A Cup of Cold Water
April 23, 2016
There is a lot of bad news in Matthew 10:
Lies, slander, verbal abuse
Why would anyone sign up for this?
I used to listen to a preacher who liked to lean forward and say, “If you’re going to be a Christian, be one!” We need that more than ever today. In a world where our brothers and sisters in Pakistan are being killed for their faith, we all need to decide which team we’re on.
If you’re on the world’s team, put on their jersey.
If you’re on Team Jesus, put on his jersey.
In these difficult days, we need Christians who aren’t ashamed of their faith. Compromise will win you no friends. You’ll be “too Christian” for the worldly crowd and “too worldly” for the Christian crowd. We might as well stand up and be counted.
Compromise will win you no friends
When Jesus comes to the end of his message to his disciples, after warning them repeatedly of the trouble they can expect, he does what any good leader should do. He answers the question, “What’s the reward for living like this?”
It’s a fair question. Following Jesus will not win you any praise from the world. If you dare to take a strong stand on any moral issue because of your Christian faith, you may lose your job, you may be sued, and you will certainly be attacked on social media. Around the world, our brothers and sisters face the threat of arrest, physical violence, and often death itself.
Is it worth it to follow Jesus? Maybe we’d be better off keeping our head down, our mouth shut, and not making any waves. Why risk your career (or your life) when you could just “go along to get along?”
In Matthew 10:40-42 Jesus makes three promises to those who follow him.
# 1: We Will Connect People With God
“The one who welcomes you welcomes me, and the one who welcomes me welcomes him who sent me (v. 40).
Notice the connection here:
First, people welcome you.
Second, by welcoming you, they welcome Christ.
Third, by welcoming Christ, they welcome the Father.
We don’t all worship the same God
Here is the clearest possible answer to a question that has been raging recently: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? Evidently some people want to answer yes, as if to say, “We have Jesus with God; you have Jesus without God.” But Jesus will not let us say that. This verse tells us plainly the way to the Father is through the Son. Jesus said it in a negative sense in John 15:23, “Whoever hates me hates my Father as well.” In today’s multicultural world where we have enshrined tolerance, diversity and pluralism as the new secular trinity, statements like that don’t fit in. They are too narrow. “One way to God? How dare you say such a thing!” But we don’t get to pick and choose which statements of Jesus we will follow. The Bible teaches clearly (and repeatedly) that there is one God, and the only way to know him is through Jesus Christ.
Only one road leads to heaven
Recently Greg Laurie came to Dallas for a one-day evangelistic event called Harvest America. Over 80,000 people gathered at AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys) to hear him preach the Good News of Jesus. He noted that people like to say there are many roads to God. That’s true. Every road leads us eventually to a face-to-face encounter with the God of the universe. So it doesn’t matter which road you travel—atheism, spiritualism, voodoo, Buddhism, Communism, Hinduism, or any other “ism.” All roads lead to God. Greg Laurie went on to say only one road leads to heaven. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We connect people with God!
So here’s the good news for all of us. When we preach the gospel, we are connecting people with God! We are preaching the one and only message that leads from earth to heaven. Pastor Brian Bill told me about a 7-year-old girl in his congregation named Kendal Fields who had a burden to win her friends to Christ. This is an edited version of a note she read to Edgewood Baptist Church in Rock Island, IL:
“A few weeks after I was saved, I asked my mom if I could bring the book Anchor for the Soul to school and she said yes. My friend started reading it with me. One day three of us were sitting together on the bus and they asked me how to get to heaven, and I told them first they had to ask Jesus to forgive their sins and then I told them they had to pray that and really mean it and they did! And we still read the book only if I don’t forget it at home! Love Kendal Fields” (You can watch her testimony here).
I love her boldness. If she can do it, we all can do it. Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, we all have the privilege of connecting people with God by sharing the gospel of Christ.
There is a second promise in this passage for those who follow Jesus:
#2: We Will Become a Source of Blessing to Others
“Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he’s righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward” (v. 41).
We can’t all be prophets.
We can’t all be preachers.
We can’t all be missionaries.
We can’t all be pastors.
We can’t all be leaders.
When the great poet John Milton had lost his eyesight, he penned a sonnet called On His Blindness. In it, he reflects on what it means in the great scheme of things to lose something so precious. At one point he says, “God doth not need man’s work or his own gifts,” which is quite a rebuke to our very human pride. We think God can’t do without us. How wrong we are. God was doing fine being the King of the Universe before we ever came along. He doesn’t “need” us to fulfill his duties. It is an honor that he should use us in any way large or small. Seen in that light, Milton’s famous last line stands as a very personal statement of what it means to serve God without your eyesight: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
God doesn’t need us!
At any given moment in history, some people come to the forefront. There are presidents and kings, generals and potentates, and famous people of all varieties. It is the same in the Christian world. Not every pastor leads a megachurch. Not every author becomes world famous. Not every evangelist speaks to crowded stadiums. Jesus alluded to this when he talked about some who have one talent, some who have two talents, and some who have five talents (Matthew 25:14-30). While we like to say the ground is level at the foot of the cross—and it is, in the sense that we are all sinners in desperate need of a Savior—it’s not true that we all have the same gifts, connections, or opportunities. Some have more; some have less. God isn’t obligated to treat me the way he treats anyone else.
There is only one Billy Graham.
There was only one D. L. Moody.
There was only one Charles Spurgeon.|
There was only one Martin Luther.
And so it goes. Jesus promises to “level the playing field” in a way different than we expect.
We see the prophets. We rarely see those who support them.
We see the great leaders. We rarely see those who stand in the shadows.
We can all win the prophet’s reward
But someone must prepare the breakfast. Someone must care for the children. Someone must be there to welcome them home. Someone must be there to pick them up at the airport. Someone must sit in the waiting room.
Here is the amazing promise Jesus makes. Those who “stand and wait” in the shadows receive the same reward as the man or woman who receives all the public acclaim.
“He won thousands to Christ!” Yes, but he didn’t do it alone.
“He built a great church!” Yes, but he didn’t do it alone.
“She filled stadiums with thousands who came to hear her sing!” Yes, but she didn’t do it alone.
“They started 150 churches in Thailand.” Yes, but they didn’t do it alone.
Nothing great is ever done alone.
Nothing is ever done alone
Those who wait, those who serve, those who answer email, those who fold the socks, those who mow the grass, those who keep the computers running, those who serve on the task force, those who prepare the meals, those who open their home for the Bible study, those who fold up the chairs after the big rally, they too are part of the team.
In the Christian world we have our heroes. We have our favorite pastors and Bible teachers and singers and Christian actors and musical groups. There is nothing wrong with having heroes.
But those who serve alongside them win the same reward.
We can’t all be prophets, but we can all win the prophet’s reward.
Jesus ends his message in Matthew 10 with a stunning final promise:
#3: We Will Be Remembered for the Tiniest Acts of Kindness
“Whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple—I assure you: He will never lose his reward!” (v. 42).
Let’s walk through this verse:
First, look at the person: “Whoever.” There are no limits to this promise. You don’t need to be a pastor or a missionary or a professor. You don’t need to be ordained, and you certainly don’t need a seminary degree to qualify for this promise.
Do you have a cup of cold water?
Then you’re qualified.
Second, look at the recipient: “One of these little ones.” In context, Jesus is talking about the least among his followers. Jesus is no frontrunner. There are “little ones” everywhere. If you reach out to the hurting, to the forgotten, to the marginalized, to the poor, to the homeless, to the abused, to the man living in a hovel in Mumbai, to the woman trapped in sex trafficking, to a prisoner, to a Somali immigrant, to a widow, to an orphan, Jesus sees your concern for the people the world can’t see at all.
A cup of cold water may contain a sea of warm love
Third, look at the action: “Give a cup of cold water.”
It requires very little preparation. As Spurgeon remarked, a cup of cold water may contain a sea of warm love.
Four, look at the certainty of the reward. “I assure you!” The original Greek uses a double negative to make a point: “Never, ever, no way.”
For most of us, a cup of cold water is no big deal. If we’re thirsty, we go to the faucet and fill a glass with water. If we want it cold, we get some ice from the fridge. But in many parts of the world, clean water is a rare treat. On a hot day, nothing refreshes like a cup of cold water. It’s not much to us. We don’t even think about it. It’s no big deal to us.
A cup of cold water is no big deal to us
You may forget. Jesus does not.
You may think nothing of it. But Jesus remembers it forever.
In Matthew 25:34-39, Jesus says this in a different way:
Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry
and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’
What a question that is.
Surely if you fed Jesus, you would remember it.
Surely if you gave him clothes, you would remember it.
Surely if you visited him in prison, you would remember it.
If there is a broken heart, you can find Jesus there
But they don’t.
So Jesus explains to them, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (v. 40).
We know when we go “in his name,” he goes with us.
We know we are going “with him” and “for him.”
But now we know we are also going “to him.”
He’s on the receiving end of the mercy transaction.
He is there in the face of the Afghan refugee.
He stands with the homeless at the Harlem Avenue exit.
He sees the single mother struggling with three young children.
He has a cell inside every prison in the world.
He walks the halls of the cancer unit at the hospital.
He hears the cries of abused children.
He is there in the assembly of Sudanese believers.
If you look, you can see him in the debris-filled streets of Ecuador. Samaritan’s Purse found him there. But he is also in Hanoi and Montreal and Lisbon and in a Haitian town called Pignon. There is a sense in which the Lord Jesus can be found wherever there is human pain and suffering. If there is a broken heart, you can find him there. If there is sadness or guilt, Jesus will be there somewhere. That’s why he was called “a man of sorrows.” There is a deeper sense in which you can find the Lord Jesus wherever you find his people scattered on the earth. “Where two or three are gathered together …” What’s the end of that verse? “There am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20 KJV).
When we help his people, we are helping him.
When we dry a tear or offer a word of hope, we are serving him.
When we go the extra mile even though we are already dead tired and a bit frustrated because we don’t have the time or energy and we’re already behind schedule, but we do it anyway, he sees and knows what we have done, and he marks it down as if we had done it to him personally.
Jesus remembers what we forget
What matters to Jesus are the things we can’t even remember:
A cup of cold water.
A bag of chips for a friend.
A quick phone call.
A friendly hello.
A pat on the back.
A prayer over the phone.
A few minutes of conversation between classes.
A word of encouragement.
A visit with a sick friend.
A trip to the county jail.
“What did you do for my kingdom?”
I heard former baseball superstar Darryl Strawberry share his testimony. During his big league career, he hit 335 home runs, was named to the All-Star team eight times, and was a four-time World Series champion. Along the way, he won notoriety for his well-documented (and repeated) struggles with alcohol and drugs. He spoke about his many weaknesses and failures with admirable honesty. He didn’t blame anyone but himself for his problems. But when he finally surrendered his life to Christ, he was transformed into a new man. Near the end of his talk, he summarized his whole career this way:
When I get to the end of my life, God’s not going to ask, “How many grand slams did you hit?” He’s going to ask, “What did you do for my kingdom?”
He’s exactly right, and that in a sense is what Jesus is saying here. The things we count so important on earth (rewards, championships, rings, titles, money, status, connections, our name in the lights, and all the rest of it) don’t matter in eternity. When we stand before the Lord, a cup of cold water we gave to a thirsty child will matter more than home runs or touchdowns or the size of our bank account.
We are called to be faithful in doing whatever God gives us to do. And as we are faithful day by day, there will be a thousand chances, some big, some small, some momentary and almost microscopic, for us to do good and show kindness to others around us. Some of those moments we will forget. I suppose that over a lifetime, we’ll forget nearly all of them.
Sometimes it will be a chance to help the hurting or to answer a question or to lift someone’s spirits or to pull out our wallet and make a contribution. Sometimes the need will be large, and our response will cost us greatly in terms of time and money and effort and sacrifice. But whether big or small, the Lord Jesus sees it all and remembers it all and one day he will reward us for all of it.
One day, long after we’ve forgotten the frustrations of this life, he will remember it. And we will be rewarded. It all comes down to this. Jesus forgets what we remember. And he remembers what we forget. You might even say the whole gospel is in those two sentences.
Is it worth it to serve Jesus?
Is it worth it to serve Jesus?
You’ll have to make up your own mind.
Martin Luther had something to say about this in his hymn A Mighty Fortress:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.
His Kingdom is forever.
Pick up your cross and follow Jesus. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy.
Pick it up anyway. Follow him. Go where he leads. It’s the one decision you’ll never regret.
Lord Jesus, you never ask us to sacrifice for no reason. When the going gets tough, open our eyes to see eternal realities. May we not shrink back from your call, but gladly say, “Here am I. Send me.” Amen.