Matthew – Part 4 – (Chapter 10)

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Jesus sends out the Twelve

He gives them authority to heal and to cast out demons
Matthew chapter 10, verse 1
He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
Commentary

In the last verse of chapter 9, Jesus told his disciples to “ask the Lord of the harvest . . . to send out workers into his harvest field.” We do not doubt that the disciples took these words of Jesus to heart and did indeed pray for workers, and the Lord’s first way of answering their prayer was to send them out into the spiritual harvest fields. They had prayed sincerely, and they were happy to become part of the answer to their own prayers.

Whenever we pray for the heathen, for the suffering, for the afflicted, and for our enemies, we want the Lord to use us to alleviate suffering, to spread the good news of the kingdom of God, or to win over our enemies through kindness. When we pray for missions, we are not only asking the Lord to open the hearts and the hands of other Christians to support mission work; we are also expressing our own willingness to bring our generous offerings for the work of Christ’s church. Otherwise our prayers are hypocritical and better left unspoken.

At this time Jesus gave his disciples special authority: “to drive out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and sickness.” The people had seen Jesus perform such miracles. As his disciples now performed similar miracles, this demonstrated that Jesus’ authority also accompanied their words. Those who proclaim the gospel since the time of the apostles don’t need miracles to authenticate their message. As long as they teach what Christ and the apostles taught, the miracles of Christ and the apostles continue to authenticate the message.

Jesus tells us to judge preachers on the basis of the message they proclaim. If their message is true to the inspired Scriptures, they are Jesus’ true spokesmen. If they teach contrary to God’s Word, they are false prophets, even if they seem to be able to perform miraculous healings or other mighty works. Satan likes to use his great power to deceive people with lying wonders. He doesn’t care how many wonderful things happen to people’s bodies and earthly lives, as long as he imprisons their souls and finally takes them, body and soul, into eternal death.

The Twelve named
Matthew chapter 10, verses 2-4
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Commentary

The names of the twelve apostles are also listed in Mark chapter 3, Luke chapter 6, and Acts chapter 1. Although there are slight differences in the order and even in the names that are given to some of them, they are regularly listed in three groups of four. The same four apostles are mentioned in the first group, the same four in the second group, and the same four in the third group.

Simon Peter is always listed first, and he is clearly the most prominent of the Twelve. He was a natural leader. He was usually the first to speak up, and sometimes he spoke or acted without thinking first and later regretted it. We need only mention that Peter proudly boasted that he would never desert his Lord, no matter what—and then shamefully denied Jesus. Or we think of the time Peter dared to rebuke Jesus when Jesus spoke of his imminent suffering and death—and Jesus had to rebuke him sharply, even addressing him as Satan.

Andrew was Peter’s brother. He and John were the first disciples, and Andrew was the one who brought Peter to Jesus.

James the Elder was John’s brother, and they were sons of Zebedee. John had been a disciple of John the Baptist before he became a follower of Jesus. On one occasion (Luke chapter 9, verse 54) Jesus called James and John “Sons of Thunder” (Boanerges) because they wanted to call fire down from heaven upon some inhospitable Samaritans.

Without mentioning himself by name, John, in his gospel, frequently refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. The special relationship that existed between John and Jesus was demonstrated when John was the only disciple to remain with Jesus on Calvary and Jesus asked him to care for Mary as his own mother from that day on.

Peter, James, and John were the inner circle of the disciples. These three were with Jesus when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, when he was transfigured, and when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The second group of four begins with Philip. Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Philip was from Bethsaida. He brought Nathanael (Bartholomew) to Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention him only when listing the Twelve. It is John who tells us that Philip immediately brought Nathanael to Jesus (chapter 1, verse 45), that Philip had no idea what to do when the five thousand needed to be fed (chapter 6, verses 5  and 7), and that Philip consulted with Andrew before bringing some inquiring Greeks to Jesus (chapter 12, verses 21 and 22).

Nathanael (Bartholomew) was from Cana, the Galilean village where Jesus performed his first miracle. Thomas we brand as the doubter, but it might be more charitable to think of him as one who wanted to be sure. He was convinced of the resurrection of Christ and could speak boldly of him. Matthew (Levi) has already been introduced as the author of this gospel. He had been a tax collector (publican) before becoming a disciple. The Scriptures are silent concerning his later life. We might call him the silent disciple, for nowhere do we have a record of any words that he spoke.

The third group of four begins with James the son of Alphaeus. We sometimes refer to him as James the Less in order to distinguish him from the other James, James the Elder. He may have been “less” in years, perhaps in stature, and certainly in prominence as a disciple. His mother (Mary) was a sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Thaddaeus is also referred to as Lebbaeus or Judas (not Iscariot). It was not uncommon for a man in Israel to be referred to by more than one name. Some had a Jewish name and a Greek name. Some adopted or were given a new name after a life-changing experience (for example, Saul of Tarsus becoming known as Paul the apostle).

Simon the Zealot had been a member of a political party (the Zealots) that advocated the overthrow of the Roman authorities in the land of Judah. He may have been attracted to Jesus originally because he hoped that Jesus would lead his people in a revolt, establishing himself as an earthly king over an independent Judah. We know that at times all the disciples seemed to associate such false hopes with Jesus the Messiah.

The last disciple mentioned in each list is “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” His name always suggests betrayal the moment we hear it. He is always mentioned last when the disciples are listed. His only recorded words in Scripture are “I have sinned . . . for I have betrayed innocent blood” (chapter 27, verse 4) and “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” (John chapter 12, verse 5). John immediately adds the comment, “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (verse 6). Even though Judas’ defection had been foretold by the psalmist and by Jesus and even though he was used as an instrument of Satan, Judas was still responsible for his evil deeds. Here we have an extraordinary example of how God can use the evil deeds of wicked people to carry out his gracious plans. God used Judas (and Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, among others) to carry out his plan for the redemption of the world through the sacrifice of his Son on Calvary’s cross.

Entire books have been written about the twelve apostles, but much that has been written is only tradition, legend, or speculation. We know quite a bit about them as a group, but very little about most of them as individuals. We will include only a few more observations here.

Although Jesus had 12 primary disciples, he also had a wider circle of 70 disciples, and all Christians may properly be called disciples. A disciple simply is one who learns from another as his or her teacher. There were only 12 apostles. To qualify as apostles, it was necessary to have seen Jesus and to have been an eyewitness of his resurrection and to possess the power and authority to perform miracles in Jesus’ name. They were all chosen directly by Jesus or by the Holy Spirit. These qualifications are clear to us when we read how Matthias was chosen to succeed Judas Iscariot (Acts chapter 1, verses 12-26) and how Paul defended his apostolic office (Galatians chapter 1, verses 11-24).

It is interesting to note that of the twelve disciples two were named Simon; two, James; and two, Judas. Most of the Twelve had been Galilean fishermen. Only Judas Iscariot was from Judea. (Iscariot means “man of Kerioth,” a Judean village.)

Most of the twelve apostles left no written records; yet as a group they are well represented as authors of New Testament books. Peter wrote two epistles; John wrote a gospel, three epistles, and Revelation; and Matthew wrote this gospel. We have plenty of firsthand information to know exactly what the apostles believed and taught.

As far as we know, most of the apostles died as martyrs. Tradition tells us that Peter was compelled to watch as his wife was put to death and that he was then crucified upside down (at his own request, because he considered himself unworthy of dying as Jesus had died). It is said that Andrew was nailed to a slanting cross and that he suffered there for three days before he died. James the Elder was the first to be martyred. He was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I. Nathanael supposedly was flayed (skinned alive) and then crucified head down. James the Less supposedly was hurled down from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten to death with clubs. Judas Iscariot committed suicide.

Only John lived to a ripe old age and died a natural death. He lived about one hundred years, but he spent his final years as an exile on the island of Patmos. While he was there, he was granted the privilege of seeing some wondrous revelations. According to Jesus’ instructions, he recorded them for us in the book of Revelation, which very appropriately is positioned as the final book of the New Testament.

Jesus instructs them for their mission

Go to the lost sheep of Israel
Matthew chapter 10, verses 5-7
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’

Commentary

“These twelve” were hardly men who could be expected to change the world. For the most part, they were uneducated, unsophisticated, weak in faith, and slow to learn. They could accomplish their mission only through the authority and power of their Lord. The gospel message they were to proclaim was more than just a statement of fact. It was a powerful, living message, which the Holy Spirit could use to produce saving faith in the hearts of people who heard it. So it was very important that the disciples would carry out Jesus instructions accurately and proclaim his message faithfully. Then they would not and could not fail. So Jesus proceeded to give them very clear and specific instructions.

Jesus sent them out two by two so that each could support and encourage his partner. He told them not to go to the Gentiles at that time but to concentrate on the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus came to redeem the whole world, and later he told his disciples to preach the gospel to all creation and make disciples of all nations. Jesus did not love the Gentiles less than the people of Israel, but the disciples had to start somewhere, and they needed a plan to follow. It made sense for them to start among their own people. They could more easily relate to them, and all their lives they had been taught to avoid unnecessary association with Gentiles. Even after they understood that the gospel was intended for Gentiles as well as for Jews, they found it difficult to invite Gentiles into the kingdom of God. For the time being, they had their hands full trying to reach the lost sheep of Israel, for the majority of the Israelites were such lost sheep. Religious leaders like the Pharisees and the Sadducees led people astray because they departed from the truths of God’s Word and taught their own traditions and philosophies. God’s true prophets were regularly despised, persecuted, and rejected by their own people.

“The kingdom of heaven is near.” That was the essence of the message they were to proclaim. It was the same message John the Baptist and Jesus had preached. They were to call people to repentance, to warn them of the consequences of continuing in their sins, and to assure them that God was carrying out his promise for the redemption of the world. The long-awaited Messiah had come. Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and that promised Savior. There is no salvation for sinners except through faith in him. The momentous events of Jesus’ passion, resurrection, and ascension would take place in their midst in the near future. The kingdom of heaven was near indeed!

Heal the sick and drive out demons
Matthew chapter 10, verse 8
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Commentary

The miracles of healing and casting out demons were duplicates of the kinds of miracles Jesus had been performing. This demonstrated to the people that the disciples were Jesus’ authorized spokesmen. Their miraculous works authenticated their message. Although Jesus told them even to raise the dead, there is no record that any of the disciples raised any dead at this time. The authority and most of the instructions Jesus gave the disciples at this time applied to their entire ministry, not just to this initial outreach effort. As time went on, apostles did even raise the dead, however.

In no way had they earned or deserved or paid for the ability to perform miracles; Jesus freely conferred this authority upon them. Now they were to dispense God’s wondrous blessings freely—without charging a fee or receiving anything in return. Modern day evangelists who claim to have the power to heal are more likely to enrich themselves out of the pockets of those whom they promise to help. High-pressure fundraising and extravagant, luxurious living are the marks of many false prophets.

Do not worry about food, clothing, or shelter
Matthew chapter 10, verses 9-11
“Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.

Commentary

Although they were to serve people without demanding anything in return, they could still rely upon the power of the gospel to move the hearts of their listeners willingly to provide for their needs. Since they could trust the Lord to provide for their needs in this way, they were to take no extra clothing or money or provisions along. They were to travel light and trust in the Lord.

These instructions were intended for this particular mission, and not for all future missionary ventures. As circumstances change, methods also need to change. On a later occasion Jesus gave his disciples very different instructions: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke chapter 22, verse 36). This reminds us not to draw general conclusions on the basis of only one passage of Scripture but to search the Scriptures diligently before drawing too many conclusions.

Leave and warn those who reject your message
Matthew chapter 10, verses 12-15
“As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Commentary

Shalom (peace be with you) was the customary greeting among the Jews. When the disciples spoke that greeting in a new location, they were not wishing their listeners a vague, general kind of peace. They were extending to them the peace of God, which comes only through faith in the Messiah for forgiveness and salvation. When that peace was accepted, the disciples were to remain there. When it was rejected, they were to be on their way, speaking an urgent word of warning as they left. That warning would be underscored with a visual demonstration as they would shake the dust from their feet.

Sodom and Gomorrah will not fare well on the day of judgment, for the citizens of those cities were excessively wicked, and they had despised and rejected the Lord’s warnings and calls to repentance. Yet Jesus said that those wicked cities would be better off on judgment day than the people of Israel who rejected the message of Jesus and his apostles. The Israelites had a greater opportunity, so they would bear a heavier responsibility. Unbelieving Israelites and impenitent sinners from Sodom and Gomorrah or anywhere else will all be condemned on judgment day to the eternal torments of hell. There will be no difference in that respect.

On the other hand, these words of Jesus do seem to suggest that there will be different degrees of punishment in hell. Those who once believed and later turned away from their Lord and Savior as well as those who had many opportunities to hear the gospel but stubbornly rejected it, will somehow be worse off than those who had lesser opportunities. Similarly, the Scriptures suggest that there may be different degrees of glory among the saints in heaven. We’ll have to wait and see with our own eyes exactly wherein these differences will consist, but we may be certain that in heaven there will be no feelings of envy or injustice.

Expect opposition and persecution
Matthew chapter 10, verses 16-25
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

Commentary

A wolf invading a flock of sheep could destroy many sheep. A sheep venturing into a pack of wolves would face certain death. Yet Jesus told his disciples that he was sending them like sheep among wolves. They too would face enmity and danger. They could go with confidence only because Jesus was sending them and he would be with them. But that did not mean that they had no responsibility for their own safety and welfare. They were to be shrewd as serpents, who quietly flee from danger but also stay and defend themselves if necessary. They were to be innocent as doves, which are, very appropriately, symbols of peace. They should not attack anyone and start trouble. If trouble came to them, you may be sure that they did not start it.

No matter how careful they might be, the disciples would still be victims of persecution. They would be falsely accused and punished by their own people, whom the Romans allowed to manage their own affairs and to administer judgment to a certain extent. When their countrymen wanted to do more to punish the apostles than they were permitted to do themselves, they would accuse them before the Roman officials and courts. When this happened, the apostles were not to regard it as a calamity, but rather as an opportunity to call Gentiles to repentance and tell them about the world’s only Savior. They would not have to feel intimidated before gentile officials, because Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would provide them with the proper words to speak. So they would speak with authority, and they would say the right things. The book of Acts tells us of many occasions when this situation occurred and the Holy Spirit came to the assistance of the apostles. (See Acts chapter 4, verse 8 for an example.)

Christ’s ambassadors would be in danger even in the family circle. Parents would have more to fear than disobedience and disrespect from their children. Children would have more to fear from their parents than discipline and punishment. Unbelief is not tolerant toward Christian faith; it is violently opposed to it. Unbelievers would in some cases go so far as to betray and accuse members of their own families and have them put to death. This happened literally during persecutions of Christians from apostolic times to the very recent past and may still be happening in some places. Under communist regimes, where atheism is official and all practice of religion is forbidden, many a Christian has been condemned to death for confessing and practicing his or her faith. This sort of atrocity will continue until the end of time.

Although Jesus warns us that all who follow him faithfully must expect to face persecution, he does not tell us to bring persecution upon ourselves unnecessarily. He rather tells us to flee to a safer location when we are threatened. He told the Twelve that as they would flee from place to place to escape persecution, they would “not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” There would always be more places for the disciples to go as Christ’s witnesses. This was a task that would not be completed “before the Son of Man comes.” These words immediately suggest Christ’s second coming at the end of the world. The original apostles would all be long dead before judgment day came. That is obvious to us now, even though it may not have been clear to them at that time. So the apostles and their successors until the end of time would always have more places to go and proclaim God’s law and gospel.

These words of Jesus may also be understood in a much more limited sense. Some Bible commentators are of the opinion that Jesus is referring to the time when he would clearly reveal himself as the Son of Man (and the Son of God) by his voluntary death on the cross and his victorious resurrection on the third day. Another opinion is that Jesus was referring to the terrible judgment he would inflict upon unbelieving Jerusalem when the city would be destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. None of these opinions contradict the Word of God or historical facts, so we are free to consider or to prefer any one of them.

When we come upon passages of Scripture that are difficult for us to understand, we might feel frustrated. If we cannot find one definite solution or interpretation, we might feel that we are very inadequate as Bible students. But we can have a much more positive attitude in the face of such problems of interpretation. If we search the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation in an effort to shed light on a particular statement of the Bible and fail to find the answer we are seeking, that does not mean that our efforts have all been useless. Just think of all the other information we might glean in the process.

At the same time, we may be certain that the Bible will never leave us in doubt concerning any truth that affects our eternal salvation. The more we search the Scriptures, either at random or in an effort to find specific information, the more we will grow in faith and in the certainty of our salvation. The Holy Spirit has designed the Scriptures in such a way that we may study them as long as we live and keep on learning more about our gracious God and his wondrous works and ways until our dying day. Only in heaven will we be blessed with perfect understanding and answers to all our questions.

Do not be intimidated
Matthew chapter 10, verses 26-33
“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Commentary

The enemies of Christ can persecute his people only within limits that he establishes. Since Christ is in charge of our lives, we need not be afraid of those who oppose us on account of our faith and our faithful confessing of the gospel of Christ. So we may boldly proclaim the whole counsel of God. We may shout it from the housetops, holding nothing back. Our Lord will recognize our faithful service to him and his kingdom, and on the day of judgment he will acknowledge our works of service before all people. At the same time, those who have opposed and rejected the saving gospel of Christ will be publicly revealed as being without excuse for their unbelief.

All our enemies, even Satan, can do no more than kill our bodies. That may be a terrible thing in itself, but in that very moment when they seem to be prevailing over us we will victoriously slip from their grasp, and our Lord and Savior will receive us unto himself in the glories of heaven.

So it is foolish to be concerned primarily about escaping from our earthly persecutors and allowing them to intimidate us. We rather want to be concerned about how we stand before our holy God, for he is the only one who can cast both soul and body into hell. He is our judge, not Satan, and he assures us that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, promises us that no one will be able to pluck us out of his hand.

Jesus directs our attention to some common, ordinary birds to assure us of God’s providential care. To this day sparrows are not highly valued compared to many other birds. At the time of the apostles, sparrows were sometimes used for food. Some tell us that sparrows were considered a delicacy, but the very low price for which they were sold seems rather to indicate that they would serve as food for poor people when they couldn’t afford anything better. (A normal wage for a laborer was a denarius per day. An assarion [“penny”] was 1/16 of a denarius.) Yet the God who created the sparrows watches over them, and not one of them falls to the ground unless he permits it.

In a similar way, God watches over all his creatures. Every human being is much more precious in God’s sight than any animal, for people have immortal souls. Could God possibly forget or be unconcerned about those who are his dear children through faith in Christ? Isn’t that unthinkable? God is so concerned about our welfare that he even knows how many hairs each of us has on his head, and if one falls out, he knows which one it was. Absolutely nothing escapes his notice or is beyond his power to control. We are safe in his hands.

Families will be divided
Matthew chapter 10, verses 34-39
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Commentary

On the night of Jesus’ birth the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke chapter 2, verse 14). Jesus, the Prince of peace, came to establish peace between God and sinful humanity. He reconciled us to God by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone for all sins. Yet the majority of this world’s people prefer to think that they can do what is necessary to establish their own peace with God, and they resent anyone who tells them anything different. That is why a consequence of Jesus’ coming is not peace, but a sword.

Enemies of Christ are hostile toward Christians, and sometimes that hostility even leads to bloodshed. Sadly, the unbelievers’ victims may even be members of their own households. In order to avoid such bad blood within the family circle, Christians are tempted to hide their faith or even to deny their Lord. But anyone who is more concerned about his relationship with his relatives than about his relationship with his Lord is making a disastrous choice.

The cross Jesus asks us to bear is not a reference to troubles and sufferings in general, but only to suffering that we are called upon to endure because of our faith. Some Christians are called upon to bear much heavier crosses than others, but our Lord promises that he will give us the strength we need, so that our crosses will not overwhelm us but bring us closer to our Savior. To lose one’s life for Jesus’ sake is to give oneself completely into his hands, body and soul. It is to make oneself a living sacrifice to the Lord. In the process, the Christian lives abundantly now and will live in eternal glory with his Savior hereafter. But those who concentrate on the things of this life jeopardize their eternal salvation. He who gains the whole world but loses his soul has made a poor bargain indeed!

Those who receive you will be graciously rewarded
Matthew chapter 10, verses 40-42
“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Commentary

Jesus concludes his instructions to his disciples by pointing out how they will be a blessing to others. Those who welcome and provide for Jesus’ messengers are serving the Lord himself, and he will acknowledge and graciously reward that service. A prophet’s reward or a righteous man’s reward is not eternal salvation. We do not earn heaven by anything we do for God or for any of God’s messengers. We rather share in the blessings they receive through the Word of God: peace with God, patience in time of tribulation, confidence to pray, and the like. We receive eternal salvation through faith in Christ alone, but here Jesus speaks of the blessings with which God graciously rewards our fruits of faith, our good works, even such a simple gesture as giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty child. When we do this as an expression of our Christian faith, God is pleased, and he will find a way to reward us. We may forget, but our Lord will remember every act of service. But anyone who does so-called deeds of charity in order to gain recognition or some other reward will be sadly disappointed. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and faith does not seek recognition.

All Christians are ambassadors for Christ, whether they are full-time workers in Christ’s church or earning their living in some other occupation. So we all do well to remember and ponder the warnings, the instructions, and the promises Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out to invite people into his kingdom.