A SERMON FOR MINISTERS
Tonight’s text reminds us that God the Father sent Jesus to represent Him; and Jesus has sent us out into the world to represent Him. And what a joy it is to do that – and what a responsibility we have to one another as God’s children to help one another to do it well.
If you’ve been following Barry’s sermons through these months, you’ll see that these verses are the end of an ordination sermon for the apostles – giving them a special task to do.
Just for some context: After the famous Sermon on the Mount (ends ch. 7), Jesus starts travelling all over the place, going from region to region, performing miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and most importantly, teaching people about the Kingdom of Heaven. This happens in chapter 8 and 9, but at the end of Chapter 9, Jesus looks around Him and sees that there’s too much work for one person to do. Remember, this is part of God’s plan – Jesus makes it quite clear that He left earth for heaven so that God’s Spirit would complete this work through many people. Anyway, let’s look at the end of Chapter 9 where this change happens:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
Immediately, Jesus answers this prayer himself when at the beginning of Chapter 10 He ‘called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “… Go…to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons…”’
Everything that Jesus had been doing – Jesus’ disciples themselves are now to go out and do.
This work wasn’t going to be easy, and that’s why Barry’s messages over these weeks have been so hard-hitting. It can be summed up by verse 16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. ‘Yes, this unbelieving generation is harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. It’s your job to go and be their shepherd, but you’re not going out with tanks and automatic rifles, you’re only going out with a message. There’ll be resistance: trouble, pain, suffering, maybe death.’
That’s the context. And then, in these last few verse Jesus offers them some hope – don’t worry, a reward is coming. And this reward will be backed up by me. Those who receive you, their expenses will be charged to my own account. Those who give to you, their gifts will be recompensed at my own expense. Oh, and don’t think I’ll ever forget their kindness to you. I won’t forget, I’ll richly reward those who receive you, because by receiving you – they receive Me.
That’s the context of our passage tonight. Before we get started, I want to point out that Jesus is not commending general hospitality here, but hospitality to disciples. He uses a similar phrase in 25:40 when rewarding the righteous for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, etc. “Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Note the phrase, “my brothers”. No doubt Christ will reward us for kindness to any vulnerable person, but the emphasis in these passages is hospitality to disciples.
Right, so let’s get on to the first verse and the first point.
A SERMON FOR MINISTERS – THAT’S YOU
40He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.
There is a small challenge to our understanding of this passage right off the bat. The problem with the text for tonight is that it is written, as I said at the beginning, as an ordination sermon for the apostles. The apostles were those individuals chosen by God for a specific mission – to go out and make known the reality of the kingdom of God. This text was not written to the common man – the synagogue attendee/the annual temple visitor. It was written to those who were to go out and minister the message of the kingdom.
So today, we’ll read verses like these and very quickly skim over them because they’re not written to us. They’re written to the missionaries of this world – the apostles, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers. ‘Not to me, because God has called me to be a layman, right? – I’m not a minister, right?’
Wrong! When you and I become a Christian, it is a much bigger deal than you originally thought. God didn’t just give you a promise of inheritance, but also a new job: An Ambassador for Christ, a minister of His message.
Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21: If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
When you become a Christian, you become an Ambassador for Christ, a representative of God. So let me ask you: How well do you represent God with your life? How well do you reflect His character and His actions?
Jesus said, (John 5:19) the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
How much of your life imitates the heart and the hand of Jesus?
And here’s the promise: Jesus Christ takes what is done to his faithful ministers as done to himself, and reckons himself treated as they are treated.
Those who receive you, receive Him. So live like it. Honour Christ by reflecting His character as you bear His name in the world.
A PROPHET’S REWARD FOR ME!
Prophecy is a gift from God and a specific ministry of the Church – not fore-telling future events necessarily, though that can play a part; but forth-telling, hearing a message from God and declaring it to God’s people – what should be happening every week from this pulpit. Preaching should be prophetic. To speak prophetically is a specific calling from God and 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that not everybody has it. Prophecy is a calling, a gift - Not everybody is a prophet!
There is a special reward from God for prophets who minister their gifting well. We don’t know right now what that reward will be, but we know that it surpasses our wildest expectation. It challenges preachers and evangelists and missionaries to take their preaching ministry seriously because we don’t want to miss out on what God has for us – none of us do!
Now not everybody is called to be a prophet, and not everybody has that gifting. But here’s a great promise: You can have his reward! How? By receiving him as a prophet.
Last weekend Harvesters International had their rebranding banquet and I’m sorry I wasn’t there as I was at the Baptist Union Assembly. The work that Harvesters are doing is blindingly magnificent. The rate at which they are planting Churches and developing pastors around the world is astronomical – it boggles the mind!
Can you believe that Fanie heads up that ministry – a man from our own Church. Fanie, for me, is a genuine apostle – sent by God with a tremendous task of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth and that’s just what he’s doing. He’s a mighty general in the army of God. Right here in our own Church.
And he’s not doing it himself – God has called him to this special ministry, God has gifted him for this special ministry – and after God has done it all, God will also REWARD him for this special ministry. How unfair is that! All I want is to stand before God one day and to hear Him say: Well done, my good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful with little, take possession of much. And here’s Fanie, God-enabled faithful with much, standing to receive MUCH MUCH in eternity. Not because he’s special – because God chose him.
What about Moses – famous through all eternity for the part he played – and he wasn’t even eager for the job! How about the twelve apostles – weak, faithless, chosen by God, empowered by His Spirit, and set to receive incredible, eternal rewards because God chose them.
But not everybody is called to be a Fanie – or a Moses – or an Elijah – or a Peter. Do we miss out because we aren’t chosen? In this passage we learn that NO – we don’t have to miss out! We can be recipients of God’s great rewards by being supporters of God’s great workers.
There’s a great story of this in 1 Kings 17 in the story of Elijah.
[Read 1 Kings 17:7-24)
I want to say that receiving a prophet will cost you. There are three ways that receiving a prophet cost this widow of Zeraphath. It cost her ‘financially’, it cost her personally, and it came with great danger – just the next chapter you’ll see that the king of Israel was so angry with Elijah that he wanted to have him killed – no doubt this woman was putting herself, her son, and her town in jeopardy by providing for Elijah.
In the same way, receiving God’s people into your hearts and homes will cost you. It can cost you financially, it can cost you personally as you have to step out of your plans for your future and present to cater for this person, and it could even be exceedingly dangerous for you.
Receiving God’s people into your hearts and homes will cost you. But God promises a reward! Look at what this woman received. Not only did she receive all the daily provisions she needed, but then when the son that she’d expected to make a last meal for actually dies, God gives her back her son.
So if you’re excited yet to be a part of that, you’re eager to know how – how can I receive a prophet or a righteous person? I mean, it’s not every day that Fanie comes through Jo’burg needing a home to stay in on his travels; the great prophets and missionaries of the world don’t regularly come knocking on my door asking for a meal. If they did, this would be easy to respond to!
Receiving the prophet doesn’t always mean providing a place to stay. It could mean providing necessary support, such as food, clothing and shelter—or money to allow the prophet to purchase those things. It can also mean accepting the truth of the prophetic message.
In speaking to the Galatians, Paul said that receiving God’s prophet can mean providing for the physical needs: Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. You can imagine the Galatians opening their homes, providing medicine and food, wiping his fevered head, washing his clothes.
And this is an exciting thing. I’ll tell you, our annual youth ministry conference organising team is flying a preacher up from Cape Town for next year’s conference, and we’re just sorting out the logistics. And I’ve been thinking to myself – where are we going to house this guy? I mean, we want to honour him, but we can’t afford a nice hotel room. So we started asking around – does anyone have an open garden flat or spare room we can use? Then I started preparing this message, and thought – ‘Hey, I could house him in our flat.’ Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought – ‘Hey, I want to host him, and his wife, and if he brings up his kids. I hope he doesn’t have family to stay with up here so that I can have the honour of hosting them!’ I’m so excited to have them come and stay! It went from ‘not a thought’ to an idea, to eagerly desiring with great joy!
But it’s not just to receive the person in hospitality, receiving God’s prophet can also mean receiving God’s word through them: actively submitting ourselves to their ministry as if it were from Christ Himself. Paul speaks to the Thessalonians and reflects back onto the time when he visited them: (1 Thessalonians 2:13) And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
God calls us to receive the words of those He sends to preach – to receive them not as ‘William’s words’, or ‘Barry’s words’, but as it actually is – the word of God! But when the preacher says something we don’t like, or doesn’t speak as dynamically as we’d like, we switch off in the message and criticise the little we heard afterwards to others.
Does that mean that we are to listen and blindly obey every word that comes from a preacher just because he calls himself a preacher? No, of course not! But instead of throwing the preacher out as the Philippians did to Paul, or abusing him as the citizens of Lystra did – we are to test the word as the Bereans did. Check – Is this true, and if it is,throw out my pride and my comforts and my possessions and receive the word!
So we can receive the prophet by supporting him – welcoming him into our home, providing for his needs either through material gifts or financial contributions, praying for him – and we can receive the prophet by receiving his word to us and surrendering to God’s will for us.
So then what about the righteous man? Well, you won’t always have travelling prophets coming around needing hospitality, but look around you to find the righteous! You know that the believers around you are righteous. God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
So instead of looking at these as three different groups of people, we can look at this passage as Jesus speaking about the office of prophecy, and then of all His followers – describing them as the righteous, and as little ones.
AN INVITATION TO GIVE
Lastly, Jesus finishes off this ordination message to His ‘sent out ones’ – remember, that includes you and me – by speaking this well-known verse: if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
This verse calls to mind what Jesus later expands on in Matthew 25:31-46.
At the Judgement, Jesus will separate the righteous from the lost.
He’ll welcome the saints into their inheritance in God’s kingdom. And look at His reasoning for it: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you have 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.”
The righteous will say, ‘Hold on – when did we ever do any of that?’ (What are they doing arguing with God right now?!)
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’.”
And then of course, the opposite happens on the other side.
But look at how Jesus assigns eternal inheritance: According to the actions towards His people. Our faith must bebacked up with kindness to God’s people. I’m not saying there’s any salvation outside of faith alone in Christ alone, but if your faith isn’t backed up with kindness to God’s people, what hope do you have that your faith is real??
I tell you, I can count the number of times I’ve generously, sacrificially given to God’s people and I fully expect the reward God promises for that. But I cannot count how many times I’ve refused to help and missed out on the blessing.
How about you? Have you given? Have you received? Does it outweigh the times you’ve withheld?
Look around – there’s so many ways that we can serve, support, provide for, pray for, receive the righteous, and giveto the little ones.
A PRAYER OF COMMITMENT
The beauty of this passage is that it shows us that Christ is willing to be charged at His own account for the kindnesses received by His ambassadors in the homes of the saints. Christ encourages His ministers that they will be received by some, even as they are rejected and persecuted by others; and He invites His followers to generously receive those He sends our way.
Maybe you say, ‘Yes, I’d gladly host Fanie in my home – or some other great missionary or traveling preacher. Pity there are so few of those around.’
But notice, friend, that all of us are God’s Ambassadors. All of us who are God’s children are His representatives. On Sundays in the gathering we can receive the believers around us – see them as Christ’s ambassadors which they are – support them. They’ve come from a tough week trying to live for and honour Christ. They are not the enemy, they are Christ to us.
I want to end tonight with a commitment. If this message burns in your heart as it does in mine – if you would say, ‘Lord, I am willing to serve Your people; Lord, I am not able to give a lot, but I’m willing to start with a little and I’m going to trust You to increase my ability – Help me to give, God,’ then I want to invite you to pray with me.
Heavenly Father, all I have and all I ever will have comes from you and belongs to you. LORD, please help me be a faithful manager and a generous giver of all you entrust to me now and for the rest of my life. We don’t want to hold on to what we cannot keep and thereby lose what we could have gained for eternity. God, make us generous. Open our eyes to see the needs, open our homes to support Your children, open our wallets to support Your ministers, open our mouths to encourage Your downtrodden ones, but above all open our hearts to receive Your word to us tonight.
In Jesus name, Amen.