Jesus Sends Out the Twelve – part 1

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At first blush, Matthew’s account of Jesus sending out the twelve raises more questions than it answers. For one thing, Matthew tells us nothing about the experiences of the twelve, but only about Jesus’ instructions to the twelve. And Jesus’ instructions themselves are full of seeming contradictions. He begins with the idyllic images of grain in the fields and sheep in the meadows, but before you know it, he is talking about warfare — saying that he has come to bring a sword and to divide families, and that the disciples will be hated by all for his name sake (Mat 9.36-37; 10.22, 34-37). All of these perplexities vanish if we see this passage the way a first century Jew would have. Matthew has been presenting Jesus as a new Moses. One of the things Moses did was send twelve spies into the land, and that is the way a first century Jew would have viewed Jesus’ actions in our text. In fact, the phrase “sheep without a shepherd” which Jesus uses to describe the people in Mat 9.36 is taken straight from Numbers 27.15. A new Moses and twelve new spies means a new Canaan and a new conquest, which is exactly where Matthew will leave us at the end of his gospel — with a resurrected Jesus commissioning his disciples to go into all the world and to make all the nations his disciples, and promising them that, just as God had been with Israel at Jericho and following, so he would be with the disciples always, even to the end of the age (Mat 28.18-20). But we have to remember that conquest wasn’t the first thing that resulted from Moses sending out the twelve spies. The first thing that resulted was division within Israel herself, because the faith that was strong enough to follow Moses out of Egypt was, with many of the people, not strong enough to follow Joshua into a land occupied by seven nations bigger and stronger than Israel. God had to raise up a new Israel from within Israel before Israel was ready to conquer Canaan. And as Jesus well knew, history was repeating itself in the first century. The twelve spies in the Old Testament were chosen based on blood, one from each tribe. Jesus’ twelve spies are chosen based on faith, and the new people of God he is forming is a people based on faith  — faith in Jesus the Messiah, the new and greater Moses, and the Lord of the world. I hope you enjoy the sermon. Thanks for listening. -Alan Burrow

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