But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
When our Lord first sent forth his apostles, he directed them to confine their ministry to their fellow-countrymen. Their very number, twelve, would suggest a relation to their people, as though one were chosen for each tribe. Let us consider the significance of this arrangement.
I. SPECIAL PRIVILEGES WERE GIVEN TO THE JEWS. This is not a delusion of their own national pride; it does not depend on their claim to a leading place; it is manifest in history. The fact is apparent in the very existence of the Old Testament; in the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, a Jew among the Jews; in the appointment of twelve Jews to be the pillars of the Church; in the preaching of the kingdom first among the Jews; in the formation of the first Christian Church of Jewish members, and in the city of Jerusalem. Plainly Israel was favoured, as St. Paul himself asserts (Romans 3:2). There are many favoured people in the present day. All Christendom has privileges from which the heathen are excluded by their ignorance. England is a highly favoured land. Nevertheless, God is no respecter of persons, because
(1) privilege is given for the sake of service, and
(2) at last each will be judged according to his light.
II. CHRIST DESIRES THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL. Undoubtedly the work of the apostles was directed in the first place to saving the Jews. We are thereby encouraged to carry on Christian missions among the Jews. To each race some especial gift is allotted; to Israel is given in a pre-eminent degree the genius for religion. Failure, disappointment, oppression, and, in some cases, wealth and worldly prosperity, seem to have buried the talent. Yet it is Israel's natural heritage. If it could but be brought forth and used, the Jews might yet develop into the missionaries of the world.
III. CHRIST SEEKS THE RECOVERY OF THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN AWAY FROM EARLY PIETY. They are lost sheep to whom the apostles are sent, The most degraded Israelites are to be the chief objects of the mission. In the past God showed wonderful patience with Israel; even now at the eleventh hour he yearns over the nation, hungering for its salvation. They who have once known God are never forgotten by him. Fallen Christians are not cast off by their Master. Though they have wandered far from him, he has gone out into the wild to seek them. None are so wretched as lost sheep; none so guilty as those who have known the privileges of the fold and yet have forsaken it. Still, even to such the gospel is preached; nay, to them it comes first of all. Christ most earnestly longs for the recovery of fallen Christians.
IV. CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY WORK SHOULD BEGIN AT HOME. Jesus, a Jew, first sought the blessing of Jews. He wept over Jerusalem, and longed to save the great city of his people (Luke 19:41). London is our Jerusalem, England is our holy land. Our first duty is to raise the fallen in our midst. We cannot forget "Darkest England" while we rightly send missionaries to "Darkest Africa." No claims on the Church are so imperative as those of her own home missions. It is a shame and a scandal that any such missions should be needed in the Christendom of these late ages; but while the heathen swarm around our very doors, living ever within the sound of church bells, our first duty is to these unhappy people, our near brothers and sisters. The recovery of lost sheep at home will not hinder missionary work; it will check that paralysis at the heart which is the most deadly foe of foreign missions. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.