We are coming to the final instruction which Jesus gave to the Twelve Apostles before sending them out on a mission to convert the Jews. Just before this, we saw how Jesus had told everyone that if they did not forsake everything in the world, even their own families and lives, then they were not worthy of Him. This final teaching is a little less controversial, but significant all the same.
Sermon on the Mount, some Christian theologians suggest that one of the biggest issues Jesus was combating was mechanical religion, or religion by the letter. That is, doing what God requires of you because God said to do it as opposed to obeying and worshiping in the spirit. What exactly doing something in “spirit” means is somewhat nebulous, but I have heard it said that it is associated with a love of good and a love of God. It is like the difference between following the rules to avoid being punished versus obeying them because you want to be good. The motivation is key, and we will take a closer look at a motivation in this study.
In Matthew 10:40-41, Jesus gives us the concept of a vicarious reception and reward; a kind of receive-a-messenger-of-Jesus,-get-Jesus-for-free program. What exactly is meant by “receive” is up for debate, but I am sure that I would rather receive a messenger of Jesus than have to give up everything I have. ;-)
Tacked on the end of this vicarious business is a rather curious verse in Matthew 10:42:
“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.” NIVLet us skip the larger implication of this statement for a moment in favor of examining motivation. Motivation; as in why would you be giving cold water to one of these children? Because they are hot? Because they are thirsty? Because of courtesy? Because of kindness? Because of general love you feel for them? No. None of the above. Because you are a disciple of Jesus. Implicitly, because that is what Jesus would do. And if you do so, you will not lose your reward.
There we are. Right back where we started. We are doing things because God/Jesus wants you to in order to be rewarded. Just like in the Old Testament, blessings and curses are doled out based on obedience, except that you will have to wait until after you die to reap this reward.
Ordinarily, this would be a laudable sign of consistency, if it were not for the fact that a large part, if not the overwhelming majority, of modern Christianity adheres to a doctrine of grace (Ephesians 2:4-5). God's grace, as the story goes, means that your eternal reward does not hinge on your individual actions because God is granting you something which you do not deserve. There is nothing you can do to earn this reward (Romans 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9)... unless you happen to actually pay attention to Jesus' words.
The moment you are Saved, you have an eternal reward waiting for you, but, as we see in this verse, once promised a reward is not forever promised reward, and once Saved is not forever Saved. It seems that God's grace has its limits; that, at a certain point, the works you do or do not do will assure or deny your access to the promised reward.
On a final note, you may remember from a couple of earlier studies of the mission instructions that the author of Matthew appeared to be an aggregator; someone collecting different snippets of sayings and anecdotes associated with Jesus who then pastes them together into one (hopefully) coherent story. We saw how Matthew mistakenly records Jesus telling the Twelve Apostles not to worry about what to say when they confront Gentile leaders on this Jew-only mission and how Jesus told them that He would return (as in the Second Coming) before they got done traveling throughout Israel.
Well, in Matthew 10:42 is possibly another aggregation gaff. Back at the start of this speech, Jesus had called the Twelve Apostles together to privately give them these mission instructions (Matthew 10:1). Yet in Matthew 10:42, we see Jesus say “one of these little ones,” as if they were in the presence of children, like what we see in Matthew 18:1-6. This is only a possible gaff, because it could be that there were children in the general vicinity, and Jesus just pointed or otherwise gestured to them in the distance as He made this comment. Yet with no mention of the gesture, and with two prior, and more serious, mistakes already made, odds are that this is a cut-and-paste error too.