A true Church is a missionary Church. But why should the followers of Jesus Christ be involved in missions? There are at least four reasons: (1) the lost condition of the world; (2) the Great Commission; (3) the love of God working in us; (4) the many opportunities for advancing Christ’s kingdom. All four are in Matthew 9ff.
The starting point is the terrible accusation the Pharisees made against Jesus. They said, “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons”; that is, He gets His power from the devil. But notice how Jesus answers them. Three chapters later He gives a reasoned answer, explaining that if His power to cast out demons is from the devil, then Satan would be working against himself, like a kingdom divided into warring factions, and a divided kingdom cannot stand. In these verses He answers His critics simply by continuing to do good. The text says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”
This is an important lesson for us. There are many lessons in these short verses, as we will see, but if we get nothing else from this passage, we should learn that our best and most effective response to those who hate, criticize, or slander us is merely to keep doing the right thing. We can always answer our enemies by doing good.
Or we can make this connection. The Pharisees were speaking against Jesus. Now Jesus teaches those who know Him and have benefited from His teaching to speak for Him. The discourse that follows these opening verses is the second of six large teaching sections in the Gospel, and it is part of a pattern in which Jesus trains the apostles for their mission in the world. It was for the disciples, yes, but it is for us too! The first part applies to their first missionary tour, but this part is followed by a section for days farther off, a part describing what Christ’s followers would experience between His death and His return a second time for judgment.
The verses that conclude Matthew 9 and begin Matthew 10 are an introduction to this important training passage. These verses tell us four important things about Jesus: (1) what He was doing at this time; (2) what Jesus saw as He moved among the people; (3) what He instructed His disciples to do about the need He perceived; (4) the action He took.
What was Jesus doing at this time? The first verse tells us that Jesus was doing exactly what He had been doing all along. To see this we need to compare Matthew 9:35 with Matthew 4:23. We read again, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” So Jesus not only had work to do, He had done it, and He was continuing to do it.
Jesus taught in their synagogues. This is the point at which Jesus always began, and it is where we must start if we are to model our ministry after His. The people He saw were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” and the reason they were helpless is that they did not know the Bible. They should have known it; they had possessed the Old Testament for centuries, and their teachers should have been teaching it to them. But they were like people today. They had not been taught, and they did not have the inclination to seek out Bible truths themselves. What they needed to know and what Jesus certainly taught them was who God is, what God has made us to be, how we have fallen short of God’s righteousness and corrupted His image within us, and how we need a Savior who can save us from sin and from ourselves.
That leads to the “Good News,” of course, which is what Jesus “preached” to them. Preaching is not the same thing as teaching. Teaching is instruction; it has to do with content, and it is primary. Preaching contains instruction, but it is more than instruction. It is also proclamation, an announcement of what the listeners must hear and to which they must respond. Preaching is the point at which teaching becomes personal. The word that is used for “preaching” in this passage is what a king’s herald does. A herald speaks for the king, making his decrees known. In this case, the proclamation was about the Kingdom of God and His anointed King, Jesus, who is the Christ. This decree was Good News, and the Good News was that the awaited King, who is also the Savior whom we need to save us from our sins, had now come.
His power to heal disease was one evidence that He was the Messiah. As He told the disciples of John the Baptist later, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Good News is preached to the poor.” But we have also seen that the healing of physical disease is linked to and illustrates the far more important healing that has to do with sin. What we need most is forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God, which is what Jesus accomplishes. This is the really Good News of the Kingdom.
Today we have the power of the Holy Spirit to bless our words about Christ and bring those who hear our message to repentance and faith in Him. In that sense our work is like that of Jesus. We teach the Bible, preach the Gospel, and heal sin-sickness, as the Holy Spirit blesses our words and brings people to Christ.