The Lost Sheep.

1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. – Matthew 10:1-15 ESV

Jesus has just finished speaking of the abundance of the harvest and the need for laborers. Now, in chapter 10, Matthew chooses to place Jesus’ calling and sending of the 12 disciples at his important juncture. They were to be far more than followers of Jesus. They were to be His apostles. The Greek word Matthew uses is apostolos and it derives from the verb apostello meaning “to send.” The men whom Jesus had chosen were about to find themselves thrust into a new role as messengers and ministers of the Kingdom of God. Made up of fishermen, a tax collector and a collection of other less-than-impressive individuals, the 12 disciples made up an unlikely and highly underqualified ministry vanguard. They were commoners and relatively uneducated men who lacked the religious credentials and credibility of the Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees.

But these men had been hand-chosen by Jesus, and He had not selected them based on their qualificiations, capabilities, or merit. They were little more than common laborers whom Jesus was about to transform into emmissaries of His Kingdom, equipped with power and authority beyond their wildest imaginations. Their message would be a simple one: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matther 10:7 ESV). And their audience would be a particular one: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6 ESV). They were to concentrate their efforts among their own people – the Jews. This would have been the easy part of their assignment because, as Jews, they had no love affair for the Samaritans or Gentiles. And because they believed Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah, they assumed He had come to reestablish the kingdom of Israel and return her to power and prominence. Ignoring the Samaritans, whom they despised, and the Gentiles, whom they considered uncircumcised and unclean, would have come easy to the disciples.

Jesus demanded that they focus their attention on the lost sheep of Israel. This was a common Old Testament theme, referring to the sheperdless and wayward people of Israel. God had often referred to His people in those terms.

“My people have been lost sheep;
    their shepherds have led them astray
    and caused them to roam on the mountains.
They wandered over mountain and hill
    and forgot their own resting place. – Jeremiah 50:6 ESV

God had spoken through the prophet Ezekiel, indicting the priests and other religious leaders of Israel for their role in the spiritual demise of His people.

You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. – Ezekiel 34:4-6 ESV

Now, the Messiah had arrived and was bringing His message of the Kingdom to His people. And here, He was delegating the deliverance of that message to His 12 apostles. They were to go and tell the rest of their fellow Jews that the Messiah had come and the Kingdom was at hand. And to validate their message, Jesus embued these men with power. Suddenly, they would find themselves able to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. This would have been heady news for this rag-tag group of former fishermen and social bottom dwellers. The miracles they had seen Jesus perform would be delegated to them, all in order to validate their message and verify that they spoke for the Messiah. In sending out the 12, Jesus was expanding His ministry scope and spreading the message farther and wider than He could manage alone. 

And He provides His disciples with some interesting last-minute marching orders, demanding that they “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff” (Matthew 10:9-10 ESV). And upon entering a town, they were to focus their attention on “those who were worthy.” That phrase simply refers to their acceptance of the disciples and their message. If someone was willing to hear what the disciples had to say about the Messiah and His Kingdom, they were to be considered worthy and were to receive the blessing of the presence of Jesus’ emmissary.  Those who refused to accept the disciples and their message were to be ignored. They would not receive the benefit and blessing of having God’s representative in their home and, as a result, they would fail to experience the power of God made available through these men.

Jesus knew that the 12 would experience far more rejection than acceptance. He was well aware that the message of the Kingdom would be rejected by the people of Israel. John prefaced His Gospel with the sad and sobering words: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). But Jesus, as the Messiah of Israel, was still willing to take His message to His own, letting them know that the Savior for whom they long waited, was here. But He warned the disciples to expect rejection, and He painted a bleak and foreboding outcome for all those who would refuse to accept the news of His arrival.

…it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. – Matthew 10:15 ESV

These two cities had been destroyed by God for their rampant wickedness and immorality, along with all their inhabitants. But Jesus warns that the Jews who would hear the message of the disciples and fail to accept the news of the arrival of the Messiah, would be held more accountable and receive greater condemnation than the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. They would ultimately face the just judgment of God.

The 12 disciples had a mission to accomplish. They were to tell the message regarding the coming of the Messiah. They were to verify their message through miraculous acts of healing just as Jesus had done. And they were to prepare themselves to face rejection. Jesus will go on to describe the less-than-encouraging reception they were to anticipate. It would not be easy. They would not be popular. Their message would not be well-received. In fact, while their would be plenty of interest in their miracles, their mesage would tend to fall on deaf ears.

The lost sheep were going to hear from their Shepherd, but they would refuse to listen. They would reject His messengers and their message of the Messiah’s arrival. And again, John records Jesus clearly indicating that there would be many Jews who would reject His claim to be the long-awaited Messiah.

24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. – John 10:24-28 ESV

There would be many lost sheep of the house of Israel who would hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and refuse to return to the fold. Even the miracles of Jesus would prove insufficient to turn their hearts back to God. And the miracles of the disciples would prove just as inadequate. But for all those who proved themselves worthy by hearing and accepting the news of the Kingdom of God and the arrival of the King of that Kingdom, Jesus had a blessing in store for them that would be a everlasting value: Eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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