43. The Thin Line between Receiving and Rejecting (Luke 10:5-16)

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Gospel Parallels §139

James J. Tissot, 'On Entering the House Salute It' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, 'On Entering the House Salute It' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

5  "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6  If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7  Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8  When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10  But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11  'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' 12  I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. 13  Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14  But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15  And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. 16  He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Luke 10:5-16, NIV)

This lesson is about blessing and judgment, about welcoming and rejecting. As I try to understand it, I am both shocked and awed. It contains powerful lessons for disciples.

Jesus is giving instructions to the Seventy as they are sent out on their preaching mission. In the previous lesson, we looked at some of the instructions in detail, as well as including eating what hosts provided, not seeking better provisions but being content, and Jesus' affirmation that harvest laborers are worthy of their wages. But Jesus' instructions are different for the towns where his disciples are received from towns where they are rejected.

Your Peace Will Rest on Him (Luke 10:5-6)

"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.'" (10:5-6)

The first verses sound a bit foreign to our ears. The disciples are instructed, upon entering a house, to say, "Peace to this house," and that those words will rest upon a "son of peace," but not upon one who rejects the message.

The Greek word eirēnē "peace" is a translation of the rich Hebrew word shalom. It has a wide meaning, but the root idea is "well-being." It can carry the concepts of bodily health, prosperity, a friendly relationship." But it also carries a strong religious usage. Shalom is the gift of Yahweh, so the word moves into the concept of the gift of God's salvation and wholeness (Isaiah 48:18; Jeremiah 29:11; 14:13).371

"Shalom" is a word that is pronounced in a blessing of salvation:

"'I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
I will guide him and restore comfort to him,
creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,'
says the Lord. 'And I will heal them.'" (Isaiah 57:18-19)

Of course, the Aaronic benediction is the classic bestowing of Shalom upon God's people:

"Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
"The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace."
So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.'" (Numbers 6:23-27)

Notice that Aaron and his sons are to speak the blessing of peace, after which God brings the actual blessing of salvation that follows. This is rather close to the usage in our passage. "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you" (10:5-6).

"Shalom to this house," would have been a common Israelite blessing. But as the disciples are to speak it, it is not just a casual greeting, but an actual gift or blessing that is conveyed by God to the welcoming household.372

The phrase translated "man of peace" in the NIV is literally "son of peace." The common Hebrew idiom "son of ..." can mean two things: (1) a person who shares in a quality, or (2) a person who is worthy of a quality.373 Thus our passage can mean either (1) a peaceful person, or (2) a person worthy of, destined for, peace. The two concepts blend into each other, but we can see the idea of "worthy of, destined for" in the phrase, "sons of the resurrection" (20:36), that is, those who are worthy of the resurrection, those destined for resurrection. The term "son of peace" in our passage probably means "a person worthy of peace, destined for peace." This is a person who receives the Word of the Kingdom, and therefore the salvation that comes by believing this Word.

The disciples, then, are to speak a blessing of Shalom, and begin to share the Word. If the householder is open, that Word will find a place in his heart. If not, that blessing of Shalom will not continue to rest upon him.

Predestination and Preaching

Is this dependent upon the man's character or is it a gift of God? In John's Gospel we read, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). We see a similar idea at the end of our passage on the Sending Out of the Seventy:

"You ... revealed them to little children.... No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (10:21-22)

When Paul faced opposition and the threat of violence in Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision:

"Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." (Acts 18:9-10)

Calvinists call this "predestination;" Wesleyans call this "prevenient grace." Whatever we call it, we realize that it is God working within man that enables him to hear and believe. It is a gift of God.

If it is God who enables man to believe, why should we preach at all?

William Carey (1761-1834) -- a young shoemaker and preacher with a heart for the lost -- would become the first Protestant missionary, establishing a work in Serampore, India. He spoke to a gathering of pastors to outline his vision of sharing the gospel, when one of them interrupted him, saying, "Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine."

Just because God must work in a person's heart to bring him to faith does not mean that we are not to preach the Gospel. The preaching of the Word is the means by which men and women are brought to faith in Christ. The Apostle Paul writes:

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our message?' Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:14-17).

My conclusion is that, while God prepares hearts, he also calls men and women and young people to speak his Word. God can do his part of preparing the soil, but we must do our part of speaking the Word, of being "workers in his harvest," or else the ripe fields will not be harvested, men and women and children will not come to salvation. I find no other conclusion except that you and I are responsible to speak the Word. The salvation of people depends partly upon us. Paul said to Timothy,

"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2)

So we are to speak the Word. But are we to speak only to those whom God has prepared? No, Jesus sent the Seventy to every village expecting some to accept and others to reject the message. They were to declare the Word in every village, but not linger in those where they were rejected. But neither were they to prejudge and assume that some villages would not receive them. They were to speak "Shalom" to households in a village until they either found a receptive family or determined that the town was unreceptive. But they were to speak the Word in each village and let God be the determiner of who would receive and who would reject. My belief in predestination does not preclude God's plan to use me as the means of his bringing faith in the message to someone.

Heal the Sick and Proclaim the Kingdom (Luke 10:8-9)

"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.'" (10:8-9)

What a blessing comes to a receptive town: An announcement of the Kingdom of God in both word and deed! How marvelous for the residents. How wonderful for those who have been suffering from illness. How exciting for those who have been without hope. How soul-stirring to know that the Kingdom of the Messiah is at hand! A town that receives Christ's messengers, receives the blessings of His salvation.

Note that the disciples are to do what they have observed Jesus doing -- that is, healing the sick and declaring the Word. Jesus is to be the disciple's ministry exemplar, not modern-day impotent Christian leaders. Yes, we must learn from our elders, but only so far as they say and do what Christ said and did. We are to follow them insofar as they follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

When You Are Not Welcomed (Luke 10:10-12)

"But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town." (10:10-12)

Shaking even the dust of a town off one's sandals was a typical Jewish action symbolizing removing every bit of Gentile defilement from themselves following contact with unbelievers.

This seems too harsh for gentle Jesus, meek and mild. How could he be so judgmental? Jesus' words of judgment to those who reject the Word only seem out of character because we haven't understood the character of the Real Jesus, but only a flimsy caricature of him.

The Real Jesus recognizes that men are lost, needing to be found. The Real Jesus comes that they might have Life, and have it abundantly. The Real Jesus dies on the cross to save humans from eternal separation from God. The Real Jesus juxtaposes himself between man and God's wrath against sin. The Real Jesus is serious about rescuing.

The Lie of Humanism

The reason that judgment seems foreign to us, is that we have accepted too easily the humanistic belief that man is basically good, needing some guidance and direction to reach his full potential. Rather, the Scripture depicts man as created good by God, only to fall due to his own sin, and be driven from the Garden to eke out an existence from the soil and ultimately to die. Man is under judgment. Man is lost.

A careful reading of Paul's Letter to the Romans makes it clear that the wrath of God hangs over all men, both Jews and Gentiles. It's not just that all are guilty of some kind of hypothetical Original Sin passed on from Adam's sin (though I don't disagree with the doctrine of Original Sin), but that they have all actually sinned themselves, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

A Savior only makes sense if the people he comes to sense their need of rescue.

And this is the key issue. People who don't sense they need saving resist Jesus' message. We saw the same thing when John the Baptist preached along the Jordan.

"All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John." (7:29-30)

The Pharisees weren't baptized because they refused to recognize their own sinfulness and need of repentance.

Until our Western culture comes to see the shallowness and lie of our "I'm okay, you're okay" world view, we will reject the saving message of Jesus. But some, in every culture, have been wounded enough to perceive their own moral poverty and need for real meaning. Some are ready. Some are hungry. Some are open. It is those households we seek, that we might bring a blessing of Shalom that is received, and results in salvation and joy.

Woe to Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Luke 10:13-15)

"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths." (10:13-15)

Map. Location of Chorazin or Korazin in Galilee.
Location of Chorazin or Korazin in Galilee (larger map)

Here's another shocking passage. Jesus is speaking judgment on three Galilean towns: Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Wasn't Capernaum the home base for his ministry in the region? Didn't he teach in her synagogue and heal her sick? Didn't the poor and oppressed flock to his ministry? Yes, but many, perhaps the majority did not. Taken as a whole, Jesus did not see Capernaum as accepting his message, even though he worked many, many outstanding miracles there. Today, there is nothing left of Capernaum but ruins, and a couple of monasteries commemorating Jesus' ministry there.

Jesus mentions two other towns: Korazin and Bethsaida. Korazin is not mentioned in the Bible except here and its parallel in Matthew 11:23, but is usually identified with the modern Kerazeh, about 2-1/2 miles north of Capernaum.374

Bethsaida was the hometown of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (John 1:44), and was the site of Jesus' healing a blind man by placing spittle on his eyes (Mark 8:22), and probably many other miracles, including the Feeding of the 5000 nearby (Luke 9:10-17).

The cities that these Galilean towns are compared to are notorious examples of heathen cities known for their sinfulness.

Sodom, of course, was destroyed along with Gomorrah, by fire and brimstone, when God delivered Lot and his family before bringing judgment (Genesis 18:-19). God had said to Abraham, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous..." (Genesis 18:20) that God couldn't even find ten righteous men in the entire city. If God had not brought the destruction of judgment upon these cities he would not have been just.

Location of Tyre and Sidon (larger map)

Tyre and Sidon, two originally Phoenician cities on the coast of Lebanon just west of northern Galilee, represent the heathen world. Tyre, especially, was regarded as subject to divine judgment (Amos 1:9-10; Isaiah 23:1-18; Jeremiah 25:22; 47:4; Ezekiel 26-28).

While Capernaum had not turned whole-heartedly to Jesus' teaching when he performed miracles there, Jesus says that the godless cities of Tyre and Sidon would have indeed repented fully, "sitting in sackcloth and ashes," the signs of voluntary humbling and repentance among the Jews. Consider what had happened in Nineveh when the reluctant and petulant prophet Jonah preached there.

"The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth." (Jonah 3:5)

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

The week that I was preparing this message, I was also teaching my congregation John Willison's song, "Seek Righteousness," taken from Zephaniah 2:3:

"Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land,
you who do what he commands.
Seek righteousness, seek humility;
perhaps you will be sheltered
on the day of the Lord's anger."

It is a wonderfully singable chorus, but a most troubling song when you consider some of the words:

"Oh, bitter will be the cry on that day,
A day of anguish and distress."375

I am haunted by those words, "Bitter will be the cry on the day." It is a very troubling message, but one we Christians must force ourselves to be troubled with. The whole world will be crying bitterly on the Day of Judgment unless they will hear the saving Word of Jesus and repent of their sins.

"Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!'" (Revelation 6:15-16)

I recall the arrogant minister who told Carey, "Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine." And I think of Jonah who ran away from God because he did not want the heathen to be saved. He hated them and their sins and hoped they would rot in hell. But God compelled Jonah to speak to them. Jonah's heart was hard, but God's heart was broken for the Ninevites who were created in his own image. He asks Jonah:

"But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 4:11)

My dear friends, Jesus knows that without intervention the cities of Judah stand under the awful judgment of God, and must hear the saving Word of the Gospel. And so he sends the Seventy to tell them. In spite of rejection, they must speak and give them a chance for salvation. They must speak the Word. In the longer ending of Mark, Jesus commands his disciples, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16).

What a terrible thing, judgment. But required by God's holiness and righteousness.

What an awesome burden and, at the same time, a profound privilege to speak a saving Word to people who are under judgment. It is their chance for joy and meaning and Life. And we are given the responsibility to bear this life-giving Word.

The Pain and Privilege of Rejection

"He who listens to you listens to me;
he who rejects you rejects me;
but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (10:16)

I hate being rejected, don't you? I sometimes avoid confrontation so that I won't be rejected. It is a character flaw, a weakness, that I must outgrow if I am to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. It is this personal hang-up within me that sometimes makes me avoid situations where I will experience that rejection.

But Jesus is asking the Seventy to go out declaring Good News, even though he knows they will face rejection. And in this instruction, he seeks to prepare them -- and us -- to speak anyway. In today's vernacular, Jesus would tell us, "Deal with it!"

So often we take rejection personally. And sometimes that rejection is meant personally. But Jesus is telling his disciples to look beyond personal rejection to see that it is actually he who is being rejected, not us. In John's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples:

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:18-19)

Somehow, some way, Jesus asks us to bear the rejection that is directed at him, to "take up our cross, daily." But, dear friends, to bear abuse for the sake of Christ is a glorious privilege. I don't want to be morbid or self-destructive here, but there is a kind of glory in taking Jesus' sufferings on ourselves. Paul told the Colossian church,

"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." (Colossians 1:24)

Jesus taught his own disciples:

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).

Why rejoice? Because the very persecution indicates that we are being faithful to God in the same way that the prophets of old were faithful.

My comrade in Christ, unless you and I are willing to face rejection and persecution, we can't serve Christ very well. If we shrink from taking up our own cross (i.e. death sentence), we can't really follow him (9:23-25).

He Who Listens to You, Listens to Me (Luke 10:16)

"He who listens to you listens to me;
he who rejects you rejects me;
but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (10:16)

Again, we are not to take this rejection personally, any more than we are to take praise personally. It is intended for Jesus whom we serve. We are "stand-ins" for him, like a back up actor who learns the lead player's lines so, if he can't be at a performance, he can go on in his place -- what a part! So we bravely love and speak, heal and set free. Many will scorn and reject us, but some will receive our words -- his Word -- and find salvation.

In a very real sense we are "stand-ins" for Jesus. When people hear us, they should be listening to Jesus. It is with that integrity and conformance to Jesus that we are to live our lives. In the end, we do it very imperfectly. But, hopefully, well enough so that his real Word in all its power comes through.

I can't tell you how wonderful it made me feel, years ago, when the father of one of the teenagers in our church youth group came up to me after a worship service and said, "While you were speaking, it was like God was speaking directly to me." That is the miracle of the Holy Spirit working through us, and it is wonderful. Would that it happened much more frequently!

I want you to imagine yourself as the ambassador of your nation to some warlike neighboring country. The Head of State or President tells the Secretary of State to instruct you to deliver an official ultimatum to the enemy country. You deliver the message, but you realize that you aren't the issue. If they receive your word, they are receiving the word of your Secretary of State, and ultimately your President. If they are huffy and arrogant toward you, you aren't the issue. Their rejection of the word you bring is a rejection of your Secretary of State, and ultimately your President. Their rejection will bring down upon them the military might of your nation. You aren't the issue, but you must bring the message.

My friends, the message for us disciples is this: you are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20), and your words and actions have eternal consequences for your hearers. Go and speak, and may you be the means by which Jesus your Lord brings Shalom and wholeness and salvation to a person, to a household, or to a village. "He who listens to you listens to me."


Father, this seems like such an awesome responsibility. We want to pass it off to someone else who is better than we are, who can carry the responsibility that we would shun. Change our hearts and make us willing. Help me to see this as my privilege more than my burden. Help me to come before people conscious that I come on his behalf. Help me to be a bearer of Jesus' Word and healing. Help me and my fellow disciples to live worthy of you. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Luke 10:16)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

  1. Why are the disciples sent to both the receptive and the unreceptive? Why are they to say to each, "The kingdom of God is near you"?
  2. Is it possible for disciples to be agents of salvation and healing, without at the same time being possible agents of judgment?
  3. Are people already under God's judgment, or only become so if they reject Jesus' message?
  4. Why is it so terrifying and sobering to think that someone might reject Jesus because of the inconsistencies they see in our lives? Will our inconsistencies give them an excuse on the Day of Judgment?
  5. What is Jesus' chief message: judgment or salvation? What qualities do you think Jesus should look for in his "Press Secretary" or spokesperson?
Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.


Abbreviations and References

[371] Gerhard von Rad, eirēnē, ktl., TDNT 2:402-406.

[372] Werner Foerster, eirēnē, ktl., TDNT 2:411-417.

[373] Marshall, Luke, pp. 419-420. He cites Strack and Billerback I, 476-478; II, 166.

[374] Marshall, Luke, p. 424.

[375] "Seek Righteousness," by John Willison (© 1992 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing).

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