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Hands and Feet of Christ

Matthew 10:40-42

Sermon preached at the Community Baptist Church, Warrenville, IL on May 19, 2019.

The American Baptists have been using the slogan, “Serving as the hands and feet of Christ.” I get it to mean that we are to act on behalf of Jesus when we are disciples in the world. But it wasn’t until I read this short lesson from Matthew that I have understood the depth of the meaning of discipleship. And what you are about to hear will also surprise you like it did to me.

A couple of verses earlier in this same chapter, Jesus warns his disciples of impending persecution. While Jesus has spoken to his disciples about the rewards of being a faithful follower, he is now talking about the trials and tribulations of discipleship. Being a disciple is difficult and demanding.

Which makes Jesus’ statement all the more surprising, “Those who receive you also receive me.” This is shocking because when the world receives a disciple, it is the equivalent to receiving Jesus himself.

As a pastor, I am proud of our churches wherever they are ministering and serving. I assume that your pastor is proud of the faithful service that you are doing through this church. And yet, I know firsthand that the church, for all of its virtues, is a very human institution. We do have our problems. We try to live up to Christ’s expectations for us, but oh how far we fall from meeting those noble expectations too! Does our church really behave like we were the Body of Christ?

But here Jesus says that when the world receives a follower of Jesus and is kind to that disciple, it’s the same as receiving and showing kindness to Jesus. This is a high theology of the church and all of us disciples in it. The Apostle Paul calls the church “the body of Christ.” That seems to be quite a claim for the church to make as we know it. And yet here in the passage for this morning, Jesus himself says to his ragtag group of followers, “Those who receive you also receive me.”

This means that when I preach to you as I am doing now, it’s the same as if God is speaking to you. Now talk about intimidation! Intimidation not as much for you as it is for me—trying to speak for God!

And yet, here Jesus says to his disciples what he says to the world—receiving one of his followers is the equivalent of receiving Jesus. Extravagant though this might sound. Incredibly confident that this claim appears to be, I think that we have seen this wonder in the church.

Here’s a fictitious illustration. John and Mary are going through a painful separation. But they are embarrassed and have taken great pains to be sure no one in the community, particularly no one in the church knows. Of course many people do know, but because of John and Mary’s great desire for secrecy, nobody says anything. Until the night that Tom and Alice—members of their Bible study group—took the courage to ring their doorbell and ask, “Can we come in?”

Of course John and Mary felt awkward and ambivalent about whether or not they ought to let their friends from church come in. When they allowed them into their living room and, after some pleasantries, Alice says, “We heard that you two were going through some sadness just now, and we just wanted to let you know that we care about you and don’t want you to go through this alone, unless that’s what you really want.” When John and Mary dared to let these folks into their lives, it really helped.

Later, John told one of his other friends, “It was almost like Jesus himself came into our house that night when those two people walked in our door.”

Jesus and Us

In our passage today, Jesus blesses those who are hospitable to Christ’s persecuted disciples. Receiving Christ’s disciples, it implies, brings with it rewards similar to those that await disciples, but also the threat that the disciples suffer themselves. Three instances of hospitable reception are given: prophets, righteous persons, and children.

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Whereas most the Jesus’ commandments related to hospitality urge disciples to practice hospitality, these verses put the disciples in the position of receiving hospitality. Sometimes we are those who give to others and sometimes we are in the role of receiving the gifts from others.

This means that when we see ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ, the eyes, ears, noses, mouths of Christ, the Body of Christ and people show hospitality to us, they would precisely be showing hospitality to Jesus himself.

Disciples are those who carry Jesus’ light to the world (Mt. 5:14). But the world resists the light, so there is persecution. However, to receive one of these disciples is to receive Jesus as well as the Father (Mt. 10:40). This is a bold link between disciples and Jesus and the Father who has sent him.

At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is “God with us,” Emmanuel (1:23). The one who is sent is one with the sender, God. Jesus is one with the God who sent Jesus. Jesus’ disciples are one with the one who sent them, Jesus, which therefore makes them one with God. I know this sounds a bit confusing but the point is that as disciples we are connected and one with Jesus and since Jesus is one with God, we too are one with God.

In responding to the disciples, positively or negatively, the world is responding to Jesus and to the God who sent Jesus. We are proclaiming an intimate unity between Jesus and his followers.

Disciples represent Jesus. Disciples are the designated, spokespersons for Jesus, physical embodiment of Jesus and his message. This means that when disciples are in perilous situations, they are not immune from some of the same rejection and persecution that Jesus suffers. The way the world responds to the witness of the disciples of Christ has life-and-death significance because the disciples are the physical embodiment of Jesus himself.

God in Others

Most everybody here at church in some way or another has heard Jesus speak to you, or you got a glimpse of Jesus at work in the words and in the life of another person. You dared to believe that the risen Christ can actually be incarnated in the words and deeds of ordinary people.

And if you are a person who invited and welcomed someone to come to church, you dared to welcome that person as if welcoming the person of Christ himself.

This is an amazing point! When people welcome you whether you are speaking like a prophet or acting as a righteous person or a child who needs a cup of water, you become like Jesus and the people who extended hospitality to you have witnessed Jesus himself. Our text says that when you welcome a prophet, you would receive a prophet’s reward; when you welcome a righteous person, you would receive the reward of righteousness; and when you welcome a child who is in need of a cup of cold water, you would also receive a cup of cold water.

Along with this amazing promise comes a huge amount of responsibility. Just think how much easier our Christian lives would be if Jesus had said to the world, “I’ve done the best I could in calling my disciples. But I know that I probably made some mistakes with some of them. And remember that, after all, these guys are only human. They are doing the best they can, but just remember, these people do not speak for me.”

That is not what Jesus said. He says to his disciples, “In receiving you, the world receives me.” This means that you and I ought to guard our speech, what we say, watch what we do. Some people may see Jesus only through your life and some people may reject Jesus because they see your words and your life. This is a frightening thought to ponder!

When you send out a mission team and they arrive in the village, the villagers will welcome and receive them. The villagers will be their hosts for the next two weeks, sheltering them, feeding them, learning from them at VBS, and working with them side by side. When the villagers receive your mission team, might the villagers see Jesus? I hope so.

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G.K. Chesterton writing about St. Francis of Assisi said,

            Now in truth while it has always seem natural to explain St. Francis in the light of Christ, it has not occurred to many people to explain Christ in the light of St. Francis—St. Francis is the mirror of Christ as the moon is the mirror of the sun. The moon is much smaller than the sun, but it’s also much nearer to us; and being less vivid it is more visible. Exactly in the same sense, St. Francis is nearer to us, and being a mere man like ourselves is in that sense more imaginable.

Chesterton’s point is that St. Francis of Assisi is a physical embodiment of Jesus and his teachings in the world. And when we welcome St. Francis of Assisi, we are welcoming Jesus himself.

I was never a Boy Scout but my older brother Philip was. I can remember when he put on his uniform with the matching scarf. It looked like it was fun because it made him looked older and he was a part of the team. I read that when scouts wear their uniforms out, they are treated with respect and sometimes even getting some perks like getting something for free. But that means that the scout has to act responsibly in his uniform.

The scoutmaster might give a speech like, “Remember, you are in uniform. People will judge scouting by you. People will expect you to set high standards because you are a scout.” Putting on a uniform makes one believe that he is a better person. The uniform demanded that you behaved in a way that the uniform demanded.

After service this morning, you will be going out into the world. When you order lunch today, will the waiter or waitress see Jesus? When you go to work tomorrow, will your coworkers see Jesus in the office? When you are running errands, will the shopkeepers see Jesus in you? When you are shopping this week will the sales people see Jesus in you?

There’s a story of a Christian student who went off to a summer academic program for which his high school had nominated him. He called home to say, “You won’t believe what they put on the official T-shirt we bought. I won’t even wear it.” On the front it said, “Accept nothing.” On the back, “Question everything.” Such slogans may sound edgy, but in a very real sense they are the conventional wisdom of our culture. Trust no one, accept nothing, question everything—everything, that is, but yourself. Declining to wear this T-shirt, the student put on another. The front of this black T-shirt read in white lettering, “Loser.” On the back, was a quote from Jesus: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Wearing such a shirt, this young Christian student affirmed his life was not his own. He affirmed that, when the world received him, it was receiving the one who sent him—Jesus himself.

The scriptures urge us to “put on Christ.” When we are baptized as a Christian, it’s like we are clothed in a new garment. We thus become representatives of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus. When the world welcomes you, dares to expose itself to your testimony, is willing to offer you hospitality, it is receiving none other than Jesus himself.

Let us serve as the hands and feet of Christ, the Body of Christ in the world so that whoever receives us, will indeed meet Jesus.

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, you have chosen us, even in our limitations and our inadequacies, to be your disciples, representatives, and ambassadors of your reign. We are astounded by your faith in us. You have entrusted so much to our care and invested so much in us, even your own life. Strengthen us in our attempts to represent you to the world. Make us confident that through us you accomplish your purposes for the world. Amen.

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