Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Missional Rewards

Jesus would spare us from wasted lives and wasted eternities! He wants us to know eternal blessing and reward. This we must understand if we are to be effective as his missional people. In Matthew 10: 40 - 11:1 from Jesus’ Sermon on Mission, he explains who it is that will be rewarded…and why.

Those will be rewarded who believe personally the testimony about Jesus. When Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” (40) he is speaking, first, of trusting & believing the witness of his twelve original disciples. Following their deaths, it was the apostolic testimony – written down in the texts of the NT – which have born witness to his life, death, and resurrection for the past 20 centuries.

Romans 10: 17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” To hear that word is to be awakened to the truth of one’s sinfulness, moved to repentance and faith, and set on the road to eternal life. To share that word is to join the chain of witnesses stretching back to the first disciples. Friends, we would not know Christ apart from the word that bears witness to him. It is through his word that we learn of Jesus’ compassion for the sick and grieving, the lonely and hungry, the harassed and helpless and those who are running far from God. It is through his word that we learn we have the spiritual authority to represent him as his missional people. It is through his word that we understand who we are and how we are to live.

But can we really trust this word about Jesus? My first response to that question would be, "Read it, and find out." The word of Christ is self-authenticating. As we sit down and read his word, asking him to reveal himself through it, we will discover its supernatural power and relevance for our lives. I am sure of this...because I've experienced it again and again. I would also commend to you Mark D. Robert's book, Can We Trust the Gospels? When we read the gospels with the mind and with the heart of faith, we hear the very words of God. Notice that Jesus did not say that welcoming him is like welcoming the One who sent him but that in welcoming him we welcome God; that in honoring his word we are honoring God’s word. (John 12: 48-49); that in receiving his forgiveness and his grace, we are receiving the forgiveness and grace of God himself. When we know that those will be rewarded who believe personally the testimony of Jesus….we will share it.

Secondly, those will be rewarded who join communally the fellowship of Jesus.
Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a prophet…and whoever welcomes a righteous person…none of these will lose their reward.” When Jesus speaks of welcoming a prophet or a righteous person, he is speaking of those who welcome his followers. More than this, he is talking about the reward and blessing of “joining one’s self to the fellowship of Jesus’ followers, i.e., the Church.

Years ago, I visited a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt. I and my friends were treated to a delicious meal; and a grand tour of this beautiful city. Standing on a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, I wondered that in this far away place I could meet people who were my brothers and sisters in Christ. And then I remembered….Jesus and his people had been in this land for 20 centuries. Mark was said to have first preached his gospel in Alexandria; and the gospel message that was shared here had travelled thousands of years and thousands of miles to reach me in America. I was returning home…and though the language and surroundings were strange, the presence of Christ and his people was tangible, warm and familiar. Through his church, I was experiencing the truth of Heb. 13: 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

There is a beautiful phrase in the Book of Acts where the early church is described. “And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” I believe that as we are faithfully carrying our Savior’s work in prayer and ministry…he will draw others to himself. When we welcome God’s people, and when we become part of the fellowship of God’s people – we will not lose our reward; the closeness, the forgiveness, the unlikely oneness, and the purpose we share as his missional people. When we know that others will be similarly rewarded who join the fellowship of Jesus…we are eager to welcome and invite them to join us.

Finally, those will be rewarded who support practically the ministry of Jesus.
For “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple… none of these will lose their reward.” Three times, Jesus uses the phrase “in the name of.” “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet,” or a righteous person “in the name of” a righteous person, or gives a cup of cold water “in the name of” a disciple will not lose their reward. This little phrase “in the name of” means “convinced that they are” or “in accordance with the honor that is due.” It means that the person is treated well, that they are greeted with honor and respect and supported practically. Jesus is envisioning his disciples on a journey to neighboring towns and describing those who open their homes and support and encourage that ministry.

Whether one welcomes the proclaimer of the gospel (the prophet’s ministry) or the doer of the gospel (the righteous person) or a newborn disciple of Jesus –there is a great reward promised. Notice that Jesus is honored when one of his followers are given even a cup of cold water; and (by extension) that we can support Jesus’ mission in the most simple ways. A cup of cold water can go a long way to demonstrating to the world the grace and truth of Christ. More people die each year from unsafe drinking water than from all forms of violence, including war! More than a billion people—one in every five on earth—do not have access to safe drinking water. There are many ministries today that are sharing the gospel by bringing clean water to places in the world that do not have it. Google "Clean Water Ministries" and you'll see what I mean.

What are some other ways that we give a cup of cold water to the least of these? We do it when we feed the hungry, when we welcome international students, when we care for widows, orphans, unwed mothers, or children in need. This week, I'm thinking about a 17 year old boy by the name of Stephen Holdridge who is very ill at Loma Linda Hospital. Ellery and Renee, his parents, have devoted the last 17 years of their life to caring for this miracle child. Born with a heart defect that deprived him of oxygen; he became one of the first babies in the nation to receive a heart transplant that saved his life; but his brain function was severely compromised. Since that time, Stephen has been hospitalized numerous times…and come back from the brink of death again and again and again. Anyone who has met Stephen knows that he has a kind and gentle way about him…truly one of God’s beloved “little ones.” We’ve learned that mission begins in our own backyard; and Renee and Ellery, from the beginning have embraced that truth. They never threw up their hands in anger or despair; they chose to see Stephen as a gift from God to their family. I have no doubt that they have loved him as Jesus would and and in fact does. Stephen was and is truly one of Jesus’ “little ones.” Pray for Stephen this week!

In a town where I once served as pastor, a local restaurant operator won the lottery – a multi-million dollar reward. After deciding that he would retire and travel, he handed over his restaurant to his long time employees. Now, he handed over to them the business that he had run for more than 30 years not because he needed the money from the business (he was now a millionaire), but because he wanted to share his abundance with those whom he loved so much. Friends, the abundant blessings of God’s mercy and love in Christ are like the biggest lottery jackpot in the universe and we simply cannot keep it to ourselves. We’ve got to spread the reward…we’ve got to share the wealth.

At the end of Jesus’ sermon, Matthew tells us that “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim the message in their cities” (Matt. 11: 1). Now I don’t know about you…but that sentence surprised me when I read it, because what I expected to read was "Then Jesus blessed them as he sent them out on their first missionary journey....." I assumed that it would be Jesus watching his disciples move out as he cheered them on; but Matthew says that after he was finished instructing, it was Jesus who was on the move again. And where are his disicples? They're watching him! Obviously, he isn’t sending them out alone, he is going with them…and in fact it is Jesus who is leading the way. He's out there in front again; which makes me want to raise a mighty missional shout and a hearty, (let's say it together) “Heah Jesus…wait for me!”


MomBrode said...

We chose to answer question 5 this week: "Jesus promises in this passage a reward to those who welcome Him. What has been the greatest reward for you in living the Christian life?"
Our answers: hope, knowing He's with us in our darkest moments - that we can totally lean on Him, grandchildren that are walking in His ways due in part to our guidance and being a godly influence, our mind at peace because we have a way out of sinfulness - reconciliation - so we don't carry guilt, seeing the amazing and complete change in our family members who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. These are but a few of the amazing rewards of knowing Jesus.

Carol C. said...

While waiting to have a medical test done yesterday, I was sitting in a waiting room. Two women sat down nearby. I noticed one of them had a book open on her lap. I asked her if it was a Bible. She said it was. I said, "Me too," since I also had my Bible open.

Her daughter approached me and told me that they are Jewish, but not religious, and that an 89 year old woman had given her mother the Bible and told her to read John and Corinthians. What are the chances that a Jewish woman would be searching in the New Testament and that I, a Jewish Christian, would have this opportunity drop right into my lap?

The daughter then proceeded to tell me about her medical problems that had been ongoing for three years. When she was called in for more testing, her mother and I had a chance to talk. I found that I felt completely inadequate in trying to make a connection for her with God's Word. It just seems like the Bible isn't going to have any meaning to someone who doesn't already believe. I don't know how God brings people from the point of reading a book they don't connect with to making that book come alive to them. But he obviously does because I'm one of them.

I found that I wanted to escape. I didn't want to keep talking to this woman because I didn't know what to say. I wanted to go back to my Bible, and my Sudoku puzzle and my iPod.

When it was time for me to go in for my test, I said goodbye to her and I told her that that book (her Bible) had words of life and hope and healing in it.

I left feeling frustrated and inadequate. It just seemed like this situation was so ripe, but that I was unable to go for the harvest. BUT, God had planted a seed when this woman had received the Bible as a gift, and I told myself that maybe I had watered the seed...but more likely I was the fertilizer.

Thank God it's not up to me. It's God's job to be God. For me, it's a missional reward to have the opportunity to participate in His work, even if I fumble at it.

Tiffany T said...

I completely relate to Carol's feelings of inadequacy. There have been many times I'll be given an opportunity by God to share my faith, and I'll feel completely lacking in words or actions for what I believe the situation calls for. But as Carol also mentions, it isn't up to us. In fact, I think it is a comparison to our fantasy worlds that make us doubt God's plan for us in these situations.
Later, our minds might replay the scene but instead of faltering, we imagine having said just the right words at just the right moment. Music swells, and a new believer was born again! But, that is NOT what happened. It took a lot of prayer before I realized that these moments were for me as much as they were for the other person.
These moments not only allow us to share the Gospel with others on their quest to discovering Christ, but they are also moments in our continued path of growing in Christ.