“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
– Matthew 10:38
Matthew 10 is Jesus’ second discourse that he gives to his disciples. As you recall, Matthew ended chapter 9 with Jesus’ call for harvest workers to go into the fields. Now Jesus sends his own disciples on their first mission as harvest workers. Having been trained to be disciples, they are now ready to put their knowledge into practice.
In the first section of this discourse, Matthew records the authority that Jesus gave to the disciples as well as a list of the twelve that he sent out. He then records Jesus’ instructions to the twelve for their mission.
In , Jesus instructs the disciples to only go to the Jewish people to proclaim the kingdom. The reason for this was because the time had not yet come for the Gentiles and Samaritans to be grafted in. We see many times in the New Testament that the Jews are always preached to first. It is not that the Gentiles are less important, only that God’s people take the precedence. Jesus’ purpose for sending out the disciples was so that the kingdom could be proclaimed. Jesus gave the disciples authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons as a way to confirm their message to the people.
shows how the disciples needed to completely rely on God’s provision. The disciples were not to accept any money, they were not to take any money with them, they were not to bring a bag or extra clothes, and they were to find a place to stay while they were in a town. They were utterly dependent upon God and his provision throughout their journey. He instructed them to preach to the towns of the country, but if a town did not respond to the message, they were to shake the dust from that town off their feet as a symbol of the town’s rejection. Jesus says that it would be better to be judged as Sodom and Gomorrah than to be in one of the towns that rejects the kingdom proclamation.
Jesus tells his disciples that ministry is not always pleasant. He prepares them for what they may face during this brief campaign and for what they will definitely face later on.
In , Jesus compares the disciples with sheep, doves, and snakes. The sheep and doves represent vulnerability and transparency, while snakes signify wisdom and defensiveness. These attributes are necessary for this mission because they need to be vulnerable in what they do by sharing the good news of the kingdom, but they must do so with wisdom and defensiveness if persecution were to arise. In fact, Jesus promises that persecution will come. Jesus says that there is a real possibility either now, or in the future, that the disciples would be arrested and taken to the courts. However, Jesus says that being brought to the courts for the gospel message is an opportunity to witness to others. Jesus tells his disciples that they need not fear what to say because the Holy Spirit will provide the words necessary for that moment.
Jesus also explains the severity of such persecution. Even family members will persecute disciples to the point of death. He emphasizes that persevering through persecution is the true test of a disciple. When persecution arises, it is easy to give up under the pressure. Persecution tests faithfulness. Jesus also tells his disciples to flee if persecution arises. Persecution is not something which should be sought after. If persecution arises, it would be better to flee and continue the mission so that others may be saved. Again, Jesus reiterates that persecution will happen because of people’s perception of Christ. In , Jesus tells his disciples what the Pharisees called him in – Beelzebul, who is the prince of demons. If Jesus was perceived to be the prince of demons, then his disciples would be persecuted for following such a person.
Jesus encourages his disciples in that they need not fear proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom because God will protect them. The worst thing that could happen is they die. Imagine that, that is the worst thing that could happen. He shows the disciples’ innate worth by telling them that God is even under control of the sparrows which are sold for half a cent. They are worth so much more than that. In , Jesus again says that they do not need to fear acknowledging Christ before others because Christ will acknowledge them before the father.
Despite being called the “Prince of Peace”, Jesus says that he is also a divider among people. Following Jesus will cause division among neighbors, friends, and even family. This was not Jesus’ sole purpose for coming to earth, but it is the result of who he is – people will reject him and will reject those who follow him. When Jesus says in that disciples must love him more than their family, he does not mean that they must completely despise their family. Instead, by comparison, their love for their family should be minuscule to the love for Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” With this in mind, show the radical cost of discipleship. The cross was an instrument of death in that time. To even mention a cross was grotesque. Jesus says that his disciples must be willing to be persecuted even unto death. Have you thought about that recently? Are you willing to die for Christ and the gospel? A commentator writes, “The cost of discipleship is death to self-will always, physical death often.”
The last three verses of Matthew 10 () share some of the rewards for those who support the disciples during their short mission. Receiving those who bring the gospel is like receiving Jesus Christ himself. We must remember to continue to support and welcome those who come to minister and proclaim the gospel.