SECTION 4: THE MESSENGERS OF THE KING
THE OCCASION OF THEIR COMMISSION
CONSIDERING OUR OWN COMMISSION
Scripture To Consider:
“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
“Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest.’“ Matthew 9.35-38
Something To Consider:
This portion of the gospel opens with a summary of the Galilean ministry of Jesus and is similar to that which precedes the Sermon on the Mount and the account of the ten great miracles which were recorded as credentials of the King. This summary properly introduces the record of the commission which Jesus gave to His twelve disciples. It shows the occasion and motive of their mission. It pictures the great crowds which were gathering around Jesus as well as the unreached multitudes which had become so great as to demand helpers who might preach in the name of the Master.
This portion of Scripture also looked forward to the time when the rejected King would be taken from His followers and when the whole burden of testimony would rest upon them. Some of the exhortations and warnings belong to the days of the earthly ministry of our Lord; and others have their application to all the intervening ages and to the experiences of His followers even in years yet to come from that moment in time.
The immediate motive, however, which compelled Jesus to act, was his deep compassion for the multitudes. He saw that they were burdened by cares, doubts, and fears. He saw that they were scattered, downcast, and hopeless. They were as sheep not having a shepherd. That is, they were in need of a guide, protector, and a leader. They were perplexed and knew not which way to turn. They were hungry and knew not how the longings of their souls could be satisfied.
This portrait is a striking picture of the world today. Its multitudes are likewise helpless. They are in need of that which the Good Shepherd alone can provide. When we sympathize with the Master and look upon the crowds as He saw them, we feel something of His passion and eagerness to offer relief and to send forth those who can testify in His name.
It was Jesus’ yearning over the multitudes which led Him to urge His disciples to pray. He changes the metaphor, but the need is obvious according to Jesus, “The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Is Jesus telling us that the grain is ripe and unless workers can be secured, the harvest will be lost? This is something to consider!
For this potential loss none feels so deep a sorrow as the Lord Himself. It is His harvest, and He longs for reapers. They were few in the days of Jesus and they have forever been too few; but the need can be supplied more nearly if the followers of the King will heed His command and unite in prayer for more laborers. Of course, such a petition implies and secures a deepening interest on the part of the petitioners. As Jesus urged His disciples to pray, He was about to send them forth to the work. When we pray for laborers, we would be wise to consider ourselves.
More Scripture To Consider:
“And when Jesus had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.”
“Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Jesus.” Matthew 10.1-4
Something Else To Consider:
Before Matthew records the list of the memorable names of the immediate and chosen apostles of Christ, he states the character of the work which they were called to do. “He [Jesus] gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” These miracles would serve as credentials of their commission. It was a unique privilege. Other great leaders had produced miracles, but none had given this power to their followers.
The works of mercy and of grace performed by the twelve would win for them willing hearers and would secure ready acceptance for the Good News they proclaimed. The names of the twelve messenger-style apostles are arranged in three groups of four names each. These same groups and in the same order appear in all the lists recorded by the different evangelists.
It is possible that the groups are arranged in accordance with the comparative intimacy with Christ in which different apostles enjoyed. At least it is certain that the four first named were the most intimate companions and truly trustworthy messengers of and for Jesus and the message concerning Jesus.
Peter is mentioned first, not merely because his name begins the list, but possibly to suggest that he was to become first in prominence. Closely associated with him were Andrew, his brother, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee. It had been the privilege of Andrew to bring Peter to Jesus. James had the honor of being the first martyr among the band of apostles.
John was the disciple that was described many times as the one Jesus loved, and who seemed most fully to return this affection and to better understand the divine nature of His Lord. Philip is named with Barthlomew, of whom we more associate as Nathaniel, the Israelite without guile, whom Philip had introduced to His Lord.
Thomas is known as the doubting disciple, and yet, he really had as much loyalty and faith as his companions, but he wished proof of his own choosing. He was a man characterized by melancholy and by a certain stubbornness of temperament. And yet, this thought of as doubting Thomas disciple, was willing to go to Jerusalem with Jesus and risk his own death alongside Jesus.
Matthew, in only this list of the disciples is called the publican. It is a clue revealing that he himself wrote the record and most likely did not want to be found guilty of concealing the truth of his bitter background. The name publican implied something negative and was therefore not given him by any of the other early evangelist-style scribes. He seemed to glory in the fact that Jesus had done so much for him by calling him from the burdensome task of publican or tax collector to the work of an apostle.
James, the son of Alphaeus, is not to be confused with either the brother of John, or with the brother of Jesus. The last mistake is very commonly made, but this apostle who was elsewhere called James the Less, followed and trusted Jesus during those long years which the brother of Jesus passed in unbelief. It was not until after the resurrection of Jesus that the brother of Jesus became a disciple and rose to prominence in the early church, and finally wrote the Epistle which bears his name.
The Thaddaeus here mentioned is the same as the Judas, not Iscariot, mentioned by John. Simon the Canaanite or Zealot was so named either because he belonged to the party of extreme nationalists among the Jews, or else, which may be less likely, because of his own burning enthusiasm for his Lord.
Judas was possibly called Iscariot, to suggest that he came from the town of Kerioth. If so, he was the only disciple who belonged to Judea, and according to some, from the first may have had less sympathy with Christ and his eleven comrades. Of this there is no certainty. It is noticeable, however, that whenever he is named, it is always with some reminder of the dark crime inseparable from his memory, as Matthew here adds, “Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Jesus.”
That Jesus should have selected such a man as Judas Iscariot to be His follower has often occasioned wonder and surprise. We are probably to conclude, however, that his character was at first full of promise and that his final outcome is simply a warning of what may be possible for anyone who attempts to follow Christ and who still allows the mastery of some besetting sin. This is indeed something else to consider!
Such in brief are the twelve men whom Jesus sent out as His early messengers. They were probably men of moderate ability, of modest means, and had no place in the great world record of history. They were of diverse characters. Some of them are so unknown that they are to us mere names; yet, through them was laid the foundation of the greatest movement and the most important institution of all time.
It is for all followers of Christ to be loyal to Him and then, whatever their talents or limitations, however prominent or obscure their positions, they can be certain that Jesus will accomplish through them a work which only eternity can truly measure. These men’s lives before and after Jesus selected them to become His disciples, should give us all great hope that the Master can use such as us of such low esteem.
Something More To Consider:
And yet, how often do we as true born-again believers honestly consider our own commission? What is it that we have been called or commissioned to do or to accomplish, as were the early disciples? The gospels are full of spiritual references to what Jesus has called or commissioned us to accomplish as His loyal and faithful followers. For instance, Jesus begins His extremely exhaustive list in Matthew 4.17, with what He declared for all generations of want to be followers to do and to accomplish, when He stated, “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
This first commission of Christ is reinforced throughout the Epistles and repeated seven times in the seven letters of Jesus in the book of Revelation. As mentioned earlier, all Christianity begins and continues on the principle of true repentance. From there, as discussed before, Jesus commissioned His followers to mourn over their sin, to hunger and to thirst after His righteousness, to become and to remain merciful, pure in heart, and to become peacemakers.
Jesus continues by stating that those He calls, and commissions are to become salt and light in this dark and corrupt world, while letting our lights so shine in a way that we bring glory to God and not to ourselves. His mandate to all followers is that we become a preserving influence and an illuminating light unto the world’s path leading to Jesus the lamp unto our feet directing both them and us to the foot of the cross of Christ when needed however often it may be.
A Few Final Words:
To continue this instructive process throughout the entirety of the gospels would be physically exhausting, therefore, let us fast forward to the book of Revelation. In the letters to seven churches, Jesus in His first letter to the Ephesian church, commissions all true saints to spiritually overcome, while commanding us to be careful not to neglect our first love for God, for Christ, the Word of God, and for others! And if we do, He requires our repentance!
In Jesus’ letter to the church in Smyrna, He calls His followers to be faithful even unto death, which is a follow-up of His three times in the gospels as He declared, “But he [or she] who endures to the end shall be saved.” What greater motivation could we be given by Jesus than to remain faithful enduring to the end overcoming followers of Jesus Christ? Therefore, have we in advance, planned and prepared to endure to the end of our lives or unto the end of this age in faithful response to Jesus’ command to do so?
Jesus also commissions all followers to be watchful, to be ready for His return, to not be deceived, and to be zealous or serious about the things of God. And in those same seven letters to seven churches, Jesus commanded and commissioned all true believing followers seven times to overcome sin, our flesh, and the enemy of all that is good.
I know this is not the usual list we think of when considering our own commission or Christian calling, but this list is biblically relevant to all true believers in all generations and especially in this 21st century generation. Can we agree that not everyone is called to preach? Not everyone is called to become an evangelist, missionary, or Christian teacher or leader. But everyone who desires to be considered Christian, according to Jesus, are called to these scriptural mandates.
Hopefully, we will honestly consider these mandates of Jesus as our own commission delivered directly from Jesus to us. And before it is too late, we can truthfully declare, “Message delivered, message received!”
Our Father in heaven, thank You for revealing to us in the written Word, important information concerning these early disciples and the many early followers of Christ. It is clear that they indeed were given a clear commission for their lives. May You help us as true followers of Jesus in these end times, to wisely consider our own commission as it relates to the written and preserved Word of God. Teach us what it means to endure to the end, according to Jesus’ command. In Him Always, Amen!