We Have Been Sent

I have to say that I love the season we find ourselves in.
“What season is that?” you may be wondering.
 
Although I love my Penn State Nitanny Lions, and my hometown high school team just won states, I’m not talking about football season (as wonderful as it is).
Some of you might be thinking, “Christmas season!” The stores are full of Christmas decorations and things to buy, but I’m not talking Christmas either.
And while the brisk smell of fall is in the air and everything in me wants to be in the woods, I’m not referring to deer season.
 
The season I am talking about is the harvest season. Not a physical harvest but a spiritual one we read of in Matthew 9:35-10:8. This season began when Jesus came on the scene.
 
In chapter 4, as he began his public ministry, it says that Jesus began to preach, “Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near.” Then, just a few verse later in chapter 4, verse 23 we read, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Pretty amazing stuff.
 
And if we continued to read, we’d find the next 5 chapters are story after story of Jesus doing just that, until we come to chapter 9, verse 35, which reads, “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.”
 
Sounds familiar right? Deja vu. Probably because those are the same words we just read 5 chapters earlier. 

Now, whenever you see something repeated in a chapter or book of the Bible, it is there for emphasis—so we get it. Repetition indicates importance.

People who are married should know this already. If my wife says something to me again, and again, and again. She is sending a not-so-subtle sign that what she is saying is important to her. (That is my free marital advice for today) But the same goes for scripture. Repetition indicates significance and importance.
 
But this instance in particular tells us even more. Repeating that same description of Jesus’ ministry effectively brackets the material within the Gospel. Everything between 4:23 and 9:35—this whole section—is part of this theme, and now we are transitioning into something new.
 
If you were to continue to read on in Matthew’s gospel, you would find that the emphasis of Jesus’ ministry moved away from the crowds to pouring into the disciples, into preparing them for what was going to happen (his betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection), so that means this is a point of transition and tells us how what related before relates to what is to come.
 
Following verse 35, we read:
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” 10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 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. 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.”
 
 
Here we read that Jesus saw the crowds—those crowds he had been doing ministry among—and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.And we might expect at this point after 5 chapters of Jesus preaching and healing and doing ministry among them, that he’d double down and do even more amazing things.

Yet instead, we find him responding to this great need in an unexpected way: By telling his disciples to call for backup.He said the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few—or in other words, the need was very great, greater than one man could handle alone.Even though Jesus was God himself, he was fully human and was thus limited by space and time, so he told his disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into the harvest.

Then we read that Jesus called his disciples together and gave them the authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness before he sent them out to the people of Israel. Since Jesus’ earthly ministry was first to Israel, he told them to only go to Israelites at this time. It is only at the end of Matthew’s gospel, in chapter 28, after his death and resurrection that we find him expanding this mission to all people.
 
Matthew referred to the 12 disciples here for the first time as “apostles. ” The comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes in one of his routines that he imagines Peter coming up with the title, saying, “Hey Jesus, I’ve been thinking…we need a name for this group. How about, ‘The Apostles’. We could get leather jackets…”
Jesus responds, “You know you’re all going to die, right Peter?”
“But we can still get the jackets?”
 
In all seriousness, ‘apostle’ is a bit of Christianese: a word used in church we never define. It is actually means the same thing as “missionary.”Apostle and missionary both literally mean “a sent one,” (one is from Greek the other Latin) one who has been sent. So an apostle one who has been given a mission.
 
While the word is used interchangeably with “disciple” in John’s gospel, this is the only time that Matthew uses this word to describe the disciples.It is so important because it emphasizes that fact that these men were given a mission by Jesus and sent out.
 
Jesus said to them, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Sounds awfully familiar doesn’t it? A lot like 4:23 and 9:35.
 
Here we find that the mission that the disciples were given was the same mission that Jesus had. Out of compassion for the crowds, Jesus had the disciples pray that God would send help, and God then used the very ones praying. He had Jesus give them authority to do what he himself had done and sent them out on his own mission to proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom and to do the restorative work of the Kingdom, healing, resurrecting, cleansing and freeing.
 
The emphasis on “going” comes up again in Matthew’s gospel after Jesus resurrected. Before he ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:18). If we were to read on we’d find they did just that. The whole book of Acts of the Apostles records them going, making disciples, and doing the same things as Jesus.
 
Friends, I know this all might seem a little “heady”, it might seem like we’re trudging through the Biblical text, but this is more than just history, more than just things that happened a long time ago in a land far away. This is our story and our call as well.
 
 Today, we are in the midst of the harvest season where the harvest is still great but the workers are few. It might not feel that way to you, but we know that nationwide over 60% of people have no community of faith in which they are a part. Where Chassity and I live on the edge of Indianapolis, there are 21,000 people in the SW corner of our county and over 121,000 more within 20 minutes who do not have a church.

People often ask me, “Why are you planting a church when there are already churches around?” Because the harvest is great, but the workers are few, and we have compassion on our neighbors who are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Every church in the area could grow by 1000 people overnight and there would still be thousands left out. We need to recognize this fact for ourselves and have compassion.

You see, in a hurting and weary world, this passage tells us our role as Jesus disciples, it tells us our mission, that God sees a problem, when he hears the prayers of the people, God sends people—he sends us—to share in his mission. 
 
When we see a problem and we pray, “God, you should really do something about this,” we should be prepared because God will likely respond by sending a person. He could send an angel, or he could do a spontaneous miracle, but most often he sends a person, and like the 12 apostles, that person might be the one praying.
 
This might seem counter intuitive to us. We think, “Well, why doesn’t God fix it himself? I mean, who am I compared to God?” First, God doesn’t have to use us but he blesses us by including us in his mission. Christianity is all about relationship: relationship first with God and then with others, so it should be so surprising that he connects us all in this way. Second, if you wonder why God would want to use you instead of doing it himself, you’ve drastically underestimated yourself and the tools that you bring to the table.

You see, Christian mission is “incarnational.” We remember this every Christmas that God came and dwelled among us, as one of us. He is not distant from the troubles of the world because he came and experienced them for himself, suffering along side us so we may suffer no more.In Jesus’ life we find that he experienced everything we experience. He knew our pain first hand and had compassion on us, which allows us to better relate to him since we know that he knows our pain.

So too, the very experiences we have allow us to relate to others and minister to them. We are each gifted in particular ways that allow us to better relate to others. We come to them on behalf of the Father and bring his grace with us. He gives us His Holy Spirit to dwell with us and empower us because he can do more through us than without us.
 
Just as the ones who Jesus had compassion on became the same people the disciples had compassion on, when we submit to Him and seek to walk in step with the Spirit, the very people that God loves become the same people that we love.

There are still many who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. They are waiting for someone to come to them to bring them hope.

They might be dirt poor or filthy rich. They might be in Somalia, India, or Venezuela, OR they might be your next door neighbor.They might be the person who sells you insurance, waits on you at Kroger, or maybe even lives in your own house.

When you look at people, particularly non-believers, do you see them has harassed and helpless? Has God given you his heart for people?

Are you praying for the needs that you see around you, for those who like the crowds of Jesus’ day are in great need?
 
And, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, are you prepared to “go”? 
Jesus Christ gave the church a mission, and it was the same mission that he had.
 
“Going” doesn’t mean you have to take a trip on to help flood relief efforts or to share the Gospel in Asia. It could be something big like that, but it could also be something simple and local. I used to think that missions were something that happened over there, that only certain people got to take part in, but somewhere along the way I discovered the fact that God has called every Christian to pursue his mission here on earth, and that missions are not just an event or activity but really involve our entire lives.
 
Friends, we need to recapture the Biblical understanding of what it means to be a Christian, because if you are a Christian than you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, and if you are Jesus’ disciple then you have been sent. He has given you a mission to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom AND to do the restorative work of the Kingdom.
 
If every Christian in America would do that, imagine the way it would change our nation, our communities, our schools, our neighborhoods. I imagine it would look a lot like the places Jesus went.
 
Remember, freely you have received. Freely give.
 
-Seth