“He who receives you receives me” (Matthew 10:40).
“He who hears you hears Me; he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16).
Imagine this scene: You are about to go out and preach the Word of God. You are devoted to your Lord, certain of the message, and sure of your call. But then….
You begin to worry about the kind of reception you will get. Will I be effective? What if I’m not ready? What if they don’t like me? I’m not that great a speaker.
That’s when you hear the most amazing words from the Lord.
“Now, I want you to know something. This is not about you. You are my messenger and only that. This is about me and them. Therefore, however they treat you, they’re treating me. Whatever they do to you, I will take personally.”
“Got that now, my child? When they are listening to you, I take that as them listening to Me. When they receive you and do kind things for you, I take that as them doing it to me. But if they reject you and mistreat you, it’s as though they were doing this to me.”
You find that stunning.
You feel so inadequate. Your words cannot begin to match His. You fear many who will be in your audience will not like you. They will judge you by your clothing, your speech, your grammar, and your style. They will make decisions on whether they like you by your pedigree, your recommendation, and your appearance. And yet, Jesus assures you that He is so much involved in what you are doing that it’s as though He were doing it Himself.
Is this liberating to you or frightening? Or a little of both?
Luke 10:1 says “After this the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.”
I think of it like a seminary class of preacher boys. The professor–in this case the Lord Himself!–sends them out to preach. (Luke 10:4ff and Matthew 10:5ff gives specific one-time only instructions. For instance, they were to go only to the Israelites, who would presumably be predisposed to receiving their message. They were to take no money, no changes of clothing, and no weapons. This was basic training in living by faith. Later, Jesus would reverse these instructions in Luke 22:35ff so we must not err in taking these as applying to us.)
Of all the things Jesus told them in preparation for their brief ministries–and Matthew 10:16-42 is chockfull of insights and promises, instructions and warnings, perhaps nothing is more striking than this: “However they treat you, they’re treating me.”
When they receive you, my servant, they will be receiving Me. When they listen to your words, they will be hearing Me. And when they reject you, they are rejecting Me.
I find that stunning.
We must take care not to make the leap across this vast gulf and say that these three assurances apply to every preacher today, that Jesus is fully present in all they do and however they are treated, He takes as though they do it to Him.
As attractive as that might seem.
Preachers today come in every shape and size, every variety, every shade of doctrine, carrying every point on the spectrum of theological understanding. Thus, making any kind of statement about “all preachers” is hazardous and serious Bible students cannot be too careful.
I will go out on a limb and say this: A man of God* who is genuinely saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and called by God to preach, and who goes forth with confidence in the Word of God to declare it in love and power and integrity, these three truths are in force.
–Whoever receives the faithful preacher is receiving Jesus. He takes their reception of the preacher personally. When they bless God’s spokesperson, Jesus feels personally blessed.
–In listening to the words of the faithful preacher, they are hearing Jesus. He is in the words of the speaker, and even if the grammar or accent is lacking at times, the Holy Spirit works. (Note: They say Dwight L. Moody slaughtered the king’s English, and God used him in amazing ways.)
–Likewise, in rejecting the person and words and ministry of the faithful preacher, it’s Jesus they’re rejecting. And that is not a safe thing to do.
The Prophet Samuel was upset that Israel wanted a king. No good would come of this, he warned them. And yet they persisted. That’s when the Lord said something to his man that would put everything in a new light: “It’s not you they are rejecting, but Me” (I Samuel 8:7).
What this means to us today…
–The preacher who goes forth to serve the Lord faithfully should go in full confidence that God is at work, Jesus is along beside him, and the Holy Spirit is using him.
–That preacher must not make conclusions as to what Jesus did by the visual evidence of public decisions, outward manifestations, etc. God often does His best and most lasting work unseen in the human heart, with the evidence showing up long after.
–No servant of the Lord may excuse themselves because of their limitations.
–God’s people must take care at all times to honor God’s faithful servants.
–In the same way, we should take great care not to abuse God’s servant because we have concluded they are not being faithful. There are appropriate ways of dealing with unfaithful, unscrupulous, or deceitful ministers without the congregation dishonoring Christ.
*Note: I say “man of God” because that is my frame of reference. No offense to women preachers is intended. The important thing is not the gender but the truth.