KINGDOM: A present Kingdom in Jesus’ day (Matthew 10:5-15)
What’s the last challenging mission you were a part of? I’m not necessarily talking about what we’ve come to call “mission trips,” though that may qualify, I’m talking about any situation where you had to leave your comfort zone, stretch yourself to accomplish things beyond what you thought was possible, then return.
Possible qualifying events (to get your juices flowing)…
- a sales call
- a business presentation
- leading a retreat or group gathering for the first time
- an actual church mission trip
- starting or growing a new ministry or non-profit
- starting your own company
Of course, you might have experienced any number of other scenarios that fit the bill, but you get the gist.
I want you to think about that experience because I want you to put yourself into the sandals of the original 12 disciples as much as possible before reading the situation Jesus foisted upon them. They were a lot like you; regular people, everyday folks who stepped into a bigger story than they imagined possible. One of the differences between them and you is that their culture had long been expecting (over 700 years at the least) a real-life Messiah figure to show up. So when Jesus came on the scene, doing the things He did and saying the things He said, it was to be expected that some of the “everyday folks” like you would believe Him to be that Messiah.
The situation before us today takes that to another level entirely.
JESUS’ MESSAGE TO THE JEWS OF HIS DAY
The passage before us for this installment of our Kingdom studies in the gospel of Matthew, explains how Jesus sent out His 12 disciples to spread the word about the Kingdom. It was a marketing campaign with a personal touch, Jesus’ 12 right-hand men rubbing shoulders with the people across the nation to provide insight into what’s happening with this “Jesus of Nazareth” character. Is He the real deal, the Messiah we’ve been waiting for? The 12 were sent out to answer that question in the context of God’s “kingdom” work that was being introduced by Jesus. Let’s read it…
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
This much sounds simple, doesn’t it? Two guidelines for their journey:
1) Stay among the Israelite people.
2) Tell people, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
WHAT DID HE MEAN, “AT HAND?”
We don’t need a degree in Greek or Aramaic to understand what Jesus was saying. The promised “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” was pulling into the station for the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. There is no other way to reasonably understand Jesus’ words, especially given the task assigned to the 12 disciples. Why would it be necessary to tell “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” anything about the Kingdom if it wasn’t going to show up for hundreds or thousands of years? I guess it could have been spoken about in a similar way that Isaiah hinted at it – prophetically, to provide assurance and hope to the people, but Jesus didn’t come as just another prophet. He WAS the Messiah-King the prophets had long foretold. The King showed up because it was time for the Kingdom to begin.
This explains the fervor of the 12 disciples to jockey for places of prominence in His entourage (Matthew 20:21, Mark 10:37). They thought that Jesus would be picking his royal advisory board any day, that soon they’d receive titles and positions and responsbilities within the government of the new Kingdom of Israel. Why else had He selected them out of all the people in Israel?
This also explains why the crowds were so keen to hoist Jesus onto their shoulders and march Him into Jerusalem as their promised Messiah-King (John 6:15). They wanted and expected a God-ordained and empowered revolution that would overthrow their Roman oppressors and establish the beginnings of the “new Israel” promised by the prophets.
They were not wrong to understand that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand; Jesus said it was and was sending out his 12 guys to make it known. But it wasn’t THAT kind of Kingdom (John 18:36).
Just as the Jewish people of Jesus’ day needed to understand that last sentence, so do we, today, whenever we are reading this. The Kingdom of heaven is not an earthly, political, geographical, nation-state kind of Kingdom – but it’s a Kingdom, nonetheless. It’s vital that we understand that when Jesus arrived, He established His Kingdom on earth. It has no capital city, no governmental buildings, and no monuments to its significant events or heroes. But it is here and real, all the same. It’s our job to get our brains around that and to learn how we fit into it as Christ-followers who live over 2,000 years into its history.
THE MARKETING CHALLENGE THE 12 FACED
Keep in mind that these 12 Kingdom-marketers traveling the land were regular guys, not the educated, religious figureheads the Jewish people had become accustomed to hearing speak about all things spiritual. As the 12 traveled about the region saying that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand, the people were understandably going to have a few questions… “And why should we listen to YOU?” would be at the top of the list.
Jesus knew this. Of course He did.
So, he gave them additional instructions to help them answer that particular question. They weren’t only to spread the word about the Kingdom, they were to do things that legitimized or proved that the Kingdom of heaven was indeed at hand. This gets really fun (and a bit scary).
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out Demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
Are you still wearing the 12 disciples’ sandals? If so, your eyes should be bulging about now, your palms are starting to sweat, and your pulse just went up a couple of notches. Jesus just told YOU to do the things that HE has been doing; the IMPOSSIBLE things that have convinced you that He really is the Messiah. Are the questions starting to percolate to the top of your mind yet?
- Heal the sick? How am I supposed to do that? I don’t have that kind of power?
- Raise the dead? What!? You mean I’m supposed to disrupt funeral processions and empty graveyards? You can’t expect me to…
- Cleanse lepers? You’ve gotta’ be kidding! I can’t even get close to them for fear of catching the disease, so how am I going to heal them?
- Cast out demons? Wait a minute. I’m not sure about this. What if I try and it doesn’t work? What then?
Do you feel the concerns they would have had? But also, do you feel the excitement that comes from realizing that Jesus Himself gave you the instructions? If He’s telling you to do all these crazy things, doesn’t that imply that He’s going to give you the power to pull them off?
BOOM! Mind. Blown.
Once you put the pieces of your brain back together, remember this: Jesus gave these abilities to His 12 so they could demonstrate the veracity of their message: the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Don’t miss this. The TYPE of proof they were given demonstrates the TYPE of Kingdom they were proving.
Said another way, the Kingdom of Heaven is a reversal of all the consequences of sin and evil.
For the average, Sunday morning educated Christian this should not be anything new. Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost, right? (Luke 19:10) He came to destroy the works of the devil, correct? (1 John 3:8) God sent Him into the world that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:16,17). Right? RIGHT!??
But for some reason – maybe we’ve been taught this or maybe we’ve assumed it because our world is such a sin-sick place – we have relegated all of this into the category of “when Jesus comes back.” But it’s clear, both from the specific message the 12 disciples were told to spread, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” and the proof of that message’s legitimacy, that the Kingdom of Heaven is already well underway. We can’t allow ourselves to disbelieve it because of our own personal struggles with sin, the seeming ineffectiveness of the church, or the dismal state of the world around us. It’s no less true today than it was on the day Jesus commissioned these 12 men, the Kingdom of heaven IS at hand, and it’s the same KIND of Kingdom… one that reverses the effects of sin and evil.
KINGDOM LIFE REQUIRES KINGDOM TACTICS
These disciple’s sandals are starting to chafe a bit, aren’t they? But Jesus isn’t finished. He wants us to develop full-on blisters, burst them, keep going in spite of the pain, and grow the callouses that will enable us to serve effectively as citizens (soldiers?) in His Kingdom. How does He intend to do that? The same way He did it for his 12 disciples; by putting them into situations where they have no alternative but to trust Him. Here’s how He did it in their case…
Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
Here’s the essence of what He told them….
“For your mission trip, don’t pack a bag. Don’t fill your Igloo cooler or your Nalgene bottle, either. And leave your wallet and credit/debit cards at home. Just do the things I’ve told you and you’ll be taken care of in every way that matters. I’ll arrange your accomodations, both good and bad. In both situations, just stay focused on your mission.”
Not only do they need to trust Him to the point they can obediently step into needy and sometimes evil situations that are way beyond their ability, they also get to trust Him with the everyday necessities of life.
Trust, trust, trust. That is the only resource needed to serve faithfully in the Kingdom, and it’s enough. Our needs will be met as we stay focused on our work, which sounds a lot like something Jesus said elsewhere when describing the Kingdom (Matthew 6:33).
HOW TO HANDLE KINGDOM OPPOSITION
What were the 12 to do if people opposed them or didn’t receive their message?
And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Here I find a situation where modern vernacular perfectly fits what I find in scripture. How is Jesus saying we should handle opposition when we are busy doing His Kingdom work?
To use a term my Dad used when the baseball I was trying to field popped up and hit me in the face – “Shake it off.”
What does that mean?
Simple: Don’t let one point of resistance or one injury get inside your head and make you afraid, or cause you to back down. Don’t let the fear of people’s opinions or approval push you to water down the Kingdom message. It’s not your message TO water down. Your job is to represent it faithfully.
The Kingdom is grown as we trust and persist, sticking to our orders and leaving everything else in the King’s hands. If those who oppose or resist us need correction, the King will handle that in time, not us. That’s because they aren’t opposing us, they are opposing our message, which is HIS.
OPPOSING THE KINGDOM IS NOT A GOOD IDEA
Jesus’ comment about Sodom and Gomorrah is not something we should breeze over. He said that any city His 12 entered in which they were opposed or ignored, was putting itself in the crosshairs of the judgment of the Father. That’s not a good place to be, in any context.
But the severity of that judgement, when it comes, is what I want to focus on for a moment. He says Sodom and Gomorrah will get a BETTER deal than the cities that reject the message of the Kingdom, and we all know what happened to them (fires of judgment falling from heaven and such).
My question is “Why would these cities be judged more harshly than Sodom and Gomorrah?” We don’t have to think very long to figure that one out.
S & G were guilty of your everyday variety of sin, run amuck. So over time, selfishness turned to abusiveness in Gomorrah, sexual lust turned to pervsion in Sodom. Their sins were worse only in the extent to which they had degraded, not in the types of sins they were.
But the cities that reject the message of the Kingdom are not only sinning, they are also rejecting the whole ball of wax that is God’s plan for history. There’s nothing left to reject if they reject the Kingdom, they’ve jettisoned everything God says is good. That is a sorry state to be in and a place of judgement beyond comprehension.
Would you join me in this prayer?
Jesus, give us faith to believe in practical ways that You, the King, are taking care of the details and empowering the growth and work of Your kingdom. Prevent us from disbelieving that You are doing the great works of old in our day, for the sake of drawing people to Your Kingdom. Enable us to receive Your calling on our lives and to step out in faith to do what You tell us to do.
Kingdom Insights (cumulative list)
The Kingdom of heaven/God was long anticipated by the Jewish people (and others)
Entrance into the Kingdom requires repentance
The entrance of the Kingdom brought the Messiah and judgment
The Kingdom began with the advent of Jesus and continues growing, even today
The Kingdom of heaven is characterized by humility and righteousness
Those who enter the kingdom must do so by the righteousness of Jesus
Kingdom citizens are to be praying for the Kingdom to come and grow
Trust enables us to focus on the Kingdom first
The Kingdom is populated by those who trust what the King says
Kingdom citizens should speak and act to spread the Kingdom and ask the Lord to send more workers into it.