So far this season, I’ve been reading, studying and writing each week on each chapter from Matthew’s Gospel that lines up with the Baseball Chapel schedule for the 2019 season. And while reading one chapter a week is sufficient and a good habit for many of us to develop, it is also easy to lose sight of the big picture perspective of what Matthew is doing in his Gospel when we are only reading one chapter each week. This week we are in chapter ten, but this chapter (like any other chapter) is best understood in the context of everything that has come before it.
In the first three and a half chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, he intentionally links Jesus to the story of the Hebrew Bible by portraying Jesus’ birth as a new genesis and describing him as coming out of Egypt, through the waters and into the wilderness to be tested. Then when we get halfway through chapter four, Matthew shifts his focus to the launching of Jesus’ message and ministry with these words:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Matthew describes Jesus’ “kingdom ministry” by listing three specific things that Jesus was doing:
Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people (4:23).
This three-fold description of Jesus’ mission creates the formula for understanding what Matthew records in the next few chapters. In chapters 5-7, Matthew records a big block of teaching that shows us what Jesus went around teaching and proclaiming, and then in chapters 8-9, Matthew records what it looked like when Jesus went around healing every disease and affliction among the people. This section (5-9) ends like it started with Matthew once again referring to this three-fold formula when he concludes:
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction (9:35).
All of this helps us better understand what we are dealing with when we get to chapter ten. Chapter ten is the second big block of teaching by Jesus (chapters 5-7 was the first), and it is a specific set of instructions that he gives his disciples on how to participate in the kingdom mission and what to expect when you do — some people will accept you and some people will reject you.
One big thing to notice at the beginning of this chapter is that Jesus gives his disciples the same message that he has been proclaiming and teaching (“the kingdom has arrived”) and the same healing power that he has been demonstrating (chapters 8-9). And Matthew records these instructions by Jesus in such a way that the principles go beyond his original disciples and provide instruction for all followers of Jesus throughout history on how to continue and carry out the kingdom mission that he launched.
That being said, here are three observations for us from these instructions given by Jesus:
First, as disciples of Jesus, we are supposed to be participating in this ongoing mission that Jesus and his original small group of disciples started. Being a Christian is not an insurance policy that secures you eternal life after death, and following Jesus is not primarily about how to go to heaven when you die. A follower of Jesus is someone who has sworn their allegiance to Jesus, who has submitted to his authority over their lives, and who has signed up to participate in the mission that he has launched. And a follower of Jesus participates in this mission by doing the same sort of things that Jesus was doing — teaching, proclaiming and healing.
Next, as disciples of Jesus, we should expect to be treated as he was treated. We will be accepted by some people, and it will encourage us to experience the blessings of their appreciation. However, we will also be criticized, mocked and rejected by some people too. We should expect this kind of treatment and not be so scared or cowardly that we try to downplay our allegiance to Jesus in order to secure the approval of others. Any attempt to keep our allegiance to Jesus private exposes where our ultimate allegiance lies — in our own well-being and in the approval of others.
And then lastly, as disciples of Jesus, we should show hospitality to and support other disciples of Jesus who are carrying out the kingdom mission. This is another practical way that we are to participate in the kingdom mission launched by Jesus. Even the smallest act of support for this mission is worth a reward in the eyes of God.
And so, let’s read this teaching of Jesus and remember that the day we decided to follow him is the day that we signed up to join the kingdom mission that he has launched. And let’s accept the fact that our allegiance to Jesus is going to regrettably but inevitably bring social and personal conflict on some level. As disciples of Jesus, we will be forced to make difficult decisions about where our ultimate loyalty lies. Let’s be wise about how we carry out this mission, and let’s stay focused on being faithful even if that means being unpopular.