10 And when He 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. 2 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; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. 6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, 10 nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
11 “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. 12 And when you go into a household, greet it. 13 If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!
In our passage this morning, Jesus gives His authority to His disciples. Maybe because we are so familiar with the story that we don’t stop and consider what a big deal this is. Everything Jesus had been doing, He now gives the ability and authority to do those things to them. Why? Why is He giving His disciples this authority? Why at this particular moment is He giving this authority to them? What is the point of all of this?
Authority and The Twelve (1-4)
Jesus calls His disciples to Him. They have been with Him as He has ministered in Galilee, they have heard His teaching from the Sermon on the Mount (and probably heard Him repeat the same teaching regularly at every synagogue He taught in). Now He is giving them authority. It is important to focus on this word for just a moment. In our New King James Version bibles, the word is translated “power.” Elsewhere it is authority. The original Greek word Matthew used is “exousia.” Its usage in the ancient world is in the realm of political and military authority. It is about who is in charge. Who gets to say what goes.
It is a word that we modern people often have a lot of trouble with, at least when others have it and we do not. We like to think authority is derived from us being okay with it. We are deep down all disciples of John Locke, “authority is derived from the consent of the governed” is maybe a thing you have heard, but it is certainly a thing you have been shaped by. We like to think authority is only okay if I get a say in who has it.
But the world God created doesn’t work like that. The little babies born to your household didn’t sign a contract when they came out of the womb, handing over authority to you. You just had it by virtue of being a parent. Authority works far more like that, than it does with a representative democracy. And the authority that Jesus gives to His disciples. No one voted for them to get it. It was simply given to them. This is traditionally how a minister’s call was understood. When a session or a congregation voted to “call” a pastor, what they were doing was not voting to confer authority upon a man, but recognizing and affirming that this call from God exists. When a pastor is ministering the Word and Sacraments to God’s people, he doesn’t do it because the people voted for it, despite this being good and orderly to do, he does so because that authority to minister to God’s people has been given by God. As a tangible means of God blessing His people.
In our passage, these men are receiving authority from Jesus Himself to do all the same things Jesus has done. You have to remember, there is obviously no internet, TV, or cameras. Most of the people in Israel had no idea what Jesus looked like. There is a chance, actually probably a certainty, that these guys went into the villages of Israel started casting out demons and healing the sick and people who had maybe heard about this guy Jesus who performed these miracles but had never seen Him believe that James the son of Alphaeus or whoever was Jesus. Jesus is sending these men out with His authority almost to be mistaken for Him. We could almost say He sort of wants that to happen.
All the things that made Jesus stand out He is giving to them. And He is giving it to them for a reason, which we will get into further, in just a moment.
But first, we should note the list of names. His disciples are listed for us here. Usually, this is something we might read fast or even just skip over (ahh a boring list!) but it is important. Not just because it records the names of all the disciples, including the ones other than Peter, James, John, Thomas, Matthew, and Judas, who don’t make much of an appearance in the gospels. Just having them listed out is important for us, but also because Jesus is making an important point by having these disciples, and especially exactly this many.
We don’t think in terms of symbol very often. “What is the symbolic significance of X?” is not something we often ask. But the ancient world was different. It was not a world like ours. Numbers almost always are given in order to draw attention to something else or to connect different things. Numbers in the Bible have a very particular meaning. Especially the number here. Twelve. The most important symbolic connection to the number twelve is that Israel was made up of twelve tribes. Jacob had twelves sons. Jesus, here, has twelve “sons.” At the end of His life, Jacob blessed His sons, and this blessing entailed passing Jacob’s authority on to his heirs. Jesus is passing His authority to His heirs.
The disciples, here, represent Israel. They represent a new Israel. An Israel where the kingdom of God has arrived.
The Lost Sheep of Israel (5-15)
The disciples become apostles, a word which means “someone who is sent by someone.” But their sending is very specific. They are not supposed to go to Gentile places, nor are they to go to Samaritan cities. This is not because Jesus is saying Gentiles and Samaritans are bad (even though many Jews believed that). He ministered to Gentiles and Samaritans often. No, the reason was, at this moment, the people the apostles were called to minister to was their own—the Jews.
This is something I have discussed previously and will mention again. Jesus’s ministry and the ministry of the apostles, at this time, was not for the whole world. Jesus could have spent more than three years and could have traveled all over the world to heal everyone. There were sick people in Rome and China in the first century AD, too, after all. His ministry was very specific. It was to the priestly people that God had called out from all the nations of the world to minister to the nations of the world. That is who Israel was. Israel was not the only people in the world who got to have their sins forgiven and to go to heaven when they die. Forgiveness was available to all the peoples of the world. And the people through whom God ministered to all the peoples of the world was that nation, Israel.
But, despite being chosen for this specific role, Israel was an incredibly wicked nation. Where great evil was done, especially to the poor. And into this wicked nation, which was supposed to be a light of righteousness to all the nations of the world, Jesus came to minister. It was to this nation where the kingdom of God would first appear. And this nation was given a choice, accept the kingdom of God and conform your ways to it, or reject it (and be trampled underfoot by it). Either way, the kingdom was coming.
Of course, we know how the story goes, they reject the kingdom. They murder the King. But unwittingly, they set the stage for the kingdom’s greatest victory, the resurrection of its King.
It is to this people, that Jesus sends His apostles, armed with His authority and power. The point of giving them authority is the same reason Jesus performed miracles to begin with—it is powerful, tangible evidence that what is being said is true and trustworthy. When they go and heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons the people will know that the words they preach “THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND” are true and certain. “God’s kingdom is coming, so look out. The death and decay of this sinful world is soon going to be removed forcefully. True life, like you have never experienced before, is coming. Here is a taste of that life.”
But the evangelistic strategy Jesus employs is not what we would. He does not wait until His apostles can raise a full year’s salary before sending them out. And He does not plant them in a place permanently. They go to a place and minister there. Those who receive them will take care of them. But there are those who reject the words they say. And Jesus tells them something we might be startled by. Something remarkable. If they don’t listen to you, shake the dust of that place off your feet. You don’t want the most unclean part of you to be defiled by that place. Sodom and Gomorrah, a place God totally destroyed in fire and brimstone, will be a nice vacation resort compared to what those places are gonna get.
Israel is going to reject Jesus. They are also going to reject the ministry of the Holy Spirit, through these very same apostles, who had the very same authority and power Jesus gave them. They rejected it for 40 years after Jesus’s resurrection. The Son testified against them. The Spirit testified against them. Blasphemy of the son by Israel would be forgiven. On Pentecost and thereafter, many Jews who had rejected Jesus and called for Him to be crucified, had that sin of blasphemy against the Son forgiven them. But for 40 years, the rest of Israel doubled down on their sin and blasphemed the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church and rejected the gospel. And in God’s law, a death sentence could not be executed without the testimony of two or three witnesses. In AD 70, that sentence came down and what the Romans did to Israel indeed made them prefer the quick, fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Our ministry here, is in many ways, not too different from the apostles. No, we are not given authority to raise the dead or heal sickness in the same way they were. But just as their ministry was one which brought life to a lost and helpless people, so should ours be. That is what we are to be doing. Remember the passage just before this one. The multitudes are weary and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. That is exactly like the situation we are in, both in our town and all throughout our country. And to these lost sheep without a shepherd, to these fields full of grain ready to be plucked, Jesus sends His apostles to give them life.
There are so many people in each of our lives that fit the description of lost sheep. So many people whose lives are destroyed by sin, either their own or someone else’s but usually a combination and a compounding of both. So many people who desperately need to hear that their sins are completely and totally forgiven, that a certain eternity of conscious torment has been averted by Jesus’s blood. They desperately need to be taught there is a better way to live, a way that is not easy but is good, a way where you are no longer swimming upstream in the world God has made. The Christian life is hard. But unlike the living death of unbelief, the Christian life is not totally futile. The gospel frees men from that utter and complete futility.
The kingdom of God, which the apostles were preaching was imminent, for us is here. It is has arrived. You are in it. And all those who are lost and hurting, need to hear that they have a place in this kingdom, and that the life in this kingdom is so much better than what they have now.
That is the ministry God’s people are called to. That is the ministry you are called to, to share the life that you have been given and invite the lost and weary into it. The harvest in plentiful. If you minister this life to others, you will bear fruit. Would that our grain elevators be spilling over, ready to burst. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!