Monday, October 20, 2014

The Law of Sending and Receiving (John 13:20)

In 1913, an Ohio couple was trying to find an affordable way to send their son to visit his grandmother. Unable to afford a train ticket, they took their son to the post office, paid 15 cents in postage and insured the child for $50, and off he went to grandma’s house. After a few more folks tried this, the Postal Service finally banned the shipping of children in 1915.[1] Today, there is a large and puzzling list of items that can and cannot be mailed through the postal service. For instance, though rifles and shotguns can be mailed, handguns cannot. Cats cannot be mailed, but scorpions, bees, chickens and baby alligators can. A coconut can be mailed, without packaging – just slap the address label and stamps on the shell and send it on its way. A banana, however, cannot be mailed. In addition to these, there are a whole host of laws about sending and receiving in the United States.

There is also a spiritual law about sending and receiving. No, I don’t mean spiritual laws about whether or not trying to mail a live cat is a sin or not. I mean a law that governs the sending and receiving of the message of Jesus Christ that is going out to the world through His divinely appointed messengers.

We can rightly call it a law – an inviolable spiritual statute, because this is how it is introduced to us here in verse 20. Jesus begins this statement with the familiar words found often in the Gospels, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” The word “truly” that occurs twice there is the translation for a Hebrew word that you would all readily recognize: “Amen.” The word denotes certainty and steadfastness. When we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer, we are saying, “I agree that what has been stated in this prayer is certain!” When we say “Amen” during the preaching of a sermon, we are saying, “Yes! What has just been said is undeniably true.” But Jesus puts His “Amens” at the front of His sayings. It is as if He is saying, “What I am about to say is the undeniable, unchangeable, absolutely certain truth of Almighty God.” Saying “Amen” twice, as He so often does, only adds emphasis to the certainty of what He is saying. It is not up for vote or debate, and there is no court on earth that can overturn the ruling. This is the eternal and inviolable law of God Himself. Here, the law deals with the sending and receiving of God’s divinely inspired message delivered through His divinely appointed messengers.

What is remarkable about this expression in verse 20 is the context in which it occurs. Several weeks ago we dealt in total with the verses in this chapter pertaining to Judas Iscariot and his unspeakable act of betrayal. But you will notice that this verse follows hard on the heels of verses 18 and 19, and those verses obviously follow the ones prior to them. Jesus has just washed the feet of His disciples. As He explained this to them, He said, first to Peter, that this was illustrative of His ability to wash us clean from our sins, and the necessity and sufficiency of His cleansing. So, He said to Peter in verse 8, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” We are hopelessly separated from God in our sins apart from being washed clean by Jesus Christ. And because Peter had already committed Himself by faith to Christ as His Lord, Jesus could say to him that he was already completely clean. But He said in verse 10, “But not all of you,” are completely clean. Of course, He was speaking of Judas Iscariot. Next, Jesus explains to the entire band of Apostles that He had given them an example of how they were to serve one another – in humility and in sacrificial and selfless service. And in verse 17 He promises that those who know and do these things will be blessed. But again in verse 18, He says, “I do not speak of all of you.” Judas is cut off from this blessing because he has determined in his heart to betray the Lord Jesus and hand Him over to death.

Now at this point, one can imagine that the disciples would be very discouraged. Their entire future is perhaps being questioned in their minds. Their Lord and Master has just announced that He is going to be betrayed – something He had warned them about in the past, and even told them would lead to His death. One of their own is defecting from the group. Does this mean that the entire enterprise is now going up in smoke? Well, the Lord Jesus here encourages them with these words. In verse 18, He tells them, “I know the ones I have chosen.” And it is to these, the ones whom He has chosen, that He gives this spiritual law of sending and receiving. The betrayal and death of Jesus will not be the end of His mission. The mission is being handed over to them, and they are to speak and act on His behalf in the world.

That mission has come down to those of us who follow Jesus Christ in the world today. It is a daunting task. It is quite overwhelming when we pause to think of it. On our first trip to Nepal, as we were landing at the Delhi airport, I remember seeing Mark Riddle staring out the window of the plane and shaking his head. He said, “There’s a billion people out there who don’t know Jesus.” Indeed, there are billions worldwide; millions in the United States and in North Carolina; and thousands in our city. And it is our job to reach them. Are you overwhelmed by that? If you are, it is perfectly understandable. This is why we must understand this law of sending and receiving. In it, we find encouragement, help, and hope as we engage in the mission of Christ.

I. The Law of Sending: Every follower of Jesus has been sent as a divinely appointed messenger.

When a nation wants to establish diplomatic relations with another, it sends an ambassador to live and work there. It is the task of the ambassador to speak and act on behalf of the chief executive of his home country. When the ambassador speaks, it is as if his own king or president is speaking. He has been sent with a mission, and a message, and bears the authority of the one who sent him. And this is how Christians are to understand our place in this world. We are ambassadors who have been sent under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the message we have to deliver to the world is His message.

Here in this verse, Jesus speaks of Himself as One who was sent by His Father. He was sent on His Father’s mission, with His Father’s message. In John 5:19, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” In John 7:16, He said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” When Jesus taught, what impressed the people the most is that He “taught as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Mt 7:29). Truly, He did have authority. He had all of the authority of heaven behind Him as He spoke and acted. This is how He was sent.

But in our verse here, John 13:20, Jesus speaks of His disciples as those whom He has sent. In John 20:21, after His resurrection from the dead, He said to them, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” This is the Great Commission that has been entrusted to the Church of Jesus Christ, down through the ages and to the present day. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says it this way: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20). Notice the word “therefore.” When you see the word “therefore,” you have to ask, “What’s that there for?” Jesus tells us to go and make disciples because all authority has been given to Him. So He has sent us, just as the Father sent Him. He sends us under His authority to speak and act in His name in the world. We are divinely appointed messengers, ambassadors for heaven, here in this world.

In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul picks up the language of the ambassador and says it this way: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19a). This speaks of how the Father was working through the Son as His Sent One. But then He goes on and says, “and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (5:19b). That is, Jesus Christ, through whom God was reconciling the world to Himself through the atonement for sins, has committed a message to us – “the word of reconciliation.” We have been commissioned to tell the world that God longs for them to be reconciled to Him. He is willing to forgive their sins and receive them if they will turn to the Lord Jesus, our Reconciler.  So Paul goes on, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:20-21). Our mission is to go into the world and speak to sinful people, even as we ourselves once were before we were reconciled. It is Christ’s mission continued in and through us! And what do we say to them? He has given us the heavenly message that we are to proclaim: “Be reconciled to God! He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God has taken our sins, and covered the sinless Lord Jesus in them, so that in Him our sins could receive the full penalty of divine justice and wrath that they deserve. And in exchange, God has offered to make us righteous with the perfect righteousness of Christ, as we trust in Him. This is the message of God in Christ who has commissioned us as His messengers for His mission!

So perhaps you wonder, “Who am I that I should go and tell people that they need to turn to Jesus and trust in Him? Why should I even bother with this?” Well, friends, you see, it is not about what we want to do, but about what He has called and commissioned us to do. We have been chosen for this task, and we are His ambassadors. You may say, “Well, I do not know what to say to others?” The fact is, you have nothing to say to them, apart from the message that He has sent us to proclaim. You do not have to “come up” with the right words to say, you just have to deliver the message that has been given to you by Christ Himself. The message is that God receives sinners, forgives them, and makes them righteous when they turn to Him by faith in Jesus, because Jesus bore our sins in His death on the cross, and He ever lives to save us.

It is not your mission or your message. It is the mission and message of the one who has sent you to be His ambassador. And when you are faithful to the mission and faithful to the message, you are speaking and acting with all of the authority of heaven behind you. But if you decide to go off mission, or to monkey with the message, you have lost that authority and become a renegade, a rogue ambassador, who will be called to account for your defection. In Jeremiah 23, the Lord dealt with the false prophets who altered His message for their own benefit. He said, “I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jer 23:21-22). If you are faithful to the mission to which Jesus has called you as His ambassadors, and you deliver His Words faithfully to others, then you have the confidence that God is acting and speaking through you as you carry this message into the world. This is the law of sending.

II. The Law of Receiving: Receiving the divine message from a divinely appointed messenger is a matter of infinite and eternal significance.

Not long from now, some of you will sit down to watch football. I probably will too. In football, there are a number of statistics used to measure players against one another. For receivers, they can be ranked by number of receptions, number of touchdowns, total yardage, or my personal favorite receiving statistic, the YAC – yards after catch. It doesn’t measure how many times a guy catches or drops a ball; it measures what he does with it once he has it. How many yards does he run once he gets the ball?

When it comes to our spiritual lives, everyone is held accountable before God for what we did with His message once we heard it. This is the Law of Receiving. The sender is duty bound to remain faithful to the mission and the message, otherwise he or she is acting without authority. But the receiver also has a considerable weight of responsibility. The receiver is called into account for what he or she does with the message they hear. And this is a matter of infinite and eternal significance.

Jesus says here, “he who receives whomever I send receives Me.” What does it mean to receive the one whom He sends? It does not mean merely that someone is nice to us, friendly or hospitable, when we come to them. I have been in a number of homes over the years where I was treated very kindly, and had a very pleasant and friendly chat with someone, but who ultimately rejected the message of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Though they were hospitable to me, they did not receive me in the sense of which Jesus speaks here. What Jesus means here about “receiving” whomever He sends is that this person  receives that one as a messenger who has come with a true message on behalf of the Lord Jesus, and therefore receives that message. They understand that the message they are hearing is the truth of God, and they turn to believe upon Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

You see, God could have chosen to communicate the message of Jesus Christ to the world in any number of ways. He could have chosen to communicate through dreams and visions, through golden tablets falling from the sky, or through writing the message in the clouds for all to see. But for reasons of God’s own choosing, He did not do any of these. Rather, He entrusted the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to the likes of us. Jesus said in Acts 1:8 that we will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, and we will be His witnesses. We are the ones through whom He speaks to call the world to be reconciled to Him. First Corinthians 1:21 says that “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Some are seeking signs, and some are immersing themselves in a quest for wisdom, but God has chosen to save human beings through the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Look at how Paul describes the process in Romans 10. In verse 9, he says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Then in verse 13, he says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But then he begins to outline the process by which this happens. In verses 14-15, he says:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

So, they cannot be saved unless they call upon Him, and they cannot call upon Him unless they believe in Him. But they cannot believe in Him if they have not heard of Him, and they cannot hear of Him unless someone goes and tells them about Him. And no one can go tell them unless they are sent. But we have been sent! Therefore we must go and tell. Only then will they hear of Him, and believe, and call on Him and be saved. We must go and tell, that is the law of sending. But they must hear and believe. That is the law of receiving. If they receive the message that we bring on Christ’s behalf, then they are not just receiving us, they are receiving Christ. And thus they will be saved. And the converse is true as well. If they do not receive the message we bring, they are not merely rejecting us, they are rejecting Christ Himself, and they are therefore not saved!

Now to some, this sounds arrogant and narrow-minded. Who are we to say that a person is lost, cut off from God for eternity, if they do not believe in Jesus? Well, my friends, this is not something that we made up! This is what Jesus Himself said. He said, “He who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” To receive the message we bring is to receive Jesus, and to receive Jesus is to receive God Himself and to be reconciled to Him. So, again, the converse is true as well: If a person does not receive Jesus, they have not received God, and are therefore still in their sins, separated from Him, and lost. And this will be their state for eternity, unless they turn to Christ and believe upon Him. In Luke 10:16, Jesus says with even more directness, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” Nowhere did Jesus make this more clear than just a few verses below our text, in John 14:6. There, He says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” To know Christ is the only way to know God; and a rejection of Christ is a rejection of God. There is simply no way to know Him apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s not my opinion or idea. That’s what the Lord Jesus said, with all divine authority. We merely proclaim His message as we are sent to do. It is our responsibility to carry out the mission faithfully. It is the hearer’s responsibility to believe and be saved, or else to face the eternal and infinite consequence of unbelief, which the Bible clearly teaches is an eternity in hell because of sin. Those sins can be forgiven if we trust in Jesus, but apart from Him there is no hope. Thus there is a great severity in the Law of Receiving. It is a matter of infinite and eternal significance.

Understanding the law of sending and receiving should impact us as followers of Jesus in certain specific ways. First, it means that the pressure is off. We do not have to come up with a way to win the world; Jesus has given us His authority and His mission. We do not have to come up with the words to say; Jesus has given us His message. And we do not have to be concerned about what the world thinks of us. Their response to us is moreover a response to God-in-Christ, and that is a far bigger deal than what they think of us. Secondly, it means the urgency is great. The only hope for a lost world is Jesus Christ; and the only way they will ever know Him is if we go as His divinely appointed messengers and proclaim His saving Gospel to them. Third, it means that opportunities abound for us to be both the senders and receivers of this word. Specifically, I will mention three such abundant opportunities.

In our times of worship, we have the opportunity to see this law play out. It is incumbent upon the preacher to stand as a divinely appointed messenger and to faithfully deliver the message of Christ, just as He has given it to us in His Word. And it is incumbent upon all who hear to receive the message in that way as well. You say, “Well, I don’t like the preacher!” Let me ask you, where does that come into play at all in this law? Your feelings about the preacher, or even about the sermon itself, are irrelevant, because you come to not hear the opinions of a man, but to hear and respond to God as His Word comes forth. I hesitate to say this, because it sounds so self-serving, but if you understand this law of sending and receiving, you understand that it really is not. If the preacher of the hour is being faithful to the message of Christ, then you are to receive what is said as if it were coming from God-in-Christ directly to you.

In our opportunities for discipleship, whether in Sunday School or formal Bible studies, or casually as we interact with other believers in conversation, we have the responsibility to be divinely appointed messengers to impart the word of God into the lives of others. This is how God shapes our lives to reflect the image of Christ. So, as you teach or lead others, you have a mission and a message that has been given to you from Christ, and you must be faithful. And as hearers, the responsibility is to hear what is said, what is taught, what is exhorted, as if God has put that person in your life at this very moment in time to deliver His message to you. Be careful not to reject the messenger or the message, because doing so may reveal a very severe problem in how you are receiving and responding to the Lord Jesus Christ.

And then in our evangelism, you are a divinely appointed messenger that God has commissioned and authorized to declare His glorious truth, the way of salvation in Jesus Christ, to a world full of people who are hopelessly lost without Him. Go as He has commissioned. Be His ambassador. Speak to others on His behalf, as though God were beckoning them through you to be reconciled to Him. And if you do not know Him, whether in the hearing of this sermon today, or in a casual conversation with a Christian over a cup of coffee, as you hear the message of Jesus, you are hearing divinely inspired truth coming into your life through a divinely appointed messenger. You will write them off and reject their message only to your infinite and eternal destruction. You must receive that Good News of Jesus, because there is no other message and no other Savior who can deliver you from your sins. To reject the message of Christ, through whomever God has appointed to bring it to you, is to reject Christ Himself, and ultimately to reject God altogether.

Christian, you’ve been sent. Now go. You’ve been given a message. Now tell it. And when you hear it proclaimed through others, receive it even as you would receive it from God-in-Christ Himself.

[1] Steve Moramarco, “10 Weird Things Sent by Mail,” Accessed October 15, 2014. 

No comments: