Jesus is sending out his apostles in a limited commission, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6). Jesus shows his heart for the world as he looked upon the crowds with compassion because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (9:36). Matthew 10 is Jesus preparing his disciples for what to expect when they go out with the mission of proclaiming Jesus and the good news of the kingdom. His disciples are sent compassionately into the world. We need to have the same care and compassion for people that Jesus has. Now we are going to see that his disciples are to be sent fearlessly into the world to carry out their mission.
Preparing For Resistance (10:16-22)
Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending them into the world like sheep among wolves. Friends, that is a frightening picture of what the work will look like. You are sent into the world that is harassed and helpless but they are not going to understand your mission to help them. They are not going to embrace you and be grateful for your work. Rather, the condition is to be like sheep sent in the midst of wolves. So what are they supposed to do since they are being sent into a midst of wolves? Jesus says in verse 16 that they are wise and shrewd like serpents and innocent and harmless and doves. Now please note that Jesus does not say to act like a snake or act like a dove. He is using a particular aspect of snakes and doves. Be wise and be innocent. Be shrewd and be harmless. Jesus is telling his disciples that he wants to them to innocent and gentle but don’t be naive and gullible. You are going to need practical wisdom and act with caution while you are proclaiming the gospel and helping the sheep. The shrewdness is not to harm others but to be careful for yourselves because you are among wolves. Understanding you are among wolves means you are going to be careful with your words and actions. But Jesus does not say that we cannot go among them because they are wolves. Rather, you must go among them but know that you will need to act wisely and you act harmlessly. We need to think about emphasizing both aspects of the mission. Are we being harmless and innocent as we work in the world to show them Jesus? Are we being wise and shrewd as we work in the world to show them Jesus?
Jesus continues to explain why they need to be careful. They are going to put on trial, flogged in synagogues, and dragged before government leaders. You are going to be put in trying, uncomfortable, and painful situations. But notice the reason why in verse 18. The reason is to give them an opportunity to be a witness of Jesus before them. Bad things are going to happen to you so that you can proclaim the gospel. Do we think of our work in that way? Think about how true this is in the book of Acts. Persecutions are happening to the Christians and the apostles. But they use those persecutions to continue telling people about Jesus. The apostle Paul keeps talking about Jesus when he goes before each ruler for his various trials. But Jesus comforts his apostles by telling them that they will have the Spirit of your Father who will be speaking through them.
But the difficult circumstances do not end there. Look at verses 21-22. Family is going to be going up against family. Listen to verse 21. Brother will betray brother to death. The father will have his child put to death. The children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. The gospel is going to cause family betrayal, strife, and difficulty. I want this picture to rest on us for a moment. Too often we can think that we must do all we can to maintain family harmony. We will cave into our family members about spiritual truths because we want to maintain peace. But notice that Jesus says that this is not the goal. The gospel is going to cause friction and family problem. It is not because we make those problems. It is not because we are acting nasty and ugly. But we are going to speak the gospel and live the gospel and there are going to be family members who do not like it. Your family can reject you because of your desire to live for Jesus and proclaim Jesus.
Jesus even says in verse 22 that you will be hated by everyone because of the gospel. The gospel tells people that they are in sin, need rescue, and Jesus is the answer. People are not going to be happy about that. They are going to want to live according to their desires and wisdom. They are going to resist you and hate you because you are light in the darkness. So listen to what Jesus says in verse 22. You are going to need endurance. The one who endures to the end will be saved. You are going among wolves. You are going to lose your family and friends. You are going to need endurance. So how are we to go out on the mission when these are the conditions that we will experience? Jesus says that you are not to have fear (10:26). Jesus says to have no fear of them. How can we go into this mission fearlessly? Let’s look at what Jesus says to help quell our fears.
Reasons To Be Fearless (10:23-33)
The first reason we can be fearless is because these things happened to Jesus and so they will happen to you. You see Jesus make this point in verses 23-25. A disciple is not above his teacher. A slave is not above his master. What does Jesus mean? Jesus means that if rejection and persecution happened to him, then we are not above that. If people called Jesus the devil, then we are not above that. If they maligned and harmed Jesus, then we are not above that. We are not promised a different outcome. So how does this help us be fearless? I believe Jesus says this because it is a lot easier to accept difficulty with you know it is coming. It is much easier to be ready when you know it is coming. We do not like being blindsided. Jesus did not want his disciples to be blindsided by the reality of the mission. You can be fearless because you know this is going to happen. You do not have be shaken or think you are doing something wrong when people in your life reject you for your faith and your proclamation of Jesus. You do not have to be shaken or think you are doing something wrong when the government resists you for your faith and your proclamation of Jesus. You do not have to be shaken or think you are doing something wrong when your family completely rejects you for your faith and your proclamation of Jesus.
The second reason we can be fearless in the mission is because God sees what is happening. Look at verses 26-27. Do not be afraid of them because there is nothing covered or hidden that will not be revealed. Whatever is done in the dark will be brought to light. The point is that God knows exactly what is happening to you. Not only does God know what is happening to you, but he will do something about it. But I want us to think about how God would do something about it. Jesus does not tell them that they will be protected from all persecution. Rather, we know that nearly all the apostles will violently killed. But God saw what happened. This is visualized clearly in Acts 7. Stephen is being killed by stoning but Jesus is standing, seeing what is happening and is ready to receive Stephen to his eternal rest. God knows what is happening to you and you will be rewarded for enduring hardships for Jesus’ sake.
The third reason we can be fearless in the mission is because our fear is misplaced. Look at what Jesus says in verse 28. Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body. Be afraid of God who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. The message is that you are fearing the wrong person. Your fear is misplaced. Do not fear people. But notice that Jesus does not say to not fear because people can’t do anything to you. Actually, Jesus says that people can kill you. Jesus says you should not be afraid of that because they can only kill the body but cannot touch your eternal soul. But fear God who can touch and has power over both physical life and spiritual life.
Friends, people are going to call us arrogant, narrow-minded, intolerant, unenlightened, or something other slanderous term to declare our ignorance. Do not fear them. Do not fear what they will say. Do not fear what they will do. What a thought! Jesus says that the worst they can do is kill you. But you are saving your eternal life by fear God above fearing people. Bonhoeffer said, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.” Unfortunately, we are too afraid of what people will say and what people will do to us. But Jesus asks us to make life decisions, not based on what others will do, but what God will do.
Finally, we do not need to be afraid because we are valuable to God (10:29-31). The pictures are hopeful and beautiful. In verse 29 Jesus says that two sparrows are sold for a penny. Sparrows were not considered of much value in ancient Israel. You can buy two for one penny. They are insignificant. But Jesus says that not one falls to ground apart from your Father. Your Father even pays attention to the death of a sparrow. Have you thought about that idea? What a God we serve who is fully aware of the smallest details that happen on this earth. There is nothing too small for God. There is nothing too insignificant such that it does not capture our Father’s attention. God sees the details and you are valuable to him. He knows the hairs on your head. You are more valuable than many sparrows. So you do not need to worry or be afraid. What do you think about what God thinks about your life? Nothing is happening apart from his knowledge and sovereign will. You do not need to be afraid because God is with you as you carry out the mission.
Four reasons for why we are sent fearlessly into the harvest. First, we do not need to fear because we know that we are going in as sheep among wolves. We are not surprised at the responses we will receive. Be wise and be innocent. Rejection happened to Jesus and rejection will happen as we do the work. Second, we do not need to fear because God sees what is hidden and will respond accordingly to what we experience. Third, we do not need to fear going out because we have a great fear of our God. We are far more concerned about the approval of God than we are the approval of people. Finally, we do not fear because God greatly values us. He knows the details of your life and he absolutely cares what is happening to you as you live for him. Let us be sent compassionately and fearlessly into the harvest because Jesus has one final word for us. Look at verses 32-33.
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32–33 ESV)
Stepping back from our mission means that Jesus will deny us before our Father. Stepping into the mission means Jesus will acknowledge us before our Father. Please imagine what that will look like. Can you imagine Jesus saying to his Father on the final day that he knows you and you belong to him? Can imagine the crushing heart break to hear Jesus saying that he does not know us and that we do not belong to him? Fear God, not people. Step into the field and tell people about Jesus because we want to hear Jesus acknowledge our names and our lives before the Father.