Some of the grandest and most important leaders in world history harnessed the power of motivational speeches to spur their subjects on to victory or success. Churchill, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. alike saw nations and peoples through times and across lines of heavy burden, brutal torment, and years of strife.
In Matthew 10:5-27, Jesus gathers the twelve and prepares to equip them and send them out as apostles carrying the Gospel for the first time. Before they go, he offers words that likely diverge entirely from the disciples’ lowly and worldly expectations. Perhaps they desired a pep rally. Maybe they wanted the classic slap-on-the-butt expression of approval. Whatever they wanted, surely, they did not receive it. They received far more.
Jesus begins with a call to their own people, “the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). He calls them to proclaim “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:7-8). They have a target and they have a game plan. Peter nods his head in anticipation and cracks his knuckles a few times. If headphones existed then, heavy metal would pump into his ear drums. Everyone else wonders how they – socially alienated teenage boys – will perform miracles amongst the untouchables of their day. Jesus sends the apostles to the lost sheep because they too were once the lost sheep. He asks them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons from people because they are the forgotten, the shamed, and the deserted.
Easy enough. Just perform a few miracles and go to a familiar people. But Jesus hasn’t even cleared his throat yet. He’s just getting warmed up. What’s that Jesus? Bring nothing for the journey? No money for belts, no bag, no change of clothes or hiking gear (Matthew 10:9-10)? Just me? Surely there were a few raised eyebrows among the twelve. If you bring nothing, then what do you have? That’s right – nothing. Completely stripped of any material comforts or security, the apostles begin to understand that this is not your standard pump-up speech.
All they have is the Gospel that they carry. What is of more value? Clothes, money, and security? Or the power of God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit that is inside of you and with you, causing you to become love and lay down your life so that your dependence on anything that is of this world crumbles at the realization that this Gospel is not of this world.
Unrelenting, Jesus explains that he is, “sending [them] as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). What happens to sheep encircled by wolves? They get devoured. Jesus sets the table for their ministry here. It’s all out there. Nothing held back. Nothing coated in the disciples preferences or opinions or ideologies or identities or securities. Here is his offer. The offer to be a minister of the Gospel. This offer is not just to a few of daring boldness, but to all of us; to every single one of us who call upon him as Lord and love and trust him.”But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, THAT YOU may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
You will be dragged before kings and governors FOR HIS SAKE, to bear witness before them, but don’t be anxious because the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say in that hour (Matthew 10:17-20). You will be given over to death by your own family and hated by all for his name’s sake, but the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:21-22). Is there anything left? Surely, Jesus, there is nothing more I can hold on to. He just wants us to have him. Why, why do we cling to the world with a white-knuckled grip when we have him, we have the fullness of God in and with us, and lack nothing?
I find Lewis’ words from Mere Christianity eerily appropriate. “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.” As sojourners in a foreign land, we must regard the things of this life as alien in relation to our hopeful desire for this true country that Lewis speaks of.
For now, Jesus says, it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher. If they called the master of the house Beelzebub, claiming him to be a demonic teacher worthy of death according to the principle of the law, then how much more will they malign those of his household? Have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. All will be known in our true country. Much will be laid plain in this age; far more in the age to come. We must come out of the dark. We must step out of our closets. Move from your couch and get to work. Get off of the bench and get onto the field. We must take this Gospel to the world, and quit trying to accommodate the world into our Gospel, or spinning our Gospel fancifully to the world. Jesus laid bare the essence of the Gospel. As imitators and followers of him, we must do the same.
We, like the apostles, now see that the Christian’s calling is a joyfully sobering experience. Proclaiming his excellencies is no Sunday stroll. Before we can live in, through, and by him, we must first die what Alexander MacLaren calls “many painful deaths” in his commentary of Matthew 10:39 (MacLaren’s Expositions). Much will be surrendered. We must drop our weapons and take up the Gospel with great joy, eagerly awaiting the coming of our true country with great anticipation and longing for lost souls to return home to their Lord. We must go, for his sake. We must go, for our sake. We must go, for their sake.