“Welcoming Others Welcomes God” by Pastor Will Nelson

Sermon 4th Sunday 06/28/20

How important is it to be a welcoming church? How are we received? How do we receive faithful Bible teachers, each other, and new or weak disciples? Let’s look at the importance of hospitality in Matthew 10:40-42.

Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman… she said to her husband… let us make a small upper room on the wall… he (Elisha) can turn in there.” … he had called her… What can I do for you? … Then he said, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” And … the woman conceived, and bore a son… (2 Kings 4:8-17 NKJV)

This is a wonderful story of hospitality. A wealthy woman and her husband went to considerable trouble and expense building a spare room for Elisha to rest on his journeys. He learned that she was childless. The prophet said she would bear a child. God rewarded her for remarkable hospitality.

“He who receives you [plural] receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (Matthew 10:40 NKJV)

Do we receive Christians of other theological persuasions? If Calvinists, Arminians, Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox also receive Jesus, do we receive them? Why would we NOT receive anyone who receives Jesus? We MAY not accept some details of their doctrines, but do we receive them as fellow believers in Jesus?

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 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). “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.” (Matthew 10:41 NKJV).

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!

Jesus evidently intends his disciples to be the answer to their own prayer, for at the beginning of chapter 10, he is sending them out, giving them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness” (10:1). Jesus instructs the twelve to “go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and to “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (10:5-8).

The disciples are to act as envoys of Jesus, extending his ministry, proclaiming the same good news and performing the same works of healing that he is doing. Jesus’ further instructions make clear that the disciples are also to share in his poverty and homelessness, taking with them no money or extra clothing, and depending solely on the hospitality of others for shelter and sustenance (10:8b-13).

They will not be welcomed everywhere (10:14-15), and they can expect to experience the same hostility Jesus often does, for he is sending them out “like sheep into the midst of wolves” (10:16). They can expect to encounter persecution and trials (10:17-23), for “a disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master” (10:24-25). They need also be prepared for painful division within families, and to be willing to put Jesus’ mission above family loyalties (10:34-38). For all of this risk and suffering, Jesus promises, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (10:39).

Welcome rewards

Matthew, of course, is not only recalling Jesus’ instructions to his first disciples; he is also speaking to his own community of disciples a few generations later. There is still need to send out laborers into the harvest, to send missionaries out beyond the community into a perilous world. And those sent will still need to depend on the hospitality of others. Jesus says of those who enact such hospitality, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (10:40).

In the ancient world identity was tied to family and community. It was understood that in showing hospitality, one welcomed not just an individual, but implicitly, the community who sent the person and all that they represent. Therefore, welcoming a disciple of Jesus would mean receiving the very presence of Jesus himself and of the one who sent him, God the Father.

Jesus continues: “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous” (10:41). The words “prophet” and “righteous” in Matthew often refer to the prophets and faithful servants of biblical history (e.g., 11:13; 13:17; 23:29), but can also refer to contemporary prophets (7:15-20) and righteous ones (13:43, 39; 25:37, 46). It is not clear whether Matthew is referring to two distinct roles within the community, or whether these are simply alternative ways of describing those sent out as missionaries.

What are the “prophet’s reward” and the “reward of the righteous” of which Jesus speaks? Elsewhere in Matthew the prophets receive persecution (5:12), rejection (13:57), and death (23:30-35, 37), and yet those who are persecuted are told, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (5:12). Similarly, the righteous are promised that they “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (13:43).

Finally, Jesus says, “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (10:42). “Little ones” (mikros) often refers to children, but Matthew uses it to refer to Jesus’ disciples, especially those who are young in faith or particularly vulnerable (cf. 18:6, 10). The statement about giving a cup of cold water to one of these little ones points ahead to the parable of the judgment in Matthew 25. Here the Son of Man says to the righteous, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (25:35), and “truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (25:40). The word translated “least of these” is elachistos, superlative of mikros. The righteous who attend to the needs of the “littlest ones” are told: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (25:34).

The word “reward” (misthos) in Matthew 10 carries connotations of something earned, but this word is not used in the parable of judgment. Here Jesus says to the righteous, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you…” An inheritance is pure gift. Those who welcome and care for the needs of “little ones” welcome and care for Jesus himself. To receive Jesus is to receive the one who sent him, and to become heirs to all that the Father has to give as part of the “Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.” Amen

The Sent Church

Sent by God, Jesus sends his disciples to participate in his mission of proclaiming in word and deed the good news of God’s kingdom drawing near. Matthew assumes that the church is a “sent” church, a missionary church (Matthew 28:18-20). There is simply no other way to be the church! This understanding is being recovered in our own day with the missional church movement. There is growing awareness that mission is not just a program of the church; it is (or ought to be) the defining purpose of everything the church does.