Something Has Changed
I always told my kids that even if you're only away from home for as little as three days always something has changed. It may be a little thing or a big thing, but something will be noticeably different than when you left. Something has changed between the events of our text and now, and it's not all that subtle.
Today we still have Jesus' compassion for the lost that we see in this text. It opens with Jesus going throughout the towns and villages teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. Mark 3 tells you that Jesus was so busy during His three year ministry that He didn't even have time to eat. His family thought He was pushing Himself so hard that He was out of His mind (Mk. 3: 21).
But far from being concerned with Himself Jesus was concerned with the crowds. He had compassion on them. You know this Greek word. We've covered it many times. It's splagchnizomai. It is the strongest Greek word to indicate compassion. It means to have heart, liver, and lungs move. The Greeks thought the deep organs were the seat of the emotions. The Hebrews thought the kidneys were. We think our heart is and speak of being "heartbroken," but we also speak of something "blowing our mind," and when a thought is more visceral than cerebral we call it a "gut feeling." Today splanchnology is the study of the viscera of the body (Dorland's Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers. (c) 2007 by Saunders).
In the Gospels splagchnizomai is only applied to Jesus or the person in a parable representing Him. Only Jesus has this kind of deep, physical compassion, and what should touch you is that it's a physical thing. In the Old Testament, God is spoken of as remembering that we are dust and as pitying us a father pities his children. And we're told there that God's tender mercies are over all His works. In the New Testament, those feelings are put in flesh and blood. Jesus knows what becomes of the brokenhearted because he knows what it is to have a broken heart.
In our text, Jesus has compassion because the people were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus' compassion moves Him to instruct His disciples to literally "beg" the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field, and then Jesus shows that He is the Lord of the harvest by answering their prayers by sending out the 12.
So far so good, the compassionate Lord Jesus won't let His sheep be without a shepherd, but unlike it is now, unlike it's been since the end of Matthew, Jesus puts limits on His commission. In Matthew the command is to go make disciples of all nations; here it's limited. Shockingly Jesus says, "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel." What's going on? Is Jesus prejudiced? Does Jesus share the Jewish animosity of His day which considered Samaritans devils and Gentiles dogs?
Now you know that can't be true, but something changes between the middle of Jesus' visible ministry and the end. Something changes between the pre-Easter ministry of Jesus and the post-Easter, and Jesus doesn't hide it or apologize for it. Here Jesus says don't go to Gentiles or Samaritans but to Jews. In Acts 1 right before His ascension, Jesus again gives His 12 marching orders but this time He reverses the order. He commands them to be His witnesses in Judea which is to the Jews, in Samaria which is to the Samaritans, and to the end of the earth which is to the Gentiles.
Ah but some of you sharp people think you've caught me in a faux pas. I said that Jesus before His ascension gives His 12 their marching orders. That was after the death of Judas yet before the selection of Matthias, so I should have said "His 11." Nope, even when there is only 11 apostles, John 20:24 calls them the 12. Jesus always has His twelve. In the Old Testament, Israel was the "12 tribes" even when there were 13 because Joseph had two tribes and even when in the days of Ezra the 10 northern tribes were no more.
Jesus in the years of His visible ministry established His 12 in the New Testament through preaching and teaching. He selected 12 apostles all of them Jewish. Remember Jesus said in John 4 that salvation was from the Jews. Paul in Romans says to the Jews belong the adoption, the glory, the promises, the giving of the Law, and the worship. Jesus' visible ministry fulfilled every promise God had made to the Old Testament people.
Jesus came under the Old Testament which was made to Jews. He was circumcised as a baby to take on all the obligations of the Old Testament. John the Baptist came before Him preaching that Jesus was God's Lamb to take away the sins of the whole world, but John only preached to Jews. And John reached some. Some like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Nathanial, and Philip were followers of John who pointed to Jesus, and when Jesus arrived personally on the seen, they became disciples of Jesus. And so Jesus got His 12 from the 12 tribes of Israel.
But read your Old Testaments. God did not establish the nation of Israel just to save it, but to save the world. Israel was the carrying case, the means of transmitting the Seed of the Woman promised to Adam and Eve. That's what we're really studying in the Book of Genesis: how God established one physical nation to carry His Promised Seed that was to save all nations. The Promised Seed was to be a blessing to all nations all along, so as soon as He had finished His work of keeping the Law in place of all people and paying for their sins, Jesus sent that blessing into all the world by means of His 12.
Paul makes this clear in the Epistle. Christ died for the ungodly. Do you think "ungodly" describes only the Jews? No, it describes us all. He goes on to say, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Let me see. Is there anyone you have ever known that is not a sinner? No, then Christ died for them. Paul goes on to make his case even more extreme. "When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son." The death of Jesus reconciled even God's enemies to Him. Not just Jews, but Samaritans, Gentiles, and you. So through His life and in His death Jesus wasn't just keeping the law and paying for the sins of Jews but all people, not just of believers but even unbelievers, not just a piece of the world but the whole world.
However, I don't think the change between the pre-Easter Jesus sending His apostles to just the Jews and the post-Easter Jesus sending them to all nations is what bothers you. You see that something else has changed. What Jesus is shown to do in this text, He sends His apostles to do, and Jesus isn't just preaching and teaching; He's healing every disease and sickness, and the text says that Jesus gave the apostles authority to heal every disease and sickness. He even elaborates on this in the end. "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons."
In 28 years of ministry I haven't healed one sick person, raised one dead person, or cleansed anyone even of acne. Are you and I stuck with an inferior ministry than the apostles? No, but we do have a different one. The apostles were all selected directly by Jesus Himself. Pastors are selected through a Church. The apostles were given special signs and wonders to prove their calling. 2 Cor. 12:12 says, "These things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance."
Something has changed between the ministry of the apostles and that of pastors. You can't think in terms of inferiority and superiority though. St. Peter in his first letter calls himself a fellow elder (1:1) that is pastor. In fact every significant term that has come to be used for leaders of the Church was first used of Jesus in the New Testament. He is called Deacon, Apostle, Shepherd (or Pastor), Priest, and Bishop (Davies, II, 158).
Jesus holds the same office I do, but I only have the authority to do what He commands me to. I have no command to heal, raise, or cleanse anyone. I have the command to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Now before you think this is second-rate rather than just different consider the following. The only place outside the apostles' ministry that the miraculous gifts are mentioned is in the troubled congregation of Corinth. That was written in 56 AD. In 57 these gifts are not mentioned in Romans where Paul passes on the Gospel he preached. In 60 they're not mentioned in Ephesians. In letters to pastors Timothy and Titus dated 60-67, neither signs, miracles, or wonders are mentioned (Signs and Wonders, 175).
I can't heal your body; I can't raise the dead; I can't predict the future, and just because someone claims they can or even does, that doesn't mean they are sent from God. A mark of the end times is lying signs and wonders. In 2 Thes. 2:9 Paul says, "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders." In Mat. 24:24, Jesus says, "False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles."
I can't do signs and miracles. What I can do is convict you of your sins and take away any hope you have of saving yourself by preaching the Law to you. What I can do is place you into the wounds of Christ, into heaven itself by preaching to you the Gospel. What I can do is rebirth you through the Word and Water of Baptism into life everlasting. What I can do is send your sins away from you as far as east is from the west through Absolution. What I can do is give to you the Body and Blood of Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
If this ever changes, if ever I cease to do these things for you, run from me like your hair is on fire for that means this shepherd has changed into a wolf, and that's a change you can't live with or even tolerate. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (20110710); Matthew 9:3538, 10:1-8