The restrictions Jesus put on this first mission of the disciples are puzzling: make no common-sense preparations. “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.” What? Again, why?
King Jesus was forcing them to live by faith. Like walking out on ice believing that it’s strong enough to support you, not because you chanted “I believe, I believe” fifty times, but because you (the disciples) had seen someone else do it. (Jesus did these things first, in their sight.) Now they were expected to “go through the basic obstacle course” themselves. Because when you discover that you can do something hard or frightening – with God’s Holy Spirit helping you – the exhilaration, the exultation, the confidence … has to be experienced to be understood. And that confidence will keep turning back to God for more of the Holy Spirit’s power when the way is dark and your fears loom large.
Also, they would know immediately whether or not they were welcome. And their welcome, expressed in concrete terms of food, housing, etc, would be a testimony for those who welcomed them: Matthew 25:31-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
And as a testimony against those who rejected the disciples: if you’re healing people and casting out demons and they ignore or reject you, you’re wasting your time. “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” In chapter 10, Jesus repeated this instruction in a more “official”, legal form, and emphasized it in a terrible way:
“But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:10-12) Matthew and Mark also record this harsh judgment.
Did I mention “scary” when I described this chapter?
“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.’ ”
Scary. Working out the meaning of that verse in our lives is a critically important task.
Matthew 10 is Matthew’s recording of this same occasion. In verses 37-38, Matthew adds depth to that statement:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
On the other hand, the rewards for helping those loyal disciples are fantastic:
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 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. 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.” (Matthew 10:40-42)
Those of us who are faithful will also be rewarded:
“And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)
To say nothing of …
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’ ” (Revelation 21:1-7)