Scripture: 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. ” Matthew 10:5-8a ESV
Observation: Having commissioned his Twelve for the good works of kingdom building, Jesus sends them out for a trial run, but not before providing thorough instruction regarding:
- the goal (above verses)
- how to conduct themselves (10:8b-15);
- warnings of persecution (10:16-18, 21-22a);
- the assurance of the Father’s soul care (10:19-20, 22b-33);
- the call to fellowship in his suffering (10:34-39); and
- the rewards for persevering (10:40-42).
We will examine each segment of the above outline over the next six days to facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of Christ’s instructions. The goal (as cited above) is to restore peoples’ lives to shalom wholeness. Where the fall of humankind marred fellowship with God, Christ’s inauguration of the New Covenant redeems the ill effects of sin. So, like Jesus, his disciples will heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. And as people witness these miraculous signs, the Twelve must proclaim that the kingdom of heaven (the same as the kingdom of God) is at hand (near to them through the salvific work of the incarnate Son of God). Their target group is fellow Israelites. So Jesus tells them to stay away from all other ethnic groups (Gentiles and those who have intermarried with Gentiles, i.e., Samaritans).
Of note to the interested reader, this passage parallels some elements found in Mark 6:8-11 and Luke 9:3-5; 10:5-15.
Takeaway: We must carefully avoid imposing onto Scripture our twenty-first-century perspectives. In particular, when we read of Christ forbidding his disciples to mix with Gentiles and Samaritans, we might interpret his words as encouraging racial discrimination. But, as Matthew reports, Jesus wants his disciples for this trial run to focus on fellow Jews. The scope will expand after Christ’s resurrection to include all nations (Matthew 28:18-19). Meanwhile, it stands to reason that his disciples in these early days will fare better with those who share their same cultural morés. Whereas, they would be more at risk of miscommunicating and being misunderstood by those from other ethnic backgrounds. But as they mature in their faith and rely more on the Holy Spirit, they will obey the Lord’s Great Commission and expand his kingdom throughout the developed regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. And we would do well to follow a similar protocol of easing into evangelism and discipleship with those of a similar cultural background.
Also, in today’s social climate, some might take offense to Jesus telling his disciples to preach to those they heal, reasoning that when we help vulnerable people, we must not impose our religious beliefs on them. While this may have merit depending on whose auspices we operate under or based on whom we serve, the Christian church must not shy away from extending the love of Christ through outreach with our message of hope. The issue is not if we should but how we share our good news. If we communicate the Gospel with humility and love without passing judgment, our invitation will instill hope. And even if others take offense, we can read their cues and save the rest of our message for another day. Indeed, as Peter tells the church, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16 ESV).
Our Good News is for everyone because it promises forgiveness, redemption, and a future in our glorious eternal, heavenly kingdom with our beloved Lord and Savior. Our part is to discern to whom, when, and how to share our message, and thankfully, as we tune in to the Holy Spirit, he will steer us, guide our words, and produce the results. Our part? Following Peter’s appeal, we fearlessly share our hope with gentleness and respect.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, our source of eternal love and hope, and your Holy Spirit, who guides us in all his ways. So would you please help us to discern and obey the Holy Spirit’s lead in fearlessly sharing our hope with a lost world that desperately needs Good News? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling