Formations 07.06.2014: Showing and Telling

Matthew 10:5-15

Willem Vrelant, The Apostolic Mission, early 1460s

Willem Vrelant, The Apostolic Mission, early 1460s

As our lesson writer reminds us, Christianity is a missionary religion. In Matthew 28, Jesus calls us to make disciples of all the world. The early church took up this mission, and we can read about some of their earliest efforts in the book of Acts.

The missionary call does not begin after Easter, however. Even during his earthly ministry, Jesus intended for his people to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. For the next four weeks, we will explore Jesus’ instructions for this mission in great detail.

Matthew 10 describes how, after calling the Twelve, Jesus sends them forth to proclaim his message in the surrounding region. This proclamation is not limited merely to talking about Jesus, however. The apostles are also charged to address the pressing physical, emotional, and social needs of the people: “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (v. 8). Furthermore, they are to trust in God to supply whatever they might need and to rely on the hospitality of strangers.

Fledgling writers are often given the advice, “Show, don’t tell.” What this means is, don’t overburden your story with needless exposition. Instead, help readers experience the story through actions, senses, and feelings.

We might also think of “Show and Tell.” You know how that goes: a youngster brings something special to school, shows it off to his or her classmates, and then expresses in words why this thing is special. Telling alone won’t do the job. You also have to show.

There is without question a “tell” aspect to Jesus’ mission: the Twelve are to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God. But it isn’t enough to tell this good news with their mouths. They are also supposed to show it through meeting people where they are and attending to their needs. Do that, Jesus seems to say, and they’ll never have to doubt that what you’ve told them is true.


• When it comes to proclaiming the kingdom, how do “showing” and “telling” go together?
• How does the church fulfill the multifaceted call to proclaim—and demonstrate—that the kingdom of heaven has come near?
• Is our church better at “showing” or at “telling”? Explain.
• How could our church improve on the aspects of Jesus’ mission where we have the most room to grow?
• What attitudes seem to be required of a faithful evangelist?

Reference Shelf

The Purpose of Matthew

The task of Jesus’ disciples according to Matt 28:18-20 is to “make disciples of all nations” and in connection with this undertaking baptize and teach. What they are to teach is made explicit in the words “all that I have commanded you” (v. 20). They are to teach the teachings of Jesus himself, and it is a fair inference that the teachings the author has in mind are the teachings pre served in the Gospel of Matthew itself. The inference is confirmed by the fact that Matthew has arranged the teachings of Jesus topically in five long discourses (i.e., chaps. 5-7, ethics; chap. 10, missionary instructions; 13:1-52, the nature of the Kingdom of heaven; chap. 18, relation ships in the believing community; chaps. 24 25, the destruction of Jerusalem and the close of the age). Each discourse is terminated with a summary, “And it came to pass when Jesus had finished” (each summary a little different depending on the setting: 7:28-29; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). Although the summary may have been traditional in early Christian accounts of Jesus’ teaching (cf. Luke 7:1), Matthew has made it a key to his arrangement of the material to be taught; it appears that the first summary (7:28-29) may have served as a model for the others. From one standpoint, then, Matthew’s Gospel appears to be a catechism or teaching book for the use of Jesus’ disciples in carrying out the mission to the gentiles commanded in 28:18 20. Another such early Christian teaching book is the second-century Didache, or The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. Matthew too calls attention to the role of the apostles in connection with the mission to the gentiles, even though he calls them “disciples” rather than “apostles,” and even though they are eleven rather than twelve (28:16; they are “apostles” only in 10:2).

The main thing distinguishing Matthew from the Didache is that Matthew is not simply a teaching book, but a Gospel as well, following the precedent of Mark. A glance at the outline shows that after a narrative introduction (1:1-4:16), Matthew alternates narrative and discourse at least from 4:17 to the end of chap. 18. Only after Jesus leaves Galilee do the categories become somewhat blurred (esp. in a series of exchanges between Jesus and various questioners in the Jerusalem Temple in 21:23-23:36). Matthew wants to do two things at once for gentiles interested in Christianity: to tell the story of Jesus, and to pass the teaching of Jesus along to those who need to hear and obey it.

J. Ramsey Michaels, “Matthew, Gospel of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 559–60.

An Extension of Jesus’ Ministry

It should not be surprising then that the mission of the Twelve is described in the same terms as the mission of Jesus, as it is simply an extension of Jesus’ ministry (cf. 9:35-37 to 10:1-4).3 Furthermore, just like Jesus (cf. 15:24), the Twelve have a mission solely to Israel, and apparently only to the Galileans at this juncture (see below). I take the phrase “lost sheep of Israel” to refer to all Israel, but perhaps especially those most lost amongst Israel, though a case can be made that it refers to the lost northern tribes (i.e., Israel proper as opposed to Judeans). This conclusion is based on a close scrutiny of the use of the phrase in the Old Testament (cf. Jer 50:6; Ezek 34:1-16; Isa 53:6). This is true in spite of the apparent universalism at the end of Matthew 28, and in the sayings collection at several points. I take this to be historically correct. Jesus only directed his ministry to Jews, though he did not refuse to help others on occasion if he should happen to meet them or they came to him, seeking him out. Why? Because Israel must first be offered the opportunity to participate in the Dominion, the coming divine saving activity of God, as they were meant to be the light to the world. They would have the first opportunity to renew their relationship with God. This limit itself had a limit. It existed only until the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was the last messenger to Israel and the disciples were the extension of that last eschatological outreach to Israel, which would not cease with the resurrection but would broaden to deliberately include the nations thereafter.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 216.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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