Thursday, August 30, 2012

Identity Mix-Up - Matthew 10:40-11:6

Vicarious Blessing
40 "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
41 "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.
42 "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."
Let's have some fun looking at translation of words first. :-) "Receive" carries a few different connotations in English; what exactly does it mean in this passage? Well, actually, two different Greek words, with two different meanings, are translated as "receive(s)" in these three verses. Where the word "receives" appears, that's the Greek word dechomai, which means receive in the sense of welcome and accept. But when the word "receive" appears, that's lambano, which is receiving in the sense of being given something. So, for clarity, we can read verses 40-41 as:
He who accepts/welcomes you receives Me, and he who accepts/welcomes Me receives Him who sent Me. He who accepts/welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet shall be given a prophet's reward; and he who accepts/welcomes a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall be given a righteous man's reward.
Now, who is the one who sent Jesus? That's referring to God the Father. This may seem odd to we Christians today who (kind of) understand the concept of the Trinity, but remember - this occurred very early in Jesus's ministry, and there was definitely some confussion in the disciples' minds about who precisely the Messiah was. So Jesus is saying, "Look, dudes - they'll be welcoming God!" So, whoever welcomes us and what we have to say is welcoming God. Just think what a great honor that is that God is with us to that extent!
Another thing to clear up is what the term "in the name of" means. In the American Church at least, we tend to end all our prayers with "In Jesus's Name, Amen," as if they're magic words (this practice is pulled from John 14:13-14, but for many has become ritual and lost its original intent). But what it actually means is, "as so-and-so would do it," or "in the capacity of." So, for example, "in Jesus's Name" actually means "as Jesus would do." Sooooo, what I think this passage is saying is that even if we're not super-spiritual (like prophets or "the righteous"), if we accept what they have to say and make an effort to act as they do, God will reward us! Genuine effort is more important to God than success itself.
Verse 42 seems simple at first glance, but there are a few beautiful encouragements for us in it: (1) It shows us that being a disciple is not about big stuff like going on overseas missions trips - living as a disciple of Jesus Christ is about showing love through small acts in the day-to-day...simple things, like giving water to the thirsty; (2) it demonstrates that he loves even the lowliest of us (in Jewish society at the time, children were essentially the lowest class); and (3) He will reward us for the little things, too! Again, it's not about competing with each other to be the best Christian - it's about doing whatever God has put before *us*. All in all, this simple verse is a concise love letter!
With this in mind now, let's remember the context from our last study post: He just talked about a bunch of terrifying consequences of following Him, including your own family turning you in for execution, and spoke that famous line, "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." Today's passage balances out the scariness with love and rewards, and elaborates on that line.
For more on why God rewards us and what these rewards look like, check out Matthew 25:31-46 and our past study on heavenly crowns.
Everyone Doubts, and How to Answer Them
1 When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities.
2 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples
3 and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?"
4 Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see:
5 the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.
6 "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."

Okay, so Jesus sends all the disciples out to "do ministry" one their own, without Him to guide their every step. They're probably feeling nervous and scared, and what is Jesus doing meanwhile? He's spreading the Gospel in the disciples' hometowns. While they're feeling like they're all alone, Jesus is ministering to their loved ones! This is a beautiful example of how when we feel like God's not near, He is still working "backstage," taking care of us in ways we're not even aware of.
Next, in verses 2-3, we see that John the Baptist is having some doubts as to whether or not Jesus is really the Messiah. Consider for a moment that because of the prophecies about his own birth and how much devoted his mother was to God, he was surely raised with the knowledge that his younger cousin was the Messiah. At the very least, it is extremely clear that his experience with baptizing Jesus left him fully convinced that Jesus was Messiah. Yet, because of his terrible circumstances (being locked up in a dungeon), he doubted. This is a wonderful example for us that even THE John the Baptist had a lapse in his faith, so the "valleys" in our own spiritual walks are to be expected. These valleys are indeed brutal, but it's certainly not like God gets angry at us for having them! As we're about to see...
In verses 4-5, Jesus doesn't get at all angry with John for his doubts! Neither does He simply say, "Of course I am," or "Yep." What does He do? He demonstrates it - that is, He purposefully chooses an answer that will directly address John's doubts. God *always* seeks restoration of our relationship with Him.
Here's another thing interesting about His answer: He references some fulfilled prophecies as a practical proof, but His primary focus is on how He's been working in people's lives. We can apply this, too... While there is definitely a time and place for arguing academically for the existence and supremacy of the Christian God (scientifically, historically, philosophically, etc. - evidenced by the success of such books as The Case for Christ), what works best most often seems to be simply telling people what God has done for you - i.e. how His love has changed you.
Unfortunately, verse 6 doesn't translate into English well at all. But when we look into the Greek, we see that it clearly ties back to the point of John doubting. The word for offense here is skandalizo, which basically refers to making you stumble (not in the sense of falling into sin, but of tripping you up in your faith) or fall away. So, this verse can kind of be phrased as, "And blessed is he who does not <doubt, and so stumble in his faith or even fall away [like John the Baptist is doubting]>." Obviously, life is far better when we never allow our faith to be shaken (easier said than done, of course).
Questions for You
Verses 40-42 have a lot of things going on in them; do you see another angle I missed?
When in your life had you had doubts and/or gone through valleys? What soothed your doubts or pulled you out of the valleys?
Giving Credit Where It's Due
Image Number One: Crown of Christian V (1671) kept at Rosenborg Castle, Copenhagen, picture taken by Claus15. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain. Used by permission.
Image Number Two: St. John the Baptist by Titian. Wikimedia Commons. {{PD-1923}} Public domain in the United States. {{PD-old-100}} Public domain in countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years, including the European Union.

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