Rev. Anthony Martlew, L. Th., U.K.
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. - (Matthew 10:5-7)
Our Lord gave His disciples specific instructions on the nature of their mission. Three points are worthy of note. Firstly, in verse 1 of Chapter 10, they were referred to as disciples, but in verse 2, they have become apostles. Is there any significance in this sudden change of nomenclature? Indeed there is, for 'disciple' in this
context means 'a follower of Christ'. On the other hand 'apostle' is to be 'a special messenger of Christ.'
By the time of our Lord's instructions, the disciples had been personally instructed by Him for about two years. What a privilege! Now they were no longer merely followers of Jesus, they were messengers. They were entrusted to share the greatest message ever given to man, what a privilege, what a responsibility! However, we must never forget that even among Christ's closest friends, there was a traitor, the evil one who would betray Him. This should make us all alive to the fact that the enemy is ever present to destroy God's truth.
The second point concerns the Lord's instructions to His apostles as to where they could, and could not go. They could not go to the gentiles, and a word of explanation is needed here. Whereas Paul often used the term 'gentile' to refer to dispersed Israelites of the northern House, in other words, Israelites who had become 'gentilised' over the centuries. However, Jesus was referring to non Israel stock. The Ferrar Fenton translation uses the word 'heathen' which is correct.
The Lord was making it crystal clear to His apostles that their mission was not to non Israel nations. Verse 6 is quite unambiguous
But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
It is significant that these instructions are the same as Jesus Himself received from His Father
But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. - (Matthew 15:24)
The third point, like the first two, is misunderstood by most Christians. The Lord said to His apostles
"The kingdom of heaven is at hand".
In spite of the clarity of that statement, Christians will insist that He meant the gospel of salvation. If that were so, He would have said so, but he didn't. His statements were not made to deceive or confuse. He never spoke in riddles. (Riddles and Parables are not the same thing).
His ministry was not to preach salvation, for that is what John did previously. What Jesus taught is clearly set forth in Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14. It is given
to comparatively few to understand this great truth. Sadly, Christians automatically translate 'Kingdom' to 'Salvation' without any Biblical authority whatsoever. If the Lord had meant salvation and not kingdom, He wouldn't have said that it is at hand. The Ferrar Fenton translation says 'approaches'. Again, Christians fail to understand the fundamental difference between the names Israel and Judah. The scriptures clearly distinguish between them, but most people fail to see the difference. To change, or ignore these things in order to fit them in with preconceived ideas, is a sure way to remain in spiritual ignorance.
It is of interest to note that when Christ preached the Gospel of the Kingdom, it was often followed by healing. (See Matthew 4:23.) Those who fail to appreciate the true purpose of Christ's ministry will never appreciate the importance of this time of preparation for His coming earthly reign. All these things are clearly set down to edify, instruct, encourage and to strengthen our ministries.
In verses 9 to 15 of Matthew 10, Jesus instructs the apostles what they could, and could not take on their journeys. Only minimal supplies and clothing, for they
were to be dependent upon the Lord who would move certain people to supply their daily needs. If they did not receive a friendly reception in a town, city, or house, they were to move on. Could there be a lesson for us here? How often we may be concerned for a certain person's spiritual state, and they persist in rejecting the Lord. I believe that after a reasonable time we should move on, and spend time with others who may be more receptive. By all means keep the others in your daily prayers. How we use our time for the Lord is not always easy to work out. Most of us only have so much time available, and it is important how we use it. Verse 16 is perhaps the most important part of the Lord's instructions to His apostles.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
There is no doubt that these words are also essential for our learning. Each of us is a messenger for Christ. They are full of spiritual wisdom, but how they are ignored by many of the churches. The so called 'love gospel' so popular today, ignores this principle, so clearly set forth by Christ. In what way? There are many, but the following examples will suffice. By its very nature it has to be all inclusive. Trouble makers and those of other religions outside of Christianity are welcomed within the fold. Thus is the strength of the Christian message compromised in order not to 'offend.' It is always Christians who give way on the truth, not those of other faiths. This is not Christ's way. The Gospels and Epistles are full of examples which clearly set forth God's laws and precepts. To weaken them with compromise so as to appease others is clearly out of order. Christians have been brainwashed with PC, and have lost that missionary zeal for God's truth which epitomized Christians in days gone by. Who is valiant for the truth today? Compare those spiritual giants who willingly died in the arenas of Rome; and later, those of the Reformation, with many who claim to be Christians today.
Many Christians are no longer wise as serpents, because they have fallen for one of Satan's most successful ploys; that is to underestimate the enemy. Generals of armies throughout history have done just that with dire consequences. The analogies that Jesus used were always so apt, and so full of truth, as we would expect. We can all visualise the carnage when a wolf gets in among the sheep. To imply that unbelievers are wolves is not politically correct, but Jesus never was politically correct, that's why the Scribes and Pharisees hated Him! In fact, this analogy is very true today, because our government is determined to stamp out the very name of Christ from our national life.
Every day Christianity is marginalised by a government which openly supports just about every religion except Christianity. A situation that we never thought possible
in our land. Surely, the second part of verse 16 is the answer
Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
How should we understand this? To be a serpent infers that we must be fully aware of worldly matters. It does not mean that we are part of the world, far from it,
but it does mean that we are able to see and understand what makes the world the way it is.
To be an effective messenger for Christ, we must be aware of the opposition to Him, and this puts us on our guard, and hones our spiritual awareness. To be harmless as doves is not an easy concept, especially when we face opposition to our faith and come under attack.
Men and women in many lands today are facing persecution because of their love for the Lord. Whatever we might have to face in the coming days, let us never
forget our Lord's prophetic words in verse 22
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
Whatever we may have to endure in the coming days, will be nothing when we consider what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him. Finally remember the key, WAS HAD - Wise as serpents, harmless as doves.
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