Summary: A wake-up call to the Church.
A COMMISSION OF COMPASSION.
The first thing we notice as we look at this introduction to what has been styled ‘The Little Commission’ (as distinct from the better known ‘Great Commission’ of Matthew 28:18-20) is that all true Christian mission is based in the teaching and the example of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 9:35; cf. Matthew 4:23). Jesus was no stranger to the ills of the people and ministered accordingly. Furthermore He knew their much deeper spiritual needs and preached the glad tidings of the kingdom to them (cf. Matthew 11:5).
Then we see Jesus’ compassion (Matthew 9:36). The word translated “compassion” is a deep, almost gut-wrenching, expression of emotion. As Jesus looked at the crowds, his heart was thus moved within Him. He saw them as “wearied and cast away, as sheep not having a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36b).
The shepherd motif is interesting. Without a shepherd, sheep are prone to wander, or to follow one another into all sorts of difficulties (cf. Ezekiel 34:5-6). But Jesus comes as the good shepherd (cf. John 10:27).
In a change of analogy, Jesus speaks of a plenteous harvest, ripe for the picking. Mission commences with prayer (Matthew 9:37-38). And sometimes when we pray, we become the answer to our own prayers.
Commissioning follows (Matthew 10:1-4). And this commissioning sees the disciples now named “apostles” or “sent ones” (Matthew 10:2). They are given the same power and authority “over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and over ALL sickness and ALL kinds of disease” (Matthew 10:1) as Jesus had Himself already displayed.
These apostles are sent first of all, reverting to the earlier analogy, “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). This limitation is a matter of history. The Great Commission will follow in due time (cf. Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16).
So what does this ‘little mission’ involve? It involves the Apostles doing as Jesus has been doing. It is the beginning of an extension of His own ministry of compassion (cf. John 14:12). Their message is the same as His (Matthew 10:7; cf. Matthew 4:17). Notice that the good news comes first, ahead of the ‘signs’ (as the Apostle John would later regularly call miracles).
In Matthew 10:8a we see that the empowering of the twelve (Matthew 10:1) includes those things which Jesus has been doing: healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, raising the dead, casting out devils. Thus they are seen to have been conferred with His authority.
The same pattern remains for the Church, even as the Little Commission opens out into the Great Commission. Our care for souls gives priority to preaching, but there are other ministries in the Church, designed to minister to people in their everyday needs. If we have Jesus’ heart of compassion, we will not only look upon our congregations as so many ‘souls’ to be ‘saved’ but will also have a part to play in ministering to their bodily needs.
May those of us, who have “freely received” so very much from the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, be ever ready to “freely give” in accordance with the gifts and abilities which He has conferred upon us (Matthew 10:8b). May He grant to His Church, in these challenging days, His own heart of compassion, and the empowering of His Holy Spirit. And to His name be all the praise and all the honour and all the glory. Amen.