Reading Time: 8 Minutes
The close followers of Jesus have been in the classroom, learning from him. They have heard his teaching and seen his miracles. Matthew describes the the next phase of their education. He writes, “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” (Matthew 10.1).
The fact that Jesus “gave them authority” is very significant. Communication in the ancient world was centuries behind what we know today. A letter from a king to another country may take weeks or months to arrive. The king placed his agents in countries to act on his behalf. Their actions carried the full authority of the king and were binding on the king and the country.
When Jesus gave the twelve disciples authority over unclean spirits, illness and affliction, they were expected to act on behalf of Jesus. What they saw Jesus do, they were now expected to be able to perform.
The Greek word, authority, has a double meaning when translated into English. It can mean “authority,” but it can also be translated, “power.” When Jesus gave the disciples authority, he was extending the effective reach of his power. They had both authority and power like Jesus. The need for laborers mentioned in the previous chapter (Matthew 9.37-38) has now been expanded by twelve more workers.
** Instructions to the Agents
Jesus gave specific instructions to the men whom he authorized. He said, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10.5-8).
There are glimpses of a mission to the Gentile world in Matthew, but so far the primary recipients of Jesus’ ministry are Jewish people. The message of Jesus’ agents is similar to the one with which he began his ministry, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (see Matthew 4.17 and 10.7).
Remember, the kingdom of God is the effective reach of his power. Jesus’ agents were to be like an announcer telling the world that God’s power was now available to them.
As agents with authority, they were able to do more than speak. They also confirmed their message with deeds of power that included the raising of the dead, healing the sick and casting out of demons.
Jesus accepted the financial support and hospitality of others, but he never charged for his services. His authorized agents were to follow his example.
** Further Instructions
Matthew recorded further instructions for Jesus’ agents. He remembered Jesus saying, “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.
“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10.9-15).
I wonder why Jesus sent his agents into the world with no financial or material provisions. Possibly, he wanted them to sense their dependence on his power for every aspect of their lives, including the healing ministry they would be a part of.
Maybe, Jesus wanted his agents to be like him in every way. Jesus did not have any earthly resources and was dependent on the hospitality of others to provide for his needs and his work.
Once again, it could be that Jesus wanted his agents to be able to identify with the people whom they served. The majority of people in Galilee lived a very sparse and basic existence, and they would be able to identify with roving, poor servants of God.
What About Today?
What part of this story can be applied today? There has historically been a wide range of opinions concerning this story.
For example, some people believe that the age of miracles ceased when the 12 apostles died. Other people emphasize that God’s agents can heal the sick, drive out demons and even raise the dead.
My friend, Dr. Bill Beachy, who had a powerful healing ministry would only do what God showed him he wanted done. Bill never presumed to speak as an agent for God until he knew what God wanted. I believe that Bill’s approach is accurate. I have a hard time believing that the age of miracles ceased with the death of the apostles. I also feel that “commanding” healing without first checking with God is a problem.
Other groups have divided over the instructions about poverty that Jesus gave his agents. In the early days of the Catholic Church, one group of monks were divided from the other over the wearing of shoes. One believed they should go barefoot and another believed they could wear shoes.
We can smile at Christians being divided over shoes, but I wonder if future generations will smile or cry over the controversies that the church today experiences.
Peter and John were entering the temple and a lame beggar appealed to them for money. Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3.6).
There is a story about a wealthy pastor telling another church leader, while stretching out his arm to take in the expanse of his mega-church, “Well, we can’t say ‘I have no silver and gold’ anymore.”
The other pastor replied, “But neither can we say ‘rise up and walk.'”
The story of the two pastors has been told for centuries and is probably just a good illustration and no more. However, it speaks to our need for power. I have frequently left the hospital saying to myself, “I can give this person a good funeral, but I don’t have the power to make them well.”
Begin Where You Are
We are studying the Gospel of Matthew in order to better live the Jesus-kind-of-life. Jesus has taught us both by his words and actions. We have now come to another level of instruction. Jesus invites to join him in blessing the people like those for whom he prayed at the end of Matthew 9.
Healing lepers and casting out demons probably seems like an arduous task for most. However, all of us can begin where we are. Here are some things we all can do.
(1) Pray like Jesus asked us to pray. He said, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9.38).
All of us can ask Jesus to send more people into the world to bless the harassed and helpless people of the world (Matthew 9.36). Please make this a regular part of your daily prayers.
(2) While you are praying, ask Jesus what is his appointment for you. He sent out his twelve agents with specific directions. He probably has specific directions for you, too. Try it out and see what happens.
(3) We all have normal routines where we can join Jesus in his ministry. My wife, Toni, had the idea of conducting Vacation Bible School for our grandchildren. It was a wonderful idea. Toni and I learned a lot about teaching our grandsons and I think they learned something too.
(4) Some people can use their Alcoholics Anonymous service to join Jesus in his ministry. I am continually impressed by the way that one person helps another in that program. You may not raise the dead in that ministry, but you may also keep someone from dying a tragic death.
If you include in your daily prayers a request to be able to join Jesus in his ministry, he will be happy to show you ways that are perfect for you. As you serve with him, you will be learning how to live a Jesus-kind-of-life.
Dear Jesus, thank you that you trust us to serve with you. We depend on you to authorize our ministry and to give us the power to serve others. Please show us today what you want us to do. Then, please give us the power to join you in your work.