Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:7b “. . .saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Before the Twelve left on their first short-term mission trip, Jesus told them what to say. Their topic was not self-produced. The same restriction still applies.
Our task is to stay close to Scripture. Our words ought to be applicable, interesting, and most of all, Biblical. Beware the trap of seeking to be novel.
The Old Book is ever new, ever needed. Avoid randomly picking pet topics and then seeking proof texts to bolster our position. Instead, begin with the Bible. Let Scripture dictate the topic and guide the message. Start with the Bible, and then convey its teachings with interesting, pertinent, and applicable information.
The Twelve were commanded to speak the same message John the Baptist had recently startled the country with. He was the first to proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (MT 3:2). Repeating John, Jesus preached, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (MT 4:17). The Twelve were to echo the Baptist and Jesus.
The same message is still to be told today. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (MT 24:14). 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.
The God of Heaven, the only God, came forth from His hiding place, as it were, to be born in a manger, die on a cross, and rise from the dead that we might know Him better. The Lord of the Universe wanted to live among His subjects.
Mahomet said this could not be. He deemed the thought of God sending His only Son to die for sinners inconceivable, unthinkable, and impossible. Inconceivable and unthinkable? Yes. Impossible? No, for this is exactly what God did.
Franklin Graham’s recent comments on this issue have put him in the middle of a storm. Rarely has stating the obvious stirred a bigger tempest in a teapot.
Christians and Muslims cannot possibly serve the same God. Both use derivatives of the same name for their god, but two people named the same are not the same person. If five brothers meet three brothers and both groups have a father with the same name, there are two fathers, not one, though named the same. Muslims say their god did not send a son into the world to die for sinners. Christians say their God did. Thus, the two gods by simple logic cannot be one and the same.
Descending from Heaven, Jesus brought God’s kingdom with Him. It is not manmade or self-produced, but received as a gift that comes down from Heaven and touches Earth when Heaven’s King enters and rules a person’s heart. God’s kingdom comes whenever King Jesus rules supreme in one’s innermost being.
Our message is straightforward. God has come in the person of Jesus. He came not merely to enlighten and entertain, but to be obeyed and received as King.
Matt. 10:8a “Heal the sick,. . .”
Jesus told the Twelve what to do as well as what to say. Their task began with their lips, but did not end there. Their actions became powerful credentials that authenticated their words. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a believer’s life, He spawns a vitality that energizes and flows through not only the mouth, but also through one’s whole body and being. The messengers, by the power of their words and by the power of their deeds, are to become the message.
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.
Our text is tortuous, painfully stretching us far outside our comfort zones. The enterprise Jesus laid out before us here soars far beyond the bounds of believability. Any logical, analytical, clear-thinking person quickly sees this passage demands the impossible. Here’s the quandary believers face. Our mission is impossible, but this is never an acceptable excuse for not trying to fulfill the mission.
Recently our staff stumbled on a new phrase: if we can, we must. Our text goads us one notch higher: if we can’t, we must anyway. In the Great Commission our churches always face an impossible task, but we dare not shrink from it.
We cast off every excuse and press ahead to fulfill the mission assigned us, the evangelization of all the world, to the ends of the earth, beginning next door. Winning Springfield, Missouri, the USA, and the world is a pipedream, an impossibility, as are seeking to make our city the missions capital of North America, doubling our Faith Commitment Offering in one year, sending over 1000 of our people on mission trips next year, and seeing each member of our church accept personal, individual responsibility for fulfilling the Great Commission.
These and many more of our dreams and plans are untenable, but impossible is now our new address. It has become the realm in which we live, though many wish to debunk our aspirations. Visions are ever besieged by naysayers aplenty.
When Peter decided to do the impossible, to walk on water, I’m sure the other disciples were full of excuses to dampen his spirits. “You’re getting in too big a hurry. Slow down. You’re acting like a religious fanatic. You might make a mistake. It’s dangerous out there, you could get hurt. Who do you think you are anyway?” Simon the Zealot, thinking of his political agenda, huffed, “There are other things that need to be done.” Judas, having a dollar sign as a heart, groaned, “If you get hurt, this will cost us a lot of money. Medicine is expensive.” Philip, who grew up in the same town with Peter, moaned, “Back home, we never did it that way before. That’s just not the traditional way.” But Jesus, when He rescued Peter, said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (MT 14:31). Jesus did not rebuke Peter for trying the impossible, but instead wondered why Peter didn’t do even more (why not back-flips and somersaults?). We leaders at Second know our dreams are impossible, but please don’t remind us of that. Humor us, pray for us, join us in our bid to do the impossible. We are under orders. We can do no less.