeed. The disciples are to shake the dust off their feet as they leave. That’s what ancient Jews would have done as they left Gentile territory. They didn’t want to take the uncleanness back home with them. So they dusted themselves off before they left. But these disciples were going into Jewish towns. If they weren’t welcomed, they shook the dust off, treating those towns like Gentile, unbelieving places.
And then Jesus’s punch line is the worst bit of all: “Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” Sodom and Gomorrah were two towns that God destroyed in the Old Testament times. The destruction was sudden and total. And they stare and as an emblem of the worst that God might do to people if they are as wicked as they possibly can be.
But the towns that refused Jesus’s missionary disciples were in for a worse fate than Sodom or Gomorrah. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did some bad things, but they only knew so much about God and his ways. The towns of Jesus’s day were confronted with the good news of Jesus himself. To be offered such great blessings as that, and to reject it, is far more serious.
The point is that Jesus wants his disciples to go about, spreading the good news. But then to be prepared for the reaction. Some will welcome. Be delighted to see them. Offer them board and lodging, and a platform to speak from. They get to keep the peace that Jesus offers them. But others will not be receptive. That’s their loss, and spectacularly so. You cannot be in a worse position, than to have heard and met the good news of Jesus, and rejected it. But the disciples will meet that reaction as well.
They must be prepared for this, so they don’t give up. When they meet rejection, they simply move on. There are so many more people to tell, many of whom will respond, but it would be tragic if rejection lead them to abandon their mission.
So Jesus prepares them. The response is not up to them. Their job is to tell people.
We find this hard to relate to today, because everything is so results-driven. If something I do doesn’t get the outcome I’m hoping for, it must be because I’ve done something wrong. Consider applying for a job. Few of us have had the luxury of applying for one job, getting an interview, and getting the post. It doesn’t work like that. You have to keep trying. It’s a competitive business. Some jobs have several hundred people chasing each post.
But all the same, when you’re not successful, if you start to ask: What did I do wrong? Was there something wrong with my technique? Should I stress different skills on my CV? Where was my interview technique flawed?
But it may be none of those things. It may be that you were a perfect match for the job. But so were a number of other people, and there was only one job going. Keep applying, and you’ll get a job soon enough. At least, that’s the hope. Some people struggle and struggle, and wonder if they’ll ever get one. But one thing is certain: If you give up when you don’t get one, you certainly won’t.
As we tell people about Jesus, some will be glad to hear the news. While others will throw it straight back in our faces. It does no harm to learn what we can. To speak of Jesus as compellingly and winsomely as we can. But the bottom line is that it has always been this way. And how people respond is not our responsibility. Our job is to tell people. And if some of the people we talk to about Jesus do not want to know him, we don’t give up. We just tell others. Because there are plenty of people who will receive us. And the blessing we can be to them is enormous.
The response is not up to us; our job is to tell people.
Well, chapter 10 goes on. Next week, will start on the themes of persecution and opposition. But as we close for today, there are two things for us to take home.
Firstly, make sure we respond to Jesus. Each of us here has the great privilege of having heard of him, having been exposed to the good news about him. How we respond is up to us. Receive him, and we enjoyed God’s peace. Reject him, and we’ve rejected the greatest kindness the world has ever seen, which leaves us in a very bad place. Nobody else is responsible for how we respond. That’s up to us. Respond to Jesus.
Second, we go and tell others of Jesus. That springs from having his compassion for those who don’t yet know and love him. If we don’t feel any of that, we need to ask Jesus to write his love for the lost into our hearts. But as he does that, we don’t just pray to God to send people who can tell them. We go, and we tell.