When we left off at the end of Matthew chapter 9, we saw that Jesus was going through all the cities teaching the Word, preaching the gospel, and healing the diseases. Matthew notes that when Jesus saw the people,
Matt. 9:36 ...He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
Jesus saw how many people there were, and how few of Him there was. The ministry had to be multiplied. He told His disciples to pray for workers to be raised up and sent out.
Remember that at this point, His disciples consisted of crowds (Matt. 5:1 and 7:28) who listened to His teaching. It was time for some of these learners to become doers. The first thing He told them to do was pray.
The crowds of disciples had prayed, and their prayers were answered. From their own midst, twelve men were called into ministry, and sent out into the cities. This is why they were called the Apostles, for the Greek word "ap-OS-tol-os" means "sent-out ones." They are listed here by name, including Judas Iscariot who is described as "the one who betrayed Him."
Don't worry if this name doesn't sound familiar from your reading of Matthew's first nine chapters - you haven't missed anything in the story yet. Remember that the people to whom Matthew is writing are the Jews in Israel, who had undoubtedly heard of the betrayal of Jesus by one of His own apostles, and His subsequent crucifixion.
These twelve new workers in the harvest were sent out to the cities - but not every city in the known world. Just to the cities of the Jews. As non-Jews, we might feel offended at this. Am I not good enough to hear the message of Jesus because I'm not a Jew?
The Jews were not the only ones who would hear the good news about forgiveness of sins in Jesus. But they would be the first. Paul the apostle wrote,
Rom. 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
But why to the Jew first? Jesus said,
John 4:22 "...salvation is from the Jews."
The message of salvation started from the Jews, who had been entrusted with the promises of God and the Word of God. When the Jews largely rejected the message of the gospel...
Acts 13:46-48 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'" When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the Word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
The gospel went first to the Jews, and then to the rest of us.
Jesus gives the guys their job descriptions:
First of all, preach the message of the kingdom being near, just as Jesus was doing (Matt. 4:17), and John the Baptist had done (Matt. 3:2).
They would have the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.
In spite of the miracles to back up their message, Jesus told them to expect that some people, even entire cities, would not give heed to them. In that case, they were to leave, knowing that they would be judged for their rejection.
Sometimes the rejection would be more than simply ignoring the apostles, and Jesus prepares them for this as well...
Jesus went from place to place, preaching and doing good. As a result, He was hated by many, and had been accused of using the power of the devil to do His miracles. Anyone who follows in Jesus' footsteps can and should expect the same sort of treatment and accusations. We shouldn't be surprised at this.
2Tim. 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Jesus tells them to be shrewd (FRON-ee-mos), which means to be practically wise, and mindfully prudent. He's saying, "You're entering a dangerous situation. So be innocent, but don't be ignorant."
They were to be aware, but not to be fearful. The worst that someone can do to you is to kill you. But they can't touch your soul.
Some people think that if God's behind something, there won't be any conflict. It'll all be easy and smooth sailing. But Jesus is telling them that this is not the case. Families will be in turmoil because of the gospel. People will be put to death because of the gospel. And those who are faithful will be rewarded for their part in preaching and supporting the gospel.
Once the disciples got their instructions, they went out. Jesus also went on the road, teaching and preaching. Ultimately, these are our marching orders as well, for the gospel of Matthew ends with the command,
Matt. 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..."