The Advent Guest Book Sermon Series

Highlighted Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Though he was challenging and divisive, Jesus always could draw a crowd. Some came because he had miraculously healed the lame or fed thousands. Others were there for the scandal, like when Jesus dined with new follower and tax-collector, Matthew in the preceding verses. Whatever the reason, thousands gather around him to see what he might do next. But this Sunday’s passage in Matthew reminds us that it is not only what Jesus will do, but what will those who follow Jesus do next? Here Jesus sees the crowds, says they are like sheep without a shepherd, and then, confidently mixing his metaphors, Jesus reveals his plan to send out laborers into the harvest field.

God’s Work and Our Work: In all the gospels the disciples are not shining examples of those who understand all Jesus is doing. They aren’t the best and the brightest. They aren’t always the examples for us to follow. The focus is rightly placed on Jesus.

Yet here Jesus clearly shares his vision with his followers and sends them out to share in his ministry. It must have been at once exhilarating and terrifying, uplifting and humbling. Jesus alone was the one who could do the great works read about in the preceding chapters. Now he calls them to himself and gives them his authority to go into the harvest fields.

We may feel similarly torn when we think of the ways that Jesus sends us to do his work. Who am I to speak with authority? To go to a people in need? But the confidence here is not derived internally, from the disciples themselves. Not one of them can claim to be “enough” on their own. Even Judas, who will betray Jesus, is included! Think on that for a moment—into the surrounding regions Jesus’ disciples go to cast out demons and cure the sick and Judas is there, too? Just as it was with Israel, God has not chosen a people for his purposes because of their own qualities (Deut. 6:6-8). He chooses us and he is the one who makes us able. That is the real reason any disciple can speak with authority. It is only as one who has been sent by Jesus himself.

Jesus sends, but Jesus remains active. Yet his continued centrality in the mission field is not cause for idleness. There is work to be done. Paul writes to the Philippians, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” But lest we think we can manage this or any work in our own strength, he continues “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purposes.”

As Jesus sends out these disciples, they have a part to play. And it is a privileged part at that, to be able to share with Jesus and be his co-laborers. Yet it is a work enabled from beginning to end by God himself. Perhaps this is why Jesus would mix his metaphors. In this passage Jesus sees flocks of sheep, yet does not send out shepherds. He sends out disciples to harvest fields. They walk out into fields already tilled and planted and managed, where God has caused the growth (1 Cor 3:7).

Seeing God’s Plan One Step at a Time: Given what we know about the reach of the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles, the scope of the ministry described in chapter ten may give us pause. Why does Jesus explicitly instruct the twelve to stay away from Gentiles? Why can’t they go to a Samaritan town? Instead they are to go to the house of Israel. By the time you get to chapter ten, readers of John’s gospel would have already heard of Jesus making sure to go to Samaria and how he shared his message with the woman at the well. Is Matthew just so different from John? It can’t be that either, as Matthew will end this gospel with the “great commission,” when a new sending takes place and this time “to all nations.”

It is important to see that the call here is patterned off the work of Jesus himself, who comes first to Israel and then to the wider world. Just because they do not go now to the Samaritan cities does not mean they will never visit there. In fact in Acts 1, Samaria is specifically mentioned as to a place that they will go once the Spirit comes upon them.

We may not always fully comprehend the call of God, nor do we always have the opportunity to see the entirety of where God is leading us. We may wish to see further ahead or alter the path laid before us in the here and now. But the call of faithful discipleship is to allow Christ to lead us to the next step in the present moment. There may be new places that he will take us, new directions of ministry and service, and new ways of expressing his will and living for his kingdom. That does not mean we can try to create shortcuts to race ahead of Jesus’ call. We can only listen attentively to his voice and seek to obey one day at a time.

Casey Clark co-pastors New Monmouth Presbyterian Church with his wife, Rachel, in Lexington, VA. Previously he served a church in Durham, NC, focusing on discipleship and the study of Scriptures. During that time he started a website to encourage and equip others in personal Bible reading called Year in the Bible. His other interests include soccer, murder mysteries, and coffee. Casey studied history at James Madison University and earned an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

Then in fellowship sweet

we will sit at his feet,

or we’ll walk by his side in the way;

what he says we will do,

where he sends we will go;

never fear, only trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Trust and Obey, John H. Sammis, 1887

Key Illustration


“Remember the Signs” from The Silver Chair

In CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair, Jill meets the lion, Aslan, high atop a mountain before her quest begins to save a prince. Aslan shares four important signs for her to remember along the way. These four signs are the keys to accomplish the purpose for which Aslan has brought her into Narnia. Without following his words, she’ll be lost, so Aslan has a stern warning for her:

But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.

In the book there are times when Jill and her companions think they know the way, and in their self-confidence they make their own path rather than pay attention to the signs. It is not even that they are trying to disobey Aslan, rather what they do is often an attempt to complete the mission of saving the prince. But whenever they try to race ahead and go it alone, they fall from the path.

We too may think we know better and will forget the words of Jesus and the call he’s given us in his Word. Even when we try to do what is right, if doing so means we forget his words, is that the way forward? We may want to know more than what God has told us, to see more clearly, or to get the bigger picture. But we must seek to be content with knowing that what he’s told us is enough. The way forward from there is to simply and humbly trust and obey.

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