Jesus' final word to his apostles on the work of mission is a word of encouragement. He links the acceptance of the apostles with an acceptance of himself and the Father. To welcome the apostle is to welcome Jesus; to reject the apostle is to reject Jesus.
v40. In chapter 10, Matthew records Jesus' teaching to the twelve "sent ones" (apostles) prior to their going out on mission. They are sent out with the full authority of Jesus. Since all believers are to do "the work of an evangelist", these words to the apostles apply to all of Christ's followers. Jesus, as the Messiah, came to establish God's kingdom in power. To this end, he proclaims God's message of the coming kingdom and gathers a people to share in its blessings for eternity. He now appoints his messengers to go out and proclaim the good news of the coming of the long-awaited kingdom. Like the prophets of old they carry a message from God to the lost of Israel. To welcome the messenger and accept their message is to welcome the one who sent the messenger. To welcome a disciple is to welcome Jesus, and to welcome Jesus is to welcome the one who sent him, namely, the Lord God.
v41. Jesus now touches on the issue of "reward". It is difficult to know exactly who Jesus is referring to when he uses the terms, "prophet" and "righteous man." Some commentators suggest that they are special ministries of the early church, yet it is more likely that they are either Old Testament ministries, or first century Jewish ministries. Jesus does not seem to be using the terms in a derogatory sense, but rather as a comparison. The "prophet" and the "righteous man" (teacher?) are people who carry a particular teaching. To receive them and to receive their word is to receive the blessing associated with their teaching. Jesus then goes on to point out that the same applies for his apostles. To receive the apostles and their teaching is to receive the blessing associated with their teaching. The reward for accepting the apostles, and the good news that they carry from God, is free entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
v42. Jesus now completes his comparison, although in a slightly lateral way. To receive the apostles and their message is to receive the reward of eternal life. Jesus uses the more general term "disciple", rather than "apostle", reminding us that although we may not specifically be "the sent ones", all Jesus' followers are responsible for the communication of the gospel. He uses the intimate term "little ones" for his disciples. Although the term is often applied to socially disadvantaged people, Jesus uses it exclusively of his followers, those who are "the insignificant ones." The offer of "a cup of cold water" may seem like an act of charity which brings a spiritual reward, yet the context works against such a view. The offer of a drink of water images the acceptance of a disciple and by implication the acceptance of their message. A person who receives a disciple and their message "will certainly not lose their reward."
Nerriga is a small town on the road from Braidwood to Nowra on the East Coast of Australia. It is a sleepy little hollow. Most of the shops are boarded up and the remaining general-store-come-pub (hotel), only just survives. It's a little farming community with a primary school and little else. There was more of the town in the gold-rush days, but little these days.
In the town there is a small Anglican church clad with farm-shed metal siding. The old weatherboards have long since disappeared. They hold services there once a month these days.
Over twenty years ago I was involved in a mission in the Parish of Nowra and we went out to Nerriga for a Sunday afternoon mission meeting. I well remember that on this particular Sunday the church was full. I suppose it was quite an event for the community. Arriving at Nerriga on Saturday afternoon we were billeted out with local farmers. I was quite taken by the lack of facilities these folk had to cope with. The portable out-house was quite a feature. When the hole filled up they dug a new hole and carried the out-house to its new position.
This simple farming community accepted our presence in their town. They put us up in their homes and they came out on the Sunday afternoon to hear what we had to say. I don't remember if anyone made an overt commitment to Christ. Jesus' promise of eternal life is not dependent on walking the aisle, rather, it is dependent on welcoming the messenger and the message. They certainly welcomed the messengers and I hope they welcomed the message. If they did, eternity is theirs; it's as simple as that.
When anyone welcomes the "little ones", the insignificant ones who come in the name of Christ, along with their message of salvation, they welcome Christ himself. Anyone who welcomes Christ actually welcomes God the Father. Such a person "will certainly not lose their reward."
1. To receive those who are sent is to receive the one who sent them. Why is this so?
2. What does it mean to offer a cup of cold water to a "little one", and what is the reward?
3. We tend to refrain from telling others of Jesus because we fear rejection. How is this passage an encouragement in discipleship?
4. How does this passage show us that God is indebted to no one?