American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
In any given Sunday morning, there are many in our western culture who may be found taking part in activities that are held in their local church. These activities typically include times of fellowship, Bible study, and corporate worship. From week-to-week their format changes little, and from week-to-week virtually the same people are found in the same places with little change in either context, content, or community. We repeat the same, “How do you do?”s and small-talk, catching up on one another’s experiences, and for the most part enjoying the time together almost as much as we enjoy leaving and getting back to our Sunday activities.
What is wrong with this picture? Is there any wonder that the number of people who are engaged in the Christian experience is ebbing as many of these unchanging ineffective congregations are populated with the older generation who is holding on to an even older image of what they perceive to be the “church.” Many of these smaller congregations will simply evaporate as their members go on to be with the LORD in the next few years because of the lack of younger Christians in their community. These are churches that have failed in their primary mission: to bring people to the blessings of a saving knowledge of God. They have been successful in maintaining their own fellowships, and meeting the needs of their own members, but have systematically lacked the vision of those who started those churches many years ago. Their vision is largely limited to meeting the desires of their congregation to the exclusion of the needs of their community. As people gather in churches, the vast majority of the people in their surrounding communities stay home, disinterested, apathetic, or even antagonistic towards the church. Their absence from the body of Christ is not their own fault. They are not involved in the faith simply because they have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel in a positive, blessed, way. They have not experienced the outflow of the overwhelming love of God from those people who are gathered in that small building, singing “Love Lifted Me,” as the church has litany of rationalized reasons why they do not demonstrate that love to the members of their community.
This is not the nature or intent of the church that Jesus Christ established. These are churches that are little more than an elitist social club with a Christian theme, clubs that will die out when their members die out. The church of Jesus Christ is not a social club, but rather a fellowship of people who love the LORD and gather together with a purpose that is consistent with Jesus’ formation of the early church, a multiple of purposes that are absolutely essential to the demonstration of obedient love of the LORD. These include:
1. A love for the lost in their community that is genuine, and is expressed with the continual work of seeking to bless those who do not know the LORD by actively seeking to meet their needs, both physical and spiritual. This is the charge given by the LORD to each member of the church… not just a select few.
2. A love for the LORD that is genuine enough to worship Him as He is worthy to be worshipped. True worship, though often expressed corporately, is intensely personal. God is worthy of our individual, focused, and sincere worship. This is the charge given by the LORD to each member of the church… not just a select few.
When the church fails in these two areas, it fails as a church of Jesus Christ. As Jesus established the church, He provide instruction on how “church” is done.
Matthew 9:27. And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us.
One of the areas where we as a church have fallen short of our calling is our lack of relationship with those in our communities. Like the ancient Jews, many churches limit their relationships to other Christians, forming an elite community that, by their elitism, have separated themselves from the very people that the LORD has called them to serve. When those outside the church observe this behavior, they rightfully think of those church members as hypocrites and want nothing to do with them. The church has built its own wall between themselves and the community, and then they wonder why so few people walk through their doors.
Jesus’ intent for the church is just the opposite. As Jesus traveled through the community His genuine love and compassion for them became well-known. This passage records Jesus’ interaction with the community as He demonstrated God’s love to them in a ministry of preaching, healing, and even the raising of the daughter of an influential man from the dead.
Though it is not likely that many Christians will experience a ministry of healing and raising people from the dead, ministry within our community is still a primary responsibility of Jesus’ followers. The reason we do not minister in the community with the same fervor that Jesus did is simple: we do not love those on our community as Jesus did. Yet, it is this same love that God has given to every faithful believer, and it is this same love that can be shared with our neighbors.
Consider this little test: visualize each of the homes within your close community, perhaps the nearest fifteen to twenty families. Take a piece of paper, write each of their names, the names of their family members, and a few words that expressing the most pressing needs that each individual has, and what you have done in an attempt to show them your love for them. Also write down how the LORD has used you to minister to them in their need.
If you cannot do this, you have illustrated why God’s love is not being spread throughout the community. Because the demonstration of God’s love was in the very nature of Jesus, He became known for that love, and He did not need to seek out those who were in need: they came to Him.
This passage describes the plight of two blind men who, having heard of Jesus’ message of love, grace, and healing, fully believed that He was the Anointed One, the Messiah, as they referred to Him by the Messianic title, “Son of David.”
Matthew 9:28. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord.
Because Jesus’ love for His community was genuine, and His demonstration of that love was without compromise, the people in the community became to believe in who He is. They came to trust Him. They came to a point where they were confident in approaching Him, seeking His counsel, His teaching, and His power to touch their lives. Jesus came to show the world God’s intent to bless those who place their faith and trust in Him. Having heard their proclamation of their belief that He is the Messiah, He questioned the voracity of their belief. Of course, we are observing this event through multiple language translations and two-thousand years of cultural change, but it is still clear that their response to His question revealed sincere faith when they referred to Him as, “LORD.”
If our agape love for those in our community is genuine, we will not pass up opportunities to establish relationships with our neighbors, and accept each relationship as a gift of the LORD through which we can be blessed, and through which others can be blessed. Like these two blind men, the people in the community will come to know who we really are, and begin to trust us. When such relationships are built, the wall of “hypocrisy” falls.
Matthew 9:29. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. 30And their eyes were opened; and Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it. 31But they, when they were departed, spread abroad his fame in all that country.
Because of who Jesus is, and because of the relationship that Jesus had with the community, these two men were in a position to be blessed. Had Jesus not been among the community, and had these man not placed their trust in this wandering evangelist, they would have remained blind, both in their inability to see, and in their ignorance of the blessing that would have been theirs.
The people who are holed up in their churches have within themselves this same Holy Spirit, whose power will work within them to bless the people in their community. If their love for the LORD is genuine, their love for their community is also genuine. They may be aware of some of the needs around them and lift them up intercessory prayer with the hope that “someone else” will go to them. Still, that wall of hypocrisy remains and neither they or those in their community are blessed by a faith- and love- sharing relationship. They remain blind.
Matthew 9:32-34. As they went out, behold, they brought to him a dumb man possessed with a devil. 33And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel. 34But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.
Because of the social nature of the church today, there will be those in the church community who will be highly critical of those members who establish relationships within the community and find the wonder and excitement that comes from the mutual blessings that those relationships engender. The word, “marveled” is used here to describe that wonder. When one reaches out beyond the walls of their church community and establishes relationships with those in their community, lives are always changed. The ministry of a faithful Christian is simply to “touch” people with the love of God, and let Him do the rest. Sometimes the simplest of those touches turns someone to an entirely different direction in their lives.
When this happens, one can expect anything from criticism to resistance from the church leadership of those churches with solid walls. Refusing to step beyond those walls, these people can only come up with rationalizations to defend their lack of love for the community since they claim to be faithful Christians. When Jesus freed a man from a demonic possession the religious leadership responded with open criticism. Lacking Jesus’ love for the people, they had no context from which to understand what Jesus was doing. All they could see was that as a respected Jewish teacher, Jesus’ behavior was inconsistent with their traditions, and they felt they had to take a stand against this “heresy,” and voiced their opinion by their own reinterpreting of the Word of God to suit their own purposes. However, their criticism did not deter Jesus in His ministry in any way.
Matthew 9:35-38. And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 36But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. 37Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; 38Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
As Jesus went throughout His community, His love and compassion for the people led Him to minister to them in many ways, meeting them at their point of need, and serving them in any way He could. Many people in the area around Capernaum and Galilee turned to Jesus in faith. Many were healed of a variety of diseases, infirmities, and oppressions. However, Jesus expressed a profound limitation of His ministry: as the eternal Messiah, His love and compassion is for all people whom God has created, but as the incarnated Jesus, His ability to bring people to a saving knowledge of God was largely limited to those with whom He made personal contact.
Upon observing the crowds, Jesus spoke to the disciples concerning their need for the LORD. As He looked at the people He saw a community that, like sheep, are in need of The Shepherd. God created them with the purpose that all people would be blessed through a relationship with Him, but the crowds do not understand that purpose. They are in need of The Shepherd to lead them to that life of blessing, that eternal life with God. Jesus is not in a position to do this on His own, and that is not Jesus’ purpose. The purpose of God is that the world would be blessed through the ministry of people of faith and, certainly, as Jesus looked around there was no such abundance of ministers.
With this thought, Jesus turned to His disciples, asking them to pray that the LORD will send “laborers” out to the great population to reap a harvest of saved souls. Of course, if any of us prays in sincerity about this need, that opens up our hearts to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit as He communicates to us our own part in the harvest.
Called to minister to the lost, the LORD has given to us the resources to be obedient to that calling. Having demonstrated the context for ministry to the disciples, at this point Jesus began to teach the disciples about their part in this work, a part that is shared by every faithful believer.
Matthew 10:1. And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
Though Jesus was surrounded by a community of disciples, those who followed His teaching, and literally followed Him around the community with the sincere desire to know more, Jesus selected twelve whom He had personally called to the ministry of faith. Having a future plan for these twelve that involved their taking on His ministry to the people, Jesus kept them closer to Himself, and gave to them a more significant “course” of training and equipped them to carry on the work.
The work of ministry is not empowered by our own ability, though God uses our gifts and abilities through which to demonstrate His power. The work of true faith ministry is empowered only through the Holy Spirit who the LORD gives to those who place their faith and trust in Him. The disciples, save one, had already placed their faith and trust in the LORD, and were ready for the Spirit to work through them to minister to others.
Likewise, the same Holy Spirit will work through the lives of the faithful to the same purpose: to bless others with the love of God, and to bring them to a point where they too can turn to Him in faith.
Matthew 10:5-8. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: 6But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 8Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
Prior to His ascension, Jesus gave the command to the disciples to spread the gospel to the entire world, defining it as the set of four communities: Jerusalem (their immediate region), Judea (their surrounding region), Samaria (those whom they are estranged), and the “outermost parts of the earth.” In His initial command Jesus called upon the disciples to limit their ministry to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” a reference to that greater population of Jews who were estranged from the Temple.
This was their first commission to share the gospel, and for many of us in our churches today, they are still under a similar charge. Like the Apostles at this point in their experience, they are not yet spiritually mature or evangelically experienced enough to reach out beyond their local community. This is a good example for us of where we need to start. Also, like the situation in the early church, this is the community where the gospel would first be spread: among the peers of the Apostles. The Apostles were not religious leaders, and did not represent the elite in the community. Jesus selected them from the “everyday” Jews, those who were a part of the community at large: the same community that the LORD desired to first come to Him in faith.
In this same manner, the LORD has each of us located among the lost sheep in our communities. These are the easiest for us to develop relationships with since we have opportunity to come into contact with them on a daily basis. It is to these that each member of the church is first called to minister to in love.
Prior to “sending out” the Apostles to ministry, Jesus gave them some specific instruction.
Matthew 10:9. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
A very fundamental part of establishing a relationship with new people, particularly when in a ministry context, is to meet them at their “level.” Jesus, though He is the personification of God, Himself, had this ability to humble Himself, and establish relationships quickly with people who were at various strata in their cultural community. Had Jesus approached the people in a position of arrogance or condescension, the people would trust Him.
One of the mistakes I witness in the ministry of some missionaries is the impact they have on their intended community when they bring their own resources, particularly, their possession of money that sets them above the community they intend to minister to. When ministering in Belarus, our community of missionaries included some who brought money with which to purchase “souvenirs,” and finding the weather to be extremely cold, we all needed hats. The Belarussians placed great import on the material that was used in their hats. The poorer people would wear hats made of cloth or rabbit fur, where the rich would wear expensive furs such as wolverine and mink. Hats tended to identify the social status of the wearer. Unaware of this cultural dynamic, some of our missionaries went into the stores and purchased the nicest hats they could buy both to wear, and to take home. They had the financial means to make the trip, which alone identifies that they have the financial means to purchase any fur hat of their choice. Upon leaving the store with an expensive fur hat they destroyed any opportunity to minister to the poor.
Jesus’ instructions to the first “missionaries” was clear: do not minister among the poor by the virtue of your own means. The best way to minister to others is to establish a relationship with them that is significant enough that you are welcome into their own homes. Like we all would always do, we treat out guests with respect, and offer them food and drink as they visit. Jesus taught the disciples to accept that food and drink with grace. This also gave those to whom the Apostles were ministering the opportunity to return ministry to them. This is God’s plan. When we minister out of our own means, we rob those to whom we minister of the blessing of ministering to us, and by so doing imply that we are somehow at a higher social standing. We do not step down from our position to minister to others. We meet others at their point of need. This involves a spirit of humility that is absolutely necessary to effective love-based ministry. To enter a home from a position of arrogance is nothing more than an intrusion, and serves only to challenge any opportunity for establishing an effective ministry.
Matthew 10:11-12. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. 12And when ye come into an house, salute it.
Unlike our world today, ancient near-eastern culture had few established places for travelers to stay. The roads and intersections were not populated by hotels, motels, or inns. Travelers carried little money, if any, on their journeys. It was common for travelers to interact with the people along their journey, and it was expected that they would find a host who would put them up for the night and provide them with a meal. Consequently, there was a cultural expectation that people who were blessed with the means to have their own home would frequently open it to travelers.
As these new missionaries would be traveling with a specific purpose of sharing the love of God with the “lost sheep of Israel,” they would be taking part in this traditional practice. However, as they would be inquiring about places to stay, rather than search for a bed, they were to search for people who would be open to hearing the gospel message. They would be staying in a home with the specific intent of ministering to the people in that home, rather than simply looking for a place to eat, sleep, and move on.
This interaction from the travelers would be a new experience to their hosts. If their relationship is initiated by the sincere love of God in the hearts of the missionaries, the hosts will find them to be friendly and caring, and sincerely interested in their lives. Rather than a quiet meal among strangers, the dynamic of their visit would be vastly different than the norm as relationships would build quickly, and even in the short space of one evening, opportunities for ministry would result. As these opportunities came to fruition, the community came to trust the Apostles, and many great works were accomplished.
Matthew 10:13. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
Not every home will be welcoming to the love of God and the gospel message, and how we respond to that dynamic is just as important as how we respond to the welcoming home. Jesus stated that when a house is not welcoming, remain at peace. It would be natural to respond to an unwelcoming stranger with an unwelcoming retort. However, Jesus reminds us that our purpose is one of love and grace, and even when marginally treated, that same love and grace should still be demonstrated. The peace that we had when we entered the situation should remain. This way, when we leave the setting, our love and compassion for those who rejected us is not minimized. We can continue to pray for them. Also, by treating them with a spirit of peace, we may find ourselves interacting with them again at a later time when they are searching for that peace.
Matthew 10:14-15. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 15Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
Jesus instructions are to treat the host with love, respect, and peace, even when their hospitality is not offered. God does not call upon us to judge the lost… they are still sheep in need of a Shepherd. Our part is to assist them on their journey to find that Shepherd, even though they are not engaged in the search. Our part is accomplished when we demonstrate consistent and uncompromised love throughout the entire time we are in contact with our host.
However, Jesus reminds the Apostles, and us, that those who reject Him are responsible for their choice. By rejecting the disciple’s sincere agape love, they are rejecting the source of that love: the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus gave the disciples a curious imperative: though you are leaving the unresponsive house or city in a spirit of love, “shake off the dust” of your feet. This is an idiomatic term that refers to leaving something behind that will be a reminder of your visit. This is an inference to Isaiah 49:23 where the prophet describes that very dust as a testimony against those who come to the Judgment of God having rejected the message of those who left the dust behind.
Jesus did not call upon the Pharisees and scribes, the religious leadership of Jerusalem, to bring the gospel of the good news of salvation to the lost world. He called upon His disciples, those who placed their faith and trust in Him. Jesus did not turn to the established “church,” but rather He turned to those individuals who love God and desire to follow Him in obedience. The established church is diminishing today as they become more like the scribes, the Pharisees, and the harbingers of the Jewish Temple than like the disciples of Jesus’ day.
Jesus still works through disciples. The need of the lost for salvation has not changed. The call upon the people of faith to be a blessing to the lost world has not changed. God’s missionary plan has not changed. All that is required to share the love of God with this lost world and bring many to salvation is for His disciples to follow Him in obedience and take seriously the mandate to share God’s love, starting in their own community. Jesus has given instruction that helps us in fulfilling this commission. If the disciples of Christ would accept this instruction and step out of the walls of their sanctuaries across this world, many would be saved, and we could witness a world-wide revival.
Let us not continue to allow the unholy one to keep us in the walls, but rather by the power of the Holy Spirit join the workers in the harvest, loving the lost people in our local community enough to work to build relationships with those around us that can meet them at their point of need rather than our own. Only then will we see the revival of our churches as countless people are turned away from the godlessness of this world to a life that is full of the blessings of God. This is God’s missionary plan.
 An example of such a touch: while shopping in a large mall in Weihai, China, I struck up an informal conversation with a young Chinese woman who was working in a clothing store sorting clothes, and spoke passable English. After a few conversations, she shared her seemingly impossible desire to come to America for her collegiate studies. Through a series of events that took about a year, she enrolled at Western Carolina University, and is in her third year in America. This would not have taken place had I not “touched” her that day. Our part in her life is minimal, but her life is totally changed.
 Some hold that demonic possession does not exist today. However, whenever one is overwhelmed by an unholy spirit, whether it be anger, hatred, or any other of many obsessions that are not led of the Holy Spirit, they are so possessed, and are in need of the Spirit to enter their heart and free them of that unholy power over them.
 Once, when serving as a minister of music and education in an evangelical community I announced that I was engaging in a ministry that immersed me in a secular community and would involve my presence in some of the saloons in their local city. I was commended by the church leadership for reaching out, and then asked to step down from my position of ministry in the body, since my presence in the bars would be a “bad testimony.” They stated I was not “abstaining from the appearance of evil.” Like these Pharisees, they reinterpreted God’s Word to suit their argument. However, this was truly an evangelical community, and the opinion of the leadership did not prevail.
 Matthew 10:2-4. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
 Many hold that Judas Iscariot, who would later betray Jesus to the Jerusalem leadership for His crucifixion, did not place his faith and trust in the LORD, and that he demonstrated no evidence of that faith during the period that he was numbered among the disciples.
 I did not purchase a hat, and my wife purchased an inexpensive cloth hat that she wore for many years. Being without a hat in the cold Russian winter, my host lent me one of his.