But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad…
The spring of all missionary effort and of all healthy propagandism of one's religion is compassion for men. To the eye of our Lord the multitudes of that teeming Eastern population seemed as sheep torn by wild beasts and scattered, with none to defend them. The crowds were greater than he could alone overtake. The instructions given to the twelve were of permanent significance.
I. THE SPHERE IN WHICH THEY WERE TO LABOUR. Not among Gentiles, butte the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Jews were the medium appointed by God for diffusing the knowledge of salvation through the world; and the success of the gospel among other nations would much depend on its acceptance by the Jews. Also the apostles were not yet sufficiently disentangled from Jewish prejudices to move freely or without danger among Samaritans and Gentiles. The principles here indicated are that if one race is more likely than another to prove helpful in diffusing the gospel, are that; race should it first be carried. A man must sow in the best soil he can. And, second, the missionary must consider the kind of work and the sphere for which he is best adapted.
II. THE NATURE OF THEIR WORK was indicated by the communication of the gift of healing, and by the commission, "As ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand." They were themselves in many respects uninstructed, but they were to tell of the acts and character of Jesus, and they were themselves to do similar works. The aim of the missionary must still be to proclaim and exhibit the kingdom of heaven. Preaching would receive irresistible confirmation by fact could they show in their renovated life the reality of Christ's power to create a kingdom of heaven upon earth. A great obstacle to Christian missions lies in the fact that missionaries cannot point to such evidence either in the lives of professing Christians abroad, or in our national acts and ways, and on the face of our society.
III. THE METHOD OF PROCEDURE. They were in the first place to make no provision for their maintenance. This was possibly to prevent their taking money from those they healed, and so seeming to rank with exorcists and strolling magicians; probably also to train them to faith in our Lord while absent from him. He meant, by their present experience, to lead them to the conviction that he was able to provide for them. Again, he warns them not only against carefulness, but against fearfulness. He could not only provide for, but defend, his servants. When they saw their preaching producing unexpected results, and bringing them into collision with men in power and with the prejudices of the people, they might begin to accuse themselves. Therefore does he furnish them beforehand with all needed consolation in the word that in that experience they were but reproducing his own. "It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord." And as their motto to guide them they were to take the words, "Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves;" and, adds our Lord, "Beware of men." This rule guided his own conduct. He knew when to speak and when to be silent. And so he says - Do not count upon candour, patience, generosity, or trust to simple straightforwardness and the power of truth. Be on your guard, but do not let yourselves be betrayed into trickery or double-dealing. Wise as serpents, you must also be guileless as doves. Choose the right time and way to deliver your message, but never be led into suppressing the truth, or pretending to believe what you do not. It may be a question whether mission work in some countries does not offer, to the candidate for the ministry, a field of labour in which he will have less cause for fear or care than in the Church at home. To any one who has a distaste for the controversies which have grown up from a long Church history, there is something immensely attractive in the idea of working a virgin soil, where nothing need be dealt with but the central facts of our religion, "Jesus Christ, and him crucified." To any one who wishes to be wholly unhampered, that he may give himself, without bond or prepossession, to be moulded by Christ himself, and to adopt his methods pure and simple, the work of the missionary presents attractions which cannot be offered at home. It is to be remarked of this first mission that none of the dark forebodings of our Lord seem to have been fulfilled at this time; but, on the contrary, they returned in such a state of exultation that our Lord saw they needed to be sobered rather than to receive further encouragement, lie took them apart into a desert place to rest awhile. When the seventy returned our Lord took occasion to admonish them that the true ground of satisfaction was not that the devils were subject to them, but that their names were written in the book of life. So the twelve required to hear over again the words of the sermon on the mount, "Many shall say in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not cast out devils in thy Name, and in thy Name done many wonderful works? Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." That is to say, the apostles, in common with all who are engaged in similar work, had need to be reminded that they may be useful in bringing others into the kingdom and yet themselves be outcasts; that success in Christian work is no criterion of their own state. We have not the temptation to self-confidence which the apostles had, but there does arise in us a state of mind which requires these sobering words of our Lord. When we have a craving to evince our loyalty to Christ by some extraordinary sign, to do some striking and conspicuous work that would at once dissipate for ever all suspicion about our own connection with him, we need to be reminded that our first work is to purify our personal life, our domestic habits, our business relations, and so we shall learn to face the further opportunities of being helpful that may be presented to us. The important question for us is - What was involved in the reception of the apostles and their message? How did the knowledge and acceptance of what they proclaimed operate to make men holy? The people had very erroneous ideas about the kingdom, but our Lord lays down the rule, "He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me;" that is, he that admits true teaching regarding the kingdom receives the King, accepts Christ; and he that does so accept God is reconciled to the highest and best - is a saved man. He was at no pains to correct their crude ideas about heaven and hell, but he made light of nothing which threatened to obscure the distinction between sin and righteousness. The matters with which we have immediate concern are - What ought man to be? and - How can he become what he ought? And the acceptance of Christ as King appointed by God operated to make men holy by quickening and intensifying all their previous trust and hope, and by setting vividly before them what a son of God really was. In all essentials this original gospel was identical with that preached to us. Entrance to the kingdom is not given by way of reward bought by submission to Christ, but true submission to Christ necessarily communicates that kind of character which he requires. To be in the kingdom is to be among the things that endure. Choose Christ as your King, and you are brought into a connection which lends reality and consistency to your whole life. Recognize that your life. has its source in Christ. God has so ordained it that our spirits should be fed from a personal source, not by books, not by laws, not even by hopes, but by personal intercourse with a person fit to sustain, to enlighten, to sanctify, to guide us. If we desire to be made such as God sees we might be, we must ceaselessly press on to further knowledge of what he means by being our King. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.