Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:6 “But rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
On their first short term mission trip, the disciples were to go to Jews only. 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 despised the masses as being uncouth, totally irreligious. Jesus viewed the same crowds, and rather than choosing to be critical, was moved with compassion (9:36) by their pitiful plight. 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.” 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. This is where we come in. 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. 10:7-8a “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at
hand. Heal the sick,. . .”
Jesus here commands a three-pronged approach for effectively reaching the lost: go, preach, heal. First, go. The Twelve, first buck out of the shoot, learned they were to be itinerants. The road was their platform, every human being their audience. The Christian pilgrimage is never a journey to one location. The calling is to accept responsibility for many places. To Christians, geography and mobility matter. True spirituality entails keeping next to our Bibles our street guides, road atlases, and globes. Staying within the four walls of our homes and church houses will not do. Since lost sheep are scattered, we have to scatter to find them.
Second, preach. Christianity’s core communiqué is easy to state. Heaven’s King came to Earth to assert in person His sovereignty over human hearts.
The message, if clearly stated, is easy to understand. Sadly, since the messenger is often fuzzy, many who would otherwise be found remain lost. The Gospel misunderstood is as condemning as the Gospel unheard. Use straight talk, not gobbledegook. State facts. Jesus is God’s only provision for people’s salvation.
Mankind’s only hope is the transforming message of Jesus, for He alone can enter the heart and change one’s nature. Everyone’s deepest need is a new heart, not a new environment. Adam and Eve sinned in a Garden, not a ghetto, in a paradise, not a prison. The problem was their heart, not their location or circumstance.
People still long for the social changes Christ’s kingdom first brought about. The lost want to embrace virtues Christ introduced, for example, compassion for women, children, the downtrodden, poor, sick, and elderly, but seek to establish them with human institutions apart from embracing Jesus. All such efforts end in failure. The only way to sustain Christ’s virtues is Christ living in people’s hearts.
Look objectively at our world. Where are women and children most oppressed, human beings deemed of no higher value than animals, most dictatorships and repressive governments, freedom most scarce, the least compassion shown for the weak, the highest illiteracy rates, least interest shown in education, the healing arts least valued? The answer to all is simple to state: in places least exposed to Christ’s teachings. Even in places where Christianity is waning, all advances in these areas are “the residual fruit of Christian influence on society” (MacArthur).
Christ’s kingdom is still the only one that can better our world. People want the benefits of the kingdom without the King. It doesn’t work that way. Only King Jesus can bring the kingdom. All other efforts at Utopia are doomed to fail miserably. If you seek to establish a better world apart from Christ, “break loose from your enchanted world” (Rothe), get a grip on reality. Give your energies to His cause, for it alone works and makes a real, everlasting difference.
Third, heal. The task of the Twelve began with their legs and lips, but did not end there. Their lives were to display deeds of might that would serve as powerful credentials to authenticate their words.
Let’s be careful here, lest we be misunderstood. Jesus focused first on the message, secondarily on miracles. Since humanity’s greatest need is for Jesus to rule over individual lives, the most important task of the Church is to clearly articulate for people how this can happen. Spoken words are the main act; deeds of power are cast in a supporting role. Prioritizing the Word has from the first been our best way to keep emotion from fading into emotionalism, the spectacular from degenerating into sensationalism, and the awesome from slipping into the awful.
When strong, Biblical preaching and teaching decline, trouble arises in the Church. Only the precise Word of God rightly explained can set proper boundaries. It is our safeguard. In seminary, my Church history professor taught us the four greatest centuries of Christianity were the first, fourth, sixteenth, and nineteenth. Interestingly, my preaching professor taught us the four greatest centuries of preaching were also the first, fourth, sixteenth, and nineteenth. As her pulpits go, so goes Christianity–a sad commentary on the present state of USA preaching.
Telling the Gospel, explaining the Bible, preaching and teaching it, stating facts of our faith–these do come first and have priority, but this is not to say they are to stand alone. Power does need to be contained by preaching, but preaching needs to be confirmed by power. It is impossible to read the Bible objectively and draw any other conclusion. Ours is, not only was, a miracle-working God. Miracles are not the main thing. Do keep them in the background, not the forefront, of ministry, but don’t deny them. Miracles are a legitimate byproduct of our faith.
I fear we Baptists are spending too much time arguing over whether or not God’s miracle working power is still in effect today. After studying this issue to the point of mental exhaustion, and though still uncertain about the precise role signs and wonders are to play in our era, I have reached at least one verdict. There is no harm in asking God to reveal His mighty arm. Without hedging, hesitating, or apologizing, pray for the sick to be healed. Leave off manipulation, crowd psychology, mass hysteria, fraud, showboating, and pretense, but do pray for healing.
Pray for miracles. Let God speak for Himself. Don’t say no for Him. Ask, leaving results to Him. If miracles happen, hallelujah. If not, let’s say hallelujah anyway, and then roll up our sleeves and get on with the task of helping others.
The Twelve were not to perform spectacular feats unrelated to human hurts. Jesus did not tell them to call down fire from Heaven, do magic tricks, disappear and reappear, leap tall buildings in a single bound, or run faster than a locomotive.
They were to do practical miracles, helpful deeds of compassion that would aid people and reveal to them what the heart of God is like. Their exploits accented God’s compassionate heart and demonstrated His concern for the whole person.
Christ takes upon Himself obligation to help every hurt, and shares this duty with His body, the Church. Every human pain hurts Jesus, and should hurt us too.
He sends us, His followers, to engage in a battle against pain. We are to engage in a practical conflict, opposing all sufferings and maladies of humanity.
Our text provides revealing insight into our Savior’s heart, and thus gives us a blueprint, a manifesto, of how all-encompassing we Christians are supposed to be in our approach to the human plight. Our concern is for the whole individual.
The love of God extended to every need of every individual is the most compelling assertion of our faith. Believers are given the duty of saying with their lips and proving with their deeds that the love of God for people truly is genuine.
This is why preaching and ministering are both indispensable to the success of Christianity. Telling the facts of our faith is essential to people being converted, but physical, mental, and emotional hurts in the listener can seriously obstruct the ability to hear and receive the truth being spoken. Sad, hurting, hungry people have trouble hearing facts. Relieving people’s pain aids their disposition to listen.
The lost won’t believe we care for their spirits until they first see we care for their bodies. The message of Jesus is not a priority to earthbound creatures. Talk of Jesus and Heaven is easier to hear when self and Earth are made more tolerable.
Never be content with telling truths to people’s spirits, while bodies waste away with disease and hunger, and hearts writhe with anguish. Give bread to the hungry as well as Bibles to the lost. Give soulwinning tracts, also teach people how to read. Talk to the poor, also plead their cause, help relieve their oppression.
Directives sent down from a sequestered castle of asceticism and piety do not become us. Debates of philosophy accomplish little apart from deeds of philanthropy. As we first approach a lost and dying world, we must initially come on more as secular benefactors and less as theological belligerents (David Thomas).
A good illustration of this is the success of modern missions. People are coming to Christ at a rate faster than at any time before. Never has Christianity’s growth been as explosive as it is now. Much of this success is due to missionaries more and more seeing the need to use kindness and deeds of mercy as credentials to reinforce their message. They rivet attention to their words by their skill in caring for the old, treating disease, teaching effective agricultural methods and English as a second language, opening orphanages, helping women, and holding the hand of the dying. No wonder the world is hearing their message loud and clear.
We at Second Baptist are learning the lesson of our text. In India I sat in a folding chair and won over a hundred people to Jesus. They listened to me because about fifteen feet away and five minutes earlier Kevin and Kristy McCall had lovingly touched their sick bodies. We were recently able to share the Gospel clearly in a secular setting because our folks were asked why they were giving books and teddy bears to needy children. If we will pound on every obstacle of pain, every barrier of grief, and every hurdle of hurt, we will eventually see walls of resistance come crashing down, and over the rubble we will say, and be heard clearly, “Jesus loves you. He wants to forgive your sins and live in your heart.”
If we are to be effective in reaching the lost, we must return to our Lord’s original prescription. Go, preach, and heal.