40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. – Matthew 10:40-11:1 ESV
Jesus is about to wrap up His little pre-mission prep talk to His disciples, but as He nears the end, His words don’t get any less discomfiting. By this time, the disciples’ heads must have been ready to explode. They probably couldn’t make up their minds whether to go on this excursion or simply walk away while they could still do so. The way Jesus had described the outcome of their first unchaperoned missionary journey must have left them with serious reservations.
But it seems that Jesus tried to leave them with some words of assurance, reminding them that He was the one sending them. And it was vital that they remember Jesus had been sent by God. So, ultimately, the mission on which Jesus was sending them had been ordained by God the Father. In fact, in His high priestly prayer, prayed during the last few hours of His life on earth, Jesus asked the Father:
“Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.” – John 17:11-12 NLT
Jesus knew that these men had been given to Him by God, and while under His care, Jesus had protected and guarded them. The only one of them that had been lost was Judas, the disciple who had chosen to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin in return for money. And Judas’ role had been ordained by God and foretold in the Word of God (Psalm 41:9).
The other 11 disciples would remain with Jesus to the bitter end. While they would wrestle with all the talk of trials, suffering, and death, they would not abandon Jesus. At least, not until He had been arrested in the garden and dragged before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. At that moment, they would all scatter, except for Peter, who would follow Jesus as far as the courtyard of the high priest’s house. Then, fearing for his life, Peter would betray Jesus, denying he ever knew Him.
But that’s another story for another post. At this point in time, the disciples were on board, if a bit reluctantly. And Jesus wants them to know that they have a divine mission to accomplish, and their marching orders were from the throne room of God Almighty. So, while on their mission, if they found anyone receptive to their words, they needed to remember that they were speaking on behalf of Jesus, who was sent as the anointed one of God. Whoever believed them was actually believing the words of God. And, by extension, whoever refused to believe them was resisting the words and the will of God.
These men were still trying to get their heads around just who Jesus was. Even if they believed Him to be the Messiah, their perceptions of that title had been skewed by years of religious teaching that promoted the idea of a warrior king like David. They were expecting a military leader who would deliver the people of Israel from their centuries-long subjugation to foreign powers like the Romans.
In these early days of their relationship with Jesus, they were not yet fully aware of His divinity and His identity as the second person of the Trinity. Yes, at the baptism of Jesus, they had heard God say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV), but even those words from the lips of God did not necessarily register in their minds as a declaration of the deity of Jesus. They most likely took it as a statement of sonship, just as they considered themselves to be sons of God. And this becomes clear when we read the encounter between Jesus and His disciples some years later. Jesus was letting them know that He was going away, and He told them, “…you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4 NLT).
To this, Thomas responded, “No, we don’t know, Lord. We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5 NLT).
That’s when Jesus uttered those memorable words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).
And then, Jesus added a statement that we often overlook. In it, He reveals a reality concerning the disciples’ understanding of His identity.
“If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” – John 14:7 NLT
Don’t miss what Jesus is saying. He is telling Thomas that they still don’t know that He is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. They don’t know who His Father is. Jesus is not insinuating that they don’t know God. He is saying they don’t understand the unique relationship He shared with God.
At this point, Philip got involved in the conversation, revealing his cluelessness by requesting of Jesus “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8 NLT).
Now, look closely at how Jesus responded to Philip.
“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.” – John 14:9-11 NLT
Jesus dropped the bombshell that by seeing Him, they had seen God Almighty. The author of Hebrews supports Jesus’ contention.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. – Hebrews 1:3 ESV
And the apostle Paul adds his own Spirit-inspired confirmation.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation… – Colossians 1:15 NLT
It was essential that these men understand the true identity of Jesus. But it would be three years later and after the death and resurrection of Jesus before they fully grasped that reality. So, as Jesus prepared to send them out, He tried to get them to understand that they were acting as prophets of God. They were taking the truth of God, as revealed to them by Jesus, and sharing it with the people of God, the Israelites. And all those who heard and received their message would be rewarded just as a faithful prophet would be: With the full blessing and acceptance of God.
Once again, Jesus is giving the disciples a glimpse into the future. He is preparing them for His eventual departure and the critical role they will play as the primary purveyors of His message of repentance and salvation. Those who hear their message will be rewarded. Those who reject it will suffer the consequences. And all those who assist the prophets of God, the disciples (or as Jesus refers to them, “these little ones”), will be rewarded as well. Even a cup of cold water, given to aid the messenger of God in his effort to disseminate the gospel, will receive a reward.
Jesus is emphasizing the message and the messenger. Remember, He is about to send them out on their first missionary journey, and it is likely that their primary focus is on the miracles He has told them they will perform. But He wants them to know that the kingdom is not going to be about miracles, but about the message of the gospel. Bringing sight to the physically blind, cleansing to the leper, the ability to walk to the lame, and deliverance to the demon-possessed was not the main point of Jesus’ mission. And it would not be theirs either. Even bringing the dead back to life would pale in comparison to bringing regeneration of new life to those spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins.
All that Jesus has said was intended to be part of an ongoing program designed to prepare His disciples for their future role as His messengers of the good news. Little did they know that they were in an intensive training program that would last three years and entail a series of life-altering lessons and encounters. And it would all end with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and a non-negotiable assignment to take the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 29:19-20 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.