Matthew's missional bracketology: Christ's mission is our mission (Part 3)

The brackets have been set. The bracketologists are waxing eloquent. We’ve posted previously that Matthew the apostle has his own bracketology worthy of our attention, especially as we consider Christ’s mission through the church.

Previous posts can be found here and herehereMatthew’s missional bracketology: Christ’s mission is our mission (Part 1), Matthew’s missional bracketology: Christ’s mission is our mission (Part 2). Jesus Christ’s “Missionary Discourse” is bracketed off from preceding and succeeding sections in the book of Matthew. The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we’re calling “brackets”) to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book.

We have previously noted that there are similarities between Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1:

Matthew 4:23: “Jesus was going all over Galilee,  teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every  disease and sickness among the people.”

Matthew 9:35: “Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom,  and healing every  disease and every sickness.”

Matthew 11:1: “When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.”

Each summary statement notes Christ’s preaching and teaching (of the kingdom of God), his healing of the sick (minus a mention in 11:1), and his movement from town to town with His gospel message and ministry. The apostle Matthew uses these summary statements to highlight for the early church to whom he is writing the nature of Christ’s ministry as the Unexpected Messiah proclaiming an Upside-Down Kingdom.

It is fair to ask: why are Matthew’s “brackets” important? Even more to the point: why bother with the discussion at all? The answer lies in the reason Matthew has placed these literary markers where he has in the overall setting of the book of Matthew. His structure of the text is a major clue for understanding what he intended for the early church to know, believe, and do.

We’ve already noted that Matthew 9:35 and 11:1 provide the beginning and ending points for what has been called Matthew’s “Missionary Discourse”. This mission text thus looks like this:

“Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

Narrative and discourse (Matthew 9:36-10:42)

“When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.” (Matthew 11:1)

What follows the summary statement in Matthew 9:35 is Christ’s commission and sending of the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:5, a commission that mimics Christ’s mission. Christ’s sending (apesteilen) of the disciples is anticipated in the “summoning” of the twelve apostles (apostolon). These Christ sends (apostello) as sheep among wolves just as Christ has done previously and will continue to do throughout the book of Matthew.

All of the elements of those Matthean summary statements (4:23, 9:35, 11:1) are here in the commission of chapter 10. The disciples are to “announce” (preach and teach) the kingdom (vs. 7). They are given authority to heal and cast out demons (vs. 1,8). The disciples are to carry out this activity in the “towns” of the Jewish people in Israel (vs. 5-6). Eventually, they will be bearing witness of Christ to the nations, an indication that their mission will someday include Samaritans and Gentiles (vs. 18). For some of these disciples, the mission will cost them their lives (vs. 16,21). These elements of activity, place, and message inherent to the apostles’ mission (healing, proclamation, “towns”, kingdom) are themes found in Matthew’s summary statements of Christ’s mission in Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. And the common language being used in these passages means Christ’s commission and sending of the disciples in Matthew 10:5-8 is parallel to Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1, with Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1 being used as brackets for the entire commissioning section in the great mission chapter (Matthew 10).

Christ’s mission becomes the mission of the apostles. The disciples become the answer to the prayer of Matthew 9:38: Pray that the Lord of the harvest ekballo (propel, thrust) workers into His harvest. The Lord of the harvest does precisely that with the apostles in chapter 10, but they will accomplish much more than is first expected. They begin on mission to Israel, but it does not end there. Theirs is a mission that will spread Christ’s glory to all nations over the expanse of the globe.

What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world? We will finish this series by answering that question next.


Why I’m a Missionary

During yesterday’s Sunday morning message, Joseph Najera, one of the elders at my church quoted Abraham Kuyper’s famous statement about Jesus’ authority:

“There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!'”

That’s why I’m a missionary. The missionary task is much more than preaching a message of the sinner’s personal salvation from hell. It includes that, but it’s much more. The missionary task is to take the message of a sovereign Jesus whom God has made “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36) and with all the authority of a commissioned ambassador, proclaim the message of his rule.

We take the message of Jesus, to whom has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, and call people to obey all that he has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20).

Isaiah 52:7 puts it like this:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’

“Your God reigns!” Jesus reigns! That’s the “gospel of the kingdom” proclaimed by Jesus and the apostles. When the reign and authority of Jesus are proclaimed, there’s just one appropriate response:

Submit to (lit. “kiss”) God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities— for his anger flares up in an instant.” (Psalm 2:12, NLT)

Jesus’ message was simple: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). When the kingdom of God is preached, rebels are commanded to fall down before Christ in broken, humble repentance. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

That is why Paul was so adamant that the goal of his ministry was “to bring the Gentiles to obedience” (Romans 15:18). He preached the gospel “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom 1:5; cf. 16:26).

The mountains of southern Mexico are exactly the kind of place where Isaiah’s 52:7’s message needs to be preached. There we run and proclaim “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).  Our mission is to press the kingdom of God and the authority of Christ deeply into these mountains.


What Will We Suffer if We Refuse to Suffer for Christ?

p>In the time it takes to read this page, another Christian will be killed because of his or her faith in Jesus Christ.  160,000 believers around the world will be slaughtered this year alone… simply because they love Jesus.

This is not a news flash.  The physical risk of “going public with the glory of God” (John Piper) among satanically dominated peoples is obvious.  Jesus predicted that you will probably be chugged (disposed of quickly and without pause) like a lion eats a lamb (Matthew 10:16; 1 Peter 5:8).  That’s the risk of identifying with Jesus in this world; and too many shrivel up at the thought.

Scripture describes the butchering of missionaries as horrifically beautiful.  Horrible because of the indescribable torment endured by so many; but stunningly beautiful in their humble Christ-likeness as they are afflicted, persecuted, struck down; but not destroyed (2 Cor. 4).  When believers are crushed by suffering, the aroma of Christ stretches out even more widely and rapidly among the peoples.

This is biblical boldness: to plow through hostile resistance with the gentleness of Christ and “loving the hate” out of those fierce enemies of the cross.

I dread a greater danger than death.  I dread the consequences of not risk-taking for the gospel.  What will I suffer if I refuse to suffer for ChristWhat will I lose if I refuse to lose my life with Jesus for the nations?  What “glory” (Paul’s word – Romans 8:18) will I miss out on if I shirk suffering for the gospel?

There is something in suffering for the gospel that produces supernatural affection and compassion within you towards those who are harming you.  At the same time, when one can praise God instead of denying him in the midst of suffering, unbelievers take notice.  Some are inevitably saved, which generates more persecution, which in turn, fuels an even more passionate scattering of the gospel.  The result is that whole new regions are quickly populated with believers and churches.  This is how suffering and persecution nearly always advances both personal sanctification in the sufferer and the speedier, wide-ranging expansion of the gospel among the persecutors.

There is nothing more powerful in evangelism than a life humbly laid down for Christ and the gospel.  These gospel risk-takers are missionary madmen (2 Cor. 11:23).  But God is glorified by them.  The world’s unharvested fields need many more like them.