“That, too, must always be our prayer. For there are things that lurk within us that ought not be there.”
Stunning words, huh? Don’t they just make you want to run into your closet, beat your breast and repent? Not likely. Those words are sort of meaningless. There’s no setting, there’s no context, there’s no frame of reference to help us to decide what they might mean.
Tell you what I did. I found a random sermon, somewhere deep in the fermentation barrel, and just copied the last two sentences from it, and made those last two sentences the first two sentences of this morning’s sermon. And, just to enhance the randomness of it all, I did not even check the date the sermon was preached; I didn’t look to see what passage of Scripture it was based on, nor did I even look at the title. I have no idea what the sermon was about. All I can tell you is that those were the last two sentences from it.
So why did I do that? Those two sentences have a lot in common with our Scripture passage this morning. Our Scripture passage is two sentences long, and they are the last two sentences of a very long dissertation that Jesus gave to his disciples that takes up the whole chapter ten, here in Matthew’s Gospel. And without the rest of chapter ten, they function pretty much in the same way that that those two final sentences from my sermon do. They’re sort of meaningless, there’s no setting, there’s no context, and there’s no frame of reference to help us decide what they might mean.
And so what we’ve got to do first this morning, is find ourselves some context, and a setting. Otherwise it’s like getting directions to turn left at the gas station and turn right at the big white church without knowing what town we’re in or what streets we’re on.
In chapter ten, Jesus sends his disciples out on a missionary journey. Missionary journies are what disciples are supposed to be doing, they just don’t know it yet, because they’ve never been on one. So far in Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples have just sort of been following Jesus around, listening to Jesus preach to the crowds and watching him heal sick people. But there comes the time when the disciple needs to be kicked out of the nest. A disciple of Jesus isn’t just someone who follows Jesus around or who watches him with great admiration, or even someone who thinks that it is cool just to hang out with Jesus. A disciple is a representative of Jesus, an ambassador of Jesus. And in chapter ten, Jesus decides that it is time for his disciples to become disciples; to begin doing the things that they are supposed to be doing. And so he spends the whole chapter instructing his disciples on the finer points of discipleship.
The first thing that Jesus does in this training workshop is to give his disciples the authority to do the things that he does. Until now, as I mentioned before, the disciples haven’t been doing much at all. They’ve just been kinda following him around, doing more watching than anything else. But now, Jesus gives them the authority to preach the good news, to cure the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers and to cast out demons. Now think about how huge that is, and about how potentially scary that can be.
In one moment, they’ve gone from doing nothing at all, and then, in the next moment they’ve received the authority from Jesus to do everything, that until now, they’ve only been watching Jesus do. Were they ready? Probably not in their own minds. They were probably scared to death. This is a huge moment of transformation for them. They’ve suddenly gone form hanging out with Jesus to going out in ministry in the name of Jesus. They probably feel like the little bird that gets kicked out of the nest. They might even have had second thoughts about their decisions to follow Jesus in the first place.
But in spite of any misgivings, second thoughts, and fears that they may have had, it is Jesus who has decided that they are ready to go out and do the work of the disciple. I don’t see Jesus giving them any choice in the matter. There’s no discussion time reported here. But what I do see is that Jesus gave them the authority to do these things. And with the authority, comes the ability. And here’s where we sometimes become confused and disoriented when it comes to matters of our own discipleship. We start with ability, and we conclude that we have none. We say to ourselves, “I could never do those things. I could never go out and proclaim the good news of the Gospel, I just don’t have it in me. I’m too scared. I’m afraid of what people would think.”
But when we think of it that way, we’ve got it just backwards. Jesus has been calling disciples to do his work for more than two thousand years now. And he’s never been looking for people with ability. He’s been instead looking for people who will receive his authority. And then, after having received his authority, we’ll discover that we have the ability.
When we received Jesus Christ as our savior, when we realized that he was our only hope in this world and our only hope for eternal life, we became followers and admirers of Jesus. We were grateful for the forgiveness of our sins and for the peace of mind and heart that he imparted to us. And for a while, like Jesus’ first disciples, we were hangers-on. Just watching and listening and learning, and glorying in the wonder of it all. And that was fine for a while. That’ where all of us must begin. Jesus’ original disciples made it all the way to chapter 10 before they got kicked out of the nest.
But at some point in our faith journey, Jesus comes to us and says, “It’s time. It’s time to become a disciple. It’s time to do my work. It’s time to stop watching and start doing.” And when that happens, we receive the authority and the ability to do the things that Jesus is calling us to do. In a group this size, some of us are still nestlings, needing the comfort of the nest just to survive. Some of us are stubbornly and defiantly sitting in the nest, way fat and happy, refusing to fly, even though we’ve heard the call, and some of us are joyfully and obediently soaring to new heights of ministry every day. That’s just the way it is.
Jesus, though is ever the realist. In this chapter he’s straight-up with his newly commissioned disciples. The work of ministry isn’t always going to be one joyous experience piled upon another. There’s going to be danger and there’s going to be rejection. Jesus tells his disciples that even though he is sending them out with authority and with the ability to do their work, that they’re also going out like sheep into the midst of wolves. That’s’ pretty scary! He even tells his disciples that people are apt to hate them for the work that they’re doing. I suppose that that’s not altogether a bad thing, though. Jesus was the Lamb of God, and he got eaten up by wolves who hated him with a deep and intense hatred. Like Jesus, so are the disciples.
But mostly, Jesus warns them that they will be rejected, that people will have no interest in what they have to say. But even that’s not a real problem. Rejection should not be a worrisome thing at all. Jesus says, just move on. Don’t waste your time with people who won’t listen. Don’t take rejection too seriously. In Jesus’ own words, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” What I hear in those words is that no one can take our peace from us. We can extend peace, we can offer peace to others, but we can never lose our own peace, even in the face of rejection. We have control and authority over our own peace, because our peace comes from God.
The good news though, is this. As the disciples went out in ministry, and as we go out in ministry, some people are gonna listen. Some people are gonna welcome us, and some people are gonna gladly receive the message of salvation and eternal life. We know this because we received it. We welcomed the ministry of another disciple into our own lives, and others will welcome our ministry. That’s the cool part.
And that’s finally where the last couple of sentences come into play. Jesus says to his disciples as they go out, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Let’s work backwards with with that one. Let’s start with God. God sent Jesus into the world to proclaim the good news of salvation. Jesus sent his disciples into the world to proclaim that same good news. When someone welcomes a disciple of Jesus into their lives, they’re really welcoming Jesus into their lives. And when someone welcomes Jesus into their lives, they’re really welcoming God into their lives. And in all of that, God’s work is accomplished. The good news of salvation and eternal life is broadcast into the world.
Verse 41 says pretty much the same thing. Some of Jesus’ disciples will have a prophetic ministry, because Jesus had a prophetic ministry. Some of Jesus’ disciples will have a ministry of encouraging righteousness and righteous living, because Jesus taught righteousness and righteous living that went beyond mere observance of laws and statutes. And last, but certainly not least, because all acts of ministry are equal in God’s eyes, some of Jesus disciples will have a ministry of compassion and care, because Jesus had a ministry of compassion and care. That’s what the cup of cold water thing is all about.
But the upshot of all of this is that all of Jesus’ disciples will have a ministry. And they’ll have those ministries until Jesus comes again. And that’s because Jesus has given all of his disciples the authority to go forth in his name. And with that authority comes the ability to minister according to one’s call. And in spite of the fears and dangers that ministry can present, all of God’s faithful and obedient ministers will receive the same glorious reward. And that’s eternal life. That’s the reward.