Instructions for Apostles - I

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, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give."

In this chapter, Jesus prepares the chosen twelve apostles for the very first evangelistic missionary journey, by giving them instructions concerning their journey. This is a significant moment. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will be spread throughout the world, by and large, through the efforts of missionaries going into strange lands and spreading the good news. Jesus declares the importance of evangelistic efforts by sending His apostles out during His lifetime. Later, the evangelistic efforts of these original apostles of Jesus would not only be important for the Christian religion, but historically significant for all peoples, changing the course of Western Civilization. Certainly, at this point, the apostles did not realize the significance of this journey, but Jesus did. He knew that this first journey, occurring while He was physically with them, would be crucially important to prepare them for their more expanded missionary activities later. "After a season spent in such personal labors, they will return, and remain long with Him, receiving further instruction, which they will more earnestly desire and more fully appreciate, from their attempts at actual preaching. And finally, after His ascension, they will be ready, with the Holy Spirit as their abiding Instructor, to go and disciple all nations" [Broadus, 212].

And so here, Jesus prepares His apostles, gives them instructions concerning how they should conduct themselves, and alerts them to the inevitable opposition they will face. Though these instructions were given to the first apostles, in them are many guidelines and principles that can be applied by ministers of God’s Word today.

First, Jesus tells them where to preach: "These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel’" (vs. 5–6). At that time, the Gospel was to be preached to the children of Israel. This was the opportunity for the first-born of God to receive their King. "Jesus stood at the nexus in salvation history where, as a Jew and the Son of David, He came in fulfillment of His people’s history as their King and Redeemer…" [Carson, 244]. As Paul described the Gospel message: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16). It was part of God’s perfect plan that the good news of the Kingdom of God come to the world through His first born Israel. As He promised Abraham: "All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:3). Sadly though, the eventual spreading of the Gospel to the world was carried out through few rather than many children of Israel, because the children of Israel to a large extent rejected their King. As John told us: "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11).

Later, the time would come when Jesus would send His followers out to all nations. After His death and resurrection, Jesus commanded His disciples: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 29:18–19).

After limiting this first missionary journey to "the lost sheep of Israel", Jesus told the disciples what to preach: "As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’" (vs. 7). This message is the same that John the Baptist preached: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt. 3:2). It is the same that Jesus Himself preached: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt. 4:17). This same message can and should be preached today. While topical sermons on practical living may have their place, a minister who fails to encourage repentance due to the nearness of the kingdom of heaven fails to preach the basic message of Christianity. We should all be aware of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. Certainly, in one sense, all Christians are part of the kingdom of heaven, but the kingdom has not been instituted on earth in full force. This will take place when Jesus returns, and this could happen at any time. Then also, in another sense, the kingdom of heaven is just a heartbeat away. Death brings us immediately before our Lord to face judgment.

We must all be aware of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. I think that modern medicine, with all the comfort it has brought to many people on earth, has served to make people less aware of the certainty and nearness of death. I can’t help but believe that in times past, people felt more uncertain about when they would die. Nowadays, most of us live as if death is a long time off. However, for any of us, death can come at any time. Plane crashes, natural disasters, car accidents, and other unplanned events take the lives of many people every day. And so, the message "the kingdom of heaven is near" is a message that should be preached. The awareness of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven brings one to the awareness of the need to make oneself right with God. If we were certain that Jesus would return this afternoon, would we not repent this morning from our sins, and seek to get right with God?

Not only were the apostles to preach, they were also to do good: "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (vs. 8). Verses 7 and 8 really sum up true Christian ministry: preach and do good. Ministers are sent out to serve, not to rule. "Happy would it be for the cause of true religion if [this] were better understood! Half the diseases of Christianity have arisen from mistaken notions about the minister’s office" [Ryle, 96].

The first apostles were given special gifts with which to minister to others: the gift of healing, of raising the dead, of cleansing lepers, of driving out demons. These gifts were to confirm the doctrine of the message they were preaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. The gifts anticipated the Day of Pentecost, when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the church. Through the Holy Spirit, we are not only sent out to preach, but we are also given spiritual gifts to aid in making our preaching effective.

Under no circumstances were the gifts given to the apostles to be merchandised: "Freely you have received, freely give" (vs. 8). To merchandise God’s gifts is to give people the wrong idea about the free gift of the Gospel. The salvation offered through Jesus Christ is a free gift, based on faith, and not in any way a return for monetary offerings. We must be diligent in keeping this commandment of Jesus: "Freely you have received, freely give." In order to follow this commandment, we must make sure that any type of fund-raising effort not take place anywhere near the ministry by spiritual gifts and the preaching of the gospel, lest anyone get the idea that our salvation is tied in any way to the funds being raised. Ministers in the church would do well to err on the side of caution concerning giving freely. There is far too much salesmanship in the church. A preacher preaches a sermon and records it on tape. Must he sell that tape? Why not freely give it to those who desire to hear the message of the Gospel? A minister writes a book. Must he sell it? Why not freely give it away? A worship band, the members of which have been freely given by the Holy Spirit the talents of musicianship, makes a worship tape. Must they sell it? Why not freely give to those who would be blessed by it? For the Church to "freely give" should be the norm, rather than the exception. Sadly, the Church is known more for appeals for money than for giving freely.

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