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"The Multitudes and the Mission"

Sept.28, 2014 Mt.9:35-10:15

PROBLEMS PROMPT PRAYER, NOT DESPAIR

John Bunyan said, "The best prayers have often more groans than words." (Repeat) Are you in a predicament now that's making you groan? Some sickness or stress or seemingly insolvable problem? Can you turn that groaning into a prayer? If not, that leads to despair.

The predicaments some people face would prompt compassion even in those who tend to be hard-hearted. On Sept.14 that wild crash of a stolen vehicle in Wingham sent Marsha Benninger of Clinton to hospital in London with serious injuries. She was pregnant, one week overdue. Her newborn son did not survive the crash. Grief was added on top of serious injury.

Marsha and Tom were given an oak box containing some mementos of baby Sawyer: a lock of the baby boy's hair; full moldings of the baby's feet in clay; a yellow knit hat; a CD with baby pictures; a card with the baby's name and date of death; and a brown and white sleeper. At least something to hold onto. But then, about a week later, while the car was parked overnight at a hotel in London, thieves broke in and stole the box! So sad. A policeman commented, "It's unknown as to whether the person that took the items knew what in fact they were taking; to them it would be worthless, but to the family it's priceless."

Don't stories like that move you with compassion? As of Thursday, a website created the previous day to help with the family's expenses had raised over $12,000 and had over 1600 shares on Facebook! In just 1 day...People's hearts respond to dire need.

That's kind of how Jesus felt as He looked out on a sea of hurting humanity. Matthew 9:36 "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." The word "compassion" translates a Greek word that means "to be moved to one's innards" or, as we might say today, "gut-wrenching". Matthew describes the crowds as "harassed" - troubled, torn; "helpless" - more literally "thrown down to the ground"; "like sheep without a shepherd" - alone, abandoned, with no one to lead or guide them.

Is that YOU some days? We all have troubles, but sometimes they can seem insurmountable - financial pressures, parent-child relations, perpetual bullying from a bigger classmate. Are you feeling "down for the count" in the wrestling-match of life? Perhaps medical issues are raising their ugly head, much as for the crowd in Jesus' time - there are many problems in life that money can't solve, and health issues are an example. Are you feeling like you're wandering in life shepherdless, perhaps that you've missed your 'calling'? Jesus saw the crowd; He sees your predicament. And He cares.

Vv37f "Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."" ASK - problems should prompt us to pray. The people experienced troubles, but Jesus saw lots of opportunities, ways they could experience God's grace and miraculous help if they would but trust Him. And Jesus saw the need for multiplied agents to bring God's grace to the hurting in a hands-on way. To "SERVE" in the lingo of the Youth Unlimited ministry, as we've seen it expressed in Hamilton through Dawn, Tiffany, and others.

It's a command: "Ask the Lord of the harvest to SEND OUT workers into His harvest field." Pray for labourers to be sent out, literally "driven out" or "pushed out". Amazingly, it's exactly the same verb as in the next verse in the phrase "drive out evil spirits". Could you be one of those potential workers for the harvest? Do you need to be "pushed" or "driven" out, to get moving? Don't resist God's nudge if He's beckoning you. In John 4:35f Jesus told His disciples, "Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest...Even now [the reaper] harvests the crop for eternal life..."

When you're talking to someone and they're sharing about a troubling situation, one way you can "preach the good news of the Kingdom" (v35) is simply to ask, "Could I pray for you?" You'd be surprised how often people who aren't "into" religion will accept a sincere offer of prayer. To pray is to proclaim the Kingdom: the mere fact of making a request is to acknowledge God's sovereignty and care. The person listening may be surprised at your intimacy and boldness in approaching the King of the universe. And to end your prayer "in Jesus' name" stamps it with authority, confidence in One who proved His love by giving His life for sinners on the cross.

So, problems can prompt PRAYER not despair.

EMPOWERING THE QUESTIONABLE: CHRIST'S MOTLEY CREW

Jesus saw the crowds, a potentially swamping and interminable sea of human need. He responded by appointing special agents called "apostles" (literally 'sent ones') to multiply His mission pervasiveness. 10:1f "He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.These are the names of the twelve apostles..." (from Gk verb "apostello", to send)

Looking through the names in the list, one is struck by how varied and, in some sense, UNexceptional the apostles are; these are a bunch of very "average Joes" - fishermen, tax collectors - certainly not superstars! They're a very motley crew ("motley" = "incongruously varied in appearance or character; disparate"). Simon Peter the "Rock" but who, when it came down to the crunch, denied His Master the very night He was betrayed. James and John the fiery "sons of thunder" who wanted the places of honour at Jesus' right and left hand, but wimpishly cajoled their mother to go ask on their behalf (Mt 20:20). Thomas the doubter or skeptic, who probably had "prove it to me" tattoed on his forehead. Simon the Zealot, a former member of a political guerilla group that was committed to ousting the detested Roman overlords. "Um, are you sure that's wise, Lord?" Kind of like including a card-carrying Communist in your group during the McCarthy era.

And of course, bringing up the rear, good ol' Judas Iscariot "who betrayed Him". Judas proves the breadth of range in Jesus' choosing, being likely the only non-Galilean in the bunch (Iscariot = from Kerioth in the south near Edom). And, just to show how much we want this to be a diverse group, we'll put this southerner in charge of the money-bag - even though Jesus must have known Judas would pinch some for his own perks when he thought the other disciples weren't looking.

So, is this the calibre of individual YOU would choose to launch a worldwide transformative movement? Aren't these guys' resumes sort of questionable? Yet - with the exception of Iscariot - God's plan of launching Christianity worldwide through this 'motley crew' succeeded! He got hold of Peter and Thomas and transformed them into men of brave conviction who would die as martyrs rather than deny their Lord.

Perhaps you're sitting there thinking, "God could never use me.I'm too timid - not smart enough - don't have the right background - been too long with the wrong crowd." You're mistaken! God delights in enlisting misfits into His operations, changing lives, giving them unique testimonies of His grace that appeal to people in those exact same sorts of situations!

Christ EMPOWERS the questionable. V1 He "gave them authority [POWER] to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." Later on after the resurrection, we read in Acts 5(12,15f), "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade...People brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed." Amazing power to address practical needs. The actions authenticated the announcement.

PROCLAIMING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM

Our text says Jesus went through all the towns and villages "preaching the good news of the Kingdom" (9:35). In this world where there's a vast sea of human need, WHAT IS the "good news of the Kingdom"? In chapter 10 I'd like to briefly point out 7 things that I hope you can see in the text and relate to personally, so YOU can proclaim it, too!

1) It's Good News that we can announce God's PRESENCE: 10:7 "As you go, preach this message: 'The Kingdom of heaven is near.'" For devout Jews, "heaven" was a discrete way of referring to God, so we might say "God's realm is at hand" or "God's reign has drawn nigh." The Holy Spirit brings God right inside us, guiding and filling us; see 10:19f, "At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." So Paul could say (1Cor 12:3), "no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit;" and, "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Rom 8:9) To BE a Christian is to experience the new birth, the Spirit of sonship / adoption crying out "Abba, Papa" within us - nearness, God's presence.

2) It's Good News that we can be heralds as God's PROXIES: someone who "stands in" as an agent or ambassador on behalf of another, such as a distant King. 10:22 Jesus says, "All men will hate you because of Me / on My account..." V25 The student is like his teacher, the servant like his master; the Head of the house has been called "Lord of the flies", how much more the members of His household! As Paul put it, "We are...Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us." (2Cor 5:20) His proxies, representing / re-presenting Him.

3) It's Good News (gospel truth) that we can preach PEACE WITH GOD: today doctors can heal many physical diseases with antibiotics and other drugs, but that doesn't solve spiritual / emotional / moral problems that plague a person's conscience, and often give rise to psychosomatic disorders. The gospel proclaims that Jesus died on the cross to take our punishment, to bear our iniquity, become the sacrifice by which our sins are atoned and we are put right with God, completely forgiven! So we can experience true, deep-down, PEACE. 10:12 "As you enter the home, give it your greeting" (literally "draw it to yourself"); BBE "say, May peace be on this house." NLT "Give it your blessing." Christians are in the blessing-business! 10:13 "If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you."

The heart of the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins, rose again, is exalted to the right hand of God, and coming again. See the core of the Apostle's Creed; 1Cor 15:3-4,25; Acts 3:13-21; and especially (if you want a 2-verse summary) Acts 5:30-31, "The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead-- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel." That historic sequence of events is aimed at bringing us PEACE in the broadest sense, including personal forgiveness, cleansing, wholeness, our guilt and shame are GONE! (Can you give me a) Hallelujah!

4) It's good news that we are PRECIOUS TO GOD, loved by God, dear to Him as His very own sons and daughters. Look at Mt 10:29-31: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." You are PRECIOUS to your Heavenly Father!1Jn 4:10 "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." Do you GET this treasuring, cherishing love God has for you, personally? How Jesus went to hell and back just to bring you close?

5) It's good news that we can announce the POWER God gives us to do good and offer practical help to people. 10:1 Jesus "gave them [the disciples] authority [or, power] to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." 10:8 He directed them to "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons." Tiffany and Dawn used energy to build and harvest gardens, prepare food, and set up a thrift store in order to give practical help to those in need in Hamilton. Power to do good. Eph 2:10 "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Php 4:13 "I can do everything through him who gives me [WHAT?] strength." Eph 3:20 "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." Praise Him for His power He gives us!

6) It's good news that we can preach God's PROVISION for our needs. As if to say to His emissaries, "Don't bother yourselves with lugging a backpack or suitcase - it's all looked after," Jesus commands in 10:9f, "Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep." God's going to provide your needs as you obey Him by following His directions. It'll be provided as the need arises. V11 Stay at the "worthy person's" house until you leave. Back up to v8: "Freely you have RECEIVED, freely give." We share out of God's abundant provision, what we've received through His grace. Also 10:19 when arrested, "At that time you will be GIVEN what to say." The Father through the Holy Spirit will even provide the words for your defence when hauled before governors.

One of my favourite "provision" memory verses is Php 4:19, "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

7) Last, it's great to be able to proclaim the good news of God's PROTECTION. 10:28 "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." 10:31 "So don't be afraid..." V29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father." In other words, despite all this persecution and being arrested and brought before councils and betrayed by other family members, believers can be confident that none of this happens except the Father permits it: He's guarding the number of hairs on our head. He will protect our soul even when the body is killed. 10:39 "Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" / keep it / preserve it for eternity.

To sum up then: What is the "good news of the Kingdom"? It's a privilege to share with others God's PRESENCE, we're His PROXIES, to announce His PEACE, that we're PRECIOUS to Him, He gives us His POWER, PROVISION, and PROTECTION. What astounding promises!

Each day I receive a "Verse of the Day" in my email inbox from the Bible League. I liked on Thursday how a Christian in Southeast Asia summed up to me the essence of the church's mission of making disciples. Tuot (that's their name) said, "I trusted in Buddhism, evil spirits, idols, and magical for help in my life.Then I heard about the Good News of Jesus Christ when I went to church with my friend.I listened to the pastor preaching Word.The words touched my heart. I was convicted that my life was sinful and the wages of sin is death.I needed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour! Now I am full of joy, hope, and a strong faith in the Lord.I read the Bible every day, and I share with my friends."

Have you had a similar encounter? Let's get sharing such good news! Let's pray.