These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.
(Matthew 10:5-8a ESV)
Up until now Jesus’s core twelve disciples have watched Him as He carried out His three-step approach to evangelism: proclaiming, teaching, and helping. Now it is time for them to try this for themselves.
This is a proven way to mentor others. A teacher will do something while his students observe. Then the teacher allows the students to try it for themselves. That is exactly what is happening here.
To that end, a good teacher does what he can to make sure his students succeed. The initial assignment he gives is focused and is designed for success. Students can be discouraged if they fail initially, especially when they are being mentored by someone they highly respect, such as Jesus. To avoid that, Jesus gives them clear and meaningful instructions.
Jesus tells the twelve to go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans (who were a mixed Gentile/Jew race). Rather, they were go to to the house of Israel. Note that this is for the sake of this assignment only. Jesus is not withholding His message of salvation from the non-Jews. We know this because He has been preaching in a predominately Gentile area Himself and has healed Gentiles. Also, later on Jesus will tell the apostles to take His message to the entire world [Matthew 28:19].
Jesus’ restriction here is meant to provide the best chance of success for the apostles, who were Jewish. They understood the Jews and Jewish customs. They did not understand the Gentiles. Similarly, it would be difficult for me to minister to people in China because I do not understand the people or their culture. I would probably fail. By constraining the scope of their mission Jesus was eliminating a potential point of failure.
Also, it was God’s design that His message be taken first to the Jew who would then take it to the Gentile [Romans 1:16]. While some Gentiles did believe before this, in both the Old and New Testaments [Joshua 2:9,11], it would not be until the Great Commission that the message of God’s forgiveness would be intentionally taken to the Gentiles by Paul who was Jewish but who grew up in a Gentile region.
Notice that Jesus calls Israel lost sheep. The Jews didn’t see themselves as lost. They thought (and still think) they are the only ones going to heaven. But Jesus makes it clear that they need His message as much as anyone.
After defining the exact scope of the assignment, Jesus then gives exact instructions. He tells the apostles exactly what to say and do. Notice that the message the apostles were to bring was the exact same one as John the Baptist and Jesus Himself preached [Matthew 3:1, 4:17].
God doesn’t ask us to be creative. We aren’t to embellish the Bible’s message. We aren’t to cloud the gospel with political or social themes such as racism or evolution. We are to simply tell people what God says. No less. No more.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.