Matthew 9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9 Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10 take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. 11 "Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 "Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 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, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Last week the Lord blessed and challenged us with around 100 kids ages 3-13 for our fourth New Hope Lutheran Soccer Camp. Each day we taught the kids various dribbling moves like step-overs, v-pulls, hook turns, pull backs, scissors and the Maradonna. The kids were probably thinking what you’re thinking: “You’ve got to be kidding! What are all those things? I can never learn all those moves. Impossible! I can’t do that!” But the coaches and their assistants were able to help them and train them so that over time they could accomplish great things.
(Although we basically taught the 3-4 year-olds, “This is a soccer ball. There’s the goal. And don’t pick the dandelions.” And they were probably thinking: “You’ve got to be kidding!”)
You’ve got to be kidding! I think that had to be one of the first thoughts to race through the minds of the twelve disciples when Jesus told them what He was sending them out to do. Did you hear that list? Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and drive out demons. Sure, they had seen Jesus do these things, but ... we can’t do that!
Well, they were right. They had to learn what every pastor has to learn and what every Christian has to learn: to get over yourself. It wouldn’t be them doing these things. It wouldn’t be anything in them that would qualify them or enable them or empower them to be disciples or apostles. Not their learning, their scholarship, their leadership, their charisma, their dashing good looks, or anything else in them. All those things are good and useful, but it is only the power and authority of Christ that would accomplish these things. The very power and authority Christ had given to them. But first they had to learn to get over themselves, to get over their doubts and fears, and do what had been given them to do ... and have Christ work through them. Then they would accomplish great things.
They needed to watch Jesus. As He went through all the towns and villages, Jesus saw shepherd-less sheep who were on their way to hell, and He was determined to rescue as many of them as possible. He compassionately reached out to their souls which were held captive by sin. Jesus saw them as prisoners of Satan and under the death sentence of hell. Without Him, they were hopeless and helpless.
Jesus wanted His disciples to share in His vision and work. He wanted them to have the same compassion and passion for saving lost souls. He wanted them to pray for more workers. They would then be the answer to their own prayers as Jesus called them into His ministry of the Word.
God would accomplish great things through these disciples. But it wouldn’t be anything personal that would win souls for Christ. As if to emphasize this point, Jesus continues with a description of how they are to go, and what its going to be like out there. Don’t take any supplies, He says. Rely on what you are given. I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. You will be arrested. You will be dragged into courts. You will be flogged. It just keeps getting worse and worse! First, a list of impossible tasks to do, and then do them in the midst of an impossible situation. What had they signed up for? Discipleship never seemed so … impossible … so deadly.
Precisely. For if they are to be followers of Jesus, where are they following Him to? The cross. They, too, must die. They must get over themselves (or in other words, die to themselves), so that they live in Christ. In Him and His Word alone. Relying solely on Him. For it is His work, not theirs. His Word, not theirs. His authority, not theirs. His mission and harvest, not theirs. And the less of them and the more of Him, the better.
Last Saturday, I poured water over a little girl’s head at her baptism. On Monday, I preached for the funeral for the son of our members. On Wednesday night, three adults joined our congregation through adult confirmation. I will be meeting soon with some members to do family counseling, pre-marriage counseling and counseling for addictions. The only way any of that work is a benefit to anybody is that the only tool I have in my pastoral toolbox is my Bible – the Word of God.
So Jesus sends out the twelve with nothing else but His Word. He is teaching them that they are unable to do any of this on their own. Great things will be accomplished only as Christ and the Holy Spirit work in them and speak through them. They only needed to go.
Pastors need to learn this, as well. We need to learn to get over ourselves. For we are not in control. The Word and work and power are Christ’s. Our church is growing, not because of anything in the pastor – because he’s so eloquent or energetic or good looking or tall – but it is only by the grace of God, the power of His Word, the strength of His sacraments and His blessing upon this congregation.
As pastors, we need simply to do what we are given to do, speak what we are given to speak, and give what we are given to give. God alone grants the growth, gives faith, and changes hearts and lives. No pastor can do these things. Only the Word and power and authority of Christ can use water to cast out demons and raise a person dead in sin to a new life. Only the Word and power and authority of Christ can heal those who are leprous and sick with sin through the words of absolution and forgiveness. Only the Word and power and authority of Christ can cause bread and wine to become the very body and blood of Jesus to feed and strengthen Christians with the faith and forgiveness we need for this life. Only the Word and power and authority of Christ can fill preaching with the power to grab hold of hell-bent sinners on the road to hell and turn them in repentance toward the pathway to heaven. Pastors need to learn: “I can’t do that!” And no amount of learning, scholarship, leadership, charisma, or dashing good looks will be able to change that. Those things are good and useful, but cannot take the place of the power and authority of Christ.
But not just disciples, apostles, and pastors need to learn this – so do you. You as the priesthood of the baptized. You have not been given the same task list as the disciples or pastors, but the list Jesus has given all of you sounds just as impossible: Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; turn the other cheek; don’t worry; don’t judge; give to the needy; be a perfect father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, worker, friend, neighbor and citizen; pray for the ministry of the Word, support this ministry work with your offerings, and be involved in doing this work – all while carrying your cross.” To which our response should be: “You’ve got to be kidding! We can’t do that!”
In reality, we’re not even close to doing these things. We hate our enemies, forget to pray, do good mostly to those who can do good back to us, fill up our lives with worry and concerns, and take the easy way out. Satan wants us to regard any kind of increase of ministry support in our prayers, time or offerings as being a horrible burden that we ought to avoid. Plus, we are far, far from being perfect in any area of our life. And the kicker is that despite all this sin and failure, how often don’t we have the audacity to look around, filled with pride, and think: “I’m not doing so bad!” Friends, the road to hell is a crowded one indeed.
All of us need to get over ourselves. And if pride is to be full of ourselves, then it is repentance that empties us of ourselves. Repentance is the road of discipleship that takes us to the cross and kills us. To confess that we are that bad. We are the persecutors, not just the persecuted. We are the wolves who bite and devour one another. We put people on trial in our own courts with laws and standards of our own making, and sit as our own one-man judge and jury. We don’t drag people before kings – we take on that role ourselves, with our condemning thoughts and words, assuming the worst about others, and taking delight in our superiority. We keep the gospel to ourselves, either by bigotry or selfishness or complacency or just plain laziness. Yes, Jesus sent the disciples out as sheep among wolves because He sent them to people like us.
But if Jesus sends apostles and pastors to people like us, it is because He came for people like us. Jesus sends them to us to give Himself to us. For He is the Lamb of God who came into the midst of a world of sinful wolves. He came into this world with nothing as God wrapped in human flesh and then wrapped once more in swaddling clothes. He came to heal the sick, bind up the broken-hearted, preach the Gospel and be the Shepherd for lost sheep.
Jesus is the One hauled before Governor Pilate and King Herod. He was the One flogged by men and then devoured by death on the cross, that in His resurrection from that death, He defeats all that defeats us. Death, disobedience, the devil and damnation – all swallowed up in Christ’s victory. His life becomes our life. Jesus changes us from wolves into sheep and sanctifies sinners into saints through the resurrecting forgiveness of our sins. He shakes the dust off His feet when people reject Him, but He gives His three-fold blessing of peace upon those who welcome Him.
You’ve prayed it thousands times: “Thy kingdom come.” Let’s encourage one another to mean it. Jesus’ Kingdom comes when we not only believe in Jesus Christ ourselves but also share the message so clearly and warmly that another lost soul comes to faith as well.
All Jesus’ sheep will be gathered into His fold. His Kingdom will come. He will accomplish that either with us or without us. He doesn’t need us, but He does want to use us. He graciously wants to give us the privilege of being involved in this all-important work – work with blessed results that will last into eternity. And the first thing He asks us to do is exceedingly simple and will cost us nothing but a little of our time. He tells us to pray for workers for His harvest field. In response to our prayers, He will provide them.
And our Lord’s first way of answering our prayers is to send us out into the spiritual harvest fields. We become the answer to our own prayers.
Realize that God doesn’t expect everybody to be able to lead like Joshua or preach like Peter or pray like Paul. But he does expect you to use the gifts that you have been given and make use of the opportunities He sends. He wants you to plant the seeds for His harvest, call to the lost and wandering sheep, and support ministry work with your time and offerings.
I have coached soccer at WLS for the past 10 years. By the end of the soccer season, the players are always amazed at what they can now do. They can’t perform every move or make every pass or shot perfectly, but they are better. More confident. Able to do the things they couldn’t do before. (Although some are still picking dandelions.)
The same is true for us. Like Jesus’ disciples – because Jesus is with us and training us – we are able to begin to do things we could never imagine doing before. Maybe not everything. And certainly not perfectly. But now we find ourselves helping, serving, sharing, loving, praying, forgiving, believing, trusting, evangelizing. And why can we do all these things? Because we are getting over ourselves and relying solely upon Christ. Amen.