Reading : Matthew 10:40-42
“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.”
You know something, I have many many conversations with people each week about Jesus. Now maybe you’re relieved to hear that, because after all Jonny isn’t that your job. Well actually you’re right it is my job, but it’s yours also. And if you can hold on to that to the very end of my talk because I will remind you of it.
Anyway, one of the main points that people boil everything down to with me is this. They love that Jesus guy, but they don’t like the Church. They get Jesus, but they don’t get Church. And for pop stars and all kinds of people, Jesus has become a modern day hero figure because he was willing to stand up for the oppressed and the marginalised. He desired love and equality. He was a revolutionary. In some people’s perception, he was another Martin Luther King. But ask people anything more about Jesus and they probably will be able recall that story about turning water into wine but that’s about it.
Now when you get people’s opinion of the Church, well that’s quite a different story. The Church to society is seen as a place full of hypocrites. It’s seen as a place that points the moral finger at everyone else.
I really hope those views are changing through this lockdown period where people have been dipping into our online services, and hopefully see the hope that comes from God’s Church. I hope they see the love that springs forth into the community through initiatives such as Together Ballyclare, or Baby Basics. Hopefully people are getting a different picture of what Church is.
I worry that many people that I know of have the wrong picture of Church. They think of the old fusty smelling buildings that smell of damp. They think the Church is going to dictate that they must stop smoking or drinking – that it’s all going to be rule based and you can’t come in to this place unless you live up to certain standards, and all that kind of stuff.
Many people don’t want to be part of a community group that is going to call them out about aspects of their lives. They don’t want that level of scrutiny going on. Unfortunately I think our media and some church leaders have done enough of a damaging job of how people see Church, and it makes the job of restoration now much harder in my opinion. People don’t just walk into Church on a Sunday like they would do in my mother’s day, but then I hope this morning you might agree with me that the local church is changing in its mission. I hope all of us know that the model of Church that has unfortunately been presented to some people is not the model that Jesus demonstrates. Yes we don’t just come together because all our friends are there – we come to be encouraged and equipped for the mission in the week ahead. We are called to go and be the Gospel with legs.
Can you imagine how the disciples are feeling, his Church on legs, as Jesus here in Chapter 10 of Matthew is sending them out. They’re not to lock themselves up in the building. His Church has got to be reaching outwards, ready to receive whatever response may come from the community. And so he says to them, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”.
Jesus is saying that these guys are His Church, and how people receive them will be all about how they represent the God behind them. So what does that mean for us? Well for us it asks how are we showing people Church, and that’s a very important question for this weekend as Churches tomorrow are permitted to open again. Because if the past 12 weeks have taught us anything it’s that a focus on sitting at home waiting for the building to open will say more about what you think Church is than what we want people to see Church as. Have we been functioning and witnessing in a way that people in our community want the love of the Father in their lives, that they want the Father God that we represent. Because if we don’t represent it well, they are going to reject us, and therefore reject our God. That’s a massive responsibility on us. And even since Thursday’s announcement, the News hasn’t really said anything about the Churches opening and that’s maybe because it hasn’t got enough of a picture from God’s people that the buildings don’t actually matter. So I wonder have these 12 weeks made a big enough impact on our community? Do people really want the God that we represent, and if not, is that because we aren’t representing him afresh in these times?
I can remember in Primary School my mum was called in to talk to the Headmaster about an issue that I had been involved in. It wasn’t good and frankly I’m not going to tell you my misdemeanours online for the world to know. But anyway, after we came home from the Headmaster’s meeting, my mum told me how upset she was; that it was a bad reflection on the family. I didn’t understand because it was me who did what I did, so why would it affect the rest of the family. But the point was that at that moment I was representing the Smyth family.
And that’s the point that Jesus is making here. When you are out living your life with your friends or your work colleagues, what they see in you will then reflect how they will judge what they believe the God of the universe is like. So if you are being asked by friends and family to tell them more about this Jesus, then through you they are attracted to the Saviour. They want to know more. Jesus tells the disciples, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me.”
And so moving on, the second half of what Jesus says is this “anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me”.
What he means is that the God of the Universe has sent Jesus. And so if people welcome Jesus then they have access to God. No one gets God without coming through Jesus. Those in society who think they have God but reject Jesus Christ as their saviour don’t actually have God. People need Jesus. So folks Jesus is making it clear that any search for other Gods, this acceptance of a pluralistic society where we are to accept everyone else’s view of their God, isn’t going to work. Some of you this morning might be watching this and you are exploring religion or spirituality, but you need to hear Jesus this morning saying that you’ve got to believe in him alone – no other stream of spirituality or religion – just him. I was with someone this week whose view was that it’s absolutely fine for people to live in harmony with each other with their own belief systems, and I deeply regret the fact that in that very moment I didn’t have the guts to tell him that he was wrong – maybe it was because I had only just met him and I think over time he will be able to hear me speak truth into his opinions without him feeling deeply offended by my rebuke. But folks, Jesus is the only way to the God.
So we pray that people welcome us because they see in us something that is attractive and that is Jesus. Through and only through Jesus do they then receive access to one true God. And now he goes further.
In the next section Jesus says “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward”. So right throughout the Old Testament, which would have been the scriptures that Jesus would have had, the prophets would have spoken on behalf of God. And so these prophetic words written would have been the authoritative truth. They would be words that would be spoken over the people for them to direct them. The people could either reject its authority or they could receive it. We can all think of biblical texts that when we sit on them they are going to do something in us. We are either going to accept them or we might feel very uncomfortable with them. This is what the Word of God does in us folks. It causes us to rethink through what society says is right in a 21st Century view, and pull back a veil that clouds the truth from people today, and decide whether we are going to accept God’s Word or are we going to reject it as not relevant today. Folks we might not like what we read in this book, in fact we might just decide not to read it very much because we know just how much we have to change our lives. Jesus is pushing people to make a call. Either they let the Bible have its authoritative place and they will get the reward that comes from a faithful obedience to scripture, or they don’t.
And so this is how Jesus finishes – Verse 42 “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”. Who are the little ones? Those who choose to follow him are his little ones. I love this phrase that Jesus uses because it shows us that our God considers us, his disciples, as his children. We represent him in all we are doing every day, and He knows we are vulnerable, but he cherishes us. He knows that we need him like a little child needs the security of their parents when they take those initial steps – that’s what these disciples were about to do. He knows we need taught. And even though we are little ones, he loves us, he saved us.
If you are a follower of Jesus today, then the path you take as a disciple of Christ should never be an easy one. In fact I would go so far as to say that if today your faith doesn’t get you into any bother, then ask yourself the question whether you are a disciple or are you just paying a keen interest in a religious organisation that opens its doors each Sunday for you. The path that Jesus’ disciples took was not an easy one which is why they were so nervous about the road ahead. Can you imagine, walking on those dry, sun-baked roads of Palestine, going from village to village proclaiming the message of Jesus and in some cases getting stoned or beaten? That’s the reality. Well, the disciples must have appreciated the cups of cold water very much from those who welcomed them, and while they sipped the cool drink, they probably had the opportunity to tell locals more about the hope of Jesus. For all of us our steps for the spread of the Gospel will receive hostility but our desire is to see people around us receive the reward that we have in Christ.
It’s my prayer that in how we have reached out as a Church in these last 12 weeks, this will have created an appetite for people in our community to be willing to open themselves to hear more about the Gospel, for us to show them the God who we represent. But to do that you need to get up and go. Today and every day we all will have the opportunity to talk to neighbours and colleagues about Jesus, and I hope and pray that they won’t close themselves to a discussion, because Jesus promises here that those who offer hospitality to him will not lose their reward. That’s our hope to share – that the fragrant message of Jesus permeates and is seen in our community, and through it people want to know more. They give us water for our thirst, but in turn we share with them about the one who can provide them with living water.
And that folks is what the Church is about. Some of you today know exactly what I mean about friends and family who seem to be very accepting to this Jesus guy. Let’s pray that they can see Jesus in us. Yes we will always be known as a Church family who welcome people in. But wouldn’t it be wonderful that as a result of the many doors we have knocked in recent weeks delivering food or medicine or whatever it is, that they welcome us as we talk now to them about Jesus who provides us all with access to the Father, that directs us towards the authoritative truth of his Word. Let’s not think that by reopening the doors of the church buildings all these people are going to swarm in. We must be people who, like the disciples, are carriers of the Gospel wherever we are, praying that we receive a warm welcome. And so it starts now and it starts with you.