Summary: There is nothing like a cold cup of water on a hot day.
A Great Reward
This morning’s New Testament text from the Lectionary has to be understood within the context of last week’s passage to which it presents a dramatic contrast. Jesus had charged His disciples before sending them out on a mentored mission tour to the villages of Galilee. From all accounts, the mission had gone well. It was recorded that demons were cast out. None of the persecutions which Jesus warned them did not seem to happen. No one is recorded as having been flogged and excommunicated in the synagogues. The disciples at this point probably wondered why Jesus was so concerned with persecution. But Jesus was preparing them beforehand for the much tougher conditions which would come after His death and resurrection when they would go out also to the Gentile areas. Then they would have been reminded of what Jesus had told them before in the preceding passage. They would not have to carry their crosses on this missionary journey, but they would.
The terrors which the disciples would soon face seemed overwhelming. Jesus had not yet told them that He would be rejected and crucified in Jerusalem. But here He commands them to take up their crosses and follow Him. This was a first hint. What was going to happen to Him would also happen to them. They would be rejected even as He was going to be rejected. Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe. At one point his family came to take Him away. They thought Him insane and were embarrassed for Him. But Jesus replied by saying His mother and brothers would be those who heard His word and kept it. In like matter, the disciples would be rejected by their own families and their own nation. They too would stand before Roman governors in judgment even as Jesus would stand in judgment before Pilate. They, too would be put to death for following Jesus Christ. On a more positive note, they also would be resurrected.
This passage presents a little more positive tone. All the suffering and rejection they would someday face would also bear fruit. Not all would reject the Gospel. There would be those who believed as well. These would become part of a new family of those who heard the Word of God and kept it. This would replace their losses of their natural families. The disciples had received Jesus, and by doing this they received the Father. The same is true of those who would believe by their preaching of the Gospel. “Those who receive you, receive ME. And those who receive me receive the Father also.” These, too, would go out with the Gospel and suffer for Jesus. And so on, even to this day. But they did not go alone. The Holy Trinity would be with them, with the Holy Spirit being in them. And so with us. This is the power and presence of God in the midst of His people. They would remember the words Jesus would later tell them: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In verses 41 and 42, Jesus talks about a tier of rewards for those who would accept the Gospel. The one who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet gets a prophet’s reward. The one who receives a righteous man gets a righteous man’s reward. The one who offers even the least of the brethren a cup of cold water will certainly not go unrewarded. This has caused a little difficulty in understanding as it is rewarding one’s works proportionally. In the Reformed faith, the emphasis of salvation by faith alone apart from works makes this difficult. But this is not a matter of earning salvation. But the New Testament talks about proportionate rewards. Revelation 14:13 reminds us that our works will follow us. Hebrews also says that God is not unjust to forget our labors. Paul talks about rewards and tells us to use precious materials in building our lives. Jesus also teaches about rewards, for good or ill in many places. Although, there is still plenty to speculate about, what is important that there are rewards to Christian service. Whether one hears from a prophet or a good man, the acceptance of the Gospel message means that these people are accepted by Christ unto eternal life, which is indeed the greatest of rewards. Even Jesus said that it was better to lose everything in this world to gain the Kingdom of Heaven. What good would it be to gain the world and lose one’s soul?
The reward for giving even a cold cup of water in the name of a disciple means that what seems to be the most trivial of service is noted by God. The providing of a cup of water to someone who has been out in the heat of the day is indeed a far greater gift than it seems. It could also be seen as offering hospitality for the Lord’s servants who had been put out of synagogues and homes and were left to wander. When we see how the prophets of the Lord were treated. We see what Jesus said would happen to the disciples for the sak of Jesus. Hebrews talks about this hospitality when he says that they should do so because they might be showing hospitality to angels. Perhaps these “angels” were their fellow believers who had lost all including family, employment, and hone for the Gospel. By showing hospitality, they could certainly be repaid by the Lord for this service.