Pastor Tom Millner
This weekend we celebrate Labor Day here in the United States. It commemorates all those who labor hard to make this nation a better place for themselves and others. There are far too many who are not able to celebrate this year because they are out of work and can’t find a job. Jesus called many to labor for the Kingdom, not just the twelve. Let’s dig into this scripture from Luke and see what we can learn that applies to us in our Christian walk.
“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.” The “this” to which the verse refers is Jesus’ assertion that to follow Him is costly – it requires putting Him first and everything else far behind. So that having been said, Jesus appoints seventy two in addition to the twelve, to go out to the places he was about to visit. Two important elements here that we need to elaborate on:
1. He sent them in pairs! The notion of the lone Christian is non-scriptural. We were not created to be alone. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2:18) Moses went with Aaron. Paul went with Barnabas; Jesus surrounded himself with the twelve. There’s no such thing as a lone ministry. A lone ministry puts self first, not God. Even the Lone Ranger had his Tonto! Fellowship in ministry is important for mutual support, for sharing, and for caring.
2. The visit to the place was to prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival. We often think that it’s all up to us to bring people to the Lord. Initiatives have been designed by organizations that take us through the steps to “winning souls” to Christ. As well intended as they might be, they lead the “witness” to believe that the good work is all up to him or her. Jesus sent them out to declare that the Kingdom is near; the Kingdom will come. Jesus didn’t instruct them to deliver the Kingdom, but to alert the listener that it was on its way! When we take on the role of delivering the Kingdom, we take on the task that only God can perform. That is placing ourselves and our agenda before Him. In Matthew 16, Peter insists that Jesus not endure what was essential for Him to fulfill His mission. Jesus’ response was to tell him “get behind me, Satan.” If He hadn’t fulfilled His Mission, we wouldn’t be here today. Those who were sent ahead were to simply prepare the way.
Verses 2-4 “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.” I want to elaborate on two things that are important here:
1. There are more who need to hear the word of truth than there are those to convey it! So much of what is being spread today that appears to be Christian is far from the call of Christ on the individual life. We see acts of exclusion that are passed off as the Christian message. We hear preaching of conditions that are touted as a gospel of grace and mercy which renders merciless and graceless. We hear that grace, mercy, and salvation are free to those who would opt to live a lie about who God created them to be. That’s not a grace that’s free; it’s a grace at a fee which is no grace at all. Grace is free, it’s not cheap! Every time we put our conditions or exceptions on grace, we cheapen the grace that is given at great cost to God! There’s a huge harvest just waiting for the Lord of the harvest to be presented as He truly is! Oddly, the conditional message that so many spew forth creates more hostility and resentment than acceptance, repentance and redemption! That sounds more like the attitude of Sodom than the grace of God!
2. Jesus was asking them to be totally reliant upon the hospitable graces of those to whom He was sending them. This flies in the face of our self sufficiency model for today’s living. Now there’s nothing wrong with striving for self-sufficiency, but we allow our perceived need for it to hinder us from being open to the love and care that might be a blessing to others. Hospitality in ancient times was of prime importance to protect one another from thieves, from wild animals, and to provide food and shelter when traveling. There was no fast food drive through spot, no interstate highways, and no roadside stands or rest stops. There were only people who lived along the way. The lack of hospitality could mean the difference between life and death in those days. Hospitality today is just as life giving and life saving as it was back then. The church and its individual members are called on to be hospitable to all who need a refuge along their journey. We’re called to be a place where the journey through a sometimes difficult life is open, welcoming and emotionally safe. We’re called to be a place where spiritual food and the “bread of life” are offered without reservation or on the condition that the travelers become someone else or even profess beliefs that are identical to our own.
Jesus goes even further in His instruction. He tells them that if they are not received with hospitality that they are to wipe the very dust of that place from their feet. This was an act that symbolically removed the experience of that rejection from their memory. He went on to say that it would be better for Sodom on the day of His Kingdom than on that place that had rejected them. We’ve heard that the so called “sin of Sodom” was homosexuality. That’s pure rubbish! There’s nothing in scripture to support that assertion. The sin of Sodom was its inhospitable stance to strangers and its rejection of God’s angels of mercy. The people of Sodom wanted to harm, not host the angels whom God sent to save them. Those same angels had appeared to Abraham earlier and found Him to be welcoming and full of hospitality. During that appearance, God told Abraham that He was sending His angels to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to see for Himself if they were indeed as wicked (abusive and inhospitable) as had been reported to Him. Abraham negotiates with God to save the cities if as few as ten hospitable people could be found. Abraham knew there were at least four; Lot, his wife and two daughters. There are so many beautiful and hopeful parts to this story and yet there are those who would lead millions to believe that who they are, by God’s design, was the reason for the cities destruction! If you’ve bought that false teaching, I urge you to discard it in that trash can near the front door and leave here with a new understanding of that story.
The labor that we are to be about in our lives today is the witness and the worship of the giver of grace and mercy in our lives. We don’t have to depend upon props, steps to success, catchy phrases or prayer rituals. What we are to depend upon is the willingness of others to hear the witness of hope, healing, and rejoicing that we have experienced in the grace of Christ. God calls us to live in His kingdom that is both now and not yet. That means to live in the knowledge of the presence of His grace and mercy in our lives while recognizing that the fullness of that grace and mercy is yet to come. God’s great command to us is to love Him with all that we are and to likewise love our neighbor as our self. Likewise, His great commission to us is to go to others and share what we have learned from Him. That means living in the light and love of His grace and mercy that is His Kingdom come and to love in a way that is His will being done!