"A Blessed Welcome"
(Delivered Sunday, March 5, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Over the past several weeks, we've been studying Jesus' words to His disciples in the tenth chapter of Matthew's gospel. I have come to call this section of Matthew "the Sermon to the Sent-Ones". In it, Jesus commissions His disciples to go out into the regions of Judea and preach about Him to the cities that He would then go and visit; and before they go, He gives them specific warnings and instructions about their ministry.
As we have discovered along the way, the things He has said to His twelve disciples also have a broader application to you and me. We, too, are His "ambassadors", dear brothers and sisters. We too are His "sent-ones", who are to go out into the world and proclaim His gospel message to others. But just as Jesus warned the twelve in this chapter, He would want us to know that He sends us out into a hostile environment to proclaim His gospel to many who will not receive it.
Our Savior has given us many sober warnings in this chapter. He lets us know that He sends us out "as sheep in the midst of wolves" (v. 16). He tells us to "beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you before their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles" (vv. 17-18). He lets us know that some of His ambassadors will be delivered up to death - even by those who are closest to to them (v. 21); and that we "will be hated by all for My name's sake" (v. 22). He lets us know that many of us will have to flee persecution (v. 23); and that we will be called names because of our association with Him (v. 24-25). He lets us know that becoming His ambassadors will cost us our dearest and closest relationships - that "a man's enemies will be those of His own household" (v.36).
This is a very serious portion of Scripture. It lets us know that much will be demanded of us as His faithful ambassadors into this world; and that's because much of this world will reject His message. But now, as we come to the very end of this long "Sermon to the Sent-Ones", we find some encouraging news.
In this morning's passage, Jesus lets us know that not everyone will reject our message. Some will respond to it and welcome it. And this passage contains words of encouragement concerning those who welcome and receive it. He says;
He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward (Matthew 10:40-43).
What good and encouraging news to find at the end of such a serious commission!
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There are two words that I'd like to point out to you in this passage. They are the repeated words "receive" and "reward". They give us two key themes in this passage.
The first word "receive"1 conveys the idea of receiving someone in a kind way - to welcome them or to support them. And in this context, it speaks of kindly receiving, or welcoming, or providing hospitality to those whom Jesus sends as His ambassadors into this world.
Think for a moment of what that would look like in practice. It would mean - most obviously - that if someone came as Jesus' representative, proclaiming His gospel as His ambassador - we receive them as they truly are; that is, AS ambassadors of Christ.
Paul gives us an example of this when he spoke of his first encounter with the believers in Galatia. He told them,
You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel [or "messenger"] of God, even as Christ Jesus (Galatians 4:13-14).
In other words, they received him as an ambassador of Christ. So in this sense, when we "receive" one of Jesus' "sent-ones", we - as it were - "approve" of them as Christ's ambassadors.
Another way we "receive" them is by looking upon those ambassadors as God's 'messengers' to us personally; and by actively submitting ourselves to their ministry as if it were from Christ Himself. And again, we have a wonderful example of this in the Bible through the experience of the apostle Paul. He wrote to the believers in Thessalonica, and told them about how thankful he and his co-workers were for them;
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the very word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
I can think of a third way we "receive" the one's that Jesus sends; and that is by actively supporting them in their work. If we recognize them to be Christ's ambassadors indeed, we then show it by becoming "partners" with them in their ministry. We open our door to them, and show them hospitality, and send them on their way with what they need in order to do the work Christ has given them to do.
Again, we have a wonderful example of this in the New Testament - in the tiny letter of 3 John. John wrote, with great gratitude, to a pastor named Gaius who hosted some of the workers that John had sent out to help spread the gospel. John said,
Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name's sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive2 such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth (3 John 5-8).
That is to say, Gaius "received" those gospel workers by meeting their needs and sending them away well-provided in their work. That's another way we "receive" those who Jesus sends.
So then; we "receive" Christ's "ambassadors" in three senses: when we (1) welcome them as Christ's ambassadors, as if coming in His name and under His authority; (2) submit ourselves to their ministry in such a way as to gain the blessing God intends us to gain from them; and (3) show them hospitality and provide for their needs in such a way as to become "partners" with them in their work.
I believe that Jesus had all of this in mind when He spoke of those who would "receive" His "sent-ones". And the good news is that He promises some would indeed "receive" them. This is one of the key notes of this passage. The idea of "receiving" His workers is directly stated three times in these three verses, and implied once in the last verse.
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But there's another key note - represented in the word "reward". The Greek word translated "reward"3 appears three times in these three verses.
And just let that sink in! At the end of a long commission to those who Jesus was sending out in His name - a commission that includes many warnings of the difficulties that will be encountered, and the severe rejection and persecution that will be suffered - He makes the promise that some will receive their message. And to those who will receive them - in all the different aspects of what it means to "receive" them - Jesus promises great "reward".
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; this is a tremendously encouraging and exciting passage! It speaks to people who don't think that they are worth anything in the kingdom of Jesus Christ because they are not great "preachers" or "evangelists" or "missionaries". It speaks to those who don't have a sense of value because they are not in some kind of spotlight ministry.
Jesus lets us know that a great part of the work of the kingdom of Jesus Christ occurs on the "receiving" end. And He promises us that those who rightly "receive" those He sends out will be richly "rewarded".
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Let's look at the blessings of those who faithfully "receive" those who Jesus sends. The first thing we see is that, when we do so . . .
1. WE RECEIVE THE ONE WHO SENT THEM (v. 40).
Jesus begins by telling us something quite remarkable - something that many people who welcome and receive Christ's ambassadors may not at first realize. He tells His sent-ones; "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (v. 40).
Jesus is telling us something very important about Himself in this verse; and we need to take the time to consider it. As He speaks to those He is about to send, He lets them know that He Himself was a "sent-One". He lets them know that He was sent to this earth by God the Father; and that He did not come on His own initiative and authority, but came in His Father's name and in accordance with His Father's will.
As Jesus walked upon this earth, He made it very clear that He came as One sent by the Father to do the Father's will. He said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34). He testified, "For I have come down from heaven, not do do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).
And so, all that He did was done as a "sent-One" of the Father. He said, "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me" (John 5:30). He said that "the works which the Father has given Me to finish - the very works that I do - bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me" (John 5:36-37). He told the people who heard Him, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me" (John 7:16). He said, "I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me" (John 8:18).
Jesus does nothing apart from the will of His Father. He doesn't even send out workers except under His Father's authority. And so, when He sends out workers in His name - to proclaim His gospel to the world - they truly go out in the authority of the One who sent Jesus. Just before He went to the cross for us, Jesus prayed to His Father and said, "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). And after He rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples and said, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21). And so, Jesus lets His ambassadors know that whoever receives Him also receives the Father who sent Him.
I'm indebted to my son - who is much better at math and logic than I am - for informing me that this is called a "transitive relationship". It's a relationship in which the value or property of something is 'transferred' or 'passed-on' to something else. You know how that works; don't you? If A equals B; and if B equals C; then A equals C. In a similar way, if to receive Jesus' "sent-ones" is the same as receiving Him; and if receiving Jesus is the same as receiving the Father who sent Him; then to receive Jesus' "sent-ones" is the same as receiving the Father. Amazingly, this is a point that Jesus repeated elsewhere in His teaching. Just before He went to the cross - when He enjoyed His last supper on earth with His disciples - He told them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (John 13:20).
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Before we depart from this point, let me share with you a few practical implications of this. For one thing, this teaches us that no one can ever be in God's favor if they will not receive welcome the One whom He has sent - that is, His Son Jesus Christ. Many people have embraced a vague sort of pseudo-spirituality that looks at all religions as equal. They say that they believe in "God" - in some undefined sense; but they don't believe that Jesus is God's Son, sent into this world. And yet, it is impossible to have a relationship with God while, at the same time, rejecting His Son whom He has sent. As the apostle John has written, "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23).
And similarly, it teaches us that no one can ever have a relationship with the Father if they at the same time reject those who the Son has sent - that is, His apostles. Many people are willing to say that they believe in Jesus; but they refuse to believe in Jesus as He is taught in the pages of the Scripture - which contains for us the apostolic witness of His "sent-ones". They don't like Jesus as He is presented to us by the apostles (and they particularly dislike Jesus as He is presented by Paul - the most prominent of the writing apostles). Instead, they develop a belief in Jesus that is completely apart from - and distinct from - the witness of His apostles in the Bible. And yet, it's impossible to do this and still have a relationship with Christ - and thus with His Father. John - speaking for himself and the other apostles whom Jesus sent - said, "We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6).
Let me take the implication of this verse just a bit further. It is very sinful and false to claim to have a vital, growing relationship with Jesus Christ; and, at the same time, reject those He sends into the world as His ambassadors today! What I'm thinking of here are those people who say, "I believe in Jesus. I read the Bible. I love God. But I can't stand church. I don't care much for those who call themselves 'Christians'. I'm not into 'organized religion'. I prefer to go it alone."
What do we say about that? Well, we should take Jesus' words at face value. He speaks to His apostles - and by implication, to all those who would receive their witness - and says, "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." It's very possible to say - and I say this with the utmost love, but the utmost seriousness - that anyone who will not "receive" God's redeemed people, and who proves it by habitually keeping themselves separated from them, may very well be fooling themselves in thinking that they have any kind of relationship with God the Father or Jesus His Son at all! At the very least, we'd have to say that they are being very disobedient to the Lord they claim to love; and are standing on very dangerous ground spiritually! As John tells us, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1).
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So that's on the negative side of what this verse implies: that we can never really be in God's favor while, at the same time, rejecting the One whom He has sent - or the ones that the One He has sent has Himself also sent!
But before we leave this point completely, I have to point out - on the positive side - that this verse also reminds us tremendous value Jesus places on those He has sent!
He lets everyone know that they are so much His representatives in this world that to receive them is the same as to receive Him. He considers that what is done to His "sent-ones" - whether for good or ill - is done to Him. He so loves them and so claims them as His own that He tells them, "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me."
What a blessing and honor it is to be one of His "sent-ones"!
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A second blessing that comes to us when we receive His sent-ones in a welcoming and supportive way is that . . .
2. WE WILL PARTAKE OF THEIR REWARD (v. 41).
First, note the kind of workers Jesus describes as being sent out by Him into the world as His representatives. He speaks, first of all, of the twelve apostles themselves. This is who He is speaking of in verse 40 - "He who receives you . . ."; that is, the twelve to whom He was primarily speaking (vv. 1-5).
And then, He speaks of "a prophet" in verse 41. I believe that this should be understood in the way that the Jewish people of His day would have understood Him to be speaking - that is, of someone who is clearly sent by God, and who stands before God's people as God's spokesman to them; proclaiming a message from God. Perhaps the most prominent person to come to the mind of His listeners would have been John the Baptist. John was the greatest and last of the prophets of the Old Testament era; but less in honor than the apostles who came after him would prove to be (Matthew 11:11).
Thirdly, Jesus speaks of "a righteous man". I believe this should be understood as referring to someone who first had confessed that they were sinners and trusted in the grace of God for righteousness; but then rose up, as a result of God's grace, to pursue a life of practical holiness in accordance with the revealed will of God. Jesus described this kind of righteousness in great detail in the Sermon on The Mount - warning His listeners that, "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). Such a man would actively pursue the way of righteousness that was revealed by God.
Finally, in verse 42, He speaks of - if I may put it this way - a mere "disciple". Our Lord describes such a person as "a little one"; that is someone who is "small" in dignity and power. He or she is someone that is considered less in stature than an apostle; less than a prophet; perhaps even less than a "righteous man" - but still, nevertheless, someone greatly loved and valued by the Savior because he or she is His "disciple".
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And then, notice how these are to be received. First of course, Jesus says of the apostles, "He who receives you receives Me . . ." But then, Jesus uses a repeated phrase - "in the name of . . ." and says, "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet . . . he who receives a righteous in the name of a righteous man . . ." (v. 41). Finally, He even describes what it means to "receive" a mere disciple; "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple . . ." (v. 42).
The phrase "in the name of . . ." is a phrase that basically means, "in the authority and stature of . . ."4 In other words, to receive a prophet "in the name of a prophet" means to receive a prophet as truly a prophet sent from God with a message from God to His people - with all the authority that comes with being a prophet. To receive a righteous man "in the name of a righteous man" means to receive him as a man whom God accepts; and who reverences God and truly puts God's word into practice into his life - with all the dignity and esteem in which a truly righteous man ought to be held. And to receive a disciple "in the name of a disciple" - even a very humble and seemingly insignificant disciple - is to receive him or her as someone who is greatly loved by the Lord Jesus Christ and is destined to share in His eternal glory.
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And finally, please notice this remarkable truth - a truth so grand that we wouldn't have believed it unless our Savior had Himself told us. He says, "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward" (v. 41).
I notice that He doesn't tell us that if we receive an apostle "in the name of an apostle" that we would receive an apostle's reward. And this, I believe, is because the reward He has in store for His apostles is very unique. He later told them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28). And what's more, in the Book of Revelation's glorious description of the New Jerusalem, we're told that "the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:14). Clearly, the reward that He has in store for His apostles is something very, very unique; and no one but they will share in it.
But do you notice that, if we receive a prophet "in the name of a prophet", we will receive "a prophet's reward"; and that if we receive a righteous man "in the name of a righteous man", we will receive "a righteous man's reward"? This is actually something that will can share in - if we genuinely receive them for what Christ sends them to us to be!
There's a story from the Old Testament that illustrates this; and I wonder if it was something that came to the disciples' minds as Jesus spoke these words to them. It's a story of the great prophet Elijah. He was prophesying against the evil northern kingdom of Israel, and against the ungodly king Ahab. God led him to prophesy that there would be no rain on the land for three and a half years. And during this drought, God allowed Elijah's needs to be met through a poor widow.
In 1 Kings 17:8-16, we read;
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you." So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, indeed a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, "Please bring me a little water in a cup, that I may drink." And as she was going to get it, he called to her and said, "Please bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." So she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die" (1 Kings 17:8-12).
She had suffered under the drought, and now had next to nothing. In fact, she was gathering sticks to build a last fire; then she and her son would cook and eat their last meal. She fully expected to die afterward; but the prophet encouraged her to trust God and give him some of what she had.
And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.'" So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke by Elijah (vv. 13-16).
God passed on to the poor woman the very same care that He was going to provide to His prophet. And surely, this illustrates the promise of Jesus when He said, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). But I believe that what our Lord is saying in our passage this morning promises something even more eternal. I believe that He is letting us know that when we stand to the aid of one of His sent ones - when we faithfully receive them and welcome them as God's servants to us, and embrace their ministry as God's gift to us, and even stand along with them in support of their ministry - we will also share in their reward.
What a marvelous promise this is! Dear brother or sister in Christ; you may not feel as if you are important in the work of the kingdom of Jesus. You may not be in the spotlight, as it were; and that since you support the ministry of God's kingdom behind the scenes, you may feel as if you are of lesser importance. But here, Jesus lets you know just how important you are! If you genuinely receive those Jesus has sent, and give yourself to the support of the work of the kingdom that they perform, you will share in their reward together with them!
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And you need never worry that your labors will ever be forgotten. You see; there is one more blessing mentioned by our Lord for those who receive those He sent; and it is that . . .
3. WE WILL BE REMEMBERED FOR THE SMALLEST ACT (v. 42).
Jesus says, "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward (v. 43).
Let's just walk you through the details of this verse. First, look at the person He promises will be remembered. He says, "whoever". That means that it doesn't matter who you are; if you show an act of kindness and support to even the least of one of His disciples, He greatly values it. He knows that you did it; and it is kept in mind by Him.
Second, look at the act. He speaks of an act that is very simple to be done - just the giving of a cup of cold water. This means that it doesn't take much to be richly rewarded by our Savior - just a willingness to meet the simple needs of His sent-ones. A cup of cold water, as Spurgeon said, may contain a warm sea of love; and Jesus sees it and remembers it. Jesus notices the merest 'mite' of the poorest widow given in His name (Mark 12:41-44).
And third, look at the certainty of the reward. Jesus goes to great lengths to express it. He says, "assuredly, I say to you . . ." which is the way He often stressed the deep truth and certainty of something He was about to say. He says that the reward will not be lost - not only would it be given; but He promises that it will not be lost! And He strengthens this by using the strongest negative He could possibly use - saying, "In no way will that reward ever be lost to that person!" He or she might even forget about it, because - at the time - it seemed like such an insignificant thing. But the Son of God will never forget.
I believe Jesus is making an argument from the lesser to the greater. He is letting us know that even so tiny and seemingly insignificant an act as a mere cup of cold water offered to the seemingly most insignificant of His disciples will, by no means, ever be forgotten but will most certainly be rewarded by Him. And if this is true of so minor a thing, it will surely be true of even greater acts of support.
But I can't help believing that Jesus told us this truth in this way in order to emphasize the seeming smaller acts of love and kindness to the seeming lessor of His followers. Later on, He tells His disciples that there will come a day when His saints will stand before Him in glory; and He will tell them;
"'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'" (Matthew 25:34-39).
Do you see? They couldn't even remember it. It seemed so insignificant an act at the time. But Jesus remembers. And look at why:
"And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me'" (v. 40).
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; our Lord is letting us know in all of this that each of us has a valued part to play in His kingdom work. Even if we are on the receiving end of that work, we have a part to play in it.
Jesus lets us know that, when we receive those He sends, we receive Him. He lets us know that when we participate in the work of those He sends, we share in their reward. And He lets us know that when we do something for them in His name - even something that seems very forgettable - He never forgets it.
Isn't it wonderful that our Savior ends such a sober discourse with such good and encouraging news?
1dexomenos, the nominative singular masculine present passive participal of dexomai - to receive kindly, to welcome, to entertain, to approve. The participal is substantival; thus referring to "the one who receives as a present, ongoing act".
2The word used here is not a cognate of dexomai; but rather a cognate of hupolamban§ (to take up, to receive as a guest). Louw and Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains [New York: United Bible Societies, 1989] 57:125, n. 31) makes the following observation: "There may be some subtile distinctions in meaning between dexomai on the one hand and lamban§ on the other, in that the later set of meanings may imply more active participation on the part of the one who receives or takes the gift, but this cannot be determined from existing contexts." It seems reasonable then to understand - in the case of 3 John 8 - that hupolamban§ is generally synonymous in meaning with dexomai.
3misthos; the price of hire, wages, reward.
4eis onoma with the genitive of possession. The preposition eis, in this case, has the meaning of en; and conveys the idea of "in the authority of . . ." (See A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in The Light of Historical Research [Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934], p. 649; also his Word Pictures in The New Testament [Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930], vol. 1, p. 85.)
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