Speaker : John Johnstone
Luke chapter 10 is an exciting chapter because it’s a place where we can learn so much about Christian mission, and this is one of the most important activities which all Christians should be involved in. We already studied the first mission trip back in chapter 9, when Jesus sent out the 12 apostles. Naturally, several of the principles of Christian mission from that trip re-emerge here in chapter 10, so we can be reminded of them, but will focus on some new principles.
Why did Jesus appoint 72 men? We’re not absolutely sure, but many think this pattern is symbolic of all the nations of the world, as 72 of them are listed back in Genesis chapter 10 in the ‘Table of Nations’. If that is the case, then this reminds us of the global nature of Christian mission. This is a really important principle, and it is always helpful for us to think of mission in our family, in our church, and then rippling out to the whole of Fife, the whole of Scotland, and the whole world. In any case, when Jesus speaks of the harvest being plentiful, he is speaking of a global harvest. And we also have that magnificent vision in Revelation 7:9 to underline that mission is indeed global in its scope: ‘After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’
We engage in mission in our homes, as we share and model the Gospel with our children and with our spouses and other family members. Mission must be central to what we do in the church, which is why we are praying for boldness to warmly invite those we know to the carol service. The importance of mission is the reason we want to help plant a church in Levenmouth in coming years. And we also want to support international missions, such as Steadfast Global, and the Christian hospital in Lakhnadon in central India. In all these forms of mission, we must depend on the Lord by praying earnestly for them. Because mission involves speaking to God about people, and speaking to people about God.
Let’s take a closer look at these verses and draw out 7 principles which apply directly to us today as a church, and as individuals.
1. Mission is our responsibility
If you stopped reading Luke’s Gospel at chapter 9, you might think mission is something for the 12 apostles, and might be tempted to restrict mission to the activity of ministers and full-time church workers. However, as we go on into chapter 10, we see Jesus appoints 72 ‘others’ (verse 1). And as we read on into Luke’s next instalment, the book of Acts, it is clear that all ordinary Christians have a role to play in mission. This will look very different for different people, as our contexts and gifts are not the same. Even as the Christians in the churches were persecuted and scattered, we read in Acts 8:4: ‘Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.’
Let’s not be those who make excuses and say ‘I can’t have anything to do with mission’. The truth is, you share in the responsibility to tell others about Jesus, and you can trust that if the Lord wants you to do that, then he will give you all you need to do this job, if you simply ask him. Are you asking for opportunities to this, and power and boldness to talk to others about who Jesus is and what he has done?
2. Mission is best done with others
It’s striking that the 72 are sent out in pairs, and not on their own. Christian mission is tough, but doing it with a friend or colleague is an enormous boost, as each can encourage the other when times are hard. They can also keep one another accountable, and pray for one another. In churches where there is a one-man ministry, or where few have a ‘hands on’ approach to mission, often those who are left are isolated, can get burnt out, and become discouraged. Free Church plants now try to spend a few years gathering a small team before launching a new church, and there is great wisdom in that. It’s not healthy to be working as a ‘lone ranger’.
3. Jesus stresses the abundance of the harvest – many will become Christians
We should not be surprised at the words in verse 2 ‘the harvest is plentiful’. I just happened to be reading God’s promise to Abraham yesterday. Look up to the skies- can you count the stars? I will make you into a great nation. Let me ask a question: do you really believe that the harvest is plentiful? Even in Scotland? Deep down, perhaps you struggle to believe this. Perhaps you feel that your place of work, and your family, and your friends are so uninterested in the things of God, that the harvest must be terrible. It’s easy to become discouraged and actually give up speaking to God about people, and give up speaking to people about God. So, we must spur ourselves on by asking: who exactly is the Lord of the harvest? Who wants to gather in a vast number no one can count? It is God and not us. And the Lord is saying, it’s not the harvest that’s the problem, but the lack of workers. So, pray! He asks us to depend on him by praying for more workers.
Last week, at the evening service, we were speaking about some who set their phone alarm every day for 9:38 (I guess you can choose to do it for morning or evening), reminding them of Matthew 9:38, which is a parallel passage and says: ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ This makes this particular ‘Lord’s prayer’ something we do daily. Or, we could set our alarm for 10:02, with our passage this morning in mind.
We don’t know what the Lord has in store for Scotland over the next 100 years. But we can look globally and see enormous growth in the church in China, South Korea, Africa, and Nepal, to name but a few areas. We see Jesus’ statement, made 2000 years ago, still stands the test of time: the harvest is indeed plentiful. Our job, is to keep on praying for workers, to proclaim the gospel ourselves, live holy lives, and leave the results to God.
4. Mission is dangerous
We are to go, but as we go, bear in mind we are like lambs amongst wolves! Does this make you want to go and proclaim the gospel? Jesus does not want us to be naïf. He’s totally honest with us, so that we are not surprised when people mock us, reject us or react negatively. ‘Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.’ (1 Peter 4:12-14)
So, this image of Christians as lambs underlines our helplessness, and the sheer danger of mission. In some countries, as we know, if you are caught sharing your faith you could be imprisoned, or even killed. And yet, they still ‘go’ because they are sent out by King Jesus, their Shepherd, and they depend on his protection, rather than their own strength. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart… (Isaiah 40:11)
5. Mission is urgent
At first, verse 4 might seem strange or even rude: ‘… do not greet anyone on the road…’. Here, Jesus is emphasising that when we are on the King’s business, we need to stay focused. In the culture of the ancient near east, greetings could take quite some time. But it is not the time for pleasantries, but for pleading with people to turn from their sin and put their trust in Jesus the Saviour.
The fact that the harvest is ready now should also give us a sense of urgency. If a farmer’s wheat is ready and he leaves it in the ground for too long, the wheat will “shatter”, falling to the ground, and will rot. There’s a window of opportunity to gather the crops in. For us, now is the day of salvation. The harvest is ripe and ready to be taken in. Will we play our part? Or will we make excuses and think, maybe when work is quieter, or life is less busy. Really?
6. Mission requires words
If we don’t proclaim the good news that Jesus can bring us peace with God, and that the Kingdom of God is near in Jesus, then we are not doing mission. What a wonderful message we have- a message of peace. Why not tell people over the Christmas period that Christmas is all about God offering all people peace, through the forgiveness of sins, and that this comes about through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
What is it that changes people? What is it that people really need? ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.’ (Romans 1:16)
What will save people? ‘For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.’ (1 Corinthians 1:21)
7. Mission has serious consequences
The gospel is the good news that God is offering you peace with God, through Jesus Christ. However, this comes with a solemn warning for those who reject God’s offer. Rejecting Jesus is the biggest mistake we can ever make, and in verses 12-14 we read of the consequences. When it comes to the Day of Judgment, when we all will have to give an account of our lives, if we’ve refused Jesus’ offer to take away our sins on his terms, then we’ll have to pay the price for our own sins.
We can either know King Jesus as our Saviour and King, or as our Judge. If we reject Jesus, the only one who can give us peace with God, then all that is left for us is punishment. And forever and ever, we will get what we have asked for, a life without God’s goodness. That doesn’t bear thinking about. Our sin is so serious that it necessitated Jesus coming into the world to die on a cross. Rejecting Jesus is so serious that the warning Jesus gives to the towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida are also warnings for us: ‘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. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you…’ (Verses 13-14)
16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.’ (Verse 16)
May the Lord help us as a church to believe God when he says ‘the harvest is plentiful’ and may he help us to play our part in the gathering in of his people.