Commissioning the Twelve

Six years ago I went through a unique process in the church. I was ordained as a minister of the gospel. Several of you were present at this event. You got to see the process of how we examine those who feel called into ministry to discern whether they are called by God and if they are ready for the task ahead of them. After the examination is over, we have a worship service to set apart this individual and encourage them as they begin the ministry to which God has called them. It really is a special time.

This morning we are going to look at the very first commissioning service. It’s not nearly as structured as mine was, but there are many similarities. In our text today we see Jesus taking 12 men who, on their own, had very little to offer and sending them out to change the world. We can learn a lot simply by looking at what Jesus told them—because they were not that different from you and me.

The Twelve

This morning we are looking at Matthew 10:1-20, and in the first few verses Matthew introduces us to the twelve.

Jesus called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness. Here are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (also called Peter), then Andrew (Peter’s brother), James (son of Zebedee), John (James’s brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector), James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him). (Matthew 10:1-4, NLT)

Matthew refers to this group both as disciples and as apostles. Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. Disciple simply means follower. The twelve were certainly disciples, and so were others who followed Jesus. The word apostle means one who is sent. Not everyone who is a disciple is necessarily an apostle, but both words accurately describe these twelve men. When we talk today about “The Apostles” we are referring specifically to these men (minus Judas Iscariot but plus Paul). They were sent by Jesus to spread the gospel.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about most of these men. Peter and John are the only ones who are really well-known to us. Peter became the leader in the early Church after Jesus ascended into Heaven. John wrote the gospel of John as well as 1, 2, and 3 John and Revelation. For most of the rest of these guys, we don’t know much about their lives or stories. The reason for that is that the men are not the point of the story—the message is. With that said, there are a couple things we should notice about this group.

First, they were ordinary men. None of them seemed to be highly-respected or exalted members of society. They were regular, working-class guys who didn’t possess any special powers or abilities. Yet these ordinary men ended up changing the world.

That teaches us two things. First, it teaches us that God can use regular people to do amazing things. Notice that Jesus called these twelve, and then He empowered them. God is not looking for people who have the skills He needs. He is looking for people who will trust and follow Him. He will supply what we need.

Second, it reminds us that our confidence shouldn’t be in our abilities, but in His. When we start trusting our skills instead of relying on God, we will be unsuccessful. If I start relying on my abilities as a speaker instead of seeking God’s direction and relying on His power, my preaching will be weak and ineffective. It is only when I place my trust in Him that I will discover real power.

This should encourage us! Many people have told me they feel like God is calling them to do something, but they don’t take that next step because they think they don’t have the skills to do it. They feel like they don’t know enough, or they aren’t mature enough, or they lack certain skills. Be encouraged—the apostles didn’t either! Jesus doesn’t call people because they are equipped—He equips those He has called with all they need. So take a step out in faith, do what He’s called you to do and trust in His power rather than your own.

The second observation is that this was a diverse group of people. Some were fishermen, some were brothers, Matthew was a tax collector (and thus was seen as a traitor and liar), and Simon was called a zealot (which meant that he was zealous for the nation of Israel). In any other circumstance Simon might have killed Matthew! God uses people from a wide variety of backgrounds to do His work. We need to remember that God can (and does) use people who are different than us.

The Church is supposed to be a diverse group of people. This is part of the testimony we give to the world. When Christians come together despite their differences people take notice. When people on opposite ends of the political spectrum work together for the gospel, the world notices. When people from different socioeconomic statuses or educational backgrounds work together, the world notices. When people from different races come together, the world notices. When people with checkered pasts are welcomed as equals alongside those who are seen as pillars of the community, the world notices.

As we look at the twelve we should recognize that God calls us to set aside our worldly differences to work together for the things of God. We have to recognize that what unites us is much bigger than what divides us, and the world is watching to see if that happens or not.

The Commission

After getting introduced to the twelve, we next see Jesus’ instruction to them.

Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received! (Matthew 10:5-8, NLT)

Jesus instructs the disciples to go and tell the Israelites that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. He tells them to perform the same miracles He did in order to point people to Him.

Why does Jesus tell them to go only to the Jews? To answer that we have to understand a couple of things. First, the Jewish people were the ones waiting for the Messiah. Gentiles and Samaritans would not have cared much about the declaration that the Messiah was here. It wasn’t until later, when the bigger picture of God’s plan came into focus, that it would have any relevance to non-Jews.

Second, Jesus’ instruction to go only to the Jews was only for this trip. Matthew’s gospel closes with what is often called the Great Commission. Here, his instructions are different.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT)

They were to go only to Jews during the first trip, but after Jesus rose from the grave they (and we) were to take the gospel to everyone.

Instructions for the Job

The next three sections of scripture are instructions for what they should do as they went to preach the gospel message.

“Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed. (Matthew 10:9-10, NLT)

Again, this is a specific instruction for a specific trip. He later told his disciples to take some of these supplies with them (Luke 22). The reason he told them to take nothing on this journey was to teach them that God would supply their needs. Once they had learned that lesson he told them to prepare the best they could and trust God for the rest.

Those whose work is ministry are to take a similar approach today. Those called to preach the gospel should be more concerned about ministry than money. God will provide for those He calls to preach. The goal of a minister should not be to enrich himself, but rather to serve the Lord and trust that He will provide.

At the same time, we see that God uses us, the Church, to meet those needs. This is an uncomfortable subject for me to talk about because it seems a little self-serving, but I think it’s important to explain what Jesus was saying. The body of Christ has a responsibility to provide for those God has called to the work of preaching and teaching. Ministry isn’t a business. Preachers don’t make anything and we don’t sell anything. But those whose work is preaching and teaching still should have their needs met. We can help pastors be effective by providing for their financial needs, so they can focus on ministry instead of worrying where their next meal will come from.

The other way we care for those who minister is to not treat them like employees. Sometimes churches act like it’s the pastor’s job to do whatever needs to be done because he’s the one getting paid. Not every job in the Church is the pastor’s responsibility! In the book of Acts we see the error of this approach. The apostles were so busy managing the food ministry that they didn’t have time to preach and teach. The solution was to hand that ministry over to other trustworthy believers so they could get back to the work God had called them to do. Every one of us has a role to play; we can’t fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve hired people to do the work God has given to us.

We should provide for those who faithfully serve the Lord in full time ministry—whether they are pastors, missionaries, or something else. That means meeting their financial needs, but it also means doing our part in ministry so that they can do what God has called them to do.

The second part of the instructions is found in verses 11-15.

11 “Whenever you enter a city or village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town. 12 When you enter the home, give it your blessing. 13 If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing. 14 If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. 15 I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day. (Matthew 10:11-15, NLT)

Jesus tells the disciples to bless those who received them and their message, but if a household or town refused to listen they should shake the dust off their feet as they leave. That statement doesn’t mean much to us, but it carried great meaning to these men. Devout Jews did this whenever they left Gentile or Samaritan towns. It was a way of showing that they wanted nothing to do with these ungodly people, or even the dust from their towns.

The disciples were going to Jewish towns. Jesus said that if the people rejected their message, they should treat them the same way they would an ungodly Gentile town. He said that for those people judgment day will be worse than it would be for Sodom and Gomorrah. Why? Because though Sodom and Gomorrah were evil, they didn’t reject the gospel message. Those who reject the message of the gospel are doing something far worse than what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah. They are rejecting the very God who gave His life to save them. There is no greater sin than this.

So what does this mean to us? It means that we should invest in those who will listen and walk away from those who won’t. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to tell the difference. Most people are resistant to the gospel message at first. Some quickly come around, others take years. Still others never will. So how do we know when we should keep investing in someone and when we should shake the dust off our feet?

The Holy Spirit will guide us if we ask Him to. We have to ask God for guidance and then listen to the whispers of our hearts. Sometimes you may feel God telling you to keep trying, and other times He may tell you to move on. Only God knows people’s hearts and only He can change them. Our job is to listen to His leading and invest our time and energy into the people who are receptive. God will take care of the rest.

The third instruction is found in verses 16-20.

16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. (Matthew 10:16-20, NLT)

Jesus told them they would face opposition. There would be people who would not like their message, and remaining faithful to God might cost them a great deal. But He was reminding them to remain faithful, because God would work through them even in the hard times.

History shows us how true this was. Tradition says that of the twelve apostles, eleven were killed for their faith. John was the only one who wasn’t, but he was tortured and exiled for his faith. For the first several hundred years of the Church becoming a Christian was costly; it often meant being banished, punished, tortured, or even killed. But these Christians remained faithful because they believed what Jesus said. What’s amazing is that during this time the Church grew rapidly. Their faithfulness inspired others to trust God as well.

The early disciples faced pressure to deny Jesus by declaring the emperor to be a god. We are pressured deny Jesus by conforming to the pattern of this world. We must remain faithful even as the world tries to get us to adopt their mindset. We must do what is right even though we are ridiculed, or we lose out on business, or we lose friends. We must live with a different set of priorities than the world, even though it might seem like we are missing out on the things that others enjoy. We are reminded that even when it feels like we are standing all alone, God can use our faithfulness to inspire others.

Jesus told his disciples that they were like sheep among wolves. Their task was dangerous. So he told them to be as shrewd as snakes and as harmless as doves. This is the attitude we must adopt as well. It means that even as we seek to be different from the world we should be gentle in the way we deal with people, and our love must always be evident. But it also means that we must be wise enough to see the pitfalls that exist all around us. We must be alert to the subtle ways the world tries to lead us away from God. We must see the slippery slope of compromise and refuse to go down it. We must be gentle and loving, but we must not be naïve. We should be wise enough to swim against the current when the current is going the wrong direction.


Our text this morning gives us a glimpse into the first commissioning service. Jesus encouraged the apostles and gave them instructions for the task ahead of them. But what he told them should encourage and motivate us as we serve Him as well. There are three things we should learn.

First, God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. The twelve apostles didn’t seem like anything special, but because they trusted God and stepped out in faith, He used them to do great things. God can use you and me to do great things too. He’s not waiting for you to learn enough or to become skilled enough—He’s simply waiting for you to step out in faith.

Second, we each have a task to do. God designed the Church so that each of us has a job. Some are called to be preachers and teachers, others are called to serve in the nursery, still others to lead a class or small group, and others are called to ensure the building is maintained or the administrative work gets done. And we are each called to reach out to others with the gospel message. The question is what job has God called you to? And are you doing it? God may even be calling you to start something new. If you have ever thought, “Somebody should do…” that may be a sign that God is calling you to do it! The task may seem too great for you to do, but there’s good news—you won’t be doing it alone!

Third, our work doesn’t stop when we leave this building. Sometimes we play the game of Christianity where we act faithful to God on Sunday but live like the world the rest of the week. But Jesus calls us to stick close to God in everything we do, no matter what trials we face. So, we need to go into the world as shrewd as serpents but as innocent as doves. We must be willing to do what is right even if it costs us. The world is watching.

God can use you to do great things, but He can only use you if you’ll step out in faith. If the disciples had stayed in Jerusalem, they’d have never seen what God could do through them. So think about where God may be asking you to serve Him. Take a step of faith today and do what God has called you to do. He used a few ordinary men from Galilee to change the world. He can use you too—if only you’ll follow Him.

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