Jesus is giving his directions as he prepares to send his disciples to proclaim the good news of the kingdom in what we call the limited commission. We have noticed that Jesus sent his disciples compassionately because the people were lost, like sheep without a shepherd. We have also noticed that Jesus sent out his disciples fearlessly. Though they would be sent like sheep among wolves, they were not to have fear of them because God sees what is happening, God greatly values his disciples, and our fear needs to be of God and not of people. But there is one more picture Jesus gives to his disciples as he sends into the field to do the work. Jesus is going to show his disciples that they are sent sacrificially.
Sacrificing Self (10:34-39)
Jesus begins in verse 34 noting that the gospel message does not create peace but divisions between family and friends. Jesus made this point back in verses 21-23. Jesus explains that conflicts that are going to be created. So why does Jesus return to this teaching? Jesus makes three points in verses 37-39.
Loyalty to Jesus over family.
First, we cannot love our families more than we love the Lord. There is going to be a deep temptation to put family first. This is a hard temptation because we know from the scriptures that family is important. We know that we need to love our families sacrificially and carry out our roles and responsibilities that God has given to us. But that sense of love and care can actually become a temptation to put our family above serving the Lord. This can been seen in numerous ways. We won’t go to worship services because of our family. We will not talk about spiritual things because we are fearful of family reactions. We might choose to have family time to the neglect of spiritual things. It is sad that we will think of time with family as something that stands opposed to time with God. But these two things can be brought together. Family time should be going to worship together. Family time should be praying and reading the Bible together. We should not separate these things. Deuteronomy 6 reminds us that spiritual life and spiritual talks should be incorporated in everything we do. Do not be tempted to have loyalty to family above loyalty to Jesus.
Loyalty to Jesus over personal comfort.
Second, we cannot love ourselves more than we love the Lord. It is in the context of the mission to reach the lost that Jesus says in verse 38 that we are not worthy to follow him if we do not take up his cross. We cannot put our personal comforts ahead of our loyalty to Jesus. It is easy to not worship, not serve, not teach, and not reach the lost because it is not comfortable. Following Jesus means sacrificing ourselves. I am not sure we always let that idea sink into our hearts. Carrying the cross means we will leave our comfort zones. Often we only talk about “carrying the cross” in terms of temptations and suffering for the cause of Christ. But carrying the cross has another level of meaning to it as Jesus is showing. Carrying the cross means we will do uncomfortable things in order to carry out the mission we have been given. Carrying the cross means dying to ourselves so that others can receive the life of the gospel. The image of carrying the cross should really push us to the mission. We give ourselves to save souls. The apostle Paul made the point this way.
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:10–11 NIV)
We die so that Christ can be seen in us. The mission is to sacrifice ourselves completely.
Loyalty to Jesus over living this life.
You will notice Jesus gives one more picture in verse 39. It is important to think about how Jesus presents this picture. Grabbing on to this life and making decisions for your physical life means you are going to lose true life. Living for this life means you will lose eternal life. Living for eternal life means you have to lose this life. We must decide which life matters to us. Do we want what the world offers or do we want what the life to come offers? Our loyalty must be to Jesus above what we want or seek after in this world. We cannot live loyally for this life and still be loyal to Jesus. The three pictures show that Jesus is telling us that we must be sent sacrificially. We are giving ourselves to save others. We are willing to lose our lives for the cause so that we will have true life.
We are being called to choose what our essential priorities will be. As disciples we are called to make a commitment that supersedes all other commitments. That is the call of this work we have been given. Taking up the cross means we are willing to give up everything. Taking up the cross means we are ready to suffer for the gospel. It is a complete reversal of the world’s priorities and pursuits. But Jesus has one more point to make as he ends his message. Look at verses 40-42.
Small Things, Great Reward (10:40-42)
Jesus talks about the reward that will be given to those who receive God’s messengers. If they listen to the apostles, the prophets, or even a righteous person will receive the same reward as those who gave them the message. This is a wonderful thought. It does not matter who you are, you have a great reward reserved for you for receiving the gospel message proclaimed to you. We will receive reward for being sacrificially sent. Jesus transitioned to this idea in verse 39. “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Verses 40-41 expand on this idea. But Jesus expands on the idea in the opposite direction. Notice Jesus is not speaking about us receiving a reward. Rather, we are giving others the same reward. We are sent sacrificially so that others can enjoy the same reward that we are receiving. We want everyone to enjoy what are able to enjoy. We want to reach everyone so that they can have the same promises that we have. Your reward is their reward. Don’t we want to share that with others? It is not about what we get but what we can give.
Second, notice what Jesus says in verse 42. Whoever even gives a cup of cold water because he is a disciple will not lose his reward. Friends, even your smallest efforts will be rewarded. This is a very important message. When we talk about being sent out into the world, we often only think big. We think that evangelism is only about running big programs. We think that sharing the gospel requires a big system and big machine to do the work. But Jesus is not thinking about some big program here. In fact, thinking big often brings about a problem. We think about the big things we can do, which then becomes too big so that we cannot follow through. We do not need a program. We need people who are willing to do seemingly small things to reach the world. There is nothing too small in the work of evangelism that we can do.
Jesus uses the picture of giving a cup of cold water because we are disciples as an example. We would probably think that this is something too small. But that is not how Jesus sees it. Instead of thinking about all the big things we can do, let us start by thinking about all the small things we can do. Can we send cards to our visitors who worship with us? Can we greet and get to know visitors who worship with us? Can we take them out to lunch to get to know them better and their spiritual needs? Can we help them with their kids when they come to worship? Can we invite our neighbors to come to church? Can we invite them our lectureship? Can we ask them about if they have any spiritual needs? It is so easy to overlook the small things but the small things can mean so much. There is no work that is insignificant in God’s kingdom. It is far better to do many small things that are possible for us to do than to think about doing one big thing for the Lord and never doing it. Do what you can do. I think we can apply the concept of Romans 12:-8 to ourselves with the same thinking.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6–8 ESV)
Can you teach? Then do whatever works you can in teaching others. Can you serve? Then do whatever works you see in serving our visitors, your neighbors, friends, and others to show them the gospel. Can you encourage? Then do the work of encouraging the lost to come to Jesus. Can you be generous? Then do the work of generosity as a means to reach the lost. Can you lead? Then look to lead, not only in the future as a shepherd, but lead a group of people to do God’s work in the kingdom. Can you show mercy? Then show mercy to the lost and help them and show them Jesus. The mission is that we are sent sacrificially and we must be willing to give ourselves in these areas and more. No work is more important and no work is too small.
So Jesus wants our loyalty to him to be greater than to our family. Jesus wants our loyalty to him to be greater than to our own comforts. Jesus wants our loyalty to him to be greater than to our own desires for living life in this world. Jesus wants our loyalty to be so great that we will sacrifice ourselves, doing what is uncomfortable and hard for the sake of saving the lost. Jesus wants our loyalty to be strong to him because we know that we are sharing life and rewards with those we talk to. Jesus wants our loyalty to be strong to him because we know that any efforts we make will be rewarded to us. We can be sent sacrificially because we know that this world is not life. True life is coming. This world and this life is only preparation for the life to come. We want as many as we can to join us in the true life to come.