Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:13b “. . .but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.”
No matter how persuasive our words or powerful our works, not all will believe. Jesus died for all, but many do not appropriate the benefits of His death.
When people reject our words about Jesus, do not feel we failed, or tried in vain, for the peace we tried to give them “will not be homeless, but come back, like the dove to the ark, and fold its wings in the heart of the sender” (Maclaren).
The unresponsive hearer loses, but the speaker gains. The reverb effect of evangelism is precious. All energies expended in the Acts 1:8 missionary enterprise recoil blessings back onto us. I believe this would be the universal testimony of us all here at Second. We go on mission trips to bless, but come back blessed.
Whatever the response of those we go to, we always gain, and never lose. What a good God we serve. If our efforts for Him succeed, we celebrate the harvest. If we’re rejected, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (MT 5:11-12). Going forth to talk of Jesus is one enterprise in which believers can only win and never lose.
Matt. 10:14 “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words,
when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust
of your feet.”
In verse 12 we learned our first word to unbelievers should always be positive, but there is a second word. We are to begin with the good news of salvation offered to all through Jesus. Then we must hasten to tell people what it is they need to be saved from. It is incumbent upon us to share the whole truth.
Our culture pressures us to water down the message of everlasting punishment, to advocate God’s universal acceptance of people, whatever they believe. However, Christ’s followers have no choice in this matter. We believe a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the only path to knowing the Father and the only way to avoid Hell and go to Heaven. We believe we must abide by the Bible, given by the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Book is our only rule for belief and behavior, we can be politically correct only to the extent we are not spiritually incorrect.
It is serious to hear of God’s free offer of salvation, to stand on the very threshold of God’s kingdom, and then walk away. People are free to reject Jesus, but will be held accountable forever for their spiritual choice. Never weaken the solemn fact of personal spiritual responsibility. It has everlasting repercussions.
Jesus, to demonstrate the seriousness of rejecting Him, told the Twelve to enact a concise ceremony of crisis. To “shake off the dust of your feet” was a gesture of serious truth symbolically portrayed through a dramatic act. Jesus knew a pantomime would leave a much deeper impression than merely a spoken word.
This acted-out sermon reinforces my long-held belief that drama ministry is part of the spiritual gift of teaching. Causing us to see truth from a different angle, drama teaches via surprise penetration. Bypassing rusty and clogged up brain circuits, drama finds new nerve pathways to push old truths deeper into our psyches.
We will better understand this pantomime’s precise role by viewing it from four different vantage points. First, shaking dust off our feet is not meant to be an act of anger or contempt. The act is easy to enact, but hard to do in the right spirit.
We solemnly warn not in irritation or due to wounded pride, but in sadness, with a broken heart. God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all (including His most hardened opponents) should come to repentance” (2 P 3:9b). Let His attitude be our attitude. Never rejoice or angrily smirk over people’s lostness.
If the lost rebuff us, we shouldn’t feel a need to cast aspersion on them or spew retribution their way. Rejecting Jesus bears in itself ample punishment appropriate to the crime. Missing God’s unfathomable blessings is penalty enough.
Second, shaking dust off our feet is not meant to be an act of finality. We are not to give up hope and abandon people when they reject the offer of salvation.
God is patient and longsuffering with regard to unbelievers. We should be, too. Many believers took a long time to weigh options before making their decision to follow Jesus. Don’t give up easily or quickly after someone refuses our message. “It is not wise to conclude that patient effort will fail because first appeals have not succeeded” (Maclaren). Always be reluctant to give up on anyone.
Third, shaking dust off our feet symbolically transfers liability from the speaker to the listener. We Christians have a responsibility to go and seek the lost, to tell prechristians the good news of Christ, but we are not answerable for their answer. Once told, the listener becomes responsible for his or her own response. The speaker is thenceforth innocent of blame, freed from guilt, whatever happens.
At Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas shook off the dust of their feet against those who were harshly rejecting Christ’s message (AC 13:51). They enacted the deed not for seekers or those slow to believe, but for the overtly hostile, for those who wouldn’t listen at all, who obstinately refused a fair hearing. Paul and Barnabas finally reached their wit’s end. They had done all they knew to do. Having discharged their duty, they passed the buck from themselves to the rejecters. Later, in Corinth, Paul again conveyed the same message by shaking his raiment, and saying, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean” (AC 18:6).
As believers, our assignment is to love all, pray for all, and witness to all. Once the offer of salvation is made to all, we have to leave results to those who received the offer. Becoming a follower of Christ must always be presented as optional, not obligatory. Salvation is not to be forced on people. We make people aware of their responsibility, yet respect their freedom to accept or reject Christ.
Persuasion ever; coercion never. Neglecting this vital rule has produced the worst blots on Christian history. The Inquisition, the Crusades, discrimination against Jews, persecution of prechristians–these dark, ominous clouds hover over our past. Most believers now know, spiritual work must never be done by force.
If people are not free to decide, they are not responsible for their decisions, but since people are free, they are responsible, and must someday give an account before God for their choice. We are free moral agents. The thought is frightening.
Fourth, shaking dust off our feet is a ritual of ultimate urgency, a way to say rejection of Jesus is perilous, not a minor matter. When people slam the door on the Gospel, they need to know the gravity of their decision. If rejection of Jesus continues, consequences will be severe and everlasting. This is sad, for it militates against the most precious benefit Christians are commanded to offer prechristians.
The Bible pictures runners who carry good news as having beautiful feet (RM 10:15). Feet are ugly (except Ruth’s), but running to bring glad tidings makes them seem beautiful. The ritual of ultimate urgency nullifies this lovely imagery by taking feet God means to be beautiful and making them somber instead.
Shaking off the dust is a solemn sermon, a serious warning expressed with calm resoluteness, yet forcefully showing truth. “The issue now rests with you. You are left to your own decision. Be wise. Don’t be goofing around with God.”
Refusing to be an alarmist, I don’t try to spook people into becoming believers. However, it is appropriate to remind us how serious this matter of decision is.
I remember Easter 1970 vividly. As an eighteen-year-old pastor, I preached hard that day on the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and gave a strong appeal at invitation time. I noticed on the back row a young married man gripping the pew in front of him. We speak of knuckles turning white. His literally did.
In his behalf I extended the invitation a bit longer than usual that day, but he did not respond. Later that week I preached his funeral. While repairing a huge fan, he stepped in a puddle of water and was instantly electrocuted. Thirty-two years later the tragedy still haunts me. It is serious to hear of God’s free offer of salvation, to stand on the very threshold of God’s kingdom, and then walk away.
Urgency compels me to appeal to you to believe. Hoping that shaking dust off my shoes might help the plea penetrate deeper into your psyche, I do it now.