The Clash of Two Kingdoms (Matthew 10)

A while back I experienced one of the most restful weeks of my life. We spent a few peaceful days by the shores of Loch Ness. The area is very isolated with slow, windy, single track roads. Not a problem because we saw very few cars. The house used to be hotel and I can see why it ceased trading. It was two miles off the single track B road that runs along the shore between Inverness and Fort Augustus. Nestled by a small loch and surrounded by hills, there was no TV reception and my mobile phone didn’t work either. We saw very few people but lots of sheep and goats. The nearest shops were miles away and going to buy a newspaper or supplies was a treat. It felt very isolated. 

Time seemed to slow down. Everything revolved around day light, eating, sleeping, feeding the animals and the weather, and there was a lot of that. I am sure I could have got used to it with more time – it was tempting – but every time I opened my mouth, it was obvious that I wasn’t a local. Rich in history, the road and forts along the geological fault line that created Loch Ness – Fort William, Fort Augustus, Fort Urquhart, Fort Gorge, remind us of the attempts by the English to tame the wild Celts. On the 16th April 1746, the last battle on British soil took place nearby at Culloden Moor.  

It was not, as often portrayed, a battle between the Scots and the English: in reality the Scots on the Government side outnumbered those fighting for the Jacobites. Rather it was the last chapter in a sporadic civil war for succession to the throne that had been under way since 1688. Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites had attempted to restore the crown to his father King James.  In 1745, he gathered an army largely of Highlanders, but including some Irish and French troops, to take on the Government. They quickly reached Perth and then Edinburgh, before heading south towards London. It was becoming clear, though, that support from English Jacobites was not emerging as Charles had hoped. Charles met with his key advisers in what is today the upstairs room of a Derby pub through most of the 4th December. Charles was all for pressing on to London: the majority wanted to retreat to Scotland. Charles finally angrily accepted the need to retreat as night fell. The Jacobites began their retreat from Derby. Pursued by the rival king’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, Prince Charlie lost his claim to the throne and to the kingdom on Culloden Moor on 16th April 1746. His half-starved and demoralised Jacobite army were defeated and Prince Charlie escaped into exile.

Our gospel reading describes another battle about to begin.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 10:1)

Luke amplifies the Lord’s commission.

“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2) 

The area around Loch Ness reminds me a lot of Galilee – isolated villages surrounded by majestic hills. In the 1st Century, the roads were patrolled by the occupying Roman army under the puppet King Herod. Communication was by word of mouth and on foot. It was in this context that Jesus sent out his Apostles to proclaim that there was a new king – to proclaim a radical kingdom, a subversive kingdom – a secret kingdom – a supernatural kingdom, that would turn the world upside down and re-write history. Today, I want us to look first of all at what is unique and time specific in this passage and then look for some lessons that apply to us.

1. The Authority of Jesus: Delegated
2. The Priorities of Jesus: Replicated
3. The Impact of Jesus: Vindicated

1. The Authority of Jesus 

“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.’”(Matthew 10:5-6)

1.1 Initially Directed toward the Jews

If this sounds strange, the reason is given a little later in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus said, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24) Jesus came first to the Jews. Only when they reject their God given role to be a light to the Gentiles did Jesus send his Apostles out to fulfil the role.  They took the place of the 12 Tribes of Israel to proclaim the Gospel to the rest of the world. 

This is biblical replacement theology. It is important to recognize that Jesus had different priorities before the cross to those after the cross. After his resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to take the good news to all nations. But initially they were directed to the Jews.

1.2 Uniquely Demonstrated by the Apostles

The criteria for becoming an apostle was simple. They had to have been with Jesus, and been recognised by the other apostles. Jesus gave them the supernatural power and authority to perform the same miracles he performed.

In Acts 2:22, Acts 2:43 and Acts 5:12, Luke is very specific in the use of the phrase “Signs and Wonders”. It describes the unique power and authority of Jesus given to his Apostles. 

“People of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)

“Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and miraculous signs done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:43)

“The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.”(Acts 5:12)

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he compares his ministry with their self-appointed leaders. 

“I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.” (2 Corinthians 12:12)

The signs of a true apostle were unique. No Christian leader since has been able to replicate these two conditions. The apostles were the foundation of the church (Matthew 16:16, Ephesians 2:20). There was no apostolic succession. Initially directed toward the Jews. Uniquely demonstrated by the Apostles. 

1.3 Subsequently delegated to the Church

While there are no Apostles today, God calls us to build on the work of the apostles, as pastors, evangelists, teachers.

“to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)

God has given each one of us spiritual gifts and abilities to enable us to take the good news of Jesus Christ to our  world, to build the church and extend his kingdom rule over people’s hearts and lives. You and I have the authority of Jesus to proclaim “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins … in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:47). This is how people enter the kingdom of God. This is how the kingdom of God is extended – one person at a time. The apostles had a unique ministry and we do today. The Authority of Jesus delegated.

2. The Priorities of Jesus 

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. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.  Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.  As you enter the home, give it your greeting.  If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10:5-15)

Some believe this is the mandate for faith mission – trusting the Lord to provide food and clothing. I have some experience of living by faith without a regular salary. For the first four years of our ministry we lived by faith trusting the Lord to provide for our daily needs. And more recently, having taken early retirement, the Lord has provided for our needs the past six years. I believe in faith ministry but I don’t believe that is what Jesus is teaching here. On what basis? At the end of the Last Supper, just before Jesus led the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane for the last time, he gave them their final instructions before his crucifixion. 

“When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: `And he was numbered with the transgressors’ ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:33-37)

The memory of how God had provided for them on this short term training exercise would sustain them in the coming days when they too would be persecuted and scattered to the ends of the earth. After his resurrection, Jesus reminded them of their mandate:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In Matthew 10, Jesus was therefore training the Apostles. He was training them in a limited faith mission to prepare them for the day when he would be taken from them, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they would be his faithful witnesses to the whole world. Our mission priority builds on that of the Apostles – the win people to Christ, build them in the faith and send them to do the same.  And notice also that Jesus sent the Apostles out in pairs to ensure they learnt from one another. There is no place for the lone ranger, the one-man band. Shared ministry is the biblical pattern. 

So, if you are going visiting, take someone with you.  If you are leading a house group, share the role. If you are helping lead a service, get others involved.  Ask yourself, ‘Am I passing on what I am learning about following Jesus to others?’  As Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators put it, we were “born to reproduce.” 

The Authority of Jesus – delegated. 
The Priorities of Jesus – replicated.

3. The Impact of Jesus 

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. 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 do not be afraid of them.” (Matthew 10:16-20, 26)

The Battle of Culloden Moor was a battle between two kingdoms. They were mutually exclusive. Only one could triumph. When Jesus gave supernatural power and divine authority to eleven fisherman and a tax collector, it brought him and them into conflict with King Herod, the Jewish Ruling classes and the Roman Empire. Luke elaborates on how this word of Jesus came true:

There was Conflict 

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on.” (Luke 9:7)

Herod heard about all that was going on… News about Jesus and his Apostles spread widely. And some of those who saw the miracles and heard God’s word spoken, nevertheless went and reported all that was going on to Herod. Conflict is inevitable for the child of God. There was conflict.

There was Confusion

“And Herod was perplexed because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life.” (Luke 9:7-8)

When people reject the plain truth, confusion reigns. Conflict and confusion.

There were Questions 

But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.” (Luke 9:9)

Conflict, confusion, questions. We don’t know the state of Herod’s heart at this point. We do know that there were followers of Jesus even within Herod’s own household. Luke tells us that “Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household” (Luke 8:3) helped finance Jesus’ ministry.  Ironically then, Herod was supporting Jesus. And he would eventually get to meet Jesus at his trial. 

As we proclaim the kingdom of God, as we live out his kingly rule, it will lead us into conflict, it will lead to confusion – but by God’s grace, some will ask questions, some will seek Jesus. And those who seek him, will find him.

The world might have been very different if Prince Charlie had been offered different advice in an upstairs room of that pub in Derby. What none of them knew was that the Welsh Jacobites has risen in support of them, and others in Oxfordshire were on the point of doing so. Neither did they know that London was in panic. King George II’s court was even packing his belongings on to ships on the River Thames. The King was ready to flee to the Continent. Had the Jacobites pressed on, George II would have fled; The English and French would probably have avoided a further 70 years of conflict; the English would not have had to raise taxes in the colonies to pay for the French wars; the Americans would have had no cause to rebel and fight a war for their independence. And, arguably, the French revolution would not have happened. The world would have been a very different place but for a closely argued decision taken in the upstairs room of a pub in Derby one dark winter’s evening in December 1745.[1] 

The lesson? Never underestimate the impact of the decisions we make. The question before us today is this – Will we remain loyal to our king and to his kingdom, irrespective of the opposition? Will we turn and run or will we help turn the world upside down for Jesus.

To the authority of Jesus: delegated – we must be faithful. 
To the priorities of Jesus: replicated – we must remain focused.
To the impact of Jesus: vindicated – we must remain fearless.

What ever happens this week, stay faithful, focused and fearless. And Almighty God will indeed make us fruitful.

[1] Culloden. Undiscovered Scotland: The Ultimate Online Guide