by John Duff
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Luke 10:1-4, 17
I have been meditating on Luke 10: 1-17 recently and though I have only posted a few verses, I encourage you to read the whole thing and think through what the Lord is teaching us in this ‘missionary’ chapter of Luke. To be honest, most see this as just that, about missions and what missionaries do, but I want to caution us as a church to not rush too quickly to the idea that this is for “professional missionaries” only.
First, we see that this is Jesus sending out the seventy-two, not the twelve. These seventy-two had been people following Jesus and committed to his message. They were not just the inner twelve whom Jesus had chosen to spend the whole time he was alive walking around with him. These were seventy-two who would have traveled some with him, but maybe they missed some of his teachings or miracles because they had gone home to work their trade and care for their family. Get the picture? These seventy-two were probably more like everyday people in our church.
This missional message is to anyone who wants to follow Jesus, especially the ones working in the world. In verse 3 Jesus says, “I send you out as lambs among wolves.” Have you ever felt like that at work or at school? Has the corrupt morality of the world ever discouraged you and made it difficult for you to follow Jesus? If so, this chapter is for you. You are the lambs among the wolves, and if this does not describe your situation, perhaps you need to ask yourself if you are really doing what the Lord wants you to do. Sometimes, it is hard to see the harvest as lamb among wolves. In verse four Jesus tells them not to take extra things to help along the journey, in other words: it’s not meant to be easy.
As you can tell by my title, I want to suggest this chapter of Luke can serve as a model for church life. You see, sometimes we fall into the trap of a Consumer-minded church, where members use Sunday and maybe Wednesdays as days to fill-up on ‘God’ for the week so they can then go out into the world and last until the next day they gather with other Christians. Though we often need this fill up and extra boost, this is not necessarily the way that Jesus wants the life of a local church to look. I would suggest that here Jesus is giving us a missional model for Church-life.
Let’s take a closer look. In verse 2 he says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, therefore, ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus is telling us that there is an abundant harvest! But is this what we see or hear about in our churches? Isn’t it easy to become discouraged by what seems like not enough fruit resulting from our efforts, and not enough harvest? Do you ever get weary of laboring for a harvest of righteousness and want to give up because you cannot see the fruit? Perhaps what Jesus is telling us today is this: Look at the harvest!
‘What do you mean?’ You may be asking. ‘I work every day for the harvest that Jesus is talking about but I still can’t see it. In a church as big as mine, shouldn’t there be so much harvest that we can see?’ The answer is yes, but often we don’t pay attention because our model of church is consumer-minded, not missional minded.
In verse 17, after the seventy-two return from their mission, they, “return with Joy,” and share their stories with one another. I can imagine this time, “Did you see how that demon left at the mention of the name of Jesus?” “We asked God to heal this man who had been blind, and he was healed instantly!” or, “That girl that I had been trying to invest in and encourage for years is finally starting to make choices in her life to follow the Lord. What good news!” “The alcoholic who is always out on the road was finally set free from his addiction when he heard the Good news you have been telling us Jesus! I was so excited I had to tell you!”
What if we get discouraged as sheep among wolves because we don’t structure our time together as fellow-workers the way that Jesus intended us to? Maybe our consumer-minded approach of trying to take in the most good teaching and bible knowledge possible has lead us away from what Christ originally intended for us as his church.
God is working in his harvest field! Sometimes we don’t see the harvest because we forget to gather it in and show it to each other as a local church. What if our time together as a church was less about giving good advice like: read your bible more, pray and tell more people about Jesus, (which is always great advice and things we need to hear), and was more about proclaiming the Good News of what God has been doing in our lives the other days of the week? What if our church services and Sunday schools were more focused on celebrating what God is doing in our lives? Then the man who shared the Gospel with his coworkers and got nowhere will be encouraged when he hears about the student who has started responding to the love of Christ that her teacher has been offering to her.
It is also the case that when we hear about what God is doing in other people’s lives we start to realize and see more clearly the ways he is working in ours! Then we will be excited and fired up to go out into the Lord’s field, because we are reassured that fruit and the harvest is out there, even if we don’t always see it in our own lives. What if we have discouraged the missional model of church by focusing so much on bible teaching and giving good advice for our spiritual lives and have forgotten to celebrate what God is doing in our lives at these moments?
The good news of Jesus is the fact that God is BEAUTIFUL, and we can see him all around us; it is the fact that people’s lives are being changed by the fact that God’s Kingdom is here and those who respond can be set free from sin and set free to love; it is the fact that the power of God’s holy love can transform even the worst of sinners (with whom I can identify). This is the GOOD NEWS, let’s get back to proclaiming it. Let’s get back to celebrating; perhaps Celebration can fuel God’s mission.