Text: Matthew 10:40-42
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the message that Jesus began preaching after he had been baptized by John the Baptist and tempted in the desert by Satan. Jesus offers a simplified view of life, then, as a matter of responding to this one command. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Within that command is the implicit accusation that we have all of us committed something before God that needs to be repented of. Explicit is the opportunity to admit it, turn around, head the opposite direction, and be prepared when the Kingdom of Heaven makes its appearance – and it is “at hand,” it is imminent, it is close.
Once we have admitted our sin and repented, then we are welcome to enter God’s Kingdom and begin living as its citizens. Peter calls us sojourners – wanderers in this world away from our true homes in heaven. We are left as sojourners here for the purpose of serving as witnesses and testifiers that the remainder of the world needs to “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
As citizens of heaven, we have surrendered the title to our goods, possessions, and lives here on earth. Our true possessions, our true life, our true hope is centered there, not here. We are left in this place at the pleasure of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to do His will and render service for Him and on behalf of Him for as long as He should have us to remain in this place. In Matthew 10, as we have been studying for the last three weeks, Jesus reveals what that life of service will look like. Going where He sends, proclaiming the message from place to place, being welcomed by some and beaten or flogged by others, shaking off the dust of the cities that reject us and making the end more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, for Tyre and for Sidon, than for those cities who turn us – who are God’s servants – away.
We have seen how to go – relying on the provision of God. We have examined what to expect – and it is often not pleasant. We have talked about what to do – speaking boldly, aiming high, fearing right, and surrendering everything. And finally, Jesus leaves us with the reason why we should serve and go and do.
The reason is both simple and profound. For all of His glory, omniscience, wisdom, and providential power, He has chosen us to be sent as His ambassadors so that the world can see and hear the message of His Kingdom and respond. We are to be His hands, His feet, His eyes, His mouth. We are to be His shoulder others cry on. We are to be His hand that lifts up the broken and binds up the wounded. We are His chosen vessels. We, broken jars of clay that we are. We who can offer but what Isaiah calls dirty rags as our best gift. We who have so often turned our backs on Him. We who have chosen to abandon a life lived to our own ends in favor of accepting His hope and promise of salvation and eternal security. We are His chosen ambassadors. We are the ones who will deliver the message that the world must respond to. And their response is everything. The real, ultimate reason that we are to be God’s servants here: the eternal rewards or the lack of those eternal rewards of everyone on earth depends on how they respond to us and to the message that is ours and ours alone to proclaim.
At the beginning of Matthew 10, Jesus selects twelve men from among those who had already been following him to be given, as verse 1 of the chapter says, “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” In other words, the authority to do the very things that Jesus had been doing in his ministry that Matthew recorded in the previous two chapters. These included when Jesus had cleansed a leper, healed a centurion’s servant (without even going to the centurion’s house!), healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many others, cast out spirits and demons with a word, freed two men from demons numerous and fierce enough to drive a herd of pigs over a cliff, and restored a bed-ridden paralytic so that he carried his own bed out of the meeting place. It was after doing these things that “Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority.”
My high school years were dominated by my involvement with the school’s band program. Our band traveled all over the state of Texas, and I went with them to the Medinah Temple in Chicago and Carnegie Hall in New York City. We went a lot of very public places. And whenever we would go out together, we would either wear our band shirts – a t-shirt common to all of us for that particular school year – or, if we were heading to a performance, our uniforms. Before we headed out, the director would always call us together and give what amounted to a recurring speech. It’s content always served as a reminder that when people saw us, they would be able to immediately recognize who we were and what school or band we were a part of. He would emphasize that when we stepped out into public – whether off a bus, a plane, or out of a hotel room – we were not just individuals. People would form their opinions and thoughts about our school, our school district, and perhaps even our state based on us and how we acted. In a sense, we were heading out as unofficial ambassadors of any of a number of different groups, organizations, or entities with which our band could be attached.
The real, international position of ambassador has an interesting history and an even more interesting function. It is an important part of international relations dating back to the papal states of what is now Italy in the 1400s. Common practice regarding the position of ambassador was codified by the framers of the Vienna Congress held at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814 and 1815. The particular titles used have been modified some since then, particularly after the World Wars of the Twentieth Century and the end of European Colonialism, but this is the general process: An ambassador is sent by the head of state of one country to the head of state of another country. The head of state of the receiving country then acknowledges the person presenting their credentials. Upon receipt, the individual is then fully recognized as an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. That Ambassador is from that time on greeted with the same title as would be used to greet head of state of his or her native country: typically, though not always, “Your, His, or Her Excellency.”
This greeting and the position’s title of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary indicate something special and significant about modern ambassadors: the ambassador functions before the head of state of the receiving country in the same way as the actual head of state of the sending country. The same respect and authority due and given to a head of state is granted to that state’s ambassador. The ambassador is empowered to forge and sign treaties and agreements of all kinds. That is the meaning of “plenipotentiary.” He or she is fully empowered to represent the state, nation, or country from which they are sent.
This idea of such an empowered representative did not originate with those Italian Papal States, however. A similar idea can also be found in Jewish legal writings, and would have been a familiar concept in Jesus’ day. Their idea was called shaliach. And in shaliach, the same idea of the modern ambassador is present. Someone would send a shaliach on their behalf, and that shaliach was granted full (i.e. plenipotentiary) powers. It was even agreed that such an individual could enter into a marriage or accept a divorce decree on behalf of the one by whom they were sent. And so potent was the authority that the one sending the shaliach could not have the marriage or divorce decree revoked. What the shaliach entered into on behalf of the sending individual was fully legal and completely binding.
And so we come back to the discourse of Jesus in Matthew 10, which starts with a commissioning – a sending. You see, before there can be an ambassador, the ambassador has to be chosen and sent. Back in verses 5 and 6, Jesus tells the six pairs of disciples where to go and not go – to Galilee, but not to the Gentiles in their case. Later, in Matthew 28, he will send His followers into the entire world. The disciples were sent. We are sent.
Jesus sends us out, and he sends us out as a kind of ambassador for His kingdom. Verse 40 says, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” You see, according to the Congress of Vienna, it was not enough that a head of state send an ambassador, but the individual also had to present his or her credentials and be received by the other head of state before the duties can commence and the ambassador exercise his plenipotentiary powers and authority. We are sent by God. The people to whom we are sent have to receive us. As by receiving us, they in turn receive Jesus and God.
In the days before telephones, SMS texts by cell phone, Twitter, and the internet, it was vitally important for international relations to have someone who could immediately address any crises that arose. The ambassador was the only open link available for communication and decisions. And that is how we serve. We introduce and represent Christ. And as representatives and stewards of Christ, we in turn introduce, represent, and act in the interests of God the Father.
This ties in to why it is so important to surrender everything, as we talked about last week. As God’s ambassadors, of a kind, we must act as He would act. We must present ourselves as He would present Himself. We must do as He would do. We represent in our own person the Person and rights of the one who sent us. It is entirely reasonable for the world to look at any one of us and all of us to see and find out what God is like. As we are, so they should be safe to assume God is. It is necessary to set aside our own agendas, our own desires and preferences, our own wishes and hopes. We serve another. And we must serve completely. We do not act in our own behalf, but on that of another.
Ambassadorship is not a light burden. Neither is discipleship and servanthood.
But there is even a higher burden placed on our role as servants and ambassadors. Jesus goes on in verses 41 and 42 to tie people’s eternal destinies to how they receive and welcome us. As those who are sent out by Him and given the same kind of authority that He possesses, this is entirely understandable. What we do in His name, people will necessarily attach to His name. By opening their doors to you or to me, they open their doors to God himself. By listening and responding to the message that we proclaim: Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! so people listen and respond to God’s message. What we say is what God says. That’s how we function as servants. When people respond to us, they are responding to God.
And so Jesus says, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” We are sent. We are sent specifically as empowered ambassadors – Plenipotentiary. And we are sent as empowered ambassadors with a particular message of calling people to repent of their evil ways and prepare for the imminent and immediate arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. God uses us, His servants, His ambassadors to proclaim the Gospel. He uses us – and only us – as the means to reach the world. As one writer I’ve been reading recently says, “There is no Plan B.” We are it.
This is the reason for why we serve: He has chosen us to be sent as His ambassadors so that the world can see and hear the message of His Kingdom and respond. And their response is everything. The real, ultimate reason that we are to be God’s servants here is this: the eternal rewards (or lack thereof) of everyone on earth depends on it.
God is not looking for a State Dinner. No red carpets. No seven course catered meals. He’s not looking for all of the pomp and circumstance and regalia that world’s governments’ ambassadors might receive. He is satisfied with just a cup of cold water – the only offering of hospitality the poor of Jesus’ day could offer any guest. He is looking for welcome and acceptance. And how people welcome and accept us with the message we have been given will determine the rewards that will be waiting for them when the Kingdom makes its final appearance.
It has been and continues to be my prayer that these studies on servanthood from Matthew 10 will be a sober reminder of the high, difficult, and urgent life we have surrendered to when we gave (or will give) our lives to Christ. The Christian life is one of service. It is one in which we live and serve as ambassadors from another realm to the present one. We are only sojourners, not residents or immigrants. We are not seeking permanent status here. Our wants and likes and positions and passions must be set aside in favor of the one who sends and keeps us here.
And the truth is that we have been sent here. To Grit. To Hurt. To Altavista. To Pittsylvania and Campbell Counties. This is our field. It is where our embassy has been placed. Our study of servanthood from Matthew 10 is finished with today’s sermon, but our study of what it means for you and me, for us together as Monte Vista Baptist Church, to be servants – to be ambassadors of God’s Kingdom – will certainly continue, and in many ways it is just beginning.
It is my aim to spend the rest of the year examining ourselves and discovering who we are. Who we should be. Who we can be. Who we are called to be, both individually and especially corporately. But it begins here, by recognizing our position and status as individuals and as a body of believers united by a common head, Christ. We are Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Heavenly Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We have mission and purpose and authority and responsibility. Our task is to preach to everyone in every place we go that people are in desperate need of repenting, because the very kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Salvation is not as simple as securing a deed to a heavenly mansion and spending all of eternity hanging out with family and friends. Salvation is the act of exchanging our citizenship from this world to God’s Kingdom. And in God’s Kingdom, all citizens serve as ambassadors. Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. This is who we are. This is why we serve.
TDNT 1:417, “apostello”