Digging in Deeper: Matthew 10:1-4

“Summoning his twelve disciples, he gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Sometimes a conversation about one thing can lead to a conversation about something completely different. I find that often happens when studying through the Scriptures in community. You start off studying a single passage, but then a particular detail leads down a touchy unexpected path. While it is tempting in these moments to stop and get back on track, I find that chasing them for a little while can lead to some interesting—and good—places if we’ll let it. This happened recently as I was studying with my congregation through Matthew 10. Let me tell you about how it went.

I have been slowly working through the Scriptures as a whole with my congregation for at least three years now. It started out as a summary journey, but the group—and me—got more and more interested as we went, so we slowed down first from a sprint to a jog, then a jog to a walk, then a walk to a crawl. At this point we are fairly well just baby-stepping through it and loving every minute. Matthew’s is the first document we’ve entered intending to go verse-by-verse and not miss a single word if we can help it.

For the purposes of making sure everyone knows where we are as we go, I broke Matthew’s Gospel down into ten story blocks. These blocks aren’t God-breathed by any stretch, but they are useful for thinking about Matthew’s larger narrative in bite-sized pieces. This past Wednesday evening found us embarking on the fourth big block which encompasses chapters 10-12. The real theme of this section is Jesus’ ministry receiving increased scrutiny and pushback from the culture around Him. The whole thing begins with Jesus’ sending out the twelve disciples in pairs to proclaim the Gospel of the coming kingdom of God in the towns and villages of Galilee.

Matthew opens the section by listing for the first time the names of the original group of twelve disciples. The list is what you read at the top of the page. We started working through the list and the last name was all the further we got. When Matthew get to Judas, he makes sure to add a note that Judas was the guy who betrayed Jesus (as if anybody needed that reminder). This led into a whole conversation about whether or not Judas was fated to betray Jesus and what that says about how we should understand the intersection of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

We didn’t go into anywhere near the level of detail and nuance on this weighty subject that we could have. There are multiple books of several hundreds of pages in length attempting to tackle it and we only spent about thirty minutes on it. I generally tried to avoid using big theological words where I could just to keep things approachable for a group that didn’t plan on a heavy conversation about God’s sovereignty when they arrived. My final answer to the group was that this is not a matter that determines anyone’s salvation, and so our goal should always be to aim for charity in our conversations.

If you want more detail, we can chase that path a little further. What I will include for you here now, though, are a couple of summary thoughts I had on the whole thing. (The “thing” being Judas responsibility for his terrible choice versus God’s sovereign knowledge of his impending.)

I am convinced that Judas made his own decisions, that Jesus knew what he was going to do, but that Jesus didn’t choose him for that reason. He chose him because He saw him as someone who could potentially be one of the guys through whom He advanced His kingdom. There is both great encouragement, but also great challenge in this.

The encouragement is that Jesus really can empower and use anyone to accomplish the advance of His kingdom into this world. Think about that through this lens. Jesus gave all twelve of His disciples the ability to perform the same kinds of miracles He had been doing. All twelve of them, including Judas…who would betray Him. We have to assume that when Judas was empowered to go out and do all the things Matthew lists here with all of the other guys that he was just as dedicated to the task as they were. No one complained about being assigned with Judas to the task because he was simply one of them at this point.

That’s a significant idea. Because there are little comments like what Matthew gives here telegraphing his ultimate betrayal of Jesus from the very first time he gets mentioned in the Gospels, we are accustomed to thinking of Judas as a villain. Yet there is not a single shred of evidence that any of the other disciples thought of him as anything but one of them the whole time they were all together. Just because someone falls off the wagon late in the ride doesn’t mean the work done in the first part of it wasn’t still really good and worthwhile.

Consider the example of Ravi Zacharias. He was an absolute giant in the field of Christian apologetics for years. There are numerous people around the world who are following Jesus today because of his work. He was a brilliant speaker and author and debater and apologist. Because he was Indian, he was able to gain a hearing in places that white folks wouldn’t get the time of day. He did a great deal of work to advance the Gospel around the world.

Toward the end of his life there were a few rumors that began to surface about some moral failings he had supposedly had. A woman came forward and claimed he had paid her hush money to keep an affair quiet. Because of his reputation and influence and total lack of any other negative reports about his character, no one believed her.

Then he died and a whole bunch more folks began to feel the freedom to speak. It turns out that he was a secret moral monster. He abused and took advantage of vulnerable women literally all over the world. He owned a series of spas in various countries that he used as his personal pleasure stops when he would travel. What’s more, a number of folks on the inside worked to keep news about this stuff from surfacing so that his reputation and successful international ministry didn’t suffer harm. It was greatly disappointing to many, many folks. His ministry that had previously been poised to continue his work for generations to come has since shut its doors for good.

Here’s a tough question to answer, though: Did these latter revelations mean the things he said about Jesus and the things he did to convince others to follow Jesus weren’t true or good? As much as a great many folks want to scream, “Yes!” truth is truth even if it is being spoken by someone whose life doesn’t match it. The work Judas did on this mission trip Jesus sent the disciples on was good and God-honoring no matter what decisions he would make a couple of years from now.

The challenge here, however, is just as significant. Just because someone is on track with Jesus and doing great work to advance His kingdom doesn’t mean they are going to stay on that track forever. Present godliness doesn’t guarantee future godliness or protect against future sinfulness.

Judas no doubt healed people of all manner of diseased and cast out demons and possibly even raised the dead over the next few weeks. He was one of the guys empowered by Jesus to do incredible things. Nothing he did later changed that fact at all. But all of the good he did also didn’t protect him from making the tragic decision to betray Jesus a couple of years from now.

If you are walking a path of righteousness, that’s wonderful. But you have to keep deciding to walk that path every single day. If you take a day off and start walking another path…then you’ll be walking another path. Are you with me? The path of righteousness doesn’t shift itself around just because you decided to scope out the scenery for a bit. And if you start chasing a little rabbit trail of sinfulness, you just might find yourself, like Alice, falling in a great gaping hole of it. And in the end, if you wind up stuck in that hole, no one will remember the righteous path you were walking before. Finishing well is incredibly important and worth every bit of effort we can give to doing it.

One more thing here: Jesus empowered Judas like the rest of the disciples in spite of knowing what he would later do. Jesus takes us as we are and deals with us on those terms. The kingdom of God does not operate like the movie Minority Report where future sins are punished in the present. We are not locked into any future decision. We can always choose righteousness over sinfulness in every single circumstance we are facing. In other words, you will never disqualify yourself from serving Jesus. Rest comfortably in that.

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