DISCIPLES OF THE KING
Matthew 10–11“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).There is no greater challenge than to live our lives as disciples of Jesus, the Servant-King.
Definition of Key Terms
In the first century an apprenticeship system was used to train spiritual leaders. Those in training attached themselves to a rabbi, and literally lived with him. Their goal was to both learn all their teacher knew, and to imitate his way of life. Jesus used this then-familiar model to train His Twelve. Matthew 10 records special instructions Jesus gave them for a preaching mission, and further instructions that relate more to the period after His death and resurrection. The word “disciple” is also used in a looser sense in the Gospels, to mean “believer” or “follower.” But it is used in the narrower, technical sense of “leader-in-training” whenever applied to the Twelve.
Jesus commissioned the Twelve (10:1–4). He instructed them on an immediate preaching mission (vv. 5–16), and spoke of future challenges (vv. 17–31). Jesus explained what He expects of disciples (vv. 32–39) and the disciple’s reward (vv. 40–42). A demoralized John was encouraged (11:1–6) and praised (vv. 7–19) by Jesus, who damned the cities that refused to repent despite His miracles (vv. 20–24). Yet the weary who come to Jesus will find rest (vv. 25–30).
Understanding the Text
“He called His twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority” Matt. 10:1–4. We may be impressed at the authority Jesus gave His disciples. Driving out evil spirits and healing the sick sounds so impressive. But note that Jesus gave this authority only to the Twelve whom He had chosen and trained. You and I may sometimes wish we had special spiritual powers. Let’s remember that the only way to receive them is to serve our apprenticeship with Jesus as the Twelve did. We must stay close to Jesus, and learn from Him, before we can be trusted with spiritual authority. This is one of four lists of the Twelve found in the New Testament (cf. Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:13–16; Acts 1:13). Simon Peter is first on each list, and Andrew, James, and John always complete the first four. In each list, Judas Iscariot is last. Each of the Twelve except Judas was a fully committed follower of Jesus. Yet there is no doubt that some were closer to Christ than others. Let’s not only be disciples of Jesus, but be disciples who concentrate on remaining close to our Lord. “Freely you have received, freely give” Matt. 10:5–10. At first Christ’s ministry was directed to God’s covenant people, the Jews. This first mission of the disciples was also directed to Israel. What’s most significant here, however, is Christ’s directive to take no extra money, clothing, or traveling equipment. The disciples were to shun luxury. They were to depend on God to supply their needs through the hospitality of others. They were to give freely what they had themselves freely received. If every Christian in ministry today were to adopt the attitudes commanded here—a contempt for material possessions, matched by a bold reliance on God alone—many who have exposed the Gospel to ridicule would today be ministering to the glory of God. “Search for some worthy person there” Matt. 10:11–15. In New Testament times travelers seldom stayed at inns, but rather stayed with any householder who invited them. Hospitality was considered a great virtue among Jews, and few travelers had to sleep out overnight unless they wished to. But Jesus encouraged His disciples to find some “worthy” person to stay with. The text defines a worthy person: it is one who “welcomes you,” and who “listens to your words” (v. 14). Both are important. The disciples came as emissaries of Jesus, not ordinary travelers. The “worthy” are still identified by their response to the Master, not the disciple, and by their willingness to listen to His words. Most travel in the first century was on foot. From Matthew 10 and other written sources, as well as the finds of archeologists, we can reconstruct how the disciples must have looked as they set out by twos on their mission of preaching and healing. “Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” Matt. 10:16. Jesus’ disciples were like sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves. They had no obvious defense against the hostility of the world. So they had to be both “shrewd” and “innocent.” In the Near East serpents were viewed as prudent beasts, who avoided danger. Hosea 7:11 pictures doves as “easily deceived and senseless.” Yet the dove was also a harmless and innocent bird, while the serpent was seen as a dangerous and repelling beast. Somehow the believer is to walk a very fine line in carrying out Christ’s mission to the world. Jesus’ disciples were to be prudent without being dangerous, and innocent without being foolish. How much we need Christ’s help to deal wisely with the challenges of our Christian life. “On My account you will be brought before governors and kings” Matt. 10:17–23. In these verses the focus of Christ’s instruction seems to shift from the immediate, local mission, to the post-Resurrection mission to the whole world. Jesus warned of future hostility and suffering, but gave a very special promise. In the first century those charged in court relied on orator-lawyers to plead their cases. Usually a person without this kind of expert help could expect the verdict to go against him! But Jesus told His own not to worry when arrested, for the Spirit of God would show them what to say when the time to speak in court came. What a promise! Who speaks for us when we are persecuted or accused unjustly? God Himself is our Orator-Lawyer. We need never fear with the Holy Spirit handling our defense! “So do not be afraid of them” Matt. 10:24–31. Jesus had bluntly warned His disciples that they must face danger and hostility (vv. 17–23). Now He told them not to fear. Some fears—as of those proverbial things that go bump in the night—are imaginary. But sometimes disciples face very real dangers and truly hostile enemies. In this passage Jesus wasn’t speaking about neurotic fear, but about the fear generated by very real perils. How do disciples deal with fear of real and present dangers? First, we remember the men of Jesus’ day were hostile to Him. Why should we who follow Jesus expect to have things better than our Lord? Second, we remember that one day all they do to us will be exposed to the light—and they will face judgment. Third, we remember that even if Christ’s enemies kill our bodies, our essential selves do not perish, and we enter the realm of eternal life. Finally, we remember that nothing happens to us “apart from the will of your Father.” Confidence in God’s Father-love sustains us. If you’re an anxious kind of person, meditate for a time on these verses. Let the perspective of Jesus reshape your way of looking at life, and bring you peace. “Whoever acknowledges Me before men” Matt. 10:32–42. What are the marks of Jesus’ disciples, and their rewards? We can list the following. A disciple of Jesus acknowledges Him before men (v. 32). A disciple of Jesus places loyalty to Christ above even the bonds of family (vv. 34–35). A disciple of Jesus takes up his cross and follows Jesus, a phrase which means subjecting one’s will to God even as Jesus chose to subject Himself to the cross (v. 38). A disciple of Jesus surrenders all for the sake of his Lord (v. 37). (See Matt. 16 for “taking up the cross” and “losing oneself.”) So far it seems that the disciple’s life is all “give up” and no “gain.” But there are rewards! In the world of the New Testament a person’s representative was treated as that person himself. As Jesus’ disciples minister, some will welcome them as Christ’s emissaries. Those who do so will gain rewards in the world to come—and the follower of Jesus will have the joy of knowing that it was through him or her that others were thus blessed. The Apostle Paul put it this way in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thes. 2:19). You and I, with Paul, have the same joy in discipleship that Jesus had in fulfilling His mission. Jesus had the joy of knowing that because of His faithfulness, many would be saved. As others respond to our witness to Christ, we who share Christ’s sufferings in discipleship will also experience this joy. “Are you the One who was to come?” Matt. 11:2–6 John was imprisoned for over a year in the fortress of Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea. There he began to doubt. John had announced a Messiah who would bless but also judge (3:11–12). Jesus truly blessed the people by His healings and teachings. But where was the judgment of evil men, like Herod who had imprisoned John? Jesus answered by quoting from Isaiah 35:5–6; 61:1, with possible reference to 26:19 and 29:18–19. Each of these passages speaks of blessings—and judgment! In essence Jesus was telling John, I am blessing now. In God’s time, I will also judge. We want to remember Christ’s careful selection of the blessing sections of these verses. We too rightly emphasize the grace and love of God. After all, today is the day of blessing! Let’s spread the Good News while we can. The day of judgment will come all too soon. “There has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” Matt. 11:7–14. Jesus praised John as the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Why? Because of all the prophets, John pointed most clearly to the Messiah. Many prophets spoke of Jesus’ day. But John was privileged not only to announce that the Messiah was at hand, but also to point directly to Jesus and say, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34). What did Jesus mean when He said that “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than [John]”? Simply that now, looking back on Jesus’ cross, the simplest believer can point even more clearly to the Messiah, and more fully explain the meaning of His life, death, and resurrection for lost humankind. What a stunning thought. When you or I point someone to Jesus as Saviour and Lord, we perform a ministry greater than that of any prophet of old. “Woe to you, Korazin!” Matt. 11:16–24 John and Jesus both preached the kingdom of God and presented Israel with her King. But the people, like children bored with playing children’s games (vv. 16–17), were satisfied with neither. And so Jesus pronounced, “Woe,” an expression communicating both grief and denunciation, on the cities where He had performed so many miracles. Even the most wicked pagan city would have responded if such wonders had been performed there. But God’s own people refused to believe. We have to be careful not to lose our own sensitivity to Jesus’ voice. It’s all too easy to let what we’ve been taught close our minds to fresh interpretations of Scripture, or to the guidance of God’s Spirit. “Come to Me, all you who are weary” Matt. 11:25–30. God reveals His Son to little children, but hides Him from “the wise and learned.” Christ isn’t teaching predestination here, but judgment. The little child responds trustingly to Jesus’ word. The “wise and learned” stand back, evaluate, and rely on their own judgment. In the same way the person who is weary and burdened is ready to respond to Christ, while the individual who arrogantly rushes on in his own strength sees no need of the Lord.
Discipleship’s Cost(Matt. 10:16–31; 11:28–29)
Here it is again! A description of a job nobody wants. I mean, who wants work as a sheep among wolves? (10:16) Who wants to be handed over to local councils to be flogged? (v. 18) Who wants family conflict? (v. 21) Who wants to be hated? (v. 22) Who wants to be persecuted? (v. 23) It’s fine to say things like, all this happened to Jesus first (vv. 24–25). And, hey, they can only kill your body, can’t they? (v. 28) But no matter how you cut it, this business of being a disciple doesn’t look all that attractive. Try putting this kind of ad in the paper, and see how many applicants you get. But then, at the end of Matthew 11, Jesus added something that makes it all worthwhile. He invites us, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me” (11:29). The yoke, which rested on the shoulders of oxen hitched to a plow, was used to distribute the burden of work. The oxen pulled together, and neither was overwhelmed. Being yoked to Jesus doesn’t so much mean that we take on His burdens, but that He, pulling alongside us, takes on ours. Yes, it’s tough to be a disciple. It’s a challenging and disciplined life. Yet the disciple by the very fact of his commitment is yoked to Jesus. And in that relationship, with Jesus taking on most of the load, we find not added burdens but an amazing inner rest. Despite all appearances, the disciple of Jesus knows the truth. Jesus’ “yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
The lightest load we try to carry alone is crushing.
“I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I never read in either of them: ’Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.’ “—St. Augustine