The Last Part
Hey there MERCYhouse! We’ve been looking at Luke 9 & 10 in a standalone sermon series this winter titled, “Jesus University.” It’s been a close look at the process of discipleship as Jesus calls His first followers, from the revealing of his divine identity to His invitation to join His mission. What were they called to? How did it play out in their lives? What does this mean for us today, as we’re called to follow Jesus?
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Snowdays and Sundays
In the (almost) 20 years that MERCYhouse has been in existence, we’ve only canceled service twice due to weather. But while most of us were cozy and warm at home, a set of sermon notes lay cold, sad and lonely on a printer tray. Even though we didn’t have service, I want to take the time to articulate the major points from the last sermon to wrap up our standalone series.
Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.  And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.
The Seventy-Two who Leaned In
What we see in chapter 10 is Jesus mobilizing a whole new batch of disciples. Up until this point, the original twelve disciples have been the most visible. And I think this is intentional-- Jesus will continue investing in and pouring into these twelve, equipping them to be disciples, make disciples, and multiply disciples. But for the first time, we see a group of people appear on the scene who are not the 12 Apostles, and who aren’t in the crowds of thousands. 72 people.
What’s interesting to me is that the first mention of these 72 are of them being sent out. We don’t really see their spiritual and emotional progression like we do with the 12. They seem to just appear onto the scene. But the reality is that these are people most likely from the crowd who took a step in closer. Thos who didn’t settle with the rumors they were hearing about Jesus, or what their own knowledge or study of ancient scriptures would have concluded about Jesus. But they navigated through the crowds of thousands and listened to and engaged with Jesus for themselves.
And what we know about these 72 is that they get it. They have the same epic realization that the Apostles had that Jesus isn’t just some kind teacher with a few tricks up his sleeve-- he was the anointed one from God, the Messiah, the Christ. We know this because Jesus is having them go and preach the Gospel, embodying and representing the Kingdom of God in verse 9.
This should encourage us! It shows us that the 12 Apostles, though they have a very unique and specific role, weren’t the only ones being called by Jesus. It should give us hope that it’s okay to engage with God from a distance in the crowd at first, but as we approach Him and get closer to Him, he meets us and reveals himself to us, and brings us into His Kingdom, and invites us into His Mission.
I wonder who attending our services is in that metaphorical pack of 72? Who are those that might not be as visible up front or known by name or have the spotlight on them often. But those who have worked their way through the crowd that is our culture, through the noise and rumors about Jesus, who have personally met Jesus and who are being invited in to help build God’s Kingdom. I wonder who’s on that journey right now as you’re reading this, drawing near and answering the call from Jesus. If that’s you, be encouraged. Continue leaning in, like the 72. This is just the beginning.
Two by Two
It says that Jesus sends them out in pairs of twos. And while we’re not sure if the apostles at the beginning of Luke 9 were sent out in pairs or by themselves, Luke makes a point of it here. Well, why? We’ve been seeing this theme of urgency in preaching the Gospel. So if there’s a hurry or a rush to get the word out to as many people as possible, wouldn’t it make sense logistically to send them out as individuals and reach twice as many people in the same time?
Ministry is not always about efficiency. And I say this with a smirk because I love efficiency. I have literally sprained my fingers carrying a dozen bags of groceries in one trip from the car. I love stir-frying food because there’s one pan to clean. Single stream recycling is awesome. My favorite kind of PJs are onesies. If something says two-in-one, it’s great. If it’s three-in-one it’s amazing.
But the reality is that when it comes to the ministry of preaching the Gospel and walking with people toward faith in Jesus Christ-- it’s not about finding the fastest most efficient method… even if you’re tempted like me, to want to find one.
No, it’s not about reaching as many people as possible; it’s about effectively and authentically communicating the Gospel. Going two by two speaks to both the challenge of what they’re about to do, but also the power of encouragement and accountability in the fellowship of a brother or sister.
We’re getting a glimpse here that will be further revealed of the role of community and church as Jesus builds his Kingdom. The fellowship and encouragement and accountability that we can provide for our brothers and sister is not just a byproduct-- it’s a prescription. It’s a necessary ingredient in this case. It’s not optional for the 72. It wasn’t, “Hey, if you’re not feeling confident or if you’re not that outgoing, why don’t you find a buddy?” No, Jesus pairs up everyone, regardless of how socially proficient or awkward they are.
Gospel Sharing as a Community
Last week we talked about the cost of discipleship-- that following Jesus requires a denial of ourselves and preparation to die. Jesus says plainly that if anyone wants to come after Him, that person has to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Him. The challenge and cost of discipleship is real. And we shouldn’t be discouraged if we experience the cost and the challenge of following Jesus.
Here, it’s understood that bringing the Gospel to our neighbors, our friends, our family, our coworkers-- it’s hard. It’s not easy by any means, and if you feel the struggle, the temptation to be ashamed of Jesus, know that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to do it alone.
By going in twos, the disciples could encourage one another. They could remind each other the mission their on. They can speak truth to one another when doubts or lies creep in. They can hold each other accountable to the message of the Gospel, to be obedient to what Jesus had commissioned them to do. They could pray for one another, for boldness and wisdom, for joy and supernatural empowerment.
If you’re crushed by the challenge of sharing the Gospel with someone, not able to initiate that conversation or get to that place where you can talk about Jesus… I would say to at least let someone know that you’re making the effort. Say, “Hey, my coworker is on my heart and mind and I want to share the Gospel with them. But I just haven’t had the chance. I haven’t mustered up the boldness.” And if you’re on the receiving end of that and your friend shares this with you, don’t just do the well-intentioned “Yeah, I’ll pray for you,” and forget about it. Pray with them, on the spot! Write it down in your journal to continue praying about it. Set a reminder in your phone to check up on them. It’s this camaraderie and fellowship that Jesus prescribes for the effective preaching of the Gospel… so let’s use it!
The job of Christ belongs to Jesus
[Jesus] sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.
It may not look like it, but this is really encouraging. On one level, Jesus is not sending his disciples to figure things out on their own. Their mission is to preach the Gospel as heralds bringing a message from the one who is to come. They are not sent as kings required to conquer by their own strength.
This is helpful in telling us what the role of Gospel preaching is, but also what the role of Jesus is. Remember what we looked at a couple of weeks ago… it wasn’t Peter who was discovered to be the Messiah. It wasn’t John who was the anointed King and rescuer of man. The job of the Christ belongs to Jesus, and that’s not a responsibility that he ever hands over to men and women. Not for the 72, and not for us now.
In our mission to share the Good news of Christ with others, it’s never our role to do the work of salvation in people. It’s our job to point to the savior, Jesus Christ, and that’s it.
I think that’s such an important point to hold onto and remember as we think about reaching people with the Gospel. It’s so easy to slip into a place where we think that our primary objective is to convert people to Christ. Or even in a discipleship relationship, to do the work of maturing those we’re discipling. To change their lives and rip them out of their brokenness and sinful habits. Brothers and sisters, that’s not our job! Our job is to speak the truth of the Gospel, to be a herald for Jesus Christ, to point to Jesus as the savior and solution, and to carry our hurt and wounded brothers and sisters to Christ the healer. If we want to have a healthy view of mission that doesn’t stifle us with anxiety and overbearing burden… then we need to know what our job is, and what Jesus’ is. It’s Christ who does the heavy lifting.
What a mercy it is when the preacher knows that his Master is coming after him, when he can hear the sound of his Master’s feet behind him! What courage it gives him! He knows that, though it is very little that he can do, he is the thin end of the wedge preparing the way for One who can do everything.
This was clear for the 72. It was communicated that they were going before him, and preparing a way for Him. And that He was the star of the show. He’d carry the ultimate burden, not the 72.
And they needed to hear this. Not just to feel the burden lifted and give them a sense of freedom that we ourselves can also have today as we go. But because this was just the beginning. What they were being sent out to do, though it may have felt like a “workshop week” or weekend outreach event… it’s a task that we ourselves have inherited 2000 years later, that we’ll continue to pass on as long as Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Look at verse two:
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
God is constantly preparing the hearts of people and calling them to Himself
We often look at the world around us and see tough soil. Especially here in New England. How often do we use that mentality-- that people here are just so tough to talk to about God. But I think some of that mentality is one that we can hide behind, that maybe creates anxiety or defeats us before we even make an effort to bring the Gospel to our neighbors. But maybe that’s because we’re thinking that we need to do the growing and the maturing and the budding. But we see here that God is the God of the harvest. Because as tough as we think the soil might be, it’s God who does the growing. And the reality is that there is a plentiful harvest.
God is preparing the hearts of people and calling them to Himself. Constantly, often without us seeing it or knowing about it. Consider that God began calling us before time began (Ephesian 1:5) to know Him and be His disciple. You may recall a time when someone communicated the Gospel to you and you received it and began following Jesus. But it wasn’t like you tapped on Jesus’ shoulder and he was like, “oh hey! I’m Jesus, who are you?” No, he knew you before you were born. As you were being knit in your mother’s womb. And he chose you, to redeem you and rescue you. And like a nagging voice and feeling I had as a teenager that I was missing something, that there was something more-- that was the gentle, subtle call of God on my life. Until that day where my faith burst through the soil at the sound of a smashing plate (ask me about this!), and I was ready to be cultivated and grown into mature faith.
There are people around you, where you work, where you go to school, where you buy your coffee or pick up your burrito, where you work out, where you get your oil changed, where you eat dinner, where you buy your groceries, where you walk in the park, where you take your kids to day care, where you shop for clothes-- where you live. There are people whom God has been calling to Himself, and who are waiting to hear the Gospel communicated, and are ready to break through the “tough soil” and enter into faith in Jesus and discipleship of Jesus.
This Valley is full of them. The harvest is plentiful. And the laborers, those obediently committed to following Jesus and His commands to preach the Gospel and point to the savior… are few. We are few. So we pray. As Jesus tells those of us who are laboring, not those on the sideline, but as those among the 72 who are on mission… he calls us to pray for more. MERCYhouse, that’s the prayer of 2019 from us as the Staff and the other leaders in the community here. That more of you who have been hanging out in the crowds would step into the ring of disciples going out and laboring in the fields with the plentiful harvest at hand.
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