Laborers Sent Forth
“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The 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 publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” (Matthew 10:1-15)
In the last verse of chapter 9 our Lord urged his disciples to pray that the Lord God would send forth laborers into his field to gather in his harvest. Here in chapter 10 the Lord Jesus demonstrates that he is “the Lord of the harvest” by sending forth his labors into his field to reap his harvest.
Matthew 10 is a chapter of Holy Scripture that ought always be read with peculiar solemnity. In these forty-two verses we have the first ordination sermon ever preached. Those being ordained and set apart for the work of the gospel ministry are the twelve apostles. The ordination preacher is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The solemn charge here given by Christ to the first gospel preachers of the New Testament era is the charge he gives to all who are sent of God to preach the gospel.
Let us carefully examine the first fifteen verses of this chapter. The apostolic office ceased with the calling of the Apostle Paul and the death of the last Apostle, probably John. Yet, every believer, every church, and every man who claims to be, or hopes to be, a preacher of the gospel ought to be interested in the things recorded in these verses. Though there are no apostles today in the official sense of that word. However, like the word “angel,” the word “apostle” simply means, “messenger.” In that sense every true gospel preacher is an apostle, a messenger, an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), sent from God himself with the message of grace and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
These twelve men who were called to be Christ’s Apostles, his messengers, were first his disciples. — “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease” (v.1). It seems ridiculous that I should have to say so, but in these days when people who claim to worship and serve God both ignore and willfully pervert Holy Scripture, it must be said, — The messengers of Christ were all men! No woman has ever been called of God to preach the gospel. The teaching of Holy Scripture in this matter is crystal clear (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Tim. 2:11). The ordination of women for the work of the gospel ministry (That includes pastors, elders, missionaries, and deacons.) is totally contrary to the teaching of the Bible.
These men were first called to be Christ’s disciples, then called to be his Apostles. No man is fit for the work of the gospel ministry who has not experienced God’s saving grace. We cannot know the hearts of men. Therefore, we deal with them upon the basis of their professed faith in Christ. But none are to be put into the gospel ministry who are not followers of Christ. Those who are set apart by local churches for the work of the gospel ministry must be men of proven faithfulness (1 Tim. 3:10). They who would be teachers of others must first be learners, taught of God. No man is apt to teach, or able to teach others who has not first learned the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:2, 24).
Twelve men were chosen to be apostles. The number twelve is significant. It has reference to the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel. The Church of God is the Israel of God. These twelve apostles are the twelve stars that make up the church’s crown (Rev. 12:1), the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:12, 14), typified by the twelve precious stones in Aaron’s breastplate, the twelve loaves on the table of showbread, and the twelve wells of water at Elim. The Lord Jesus speaks of them as sitting upon thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:30).
These men were called by Christ. First, they were called to follow him. Then, they were called to be his messengers. The call of every disciple of Christ is the same. The Holy Spirit teaches us in 2 Peter 2:10 that our election in Christ and our redemption by him is made manifest by this call. He has saved us and called us (2 Tim. 1:9). All who are justified by Christ’s blood are called (Rom. 8:30). And all who are sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Christ are called by God the Holy Spirit (Jude 1). Gospel preachers are called and sent forth by Christ, “the Lord of the harvest.” Being called and sent forth by him, the fruit of their labor is sure. God’s Word proclaimed by them is triumphant over unclean spirits; and in the name of Christ, by the power of the gospel preached, diseases and sicknesses of immortal souls are healed.
Matthew was inspired of God to list the names of these twelve men for us. — “ “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The 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 publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him” (vv. 2-4).
There are some apostles of whom we virtually know nothing more than their names (Bartholomew and Simon the Canaanite). Some are famous. Some are obscure. But it matters not to them. They are God’s messengers! Peter is mentioned first because he was one of the Master’s first two disciples (John 1:35-42) and (perhaps) because he rose to be the leader and chief spokesman for the rest. Matthew calls himself “the publican,” acknowledging his debt to the grace of God, and puts himself in the list with obscurity, preferring to promote his fellow laborers rather than himself. These were truly blessed men. Their names were first written in the book of life before the world began.
Judas Iscariot was the one exception. His place was also marked out from eternity (Ps. 41:9; Acts 1:25; John 17:12). Matthias was chosen by the others to take the traitor’s place (Acts 1:26). But their choice of a replacement was not God’s choice The Lord’s intention was for his church to have twelve apostles, twelve and only twelve. David’s prophecy (Ps. 69:25; Acts 1:20) must be fulfilled. Another apostle must take Judas’ place. But, like the others, he must be personally chosen and ordained to the office by Christ himself. The Lord had not chosen Matthias for this office. He had chosen Paul (1 Cor. 15:8).
Yes, one of the chosen Apostles was a devil. The Scriptures do not hide the fact that Judas was among the original twelve; and we must never forget it. This fact is prominently displayed in the Word of God to teach us never to pin our faith on the sleeve of a man. Not all preachers are believers. Even those who preach the “truth” are not all genuine Christians. Yet, the fact that one preacher is a devil is no indication that all are devils. Faithful gospel preachers are to be followed and obeyed (Heb. 13:7, 17). Yet, we must follow them only as they follow Christ.
These twelve men were called and commissioned by Christ to do a very great work. — “And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” He sent them forth saying, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give” (vv. 1 and 8).
The purpose of the gospel ministry is the healing of men’s souls (v. 1). The design of the gospel is to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil. Christ gave these men power to cast demons out of men’s bodies, to show that Christ has come to destroy the power of Satan and his works. He gave them power to heal all manner of sickness and disease to show that none are beyond the reach of God’s omnipotent grace, because the blood of Christ effectually cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7, 9).
The miracles performed by Moses, who represented the law, were for destruction and judgment. These miracles of the apostles were all wrought for comfort, edification, and life, portraying the power of the gospel.
These miracles were an affirmation of Christ as the Messiah and these men as his messengers (Heb. 1:3). Now that we have the full revelation of God in Holy Scripture, God’s servants need no miraculous signs to confirm their message. Faithful men do not come with a new word (revelation) from God, but simply declare the revelation of God in Holy Scripture. “That which is perfect” has come. We have a “more sure Word of prophecy.” Those who pretend to work miracles, speak in tongues, and have a word of prophesy or revelation from God are saying, — “Christ is not enough!” “The Bible is not enough!” “Salvation is not enough!” “The Gospel is not enough!”
“He gave them power” to do the work he sent them to do. The Lord Jesus Christ never called anyone to do anything for him without giving them the power to do it. Whatever the work is to which God calls a person, he will give him the power (ability, opportunity, and means) to do it.
God’s messengers, like these twelve apostles, are sent of God into this world to preach the gospel of his sovereign, saving grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. — “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 7). This was the Apostles’ commission. They were to preach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the near approach of Christ’s kingdom; ¾ that is of his Person, his work and his salvation. God’s messengers all have one message to declare. We have been sent of God to preach, and to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified, to preach Christ is the King. He has brought in and established the Kingdom of Heaven. Salvation is finished. God’s salvation, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, right before you (Psalm 85:9-11). The kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory, to which that grace leads, is distinguished from the law by the preaching of the gospel (John 1:15-18).
Let every man sent of God to preach the gospel of Christ ever be mindful that he is to be turned aside to no other message. It does not matter what Satan gets you off on, if he gets you off Christ, he has won the day. Our message is not prophecy, morality, politics, the home, or any other matter but “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 5-6). — God’s servants are sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (vv. 5-6). It never was our Lord’s purpose to save all men. And he never has sent the gospel to all men.
These two verses must be interpreted literally. The Lord Jesus sent the gospel to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. He later commands that we go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, saying, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” But, whether preaching to Jews or to Gentiles, we are sent of God to seek out the lost sheep of the house of Israel – God’s elect! We are on the trail of Christ’s sheep. We are seeking the Lord’s sheep. We have good news for the Lord’s sheep. Redemption is accomplished! Forgiveness is free! Salvation is forever! When we find them, these lost sheep will hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow him. These sheep are the house of Israel, the Israel of God scattered among the nations who must and shall be gathered. John Gill wrote…
“These are called ‘sheep,’ because they were chosen of God, and given to Christ to be redeemed, looked up, sought out, and saved by him; and ‘lost’ ones, not only because lost in Adam, and by their own transgressions, so that neither they themselves, nor any mere creature, could save them from eternal ruin and destruction; but also, because they were made to go astray, and were lost through the negligence and errors of their pastors, the Scribes and Pharisees: and this character is the rather given of them, partly to reflect upon the characters of the shepherds of Israel: and partly to magnify the grace of God, in having regard to such ruined and miserable creatures; and also to excite the compassion and diligence of the apostles, to preach the Gospel to them: respect seems to be had to Jeremiah 1:16.”
“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat”(vv. 8-10). What a beautiful view is here given of those faithful men going forth with their lives in their hands to preach Christ, having neither gold, nor silver, nor money in their purse, making no provision for themselves.
God’s servants are not greedy, covetous men who seek to enrich themselves. Gospel Preachers are not hirelings. They make it their business to freely give as they have freely received. Our Lord Jesus specifically tells his disciples not to provide anything for themselves and not to beg (Luke 10:7). God’s ambassadors never grovel before men! I cannot imagine any of these men announcing that the Lord Jesus had called them to preach the gospel and then grovel like hungry dogs before men, declaring that they must have so much money, or assistance from others before they can do the Lord’s work!
Yet, those who preach the gospel are to live by the gospel. Those who benefit from the gospel are to maintain those who preach the gospel in an honorable way (Luke 10:4-7; 1 Cor. 9:11; Gal. 6:6-10; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). Those men who faithfully preach the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ are to be supported and maintained by the people to whom they minister. Faithful missionaries should be as fully and generously supported by the churches that send them out as the pastors of those local churches.
There were times when Paul and his companions were required to make tents to support themselves in the work of the gospel. It was an honourable thing for them to do so. Paul tells us that his goal was not to enrich himself, but to avoid being a burden to young churches (1 Thess. 2:9), and to avoid causing an offence to young, weak believers (1 Cor. 9:15-19). But the fact that God’s messenger had to spend his time and effort making tents was a shameful reproach upon the churches. Those churches that were established in the gospel should have assumed the responsibility of supplying Paul’s needs and the needs of his companions as they traveled from place to place preaching the gospel. The New Testament clearly makes it the responsibility of every local church to provide for the financial, material support of those who preach the gospel of Christ.
“And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence” (v. 11). — The word, “worthy,” obviously refers to hospitable people, willing to receive God’s messengers. God’s servants are not to be difficult and demanding, but content with such things as gracious people are able and willing to provide for them. C. H. Spurgeon, commenting upon the words “there abide”, wrote, “Keep to those good people with whom your mission begins. It may be that richer people will turn up, but never forget the worthy men and women who first entertained you.”
“And when ye come into an house, salute it” (v. 12). — The presence of God’s servants in any home ought to be a great blessing to the household. We should never enter a home without desiring to be a blessing to it. When we leave it, the family ought to be better off because of our influence. That is true with regard to all God’s people. How much more God’s servants ought to seek grace to be a blessing to others, wherever they go!
“And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you” (v. 13). — Wherever we go, we ought to think well of men until their conduct forces us to do otherwise. When we enter a home, let us enter it determined to bring good to the house. If the blessing we bring by the gospel is despised, we must not be discouraged.
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet” (v. 14). — This is not to be viewed as a matter of spite, or mean-spirited retaliation, or even as a physical act to be performed. Our Lord is simply telling us that when people refuse the gospel we preach, we are to leave them alone. Because they will not have our King and will not worship our God, we cannot walk in fellowship with them.
“Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” (vv. 14). — Here our Savior shows us that it is a very dangerous thing to despise and reject the gospel of God’s free grace. The Lord Jesus sends forth his royal ambassadors to call sinners to repentance, calling for rebels to bow to him as Lord and King. But for those who will not bow to him, who will not receive his gospel, nothing but judgment awaits them. In the day of judgment “it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha” than for those who hear, but will not believe the gospel. What solemn words of warning these are! The preaching of the gospel is to all who hear it either a savor of life unto life, or a savor of death unto death (2 Cor. 2:15-16).