Sermon, Scripture & Exegesis

Sunday Scripture:

Matt. 10: 1-42

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[2] drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.11"Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting.13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.17"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.21"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes24"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,[3] how much more the members of his household!26"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny [4]? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.32"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'[5]37"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.40"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. 41Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. 42And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."


Jesus’s second discourse—the Mission Discourse: This extended discourse of Jesus is the second of five in Matthew and provides guidance for his disciples’ mission to Israel. Matthew ties the Mission Discourse to Jesus’s own mission by emphasizing their common activities: preaching, healing, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons (10:1, 7–8; cf. Jesus doing the same in chaps. 5–9). Matthew also revisits the comparison of Israel to sheep needing a shepherd (10:6: cf. 10:16). Jesus’s disciples are called to be authentic shepherds of God’s people in contrast to Israel’s current leadership (9:36).

The Mission Discourse centers on the identification of the twelve disciples, their commission for ministry by Jesus, and his instructions for their mission. Matthew identifies the twelve disciples (called “apostles” only at 10:2) by name in 10:2–4. The choice of twelve followers is symbolic for Israel’s twelve tribes and signals that Jesus is reconstituting or redefining Israel around himself and his enactment of God’s kingdom. From this point on, Matthew will use the terms “the Twelve” and “the disciples” virtually interchangeably. In the commissioning and empowering of the Twelve, Jesus grants them authority to heal and cast out demons (10:1) and limits their mission to Israel (10:5–6). The message they are to preach is virtually identical to the one Jesus (and John before him) has been preaching to the Jewish crowds (10:7; cf. 3:2; 4:17)—the soon-to-arrive reign of God.

The instructions that follow their commission to preach and heal (10:5–15) are quite specific to the mission of the Twelve. These instructions include relying on the hospitality of those within the towns they visit (so not bringing funds or extra supplies; 10:9–10), finding worthy hosts who will welcome them and their message (10:11–15), and symbolically renouncing those who reject their kingdom preaching: “Let your peace return to you” and, “Shake the dust off your feet” (10:13–14; paralleling how Jews might shake dust of foreign soil from their feet when returning to Judea [Keener, 320]). Jesus also warns the Twelve that they will be persecuted by some Jews and even arrested by Gentile leaders (10:17–18). They are not to worry about their defense, since Jesus promises that “the Spirit of [their] Father” will speak through them (10:19–20). Jesus calls them to stand firm in the face of betrayal and hatred, continuing their town-to-town ministry, since the coming of the Son of Man will precede the completion of their preaching (10:21–23).

Jesus’s words, “You will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (10:23), have often been understood as a reference to Jesus’s second coming. Yet “comes” (Greek erchomai) is not the usual term Matthew uses for Jesus’s reappearing (Greek parousia is nearly a technical term in the New Testament for the return of Jesus at the final judgment; see 24:3, 27, 37, 39). It is likely, instead, that Jesus’s words in 10:23 intentionally echo Daniel 7, in which “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” into God’s presence, is vindicated and given power over all people and nations (Dan. 7:13–14). If so, Matthew indicates that the disciples’ mission to Israel will still be ongoing at the time of his vindication and enthronement. (For Matthew, Jesus’s vindication occurs at his resurrection [Matt. 28:18–20] and at the temple’s destruction in AD 70 [see commentary on 24:1–51].)

In 10:24–42, the scope of the Mission Discourse broadens to include Jesus’s followers beyond the Twelve (and Matthew’s readers as well). Jesus’s words in 10:24–42 begin by telling his followers that they will be maligned and persecuted as he has been (10:25; cf. 9:34). Yet he reassures them that they need not fear their persecutors; only God is worthy of such reverence (10:26, 28, 31). They can have boldness to speak “from the roofs,” because God will make known the truth in the end (10:26–27) and cares for them deeply (10:29–31).

Jesus exhorts his followers to single-minded allegiance to him—an allegiance that freely acknowledges and aligns itself with Jesus (10:32–33), an allegiance that is greater than loyalties to one’s family (10:34–37). This notion was quite countercultural in the first-century Jewish context, where family loyalties and obligations were paramount (cf. also 8:21–22). To be “worthy of [Jesus]” is to love Jesus more than all others and to take up one’s cross and follow him (10:38). On the story level, which focuses on Jesus’s teaching the Twelve, the metaphor of a cross poses a vision of discipleship as a path to death, since carrying one’s cross was what Rome forced criminals to do on the way to execution. Matthew is also foreshadowing for his readers Jesus’s own death by crucifixion. While it is possible to romanticize the cross today, the analogy of cross to discipleship would have been stark and sobering for Jesus’s hearers.

Jesus’s final words in the Mission Discourse (10:40–42) promise a reward for those who receive prophets, righteous persons, and “these little ones” who are disciples (see also the discussion of Greek mikros, “little one,” in Matthew 18). These three terms refer to the Twelve and others like them sent out in mission, who travel without provisions or status but who go with Jesus’s authority on his mission (10:1, 7–8). God will reward those who receive these “missionaries” and their message. Matthew signals the end of this second discourse with the formulaic “After Jesus had finished [instructing his twelve disciples]” (cf. 7:28; see also “Structure” in the introduction). From 11:2 to 16:20, Jesus continues to teach and preach (11:1) but faces increasing hostility from Jewish leadership as his message and actions engender increasing attention and controversy.