A Framework for Ministry
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 9:18–10:4
If you have your Bibles, open them or turn them on to Matthew chapter nine. If you’ve been with us as we walk through Matthew, you know that Matthew is trying to tell us something about Jesus’ authority. He tells us in chapter seven that Jesus teaches with authority and then he shows proof of that authority as Jesus heals the sick, calms a storm, and casts out demons.
There are actually three different sets of miracles Matthew uses to communicate something about Jesus’ authority and today we get to the third set. I feel like we have sufficiently talked about Jesus’ authority so I want to look at something else that is just below the surface of the text. We actually learn a lot in this passage about the framework for Jesus’ ministry and, by implication, how we should minister to those in our midst.
My first four years of ministry were in Pisa, Italy. I’m very thankful for what God did in my life during those years. I’m very thankful for the friendships developed. I’m very thankful for the maturing that happened in my life during those years. Angela often says, “God really knew what he was doing with you by saving you and immediately taking you to the other side of the earth.” But, looking back at those years, I can’t identify one bit of lasting fruit in that city from our work. Not one. The few people that we thought had given their lives to Jesus are now definitely not walking with God. That’s clear from Facebook.
Looking back there are things that I really think we could have done differently. I don’t blame anyone. We were all young and doing the best we knew how. But, there are some things that I wish I would have known about fruitful and lasting ministry and many of those things are in our passage this morning. This passage answers two very important questions about ministry: 1) Why we minister and 2) How we minister.
- Why we minister
We minister because without Jesus, we are sheep without a shepherd. Verse 36 When he saw the crowds, phe had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, qlike sheep without a shepherd. - Matthew 9:36 So what does that mean? You know, it’s funny how much has been written about sheep trying to help us understand what Jesus means. Commentaries talk about how dumb they are, how they will eat grass in one spot and instead of moving, just eat the dirt underneath and die, how they get dirty if they are not sheered and then get infected and die, and how prone they are to wonder off away from the flock and get eaten by wolves. If these commentaries are accurate, it makes you wonder how sheep even made it as a species before shepherds came along. Some commentators say that the way we apply this passage is that we are as dumb as sheep without Jesus our shepherd.
Then you have studies showing how smart sheep are. I don’t know how in the world that is measured, but apparently there is some good evidence that they are in fact quite intelligent. So, what is Jesus trying to communicate by likening us to sheep? I think it’s actually pretty simple. I don’t think we need to over analyze the habits of sheep. Sheep without a shepherd are lost and at risk. They aren’t so helpless that they would go extinct without our help, but they are among the more helpless of viable species.
A sheep isn’t fast, it doesn't have claws or sharp teeth, it can’t fly, and it doesn’t blend in well. It’s easy for a wolf to come and get it if there isn’t a shepherd. Jesus is simply saying that this is a good picture of us without him. We are lost and at risk. This sheep language isn’t new to Jesus. It has strong Old Testament roots and it is usually used to refer to Israel without a prophet or a king to lead them. One more way Matthew shows us that the whole of the Old Testament is pointing to Jesus, the better prophet, the better king.
So, in what way are we at risk? Without Jesus, we are easy prey to the great trifecta of evil in this life: The world, the flesh, and the devil. We have an invisible enemy, an internal enemy, and an external enemy that all work to get us to believe that we aren’t loved, that we aren’t valued, and that we are here to figure out our own way in this world.
But those of us in the care of the Great Shepherd are protected from danger, we are pursued when we are lost, and we will be brought home. It doesn’t mean that we are always going to understand what the Shepherd is doing, but we can always trust that it is for our good. Many of you have heard of Elisabeth Elliot. Her first husband, Jim Elliot, was killed by the people they were trying to reach in South America. She became a very well regarded speaker and writer and once she once told a story about how she was visiting with some shepherds in the highlands of Northern Wales. She found out that once a year they have to take their sheep and dip them in a vat of insecticide to kill the insects on them.
It’s very hard on the sheep because you have to grab the sheep by all four feet and just immerse them so they’re submerged for like 15 seconds. And even though it’s exactly what the sheep needs, none of them like it. As Elisabeth Elliot watched, she said, “I know what that’s like, because my Shepherd has done that to me quite a lot over the years.”
Jesus will protect us from the invisible enemy, the internal enemy, and the external enemy and he will bring us home. And in verse 36, Jesus looks out at these sheep with no shepherd and Matthew says he had compassion on them.
Do we have compassion for people who are spiritually lost and at risk? The word for compassion literally means to be moved in one’s stomach with sympathy. I think it’s actually easier to look at people who aren’t Christians and who don’t have the same values as you and get angry at them for the way they make you life more inconvenient.
This week we had Dee Coleman on the podcast. She is the Executive Director for Samaritan’s Village, a ministry that helps women out of a life of being trafficked for sex. I had no idea that Orlando is the number one city in the US for sex trafficking because we have both the supply and demand for it. We have a large supply of under resourced people and little affordable housing so this creates an environment ripe for women to step into this world not fully understanding where all it will lead. We also have a huge demand. We are the number one travel destination in the US with over 75,000,000 people coming here each year. We have as many hotels as Vegas and these hotels are where the traffickers target.
Dee told us one story about a twelve yer old girl who was tricked into this world and did not resurface until she was seventeen, now heavily trafficked and addicted to heroin. Does that make your stomach turn with sympathy? And when we hear a story as horrific as a young girl being trafficked, that can be easy for us to be moved by compassion. However, are we moved with compassion for the spiritually lost around us? All lost people. Lost people in the other political party. Lost people pushing agendas that we don’t like. Lost people committing horrific crimes like sex trafficking.
Why is it that we don’t feel that way? Because we don’t see that the plight of someone without Jesus is even worse than that twelve year old girl. I’ll add to that that we can also look at the sheer magnitude of the shepherdlessness in our city and it can easily be so overwhelming that we just turn our emotions off to it.
What we call the Orlando area is currently 4.3 million people and should exceed 5.2 million by 2030 and only six percent of the population goes to what we call a bible believing church (and that includes all the fringes of evangelicalism). And as 1500 people move to Orlando every week, we can only anticipate the percentage of Christians in this city to decrease.
There is only one way this changes. It changes if all of us embrace our calls as ministers of the gospel. So, what can we learn from Jesus to equip us for that call?
- How we minister
In this passage, Jesus gives us a six-fold framework for ministry. See, you thought this was going to be short because I only have two points, but then there are six subpoints in my second point:)
The first thing we see is that Jesus goes. This is pretty obvious. He is the ultimate example of going. He is God in the flesh and he came to this earth. You can’t go any more than that. But, even on earth, he continues to go. He goes to the sick, he goes to the hurting, he goes to the poor, he goes to the possessed, and, as we see in this text, he even goes to the dead and he calls them into the kingdom of God. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus goes all the way to the cross. We may not be called to lay down our lives for the gospel, but we are called to go, to step out of our comfort zones in a posture of self-denial to pursue people who don’t don’t even realize they need pursuing.
The second thing we see is that Jesus teaches. In verse 35, Matthew makes this statement for the second time in his gospel. And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues... - Matthew 9:35 What is Jesus teaching? Scripture. He teaches the true meaning of the law, the true fulfillment of the prophets, how all of Scripture was building up to Jesus.
Every growing Christian has this ah-ha moment when we realize that the Bible isn’t 66 different books, but 66 books that come together to tell one story about Jesus Christ. It’s at this moment that the Bible goes from confusing or even boring to engaging and even compelling. It gets easier to wake up early and read before you start your day because you aren’t just reading facts, you find yourself in a story.
Why is Scripture so important? Martin Luther has a really great explanation. He points to Psalm 19 which says, The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above 1 proclaims his handiwork. - Psalm 19:1. All of creation proclaims the glory of God, but ever since the fall, we can’t hear it anymore. Imagine a dog whistle being blown as loud as it can go. It’s making a noise, but our ears don’t have the ability to hear it. Or infrared light or radio waves that are very much real, but our eyes don’t have the ability to see them. When we walk through the woods all creation is proclaiming the glory of God, but we can’t hear it.
So, God decided to communicate with us in the most clear possible way. He gave us his written word. His word doesn’t tell us everything about God, but it tells us everything we need to know about God. If all the ocean on earth represented all there is to know about God, the Bible is maybe one small cup of salt-water. But it’s the most important part for us to know. Peter says that in the word, God has given us everything we need for life and salvation.
Jesus makes it a priority to teach the word and so should we. Third, we see that Jesus also preaches. Same verse, And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom…. Matthew 9:35 This word proclaim is the same word we use for preach. There is a lot of overlap between teaching and preaching, but they are two different things. Preaching involves teaching, it contains instruction from the word, but it also exhorts and applies and calls us to some sort of decision. One commentator said that preaching is when teaching becomes personal.
So, at a corporate level, this is why we have Equipping Hour and worship on Sunday. Equipping Hour is more teaching and worship is going to be more preaching. When I preach, I try and find the main point of the text and preach that which will always mean that there are little bits that I don’t teach. I’m not trying to exhaustively pull everything out of the text. That’s why you should all go to Equipping Hour where we do teach the Bible, systematic theology, biblical theology, church history, and practical missional living. This morning we started a church wide class in this room at 9:30 to teach through a series on missional living and engaging this city.
But, preaching isn’t something that is limited to a man like me who is called by a church to preach on Sundays and financially freed up to do it. In some capacity, we are all called to preach. This word we use for proclaim or preach, it’s the same word used to describe what a king’s herald does. A herald speaks for the king. When we preach the word, we speak for the King. How people respond is out of our hands, but in Jesus Christ, we are made heralds for God in this world.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we need to be preachy all the time. It could be that after listening well to someone for a long time, we know what part of God’s word they need to hear and we are able to proclaim it to them and challenge them to decide what they will do with that truth. Proclamation is something all of us are called to do if we are going to point sheep to the True Shepherd.
Fourth, we see that healing was a foundational element of Jesus’ ministry. This is the bulk of our passage. 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. - Matthew 9:35 First, Jesus heals the hemorrhaging woman and then he raises a girl from the dead. Now, it’s important to see why these two women are so important. Remember, Jesus was healing people all over the place. Why does Matthew pick these two women? In that day, cultures didn’t understand a lot about sickness, but they understood you should stay away from bleeding women and dead bodies. The Old Testament law actually specifies this, in part, to keep people healthy.
So, Jesus is touching two types of people that you should never touch: a bleeding woman and a dead body. And something miraculous happens. They don’t infect Jesus, Jesus infects them. Then, Jesus restores the sight of two blind men and casts a demon out of a mute man and immediately he begins to speak. At this point, his power is so clearly on display to everyone present, they can’t dismiss it anymore so the Pharisees begin to suspect that his power comes from Satan.
The big question is how do we apply Jesus’ healing ministry to our own ministry today? Well, Jesus tells us in John 14: “Truly, truly, I say to you, xwhoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do...” - John 14:12 There are those who say that this means that we should be able to do even greater miracles than Jesus and we should go out and trust him for that power. I don’t think that is what this passage is saying, but before I say why, I do want to say that I believe we serve a God who can and does heal the afflicted. I think that is something that we can ask for and sometimes, for reasons of his glory and our good, he chooses to say yes and sometimes he chooses to say no. It’s really hard to explain the nos though if you think this verse means that we are supposed to go out and do greater physical healings that Jesus.
There are two reasons I don’t think that is the right interpretation of this passage. First, how can we top what Jesus did? Even if we went out and healed every kind of illness and affliction, we may equal Jesus’ works, but we aren’t topping it. Second, the context of Jesus saying this is the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do the spiritual equivalent which is a greater work. Jesus’ healing ministry foreshadows the power of the coming kingdom.
In the words of my former pastor, JD Shaw, “When Jesus preached the good news, it was in anticipation of what was going to happen. Jesus hadn’t gone to the cross yet, he hadn’t been resurrected yet, he hadn’t ascended into heaven yet. His gospel proclamation was a promise of what would come. Our proclamation, by contrast, is a great deal about what has already happened. We get to tell people about an already crucified, risen, and reigning Savior of the world who loves them.”
Jesus healed physical illnesses, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, we get to heal even greater illnesses: spiritual illness. Jesus gave the physically blind sight, bu by the power of the Holy Spirit, we get to give the spiritually blind sight. Jesus raised the physically dead from the grave, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, we get to raise the spiritually dead from an eternal grave. These are the greater works that we are called to do.
Then, fifthly, we see that prayer undergirded Jesus’ ministry and it should undergird ours as well. Right after Jesus laments all the sheep without a Shepherd, he says this, Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;38 therefore s pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to tsend out laborers into his harvest.” - Matthew 9:37.
Jesus is changing the metaphor here. He just talked about the shortcomings of all these people by comparing them to lost sheep. Now he shifts from observing the shortcomings, to observing their potential. Now he compares them to grain that can be harvested. He looks at all the people and sees such potential.
I think this should be particularly encouraging given the statistics we have already looked at about how lost Orlando is. But, we will need Jesus’ perspective to see it. Every person you meet is a potential saint. But, for this to happen, we have to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out his laborers.
On the surface, this is kind of odd if you think about it. Imagine you are a farm hand and the fields are ready for harvest, but you don’t have the labor you need so you go and beg the owner of the farm for more laborers. It sounds like there is some shortcoming on the part of the owner. But we know there is no shortcoming on the part of God. So, what’s going on? In the words of John Piper, “the only possible answer is that God has willed that the harvest be preceded by prayer.”
He doesn’t just want to bless us, he wants to bless us in the biggest possible way. He wants us to want something, to ask for it, AND to see it provided. And from what I read about church history, this seems to fit. Most great revivals and development of huge ministries or church planting efforts are preceded by a deep desire to beg God for a huge spiritual harvest. I don’t think it would be too off base to say that if you want to know where the next harvest will come from, look at your prayers. If Barna is to be trusted, 94% of this city is potential harvest. What are we doing to seek the Lord of the harvest?
Then, lastly, we go together. Do you see this in chapter ten? He sends out his disciples, but the way it’s written, it really seems like Matthew is identifying them in the pairs they were sent out in. Simon and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James and Thaddaeus, Simon and Judas.
Jesus did not design fruitful ministry to be done by those going rogue, he designed fruitful ministry to be done together in the context of the local church. And that doesn’t mean that I can’t do fruitful ministry with a friend from New City or Summit. They are a part of the church here. But it does mean that God has placed us here at OGC together to do something together that we can’t do separately. I have said this a number of times, but at the end of the day, a local church is a missions outpost. That’s what we are. God has brought us together to enjoy him and make him known. We gather for more than teaching and singing and prayer and fellowship. We gather so we can scatter and come back with more.
If I’m honest, this last piece was the missing piece in our ministry to Pisa. We were just a handful of young Americans in a very tough spiritual environment. We needed a lot of things. We needed more theological training, we needed more language training, and we needed more cultural awareness. But more than all that, we needed a church. There was not a single church in that city that could possibly be categorized as evangelical in any way and looking back, that was clearly our biggest hindrance. An Italian church would have been such a blessing to come alongside us to pray for us, to train us, to welcome our friends and disciples, and to continue the work after us.
Well, by God’s grace, we got to go back to Italy in 2011 on what Angela calls the redemption tour. We got to go back, more theologically trained, now fluent in the language, and just a bit more mature and be a part of the early stages of a church plant in Salerno, Italy and we got to see God do all the things we wanted to see in Pisa. Little did I know back then that the church planters, Jutty and Abby Valliquette were sent out by the church I would pastor seven years later. But, I look at all the lasting fruit in that city and the 30 or 40 people who come together each Sunday, and the leaders in that church (one of whom you will get to meet on March 15th via Skype)...I look at all this and it’s clear the church was the missing piece.
I want our lives to be marked by fruitful ministry in Orlando and wherever else the Lord would lead us and I pray that these six marks of Jesus’ ministry will also be marks of our ministry.