Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded by the apostle Matthew. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first nineteen verses of the eleventh chapter. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you will find a new chapter beginning and the apostle Matthew shifting away from writing concerning the instruction Jesus have to both he and the other eleven disciples. In the previous chapter we find Jesus calling the twelve disciples—which would include Matthew—unto Himself and giving them authority and power against unclean spirits to cast them out, as well as authority to cleanse the leper’s and to heal the sick. In the previous chapter Matthew writes not only how Jesus gave them authority to cast out evil spirits, and to heal the sick, and to cleanse the lepers, but also how Jesus began speaking directly to them concerning their partnership together with Him in the ministry for which His Father in heaven had sent Him. What we find in the previous chapter is in fact a second calling that is issued to the disciples of Jesus Christ—a calling that can never and will never come before or prior to the call to follow Jesus. If there is one thing we would be incredibly my wise to recognize and understand, it’s that when Jesus first appears unto us, and when Jesus first calls us, He doesn’t call and invite us into ministry and partnering together with Him in ministry right away. When Jesus came to the apostles Peter and Andrew, as well as to James and John, He didn’t invite them to follow Him so they could immediately engage themselves in the same ministry for which He had been engaged. When Jesus appeared to these four men by the Sea of Galilee, He called unto and invited them to follow Him, yet they following was about so much more than ministry. When Jesus invited them to follow Him, what He was inviting them to do was to walk with Him in fellowship and relationship, for of more importance, of more value, and of more worth was disciples who followed Him for fellowship more than ministry. Oh, I can’t help but wonder how many men and women follow Jesus—not out of a desire to walk with Him in fellowship and relationship, but because of ministry.
Let me pause for a moment right here and ask you a question, and the question is really simple—Why are you following Jesus? When you heard the call and the invitation to follow Jesus, what did that call mean to you when those words were spoken to your heart and spirit? As I am sitting here this morning I can’t help but think to myself that the call to follow Jesus in this modern generation is vastly different than when Jesus first called Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. The call to follow Jesus today is much different than the call which Jesus issued to James and John when He came to them by the Sea of Galilee. I can’t help but think and wonder to myself how the call to follow Jesus when these men heard it was vastly and supremely different than the call which many men and women hear today in this generation. I am convinced that the call to follow Jesus in this modern generation is so diluted and so catastrophically polluted by false promises and deceiving mantras than was that initial call which Jesus issued to the twelve disciples. In fact, I would dare say that the call and invitation to follow Jesus in this generation is completely unlike the original call to follow Jesus during the days in which He walked upon the earth, for when that call and that invitation was issued, it was simply about Jesus plus none. That call and that invitation was about following Jesus simply because we heard the call and invitation and wanted to walk with Jesus wherever He went. That original call which Jesus issued to those disciples was a very simple call and invitation—namely, to walk with Him in fellowship and relationship. Jesus made no special promises when He spoke to the disciples and called them to follow Him. Aside from and outside of Jesus declaring unto Peter and Andrew that He would make them fishers of men, Jesus spoke no other words other than simply “follow me.” The call which we find in the four gospels was one that was centered entirely around fellowship and relationship, and their desire to walk and talk with Him within and upon the earth. That original call had no additional bells and whistles, and that original call came with no add-ons, nor the various aspects we feel we need to add to the call today in our generation.
JESUS PLUS NONE! JESUS PLUS NOTHING! JESUS PLUS NOTHING EQUALS EVERYTHING! Pause for a moment and allow those phrases to sink in. Really and truly think on those words and allow them to resonate within your heart and spirit. Do you agree with those statements? Do you agree that Jesus plus nothing equals everything? Do you agree with and do you believe the fact and reality that when we make the decision to accept the invitation and call to follow Jesus, we make such a decision based on fellowship and relationship? Oh, I can’t help but wonder how many men and women today agreed to follow Jesus—not out of and not because of fellowship and relationship, but because of what they have been promised by charlatans and smooth tongue preachers and speakers. It is without a doubt tragic that there are very few preachers and ministers today who truly preach—much less believe themselves—that Jesus plus nothing equals everything. What if that old familiar phrase that emphatically declares “Take the world but give me Jesus?” When the disciples rose from where they were when Jesus found them and invited them to follow Him, they did so—not because of some promise they were given, but simply because they wanted to walk and talk with Jesus. Simply put, they wanted to walk with and follow Jesus because they desired Him. With the exception of Judas who would later betray Him, all eleven of the other disciples continued to follow Jesus until the day of their death upon the earth. When they made that initial decision to follow Jesus, they did so based on the desire for fellowship and relationship with Jesus, and nothing more or nothing less. Their decision to walk with Jesus and follow Him has absolutely nothing to do with what they could somehow receive from Him. Their decision to walk with, and their decision to follow Him was not based on anything other than walking with and having fellowship and relationship with Him. Other than Judas who would later betray Jesus the Christ for thirty pieces of silver, the other eleventh disciples made the conscious decision to walk with and follow Jesus—not for what they could get and receive from Him, but because of what they could receive from Him, but what they could experience with Him. There is something vastly different with following Jesus based on what we can receive from Him, and following Jesus based on simply being able to walk with and have fellowship with Him. There is something vastly different with following Jesus simply because we desire to follow Him in order that we might know and understand Him rather than simply engaging ourselves in ministry and somehow receiving health, wealth, prosperity, and our “best life now.” I can’t help but think that the call and invitation to follow Jesus in this generation is and has been so watered down that it isn’t even the same invitation which was originally given to the disciples and apostles when Jesus first called them all those years ago. The call which many are hearing in this generation is one that has absolutely nothing to do with fellowship and relationship, but something that has to do with what we can receive from Jesus based on our decision to follow Him.
The more I consider this concept of following Jesus, the more I can’t help but be confronted with the fact that this second call which is found in the tenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew wasn’t merely a call to a better life, nor even to health and prosperity, but it was an invitation to partner together with Jesus in the ministry for which He was sent. In fact, if you read this passage in its entirety, you will find that Jesus even discouraged them from accumulating wealth for themselves, for He instructed them to provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in their purses, nor scrip for their journey. IN all reality, the journey which the twelve apostles were to make within and throughout the land of Israel was one that would be about nothing more and nothing less than Jesus plus nothing. Could the disciples follow Jesus based on fellowship and relationship alone, or would they somehow desire and require something more than what Jesus was actually offering and providing them. I am convinced that the initial call and invitation to follow Jesus during those days was one that was first an invitation to walk with and talk with Him in fellowship and relationship, and had absolutely nothing to do with somehow receiving blessings and prosperity for making the decision to do so. What’s more, is that if you journey to the tenth chapter of this particular New Testament gospel you will find a second call and a second invitation issued by Jesus—an invitation that would take them from the initial place of following Him, to a place of partnering together with Him in ministry. With that being said, I am convinced that with this second call comes a revelation concerning what they actually signed up for when they made the decision to walk with and follow Jesus. This second call, and this second invitation would be a call and invitation issued unto them to partner together with Him in ministry, yet it would also bring with it a definition of what they actually signed up for when they began following Him. I would dare say that this tenth chapter could be broken up into two distinct parts—the first part being the initial call and invitation to partner together with Him in the ministry, and the second part being a full on revelation concerning what following Him would actually mean. If you begin reading with and from the fifth verse of the tenth chapter, you will find Jesus instructing them concerning their partnership in the ministry—this coming immediately after Matthew records how He called them unto Himself and gave them authority and power over unclean spirits to cast them out, as well as to heal the sick, and all manner of disease. Consider if you will the words which are found in this passage of Scripture beginning with the fifth verse of the chapter:
“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses. Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into an house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor heal your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Matthew 10:5-15).
Please don’t miss the tremendous significance of what is found and recorded in this passage of Scripture, for what we find in this passage of Scripture is not merely and invitation to partner together with Jesus, but an invitation to work. The initial call and invitation which we find in the fourth and ninth chapters of this gospel are invitations to follow Jesus based on fellowship and relationship, and this second call and invitation is a call and invitation to work, and to work from a place of fellowship and relationship. It is absolutely necessary and imperative we recognize and understand that when we make the decision to follow Jesus, we make that decision so we can have fellowship and relationship with Him, but eventually there comes a point in time when that place of relationship and fellowship transitions to a place where it requires and demands of us work. There is a point in our journey with the Lord when our decision to follow Him brings us to the place where we are now invited to partner together with Him in the work of the ministry. Please note the use of the word “work,” for more often than not we think that following Jesus is simply about rest, and there is absolutely no labour that is involved. There would be countless men and women who would make the decision to walk with and follow Jesus, and they expect simply to have fellowship and relationship with Him, and yet that fellowship and relationship never requires, never demands, never asks of them to get involved and to engage themselves in the work of the ministry, and the work of the kingdom. What a tragic reality it is when we think and believe that when we make the decision to follow Jesus we do so simply to follow Him wherever He goes and nothing is required or demanded of us. I have to admit that I love how Jesus not only instructed them to carry no gold, nor silver, nor brass for them when they made their journey, for He with those words squashes the reality that there is somehow wealth and prosperity that is somehow connected to following Him. What’s more, is that not only do we not follow Jesus based on what we can get from Him, but we also don’t partner together in the work of the ministry based on what we can get in return for doing so. It is true that Jesus declared the workman is worthy of his meat, but Jesus never promised that our partnership together with Him in ministry would bring us wealth, would bring us prosperity, would bring us “our best life now.” In fact, if you continue reading this passage, you will find that Jesus didn’t even prepare us to be loved and appreciate, but He prepared us to be hated—and not only hated, but hated of all men for His name’s sake. What’s more, is that Jesus didn’t prepare us to be received and accepted when we traveled to those places we have been called to travel, but rather, He prepared us to be persecuted. Consider if you will the words which we find in this tenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew beginning with the sixteenth verse. It is what we find in these verses that brings us face to face with what is actually demanded and required of us, and what we can actually anticipate and expect based on our decision to follow Jesus, and to partner together with Him in the ministry:
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciples is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciples that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to k ill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, Him will in confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loveth his life for my sake shall find it. He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Matthew 10:16-42).
I have to admit that I absolutely love what I read and what I find in the tenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of. Matthew—particularly and especially given what is found in the eleventh chapter of the same New Testament book. When you come to the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you find that when Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples, He departed to teach and to preach in their cities. Oh how absolutely wonderful and incredible it was to journey into our own city and your own town, and perhaps even your own village with Jesus, and Jesus begins to teach and preach. Imagine returning to your hometown accompanied by Jesus, and Jesus begins to teach and preach to those who had perhaps spent years walking with and living in the midst of there in that city or town. BRINGING JESUS BACK HOME! Oh, I can’t help but be wonderfully and powerfully captivated by this particular reality—namely, the reality of bringing Jesus back home to your own town and village, and once there, Jesus begins to teach and preach among those whom you had regular interactions with. BRINGING JESUS HOME TO YOUR FAMILY! BRINGING JESUS HOME TO YOUR FRIENDS! BRINGING JESUS HOME TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD! I find what is written and recorded in this passage of Scripture a wonderful and powerful picture of what we have been called to do as disciples of Jesus—those who walk with and follow Him in fellowship and relationship. I absolutely love that Jesus was not only willing, but also actually went with the disciples into their own cities—to those places where they had grown up and spent their days and time, in order that they might experience Jesus for themselves. Imagine leaving your home, your town, your city, your village in order that you might follow Jesus, and yet there would come a point when your decision to walk with and follow Jesus would eventually and ultimately bring you back home—this time accompanied by Jesus and other disciples. What would begin as a decision to follow Jesus would eventually result with a return home with Jesus and the other disciples, and would result in Jesus teaching and preaching in the very city and town where you grew up and spent most of your life. Oh, please don’t miss the awesome significance and importance of this, for I am convinced that there are men and women among us who have made the decision to follow Jesus, and that decision to follow Jesus has taken them away from their home, and has taken them away from their friends and family. Such a decision would require of them a willingness to leave all that behind—much like Abraham made the decision to leave his home, leave his native country, and leave his father and his household in order that he might walk with the Lord who had called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans. I am convinced there are men and women who needed to leave their home, who needed to leave their friends, who needed to leave their family in order that they might begin walking with Jesus in fellowship and relationship. There are men and women among us today who have begun following Jesus in fellowship and relationship, and such a decision has brought them to the place where they had to leave their home and their family in order that they might follow Jesus without any hindrances or restrictions.
When the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew begins and opens up, it does so with Jesus finishing commanding His disciples, and then departing from that place to teach and preach in the cities from which the disciples themselves were found. What an incredibly beautiful picture this truly is of returning home with Jesus and allowing Jesus to begin speaking to those before and around you within your community, within your neighborhood, and within your home. What an incredibly wonderful and powerful picture it is to think about and consider the fact that the disciples would return to their cities accompanied by Jesus, and Jesus would begin teaching and preaching within those cities, thus causing those cities to experience and encounter the gospel concerning the kingdom of heaven. I can’t help but also think that Jesus might very well have performed various signs, wonders and miracles within those cities, and that by teaching and preaching in the cities of the disciples, there were countless other men and women who made the decision to walk with and follow Jesus. I am utterly and completely convinced that there are men and women who might very well have left their homes, and might very well have left their cities, their towns and their villages, and they have done so in order that they might walk with and follow Jesus, and yet such a decision to walk with and follow Jesus would ultimately and inevitably bring them full circle with Jesus where Jesus would begin teaching and preaching within their own cities, within their own towns, and within their own villages. We dare not miss the incredible significance and importance of this particular portion of Scripture, for to do so would be to miss out on the wonderful and awesome reality of returning home with Jesus after making the decision to follow Him. Sure making the decision to follow Jesus would cause us to leave where we were—to leave that which we were comfortable and familiar with—yet such a decision would ultimately and inevitably bring us full circle where we would return home accompanied by Jesus and the disciples in order that we might experience fellowship and relationship with Him. In fact, I would dare say that if we make the decision to walk with and follow Jesus, there is coming a point in time when such a decision will very well bring us back home accompanied by Jesus in order that Jesus might begin to minister within the city, town and/or neighborhood where we spent a considerable amount of time. It’s almost similar to the woman whom Jesus encountered at the well in Samaria who would return to her village speaking of Jesus, and how He revealed unto her everything she did. You will recall in the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of John that the inhabitants of the city in Samaria beseeched Jesus that He might remain and abide with them. At the end of His time abiding with them, those within the city declared unto the woman that they initially believed because of her word, but how something changed after actually experiencing Jesus for themselves. Oh, it is an absolutely wonderful and powerful reality to return home with a testimony of following Jesus, as well as returning home with Jesus, and watching as Jesus begins speaking to those whom you had spent years interacting with. There is something truly powerful and intriguing about leaving home to walk with and follow Jesus, and then returning home later on with Jesus and watching as Jesus begins teaching and preaching in our home town. OH how absolutely wonderful and remarkable it is to think about and consider Jesus the Christ returning home with us and to immediately begin ministering to those whom we had previous interactions with in our cities, towns and neighborhoods.
If you continue reading the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find that when John the Baptist heard in prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples in order that they might ask Jesus if He was the One that should come, or if they should look for another. This is quite a drastic change from the emphatic and bold declarations John the Baptist made concerning Jesus, for not once, but twice he boldly declared, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and on one occasion he actually declared, “Behold the lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world.” At one point John the Baptist was throughly and thoroughly convinced ion the person and identity of Jesus the Christ, and knew in whom he had believed, yet something seemed to changed when he was cast into prison. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if one of the ways John the Baptist could and would decrease in order that Jesus might increase is by being cast into prison. Completely removed from the picture, and completely removed from the equation, it’s almost as if the Father was declaring unto John that his time and his purpose here on the earth had drawn to a close. I have to admit that I do not believe for one minute that ever envisioned his being cast into prison for indicting Herod for having his brother Philip’s wife. I do not believe that John ever envisioned his being cast into prison, and was completely and utterly shocked when he found himself in prison. I can’t help but wonder what was a greater shock for John the Baptist—being cast into prison, or being cast into prison and Jesus not coming to visit him once while he was in prison. You can read all four gospels, and in each of the four gospels you will not find once that Jesus ever came and visited him there in that prison cell. In fact, Scripture records that when Jesus heard that John had been cast into prison, He departed from that region and went to another place. What’s so unique about this, is that a servant is not above his master, nor disciple above his lord, and just as Jesus Himself would be seized by Roman soldiers, put on trial, beaten without mercy, and even cast into prison or a holding cell himself, so also would John the baptist be cast into prison. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if John’s being cast into prison was in some way a statement that his purpose, his mission, his ministry within and upon the earth was fulfilled and completed, and that he had served his purpose as the forerunner of the Messiah. John the Baptist had preached a gospel of repentance, and had baptized men and women in the waters within Judaea and the surrounding regions, and his time engaged and involved in ministry had surely and certainly come to an end. It would, however, be there in prison where John would hear of the works of Christ, and as a result of hearing the works of Christ would ask and inquire whether or not Jesus was the One for whom they had expected and anticipated, or whether or not they should look for another. In all reality, there was a dark shadow of doubt and unbelief that was cast upon John’s life there in prison, and there was a looming temptation to grow bitter and offended in and with Christ.
It’s worth noting in this passage that Jesus responded to the disciples of John by sending them back to him and showing him again those things which they did hear and see. I absolutely love this word “again,” for it’s almost as if Jesus Christ was reminded John of all the wonderful works, all the wonderful signs, all the wonderful miracles that were taking place in Judaea and in the surrounding region. When Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him there in that prison cell, Jesus sent them back in order that they might show him again the things which they did hear and see—namely, that the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them. Jesus concludes his remarks to John by emphatically declaring that blessed is that one who would and should not be offended in Him. It is this last statement which Jesus issued unto John the Baptist which I am convinced would strike at the very heart and core of his doubt and unbelief, for at the very heart of the sending of his disciples was a bitterness and offense that was perhaps growing within his heart based on his being cast into prison. There was John the Baptist in prison after boldly and without reservation proclaiming the Messiah and preparing the world for the arrival and appearance of the Messiah, and yet that would ultimately result in his being cast into prison where he would spend the rest of his natural life. It is unclear how long John the Baptist was in prison, but we do know that once cast into prison, he would never be released. At the risk of getting ahead of myself [literally no pun intended] John the Baptist would eventually and ultimately be beheaded there in prison at the request of Herodias the wife of Herod’s brother—a request which was made through her daughter which pleased Herod so much that he promised her anything she asked for. Oh that we would read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture and that we would examine our own hearts and whether or not there is any trace of bitterness or offense that might be creeping up—and not a bitterness or offense with men, but a bitterness and offense with God. Please mark these words and mark them well, for it is possible that one can become bitter and offended with God because their expectations are not and have not been met. It is possible that we can place certain expectations on the Lord and even upon Jesus the Christ, and when those expectations are unmet and go unfulfilled, we allow ourselves to grow bitter, angry and even offended with Jesus the Christ. I am convinced this can be directly tied to Jesus’ words to His disciples concerning what they actually signed up for, and what they actually agreed to when they agreed to follow Jesus. It is very possible that we make the decision to follow Jesus the Christ, and yet we have certain expectations concerning following Jesus, and as a result of those expectations being unmet, we being to grow bitter, angry and offended with the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh that we would confront the expectations we have within our own heart concerning our decision to follow and walk with Jesus, and that we would ensure that we truly understand what is demanded and required of us when Jesus called us—first to walk with and have fellowship with Him, and second to partner together with Him in ministry.