Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:6 “But rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Why was their first mission trip limited to Galilee? First, Jesus wanted His men to enjoy success on their first mission trip. Second, they were prejudiced, not yet ready to preach to non-Jews. Third, the Twelve had to learn, missions begins where we are. Now a fourth reason, the Gospel had to be offered to Jews first.
The physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have always held a special place in God’s economy. Jesus clearly stated, “Salvation is from the Jews” (JN 4:22 NAS). Messiah was to come from, as well as to, the Jews. By the time Jesus arrived, the Jews had for centuries been looking forward to Messiah coming.
The Jews were special to God, and they knew it. They misunderstood their uniqueness, deeming it for exclusive privilege rather than for inclusive missions, but Jesus was sensitive to their prejudices. He would not turn them off by proclaiming the Gospel to others first. They were given first and abundant opportunity to receive their Messiah. In this way, once God’s own people in large numbers rejected Messiah, our Lord was absolved of all blame for their rejection of Him.
Jews remain special to God. Paul clearly stated the Jews “are beloved for their fathers’ sakes” (RM 11:28). We disagree with all who reject Jesus, and are commanded to try to win them to Christ, but we must do this in love, by gentle persuasion, never by pressure or coercion. A word to the wise–respect the Jews. If “beloved for their fathers’ sakes” in Paul’s day, they are to be honored today. They still have the same fathers–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Send every hint of anti-Semitism back to Hell whence it sprang. Without exception, nations good to Jews have been blessed, nations harsh to Jews have suffered. Keep hands off the Jews.
Jesus loved the Jews, even when most of them were rejecting Him, and even though He knew they would offer Him up to be crucified. Being the Good Shepherd, Jesus saw them as lost sheep, the kind of sheep shepherds worry about most.
We in the religious establishment have much to learn from our Master about how to view unbelievers. His attitude toward them was totally different from that of the religious leaders of His day. I fear ours is often no better than theirs was.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day despised the masses as being uncouth and totally irreligious. The Pharisees called the rabble accursed (JN 7:49). Hillel, one of history’s greatest Rabbis, said no common person is religious (Aboth 2:6).
Jesus looked at the same crowds, and rather than choosing to be critical, was moved with compassion (9:36). His frustration was directed toward the religious leaders. He deemed them blind guides (15:14) leading people to pits, not pastures.
No wonder the people were lost; the religious teachers themselves were leading them astray and had no desire to rescue them. The masses, abandoned by faithless shepherds, were left to wander and stumble in bypaths of sin and error.
But Jesus, moved by their pitiful plight, yearned for them. Before sending the Twelve on their first short-term mission trip, in describing to them the masses they were being sent to, Jesus used a tender term, a word of pity, not anger, a label meant to help the Twelve (and us) run more fervently and passionately to their aid.
In the context of evangelism and missions, the operative word to describe our target group is “lost,” not “wicked.” Prechristians are ignorant of who their Shepherd is, and don’t know where safe, good pasture is. They are on the wrong road, lost to usefulness, lost to purpose, lost to meaning, lost to finding God.
This is not to say they are guiltless. Lostness does bear its own blame, but the level of that guilt has to be left to God to determine. To us is given the duty of seeing them as lost. The paradox we face here is similar to our dilemma regarding God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will. Before salvation, we hear, “Whosoever will, may come.” After salvation, we hear, “Welcome, dear elect one, predestined by God.” From God’s vantage point, the emphasis is sovereignty, from our view, free will. We don’t try to reconcile the two, we rather cling to both tenaciously.
We face a similar paradox in our approach to prechristians. They are at fault, in disobedience and rebellion, but we have to let God deal with their blame.
Our attitude toward them is to be dominated by a sense of broken-ness due to their lostness. Our failure to understand this distinction between God’s role and ours helps explain our often repeated failures in effectively finding the lost sheep.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. We all sometimes think, they’re receiving what they deserve, they made their bed hard, let them sleep on it. This puts us in the precarious position of playing God with regard to people’s everlasting destiny.
In Luke’s Gospel, a whole chapter (15) is given to teaching us what our attitude toward the lost should be. Jesus spoke of a lost coin, lost son, and lost sheep.
People are lost due to carelessness, like a coin that falls out of our pocket. Do we get angry at money we drop? The lady who lost her coin lit a lamp, swept the house, and searched until she found it. Hers is the proper response. Don’t lose precious time and energy condemning a coin. Do whatever it takes to find the lost.
People are lost due to unwise decisions, like the prodigal son. Shall we gleefully pronounce anathemas on people who make wrong choices because their whole world view is skewed? The father knew his son was wrong–wrong!–but gladly welcomed the lost home. From childhood people in our culture are taught to depend on themselves, to look inward, not upward, for strength. We are talking of folks who turned out by the thousands to attend a prayer meeting led by Oprah. It is illogical to think people living in this dense a fog can make clear decisions.
People are lost due to helplessness, like sheep, not like dogs or cows or pigs or horses, which can find their way home. Sheep, when left alone, show no ability or propensity to head home. On their own, sheep are helpless, as likely to run to a precipice as to a shelter. Someone has to retrieve them. Herein lies the redeeming trait of a sheep. It will follow a shepherd, and will respond to sheep-herders who corral them back to the right way. Jesus is the Shepherd, we are the sheep-herders.
Jesus’ use of the word “lost” conveys in itself a message of hope. Lost does entail neglected, abandoned, and endangered, but also carries the note of savable, salvage-able, find-able, if someone will take the time and effort to seek them out.
This is where we come in. This is what evangelism and missions are about. We know of their guilt, but disregard it enough to give ourselves recklessly to the pursuit of finding lost sheep wandering precariously close to a precipice over Hell.
Matt. 10:7a “And as ye go, preach,. . .”
Here’s the prescribed methodology for reaching the lost: going and preaching. We are to be going, stopping only long enough to speak a while; when finished speaking, we resume our going. The directive is “as ye go.” The journey is not to one location. The calling is to accept responsibility for many places. Since the lost sheep are scattered, we have to scatter to find them. Staying within the four walls of our homes and church houses will not do. To a Christian, geography and mobility matter. True spirituality entails keeping next to our Bibles our street guides, road atlases, and globes. The Twelve, first buck out of the shoot, learned they were to be itinerants. The road was their platform and every human being their audience. Oh that we could recapture this first missions directive from our Lord! Our church could set Springfield ablaze if we took this command seriously.
While on the go, “preach.” This is a strong word, meaning to herald, to declare out loud, publicly. The role of a herald was to be an official spokesman, to broadcast news in a town. In our colonial era, before newspapers, towns appointed a herald, a town crier, a “walking newspaper” whose “Hear ye, hear ye” called out the news at every corner. Rumor mills and gossip from travelers were always churning, but the town crier could be trusted. He spoke truth with authority.
Even so, we the followers of Christ, are Earth’s town criers. We announce a glad truth, we squelch useless rumors and vain hunches of men. “Hear ye, hear ye, here’s the good news. God has sent His own Son into the world to die as a substitute sacrifice for all our sins. All other approaches to God are vain and unneeded.”
Announce the good news. Labor to awaken in lost sheep a desire for the Shepherd and His fold. If we can’t verbalize a good word about the Shepherd, at least do all we can to bring lost sheep to a local fold where they can hear of Him.