Gen. 22:1-14 and Ps. 13:1-6 or Jer. 28:5-9 and Ps. 89:1-4, 15-18;
Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 10:40-42
RECEIVING AND REPRESENTING JESUS (Matthew 10:40-42)
By Martin Manuel
Let’s begin with a video that illustrates the power of hospitality. [The video shows the work of a Peace Corps volunteer in the Asian country of Timor-Leste.]
[On YouTube at https://youtu.be/NhRIUxsNPIQ . Although the context of this video is not the gospel, per se, it illustrates the kind of welcoming response that Jesus speaks of in the passage covered in this sermon.]
Jesus sent his disciples out on a mission to towns in the region of Galilee. He gave them instruction on where to go and what to do when they got there. He told them that some would accept them but warned that they would experience resistance and hostility from others. These disciples went out as messengers of the kingdom, sent by the King. Their message was straightforward and true, and the desired response was wholehearted acceptance of the message.
In addition to specific instructions about the mission, Matthew adds Jesus’ warning concerning the persecution his representatives would face and their reaction to it. Matthew also includes what Jesus said about individual and group responses to the gospel. The last few verses emphasize the reception of those sent to proclaim the gospel. Let’s read the passage together:
Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. (Matt. 10:40-42)
Although Jesus spoke these words to his original disciples, they apply to all who follow him, including us. His instruction addresses two different, though related issues: representing Jesus and receiving Jesus (which includes receiving his representatives). Both issues apply to all disciples of Jesus in all times as they engage in the mission of God.
Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (Matt. 10:40)
The word “welcomes” is dechomai in Greek, which means receive, accept or welcome. Though all these definitions apply here, in modern English “welcomes” seems warmer than “receive” or “accept.” I might receive an insurance salesman into my home to explain a plan that I wish to consider. If I like it, I might accept it. But I welcome into my home a friend who visits. For that reason, I prefer “welcomes” in the context of Jesus’ words, because as we read in Matthew 10:11-16, Jesus had spoken of being welcomed in homes and towns as well as being listened to.
The disciples went out as representatives of Jesus. They had authority to speak to everyone as if Jesus himself were speaking. One who would welcome them because they were sent by Jesus, would be welcoming Jesus. And because Jesus spoke with the Father’s authority, welcoming Jesus was the same as welcoming the Father.
As we read the words of Jesus, we can be assured that they are the words of God, and as we read the writings of the apostles—the New Testament—we can be assured that they are God’s word—words often spoken by Jesus, and always ones inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. (Matt. 10:41a)
A true prophet is God’s representative. I emphasize “true” because it is of utmost importance. Jesus was talking about a true prophet, not a false one, whom he had warned about in Matthew 7:15, “Watch out for false prophets.” Anyone with a prophetic message not sent by God is a false prophet and the world has always had plenty of them! False prophets misrepresent God, saying things God has not said. The office of prophet is given exclusively by God—no one has the right to claim it for themselves. The true prophets, whose writings are part of the canon of Scripture (in most cases, Old Testament prophets), wrote with the inspiration and authority of God the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to welcome (receive) a prophet as a prophet? It means simply that the prophet is not considered as just a notable person, but as one sent to speak for God. It means respecting the authoritative office that the prophet has been given by God, and welcoming them as a respected representative of God.
Whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. (Matt. 10:41b)
In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” It may seem contradictory to speak well of a righteous person in Matthew 10 but negatively in Matthew 9. However, if we note that in Matthew 9 Jesus was talking to Pharisees who considered themselves righteous, we recognize that to think of oneself as righteous leaves out Jesus, whereas to realize one’s sinfulness and need for Jesus receives him as the Physician who has come to bring the spiritual healing that makes one righteous. You’ll recall that in Romans 3:10, quoting Psalm 14:3, Paul declares that “there is no one righteous.” Therefore, the “righteous person” in Matthew 10 is one who is not righteous in themselves, but a person living in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is how a sinful person can be said to be “righteous.” The statements of Jesus in Matthew 10 about welcoming thus include all who represent God—all who bear the word of God.
Receiving Jesus (and his representatives)
Let’s now return to the idea of receiving, and thus welcoming. Before the disciples could represent Jesus, they had to first receive (welcome) him themselves. They listened to his message, believed, and became his followers. According to the New Bible Dictionary, “A disciple is basically a pupil of a teacher.” Jesus said that by receiving him they were receiving the Father. Their acceptance of Jesus became personal and relational—by receiving his message they were welcoming him into their lives.
Being a disciple of Jesus was thus about much more than becoming the follower of a rabbi. There are many ways to learn that do not require personal relationship and devotion. Today, a student can learn through a printed course or online. Even in a classroom, a student can learn without a relationship with the teacher. But not so with Jesus and his disciples. Jesus’ message, the gospel, is itself about a relationship. Believing that message (the content of Jesus’ teaching) results in a relationship with the teacher.
A similar dynamic occurred as the first disciples went out to share the gospel. Those who received their message welcomed them as representatives of Jesus. When the message was received and so believed, more than the transmission of information occurred. Though they could have gained some of this information in by reading Scripture in the Synagogue each Sabbath, from the followers of Jesus they were receiving far more—they were entering into a relationship with the disciples (their teachers) and through that relationship entering a relationship with the Triune Godt. Thus not only was information transferred, a relationship was forged. Dr. Gary Deddo referred to this relational dynamic in a GCI Equipper article titled “Clarifying our Theological Vision Part 1”:
The God-given purpose of this relationship [between God and humans], established through reconciliation, cannot be fulfilled in us as long as there is little or no participation in the relationship—if there is resistance to and rejection of the relationship that has been freely given to us. The full benefits of the relationship cannot be known or experienced by us if we do not enter into it—if we are not receptive to it and its benefits.
The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to earth merely to pass along information, or to merely make an announcement. His first coming was so earth-shattering that it’s impossible to ignore him—we must respond! But that response is never coerced or mechanical—it comes about through human-to-human relationsips that encourage and so enable the response. That is why Jesus sends his disciples into the world.
Welcoming a representative of Jesus is not the same as cheering on a concert performer (where the talent or charisma of the performer stirs the emotions of the audience) where there is no enduring relationship. Shouts, chants, and “amen” affirmations do not constitute a relationship—the sort of relationship Jesus and his representatives came bearing. Jesus calls upon people to welcome the one being represented (himself) and also the ones (his disciples in this case) who come bearing his message.
The Jewish residents of Galilee were being invited to welcome Jesus as the promised Messiah. Doing so took faith, particularly since, at first glance, Jesus did not have the right credentials. Yes, his miracles and message established a certain credibility, yet faith was needed. But what accounted for the faith some exhibited? Jesus hinted at the answer in instructing the disciples in Matthew 10:11 to “search…for some worthy person.”
In their travels, the disciples were not to put out a general announcement seeking hospitality. Instead, they were to search for a worthy person. To do so, they would have to discern who was “worthy”—who would be receptive to what they would have to say. Though the word worthy implies merit, as if the person had earned the right to be chosen, the context says otherwise. It was not the most educated or most capable who became followers of Jesus. Instead, as Matthew 9:10-12 makes clear, it was “tax collectors and sinners” who Jesus chose, not those considered “healthy.” The key difference here is the grace of God within the person chosen by God at that particular time—a grace that prepared that person to receive, believe and welcome his representatives who have come bearing Christ’s message, the gospel.
In addition to responding to the message of Jesus’ representatives, welcoming included taking action. Jesus continues in Matthew 10:
If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward. (Matt. 10:42)
Giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty person is nothing exceptional—it’s a normal act of hospitality. So why does Jesus include it in his instruction about welcoming his representatives? The answer is found in his words, “my disciple.” A “little one” is usually a child, not a person considered important. Humanly, it’s easier to disrespect a child than a grown person. So in speaking of “little ones,” Jesus is using the figurative language of Zechariah 13:7: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.” These “little ones,” like unattended sheep, are poor, weak, needy and vulnerable. This is echoed in Matthew 25 where Jesus spoke these words:
Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matt. 25:34-36)
When asked when such gracious, hospitable things were done for him, Jesus answers with the words recorded in Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus said that his brothers and sisters were among the hungry, thirsty, alien, unclothed and sick. Giving such “little ones” food, drink, clothing and support is to give them “a cup of cold water.” It’s showing compassion and extending mercy. It’s a form of welcome. Such hospitable behavior brings the rewards that Jesus speaks of.
Three times in Matthew 10:41-43, Jesus mentions rewards. In modern usage, a reward, typically money, is offered in return for an accomplishment, or as compensation for participation. The original Greek simply means “payment.” In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus spoke of God-given rewards for sincere works of piety. Now at the end of Matthew 10, he uses the same word for being a willing recipient that welcomes godly acts in humble people.
Often, the emphasis on hearing and obeying God’s word and paying attention to those who proclaim it, focuses on the consequences of failure to do so. Jesus spoke at times of the consequences of such rejection, but here he speaks of rewards for being willing—willing to be his representative and willing to receive his representatives. In both cases, a reward is given for acts that might be deemed insignificant. But that’s the way God’s grace works—it exceeds expectations. God highly rewards what most (looking through worldly eyes) see as insignificant.
The two conditions that Jesus speaks of here in Matthew 10, representing and receiving, apply to all who follow Jesus. As we know, God has, in Christ, reconciled all humanity to himself, opening wide the door for all people to have a saving relationship with God, in Christ, by the Spirit. Those who turn to Christ in repentance and faith enter into a relationship with God, by the Spirit, as followers of Jesus. As disciples of Jesus we participate in that relationship with God by grace, first by receiving (or better, welcoming) it, and second, through the grace of God, by representing God to other recipients. The outcome of this ministry, with Christ, by the Spirit, is rewarding for all concerned.