Jesus is seeking to reach more areas with his message of Good News so sends out more workers into the harvest. He rejoices to see the Father's work being accomplished.
Jesus is seeking to reach more areas with his message of Good News so sends out more workers into the harvest. He rejoices to see the Father's work being accomplished.
Hello and welcome to Series 8, Episode 7 entitled, ‘Jesus sends out the 72’. We're going to be studying from Luke 10: 1 - 24.
Introduction and Recap
During the course of this series, and the last series, we've been using a lot of material from Luke's Gospel and John's Gospel, and seeing how they fit together in terms of the overall story. It's Luke in particular who explains most clearly of the Gospels, the transition that takes place in Series 7, when Jesus ends his ministry in Galilee and takes his disciples away to a town called Caesarea Philippi in another province, to the north-east of Galilee, and talks to them about his identity, about the future foundation of the Church, and then reveals to them that he is now heading south to Jerusalem. Luke makes this very clear, and helps us to understand that a major change has taken place. Meanwhile, John focuses on events in Jerusalem and adds to the narrative and story of the other Gospels by telling us things that aren't in those Gospels, and he tells us of a number of major visits to Jerusalem. We have spent some time in the last few episodes looking at John's description of Jesus' third visit to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, as described in John 7, 8, 9 and 10.
We're now returning to Luke's narrative, to see more about what happens when Jesus begins to head south. Although he made a very brief visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, and he'll do that again - make a very brief visit to Jerusalem and come away again - essentially what he's doing is he's moving around the central and southern parts of the country, and heading towards Jerusalem for a final visit, in which he will deliberately provoke a confrontation with the religious authorities, as we'll see later on. This is the perspective that Luke has in mind. He's already told us very clearly in Luke 9: 51, ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ In the passage just before the one that we're studying, Luke makes it very clear that Jesus is now on the road. It's important to reflect a little on the geography of the country again. I've mentioned this on a number of occasions in different episodes but it's important to think that there are essentially three main geographical areas and provinces in the main part of the country. Those are Galilee to the north, Samaria in the centre, and Judea in the south, with the capital city, Jerusalem, situated in Judea. We know that Jesus has spent most of his time in Galilee to the north, and people have flocked to see him from all over the country and beyond. We've described that on quite a number of occasions as we've gone through the narrative. Now we see Jesus consciously leaving Galilee. He's not going to be returning to Galilee and he's going to be heading south and travelling through all these different districts, where he rarely went, and had only been seen very occasionally and fleetingly, as he passed through. Now something different was going to happen.
The passage today is extremely enlightening, because it helps us to understand what Jesus is doing in these weeks and months as he's travelling steadily southwards He's visiting all sorts of different places that he hasn't visited before, or maybe he's just passed through very briefly. We have an account of him passing through Samaria briefly in John 4, in his early ministry, when he met the Samaritan woman at the side of the road and briefly stayed there in a Samaritan community. That was a very brief moment in his ministry. We have very little information about how much time Jesus had spent in the southern province of Judea. He now wanted to bring his message to Samaria and Judea and some of the other surrounding areas on the eastern side of the River Jordan. For example, he wanted to bring his message in the same way that his message had come to the northern province of Galilee, which had really been saturated with his presence and also with the preaching of his twelve disciples or Apostles, who, as recorded in Luke 9 and Matthew 10, had been sent out in pairs all the way through Galilee. They'd been told to go to the Jewish communities in Galilee and not go any further than that when they'd spent that time preaching.
Now something different happens, and I want us to see clearly how different and how strategic this is. The first verse of Luke 10: 1,
‘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.’Luke 10:1, NIV
Here's a second attempt to get his message out beyond just his personal presence. He'd sent the Twelve out in Galilee. Now he's increased the number dramatically - he's increased the number to 72, divided them into pairs, and sent them out to go to every place, every town and place where he was about to go. He has 36 teams on the road, proclaiming his message, in all the places he was about to go. He was going to go through Samaria and through Judea. He was basically going to go to lots of different places in the centre and south of the country. He had 36 teams operating with him to get the message out. This is essentially a national wake-up call to all the people in the country concerning Jesus' messianic claims. He's alerting the whole country to his presence, his identity, and he's preparing them for the fact that very shortly, in a few months' time he will die, be raised again from the dead and then the Gospel message will be fully preached by the Apostles from Jerusalem and beyond.
This is a very strategic move that Jesus is making here that's often overlooked when people interpret this passage. Let's now look at the things that he says to these 72. By the way the 72 would include the Twelve, and another 60 people. We don't know who they are. The Early Church wrote up, in their early histories, that some of the well-known people in the Early Church were probably in the 72. We don't know the names of any of them for certain.
Plentiful Harvest - Few Workers
Let's read verses 2 to 16,
‘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. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay there, 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 offered to you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. 13“Woe to you, Chorazin! 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. 14But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. 16“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”Luke 10:2-16, NIV
These instructions are similar to the instructions given to the Twelve, as recorded in Matthew 10, which we studied in an earlier episode. This is not surprising. It's important to say again that Jesus often repeated his teaching. His parables, his ethical teaching and his practical instructions are repeated in different contexts for the obvious reason that similar things are taking place, or similar truths are being explained to different people. Let's look at them afresh from the point of view of the 72. Jesus says, ‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’. Again, a similar thing appears in Matthew 9 and 10 in that narrative. The harvest is plentiful. Yes, there are many people who want to believe and are open to believe the truth, if they hear the message but there are never enough workers; there are never enough people to convey the Christian message, to share their story, to preach the message, to give out literature, to give out media information about the Christian message, to give books, or to pray for people.
He says, don't take a lot of baggage, travel light and don't get delayed, don't greet people along the road. The context of this needs to be explained: a greeting to many people in the Western world is just saying, ‘Hello, how are you?’ as you walk along the road, and the other person says, ‘Fine, how are you?’ End of greeting. A Middle Eastern greeting at that time was much more substantial and time-consuming - embracing each other, asking polite questions about your family, asking polite questions about where you're going and what you may need. Greeting people along the road could take a lot of time. That was the problem. Don't get delayed; stick to the task; find a welcoming home in a town or village and trust God for your provision; eat what's put in front of you; look for a home that will receive you; don't go from home to home - that's going to take a lot of time. Proclaim the Kingdom of God; heal the sick and then pronounce warnings to those towns which refused to receive you - there would have been some such towns. We've already seen a Samaritan town in the previous passage. Look at Mark and Luke 9: 51 - 56, a Samaritan town refuses to receive Jesus. There will be rejection along the way and there'll be a judgement on those places that reject the Kingdom - a judgement like on the towns of Galilee, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, which were given masses of opportunity to hear the gospel. Capernaum is where Jesus was based, Bethsaida and Chorazin were small towns, within just a few kilometres of Capernaum, where Jesus visited regularly. These three places are referred to in a similar saying in Matthew 11, Jesus reiterates it here in Luke 10, by saying those places, which had so much opportunity still didn't receive the full message that the Kingdom had come and that Jesus was the Messiah. Be aware of the severity of the punishment that awaits those who reject the Gospel when it has been offered to them.
These are very practical instructions. They imply that Jesus is empowering the 72 to do miracles. They're going to heal the sick. That's a remarkable statement. These must be committed disciples; these must be people who knew quite a lot about Jesus' ministry; and would be people who had been in the broader group of disciples from which the Twelve had been drawn and had become apostles. You will remember that when the Twelve are appointed, they were twelve amongst a much wider group of disciples, and that wider group of disciples is represented here. The interesting thing about this is it tells us how many people were travelling with Jesus along the road because he is now out of Galilee. He's not near his home; he's not near the homes of many of his early disciples who would have lived in Galilee. They are on the road. It appears that a large number of people are actually travelling with him but rather than just travelling as a crowd with him, he sent them out on a mission. Wherever he goes, he wants them to go ahead along the journey.
Let's look at verses 17 to 20, which describes what happens when the 72 returned. We don't hear any direct accounts of what happened as they travelled around but we do see a little glimpse of this when they returned after a presumably designated time that Jesus had given them, in the designated task that he'd given them. They returned back to him, and they had a brief discussion with him as recounted here in this passage,
‘The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”Luke 10:17:20, NIV
Jesus had commanded the 72 to heal the sick but within that command, and within the methodology of Jesus, was also the possibility that they would drive out evil spirits which were sometimes the cause of sickness. They found this incredibly exciting when they saw the power of God coming through their prayers for individual people. It was a thrilling experience. They could hardly believe that what they'd seen Jesus do, they were beginning to do themselves in some measure. It was an exhilarating moment. Jesus speaks here about the fact that they have been given authority over the powers of darkness. This is an important consideration for the authority of Christians. This is not a simplistic authority. The authority comes through the proclamation of the Gospel. That is the source of the authority to overcome darkness because, as the Gospel is preached, and as people respond to the Gospel, so the control of evil that sometimes exists in people's lives is challenged and overturned.
Jesus makes this enigmatic statement here, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’. Interpreters have given several different possible ways of understanding this particular statement. The most likely explanation of it is this is a prophetic statement. Jesus is looking ahead into the future, because as Paul teaches very clearly in Ephesians 6, Satan's power, although greatly diminished by Jesus dying on the cross, still operates in this world. He's described as the prince of the power of the air. In Revelation 12: 9, and the passage surrounding it, John sees in his prophetic revelation in that book, a time when Satan is thrown right down to the earth. Maybe Jesus is anticipating this event because it's described in the book of Revelation; it appears to be a future event - an event that has a very short period of time of him being on the earth. There are different ways of interpreting this verse but I prefer to connect it with Revelation 12: 9, and to see this as a prediction of the final defeat of Satan at the end of the age. I think Jesus is anticipating this by thinking that what the disciples, the 72, are beginning now is going to continue until it is completed by that final and ultimate destruction of Satan's power.
Rejoice in Salvation
However, the point of this section is something different. It's that we should rejoice in our salvation, not in our power or authority as believers. It's salvation that matters most. It's a good thing when evil power is overcome in individual lives, in communities or even in nations. If we see a change, a spiritual change, it is absolutely wonderful to see. By far the most important thing to celebrate is the reality of salvation and the eternal security of believers. When Jesus prays, we get a glimpse into some of his thoughts and his prayers. Verses 21 and 22,
‘At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 22“All things have been committed to me by my Father. 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.”Luke 10:21-22, NIV
I think it's wonderful to see Jesus's attitude described as joyful, full of joy through the Holy Spirit. That's one of the most beautiful descriptions of Jesus that we ever get in the Gospels. He's full of joy through the Holy Spirit. What was he joyful about? He was joyful about working in harmony with his Father and seeing the productivity and the results and outcomes of that beautiful harmony between Father and Son. The Father committed things to the Son, and revealed things to the Son, and the Son enacted what the Father revealed to him. The Son, Jesus, has enacted the next step on the journey by appointing the 72 and sending them on the mission. He sees the fruitfulness and the results of that and he's joyful working under the leadership of his Father. He's joyful at seeing the coming of the Kingdom of God, seeing people respond. It's a wonderful joy to Jesus.
So he makes a final statement to his disciples, verses 23 and 24,
‘Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”Luke 10:23-24, NIV
Essentially, he's saying they're a privileged generation. Jews had spent hundreds of years in painful waiting and anticipation of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the coming of their Messiah. Prophets in the Old Testament period had looked into the future, had anticipated the future, had felt something of what the future would be, had predicted something of the future but the things they predicted, they never actually saw in their own experience. Many Old Testament prophets and kings wanted to see the time when the Messiah would come but they did not see it. It was that generation, the generation of Jesus, who saw the Kingdom of God coming, and Jesus says they are privileged, as indeed they were.
This is a very interesting passage, with some very interesting implications. In my reflections, as we come to the end of this study, I want to bring you a few thoughts. First of all, the Christian mission is ongoing, and there is an ever-present need for labourers in the harvest, to use the analogy that Jesus uses. He asks us to pray, pray that people will be sent out from the church into the community - evangelists, missionaries, church planters, individual Christians into their communities informally. We should be praying for this to happen and as we pray the Holy Spirit stirs up the Church to consider its responsibilities in mission and not just to settle down into being an inward-looking and settled community. This is a constant challenge for the Church, but labourers are needed, and labourers should be prayed for.
We do have to go to people to tell them about Jesus and his Kingdom. There's an actual going that is needed. This might be you going to your neighbour on your street; this might be you going to another country; this might be you going into your office, or your workplace, or your farm, or your school but there is an actual going. There is a sense of being sent and the more that Christians feel that they are sent into their communities, the stronger their mission will be.
Another thing that we can learn from this passage is that Jesus had a coherent strategy of evangelism. This is rarely discussed when the Gospels are taught. He had a very clear strategy in Galilee; he had three tours travelling around Galilee, which I described between Series 3 and Series 6 in some detail. He had a very clear strategy, appointing twelve Apostles, training them and then sending them two by two around Galilee - that was a very clear plan. Here's another step in his strategy. This is a coherent, planned strategy to reach Samaria, Judea and the surrounding areas and to get the message of the coming Kingdom of God and the Messiahship of Jesus out to as many people as possible in the whole country by means of sending out 36 teams of people to be on the road, who were not going to stop and waste time. They were going to get on with the work and get the proclamation done. There was a coherent planned mission strategy. Every church, every Christian community, every family of churches or network of churches, or group of local churches, needs to have a coherent planned strategy. Mission doesn't happen by accident. The Holy Spirit can lead individuals and do remarkable miracles that are surprising. That happens all the time. It happened in the book of Acts. But it is for leadership particularly to see what the Spirit is doing, how the Spirit is leading, and form a strategy around it, in order to enhance the mission of the church.
It is wonderful to know also in terms of our understanding of spiritual warfare, that the primary means of winning the spiritual battle, apart from living lives of integrity as Christians, is to preach the Gospel, share faith, win people for Christ. That is the primary means of winning the battle and enemy spiritual forces will be defeated in that process.
I love the joy that Jesus had seeing God's purposes fulfilled. There's nothing more joyful for the committed Christian disciple than to see God's purposes fulfilled in our generation through the mission spreading and the Church growing. We should be completely committed to this process in our individual lives, in our church communities, and I encourage you to refocus on that priority, and ask yourself the question, ‘What does it mean for me, here and now, where I live, in my community and in my church?’
Let's learn from the wonderful truths that we find in this amazing passage and others like it, for example in Matthew 10, which we studied earlier on. Let's learn from these passages and let's recommit ourselves to the wonderful mission of the Church. Thanks for joining me.