Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Matthew 9: New Mindset for New Ministry


Matt 9:14-17 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved." ESV

Matt 9:35-38 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." ESV

Matthew 9:35 summarizes what Jesus was doing in his ministry: "Jesus went through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction." The entire chapter describes Jesus' healing the sick (a paralytic, a woman with a flow of blood, a dead child, two blind men, and a mute) and calling and eating with sinners (Matthew and fellow tax collectors and other sinners). If we are to have a ministry like Jesus, we would need to change our mindset (repentance).

The old inwardly-focused pastoral ministry mindset (ministry is primarily for insiders) has to be replaced by the missional ministry mindset (ministry is primarily for outsiders). We cannot put new wine into old wineskins: If we want to seek and save the lost, we have to remove our pastoral mindset and replace it with a missional mindset. Only the missional mindset will focus on ministry to outsiders: "Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved" (Matt 9:17, ESV).

So what does the new missional mindset entail? We can identify in Jesus' missional ministry the following characteristics in verses 35 and 36:
  • Outsider-focused ("went throughout all the cities and villages"): Jesus did not wait for the people to come, but he goes to where the people were. Like all good fishermen, he went to where the fishes were. No real fishermen fish in aquariums and fishing ponds. They go to places where the fishes are found. If our ministry is to be missional like Jesus', focused on outsiders (the unsaved and unchurched), then common sense tells us our ministry focus has got to be "out there": viz., workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, campuses, camps and prisons. 
  • Kingdom-focused ("proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom"): Jesus' message is the Gospel (Greek: euangelion, literally good news) about the Kingdom of God. If we want to be missional, we have to be kingdom-focused. We cannot be missional if our preaching is focused on Success, Personal Happiness or Prosperity. We can attract crowds with such preaching but not the kind of disciples Jesus is seeking for. Only the preaching that is focused on the Kingdom of God will attract missional disciples. (Mark 1:14; Acts 1:3).
  • Transformation-focused ("healing every disease and every affliction"): The Greek for "healing" used here is therapeuo, from which we get our English word, therapy. It means not just removing diseases but also has the meaning of restoration to health and worship. So Jesus is not just the healer of our bodies but our spirits too. The goal of healing is transformation: from sickness to health, from sinner to worshipper. The missional ministry is not just focused on getting someone "saved" but getting them transformed. Or as Jesus has put it in His Great Commission: "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19). Transformation from a sinner to a disciple, from rebellion to submission to Christ as Lord and King.
  • Compassion-driven: Jesus did not get into evangelism because He wants to see His church grow. He got into evangelism because he has compassion. His compassion arose from his view of the unsaved as "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (9:36, ESV). If we are to be missional, we must see people around us differently--as people who are harassed and helpless, as people who are lost because they have no shepherd. But in order to develop a compassion for the crowds, we got to be with them, to be their friends so we can understand their heartbeat. We cannot minister from a distance.
Jesus concluded this chapter with a missional observation: "The harvest is plentiful." I always hear Christians telling me the opposite, that the ground in Singapore is hard. With only 20% of our population Christian, we still have 80% who have yet to know Christ. I believe that the 80% do not reject Christ but they reject the kind of Christianity they see practised by Christians in their offices, schools and campuses. Unfortunately, it's not always an attractive proposition. But non-Christians seldom have a problem with Jesus.

So, the issue isn't the harvest. If it is Jesus would have asked his disciples to pray for the harvest. Instead, he asked the disciples to pray for the harvesters: "therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." The reason for lack of harvesting is in the Church that has become too preoccupied with pastoral concerns and has lost their missional compassion.

Father, take away our excuses for lack of compassion for the lost.  Grant us a new missional mindset like Jesus. Amen.

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