There is something very significant about the ordination of a Christian to the ministry, at least if that person has been called to the work by God and takes the call seriously.
In Matthew 10.5-42, we have a record of the first Christian ordination ever to take place. It is a particularly important and solemn one. In this chapter we read about the Lord commissioning the twelve apostles to preach in Galilee. As John Ryle notes, “Never was there so important an ordination! Never was there so solemn a charge!”
These words are the second of six collections of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount. They are in Matthew 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 23, and 24-25.
Jesus’ words to the apostles are not a mere historical account, a relic of the past. They have present significance. At first glance the instructions all seem to have been given to the disciples when Jesus sent them out on their first missionary tour, and they can be understood in this way. Still, a careful reading uncovers significant differences between the first twelve verses (vv.5-16) and vv.17-42, which suggest that something more may be involved. The first section pictures an immediate mission in which the men are to go to Israel only (vv.5-6) and quickly, not even taking supplies for their journey (vv.9-10). The second section seems to look farther into the future when the Gospel will be preached to Gentiles too (v.18). In that day the messengers of Christ will need supplies, and they will be able to expect an increasing degree of opposition, even to the point of being flogged for their profession (v.17), something that did not happen to any of the disciples during Jesus’ lifetime, to our knowledge.
It is possible that all these instructions could have been given to the disciples at the same time, telling them what they were to do in the immediate future (on this particular tour) and what they could expect to be doing and experiencing farther down the road. But we have already seen that Matthew combines material from different settings into sustained discourses-he did it in the case of the Sermon on the Mount-and there are reasons to think he is also doing that here.
The best explanation of this puzzling combination of material is that Matthew was writing his Gospel after the Lord’s resurrection when the first Christians were already beginning to preach throughout the Gentile world and that his chief concern would have been for how they were to do it and what they could expect. He is writing about Jesus’ commissioning of these very first missionaries, so he describes that mission carefully. He shows among other things that the Jews were not neglected in the Gospel proclamation. On the contrary, the Gospel was preached to them first. Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels. Yet that was past history when he was writing. Therefore, he also picks up material from Jesus’ later teaching and inserts it here to show that those who were doing the preaching in his day were part of the same great missionary enterprise and that Jesus had instructions for them too. In the second section of chapter 10 we find conditions that will prevail until Jesus’ second coming.
Jesus tells His disciples, where they should go, the message they should preach, how they should think about money, what they should expect, and finally the character they should show.
The detail that most restricts the first section of the chapter to this initial missionary tour is the limitation set for the sphere of the apostles’ labors: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”
Why this restriction? Some commentators take a great deal of space to explain who the Samaritans were, pointing out that they were a mixed breed of half-Jewish, half-Gentile people and that they had established their own center for worship on Mount Gerazim. They were despised by most Jews, who would actually take long detours around Samaria when traveling from Galilee in the north to Judah in the south, and vice versa, rather than go through their country. For one thing, Jesus had been warmly received by some Samaritans early in His ministry, and He went through Samaria several times after that. For another, we can’t overlook the fact that the restriction was not only against Samaria but against Gentile lands too.
A better, reasonable explanation is that no one can do everything at once and that the obvious starting place for their work was Galilee, where the disciples already were. The restriction would have kept them from wandering either into the Gentile territories to the north and east or into Samaria to the south. It would be like Jesus saying, as He later did, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem [first], and [only after you have done that] in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
But this is still not enough of an explanation. The best explanation is found in Christ’s words to the woman of Samaria, when He said, “Salvation is from the Jews.” It was a statement that the Jewish heritage, and not the Samaritan imitation, was the true and only source of God’s revelation in past days and that it was proper that the work of calling fallen men and women to Jesus should begin there. It is significant that Jesus confined His work almost entirely to Jews Himself, saying that He was sent “only to the lost sheep of Israel,” the very words used in Matthew 10.
Later, the apostle Paul adopted the same priority, explaining that the Gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”