2013-04-21 Equipped for Ministry | Matthew 9:35-10:4
Jesus equips his disciples for ministry to accomplish his mission in the world. Jesus began the mission himself, he passed it to the apostles, and they have passed it on to us. Jesus equips us with everything we need to accomplish his mission of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. He does not send us out unprepared or ill-equipped. In Matthew 10 Jesus sends the 12 out on perhaps their first mission journey. But before he does so, he prepares them for what they are about to do. In our passage today we see how he prepares them – and us – to spread the message of the gospel to our own generation.
Matt.9:35-10:4 “35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 10:1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 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 Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
I recently referred back to the Church Information Form which your search committee and elders filled out and published on the EPC website when you were searching for a new pastor in 2010-11.
In section 16 you described the strengths of your congregation:
Many members are strong in Scriptural knowledge. We have a caring congregation. There is a strong financial commitment to Stonebridge. We are blessed with a good number of leaders in the group. Spiritual maturity seems to be above average. A good mix of ages. A very committed core group.
In section 17 you listed specific problems with which your congregation struggles:
Although we are spiritually mature and scripturally knowledgeable, we struggle with community outreach and evangelism. We lack the financial resources for carrying out large ministry initiatives. Geographically we are spread out across several communities and thus struggle defining a role for our church in the surrounding community.
In section 18 you listed 9 major goals the congregation has set for itself: we desire
- We desire To improve discipleship.
- We desire To improved evangelism.
- We desire To be known in the community for our reformed faith, especially our understanding of God’s grace and mercy.
- We desire To be known in our community for our love for Christ and for one another.
- We desire To trust, obey, and glorify God while enjoying his blessings.
- We desire To grow in numbers to 100 plus members.
- We desire To increase support for EPC missionaries, and to grow, send and support our own missionaries.
- 3 times – We desire To find or build a permanent facility in Perrysburg.
- We desire To plant additional reformed churches in the Toledo metro area.
I plan in the days ahead to intentionally pursue each of these goals with you in various ways so that in five years we can look back and see that we have accomplished or made significant progress in all of them because I believe these are Scriptural goals, and with the Lord’s help, achievable goals.
Right now we are in the process of considering new ways reach out with the gospel in our own community. We are pursuing the goal of evangelism. Next Sunday evening after our meal we will continue to discuss one of the options before us. So I thought it would be appropriate to spend a few weeks focused on evangelism. We will come back to finish Ephesians at a later time.
A true church is a missionary church because we serve a missionary God. God sent his Son, the Son sent his disciples, and in turn sends us into the world with the message of the gospel, but not without also sending the Spirit to empower us for ministry. In Joh 3:17 Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus said in Jn.17:18, 20 “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus said in Jn.17:20-21 “ I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Therefore, in Mat 28.19 Jesus tells them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” In Mark 16:15 he says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” And in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
So why do we stumble so much in getting the gospel message out? I suggest there are three obstacles in this passage that Christ helps us to overcome: ignorance, apathy and fear. Some of us are ignorant – we are not sure what to say or do. Some of us are apathetic – we don’t care sufficiently about those who are lost. Some of us are fearful – we fear the possibility of failure, we fear our own inadequacy and we fear being overwhelmed by the size of the task.
Each of these, I suggest, are dealt with in this passage. Jesus uses the metaphors of shepherding and harvesting to get his message across to his generation. We will refer to his metaphors also, but I want us to think of communicating the gospel to our generation in terms of a major project in a plant or corporation or office or school or some other operation. For example, right now Martin Rossol is involved in a large-scale project to ______________________. Randy Meyers is involved in a large project to _______________________ curriculum in their school. Erik Anderson is in the process of starting up a new plant in a new city. Others of you are likely doing something similar. In order to complete such a large-scale project successfully, those who are involved in the process need at least five things: skills, passion, leadership, authority and a team – skills that meet the demands of the project, passion for the purpose of project, leadership to oversee the project, authority to carry out the responsibilities of the project, and a team who will work together to accomplish the project.
That is how Jesus equipped his disciples for their first mission to spread the gospel. And that is how he continues to equip us today. The first disciples had much to learn before their first mission. They had obstacles to overcome in order to be ready to go. Each of us may have certain obstacles to overcome in order to be equipped to participate in and accomplish Christ’s mission. In order to overcome these obstacles we must repent and believe. That’s what the gospel teaches us. The gospel is not only for the unbeliever, but also for the believer. It is what we continue to preach to ourselves and one another. That is what spiritual growth or discipleship consists of – repenting of our old way of living, and trusting Christ to help us learn to think, feel, and behave in new ways in order to become conformed to his image. A disciple is a learner, and learning requires change.
So let’s look at five ways Jesus equips his disciples – and us – to carry out his mission in the world. In each case, we will identify what we need to repent of and what we need to believe in order to be so equipped.
- Skills: Jesus demonstrates the skills we need to help us overcome our ignorance. We do not know what to do or say when we proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, so Jesus demonstrates how it is done.
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.
Before he sent the first disciples out he demonstrated just what he was about to tell them to do – to go from town to town teaching and proclaiming and healing. He did not ask them to do anything he was not already doing. So too, we learn first how to teach, proclaim and heal primarily by watching Jesus do it. We are given in the four Gospels ample testimony to Jesus’ method of going from person to person, home to home, town to town, village to village, city to city, teaching, proclaiming the good news of his coming kingdom and healing diseases. Of course we learn also by reading how the apostles and prophets did it, as well as learning from our contemporaries and by practicing it ourselves. Our work project, if you will, includes learning some new skills in order to overcome our ignorance.
So where does repentance come in here? I suggest we need to repent of the belief that we are incapable of learning to do what Jesus demonstrated – teaching, proclaiming and healing. Some of us may need to repent of the belief that we can’t learn these skills. How we do this will be different in each of us because we are gifted differently, but each of us is called to communicate the message in some way.
What do we need to believe? That Christ can help us acquire or learn the skills necessary to accomplish what he has called us to do. Remember the first time you tried to perform a particular skill: playing the piano or some other instrument, cooking, learning to type, writing a paper, making a speech, doing more complicated math problems? Often, you learned first by watching others do it, and then by practicing till you had the skill mastered. Learning to communicate the gospel message can be learned by watching others and practicing yourself.
Summary: By repenting of our incapability or unwillingness to learn the necessary skills, and by asking God to help us to learn what Jesus demonstrates for us, we can gain the skills to accomplish the mission Christ has given us to do.
- Passion: Jesus models the passion we need to help us overcome our apathy.
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Some of us don’t care whether or not unbelievers come to faith in Christ. Com-passion means with-passion, which is the opposite of a-pathy which means without-passion. Jesus modeled compassion for the people he sought to save. This was not an act that Jesus put on for his disciples. It is what he really feels for those who are harassed and helpless in the world.
The word ‘harassed’ can also mean to feel wearied, troubled, bothered or annoyed, literally to have one’s skin flayed. The word ‘helpless’ can also mean to feel discouraged, dejected, cast off, or thrown away.
Sheep without a shepherd feel harassed or troubled because they are subject to attack from without by dogs or wolves. Sheep without a shepherd feel helpless or dejected because their protector has forsaken them. He is acting like a hireling who is just doing the job, instead of a shepherd who cares for the sheep. We need to care about the harassed and helpless condition of the sheep like Jesus cared. We need to feel compassion for their vulnerable condition in order to accomplish his mission. Some of you care very much about those who are without Christ. Some of us need a change in our desires.
Of what do we need to repent? Apathy, no-passion for the people, doing the job half-heartedly towards the people who are object of Jesus’ mission and our mission.
What do we need to believe and seek? That Christ can fill our hearts with com-passion for the people, that we can love them because of their helpless condition. We need to care enough to be willing to help protect them sin and Satan, and give them a sense of being cared for and known, just as Jesus did.
Some of us are more task-oriented, and some of us are more people-oriented, so we will approach this from a different point of view. I tend to me more task oriented. I suppose that’s why the Lord said to my heart many years ago: You concentrate on the people and I’ll take care of the music….
By repenting of our apathy – that is, by admitting we really don’t care – or care enough – and asking God to give us a passion for the people we are called to serve, like Jesus models for us, we can passionately accomplish the mission Christ has given us to do.
Now, moving on to the last three – for some of us, fear is an obstacle to spreading the gospel. The last three ways that Jesus equips us – #s3-5, I suggest, help us to overcome our fears. How do we overcome our fears? Most often by facing them. A while back I found myself feeling angry about a number of things. I discovered, with the help of a counselor-friend, that what was underneath my anger was fear. He told me, “If you can identify and overcome the greatest fear in your life, many of the other fears will fall away.” I was angry because I felt powerless due to my fears. For me, it was the fear of confronting my parents. I feared confronting them because I didn’t want to lose the relationship we had. But when I finally began to do so, I discovered that though it was uncomfortable while we worked through it, I gained the courage to confront other issues that I had to face. Let’s look at how Jesus equips us in order to help us overcome our fears.
- Leader: Jesus identifies the Leader of the mission to help us overcome our fear of failure.
37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Every major project needs a leader, but this is not merely the team leader here. This is the chief supervisor of the entire project. He is like the executive producer, the chairman of the board, the owner of the company, the person who has ultimate control over the budget, personnel, and every other aspect of the project. Jesus identifies the leader of his great missionary project as the “Lord of the harvest” who is God himself. As we learn in Jesus’ parables, the “Lord of the Harvest” decides when and how the seeds will be sown, when they will be watered, what to do with the weeds when they come up, when the crops are ready to harvest, who will work to bring in the harvest, when they will go to work, what their particular task will be, how much they will be paid, and so on. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, 1 Co.3:6-9 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers.
Of what do we need to repent in this instance? Fear of failure – that the mission will fail because it is out of control, of not seeking God in prayer first for the resources we need to accomplish the mission.
What do we need to believe? That God is sovereign over the mission. Therefore, he will accomplish the mission in spite of apparent set-backs and personal failures. And that he is the one we should go to for resources for the mission – whether people, or budget or anything else.
By repenting of our fear of failure and by believing that God is sovereign over the mission we can fearlessly accomplish what he has called us to do.
- Authority: Jesus grants us the authority necessary to help us overcome our fear of inadequacy.
10:1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.
Have you ever been given responsibility for a project without being given the authority to accomplish it? That’s a frustrating experience. Sometimes, however, we have the authority we need, but just don’t realize it or use the authority we have been given. Here we are told that Jesus empowers believers with what we need to accomplish his mission. That’s what we see clearly in Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That power is the indwelling Holy Spirit who comes to live with us at the time of conversion. He enables us to fulfill Christ’s mission. Will we all cast out unclean spirits and heal every disease as Jesus and the apostles did? Some are gifted to do just that, others are gifted differently. The ultimate cleansing and healing is salvation itself. As we communicate the gospel, those who hear and believe will be set free from the power of sin and Satan.
Of what do we need to repent? That we have no authority, that our words and actions will not make a difference in people’s lives, that we are inadequate to represent Christ.
What do we need to believe? That Jesus has given us the authority – that our words and actions will make a difference in the lives of others, that in Christ we are adequate to speak and act in his name.
So by repenting of our fear of inadequacy and by believing that God has granted us the authority we need, we can fearlessly accomplish the mission he has called us to do.
- Team: Jesus appoints the team he has chosen to overcome our fear of being overwhelmed.
2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: etc.
A team sometimes feels like a blessing and other times a curse, doesn’t it? It’s a blessing because you can receive others’ help to accomplish a very large task, but it can sometimes feel like a curse because you have to work together with people who have very different strengths and different personalities than yours. Jesus has appointed you to a team, the Church with a big C, and specifically to your local church, and the members of your church are your team members. As Paul wrote in Eph.4:11-16 Christ gives some on the team to equip us: 11 he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry. And he gives the other members of the team particular gifts so that, working together, we build one another up in order to accomplish Christ’s mission: 16 the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. So, though we are different, we are all necessary to accomplish the task.
Of what do we need to repent? That we are alone in accomplishing the mission or that we must do everything ourselves and thus feeling overwhelmed by the task before us.
What do we need to believe? That you are a member of a diverse and multi-talented team, that working together, can accomplish the mission Christ has given us to do.
So by repenting of our fear of being overwhelmed and by believing that God has placed us on a team with others who have complementary gifts, personalities and passions, we can fearlessly accomplish the mission he has called us to do.
Does it help you to know that Jesus is willing to equip you to accomplish his mission? I hope so, because we have a great task, a multi-year, multi-faceted project in front of us. Now is not the time to give up or to continue to stumble over our ignorance or apathy or fear. Together, with Christ’s help, we can surmount these hurdles and we can become fully equipped to accomplish our part of his mission in our own generation.