4th Sunday after Pentecost – 4/3/2022
What a difference a generation makes, especially as far as the face of the church is concerned. Who among our parents' generation would ever have imagined those congregations that call themselves Christian today would be gathering together in centers that more resemble shopping malls or theaters complete with concession stands than sacred places of worship, or that hymn books would be replaced by following the bouncing curser on a huge projection screen or that due to the live streaming of worship services some congregational members would rarely worship in their church in person but would stay home in their easy chairs and watch the service on their smart TV or laptop... or that churches would be celebrating their freedom from solid, biblical doctrine and standards of morality by ordaining practicing homosexuals to the pastoral office or blessing transgenderism and same-
Yes, the face of the church has certainly changed, and, I'm afraid, so have its mission and message. Today, churches seem more intent on advocating for societal change and every liberal agenda in their communities than being witnesses for Christ to bring life and salvation to dying souls. In many respects, the church of our generation has lost its moorings and become a ship without a rudder, adrift in a sea of worldliness and busyness.
The true message and mission of Christ's church are the emphasis of our text today. This account from Luke's Gospel centers on when Jesus sent the 72 to proclaim His kingdom. Luke sets the stage by providing an overview: "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."
This overview provides valuable information about what we, as congregation members, should be all about. First, it clearly defines that the mission, our mission, belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not ours to do with as we please. He is the one who sends or casts out, His emissaries into the places He plans for us to go.
We already know from the previous context that Jesus had resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem. There in Jerusalem, he had an appointment with fate. There He was to give His life for the world. Nothing was to deter him from that mission. Along the way, He would proclaim His purpose in the towns and villages he passed. As the One in charge, Jesus was sending these 72 just as God had sent John the Baptizer to prepare people to meet their Savior, their Lord, and their God in the flesh of Jesus.
Who were these 72? We have yet to know their names. Luke describes them as "others" Such a designation must certainly be a reference to the fact that, just as Jesus had in the previous chapter sent out the 12 apostles (Luke 9: 12) "to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick," so here he was sending these others, that is, those other than the apostles, in a similar way as His advanced team.
The sending out of these others is the second important aspect of Jesus' overview of His mission for us. It assures us that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God was and is not the exclusive possession of the apostles but belongs to all of Jesus' disciples. To be sure, the apostles were Jesus' only eyewitnesses, the only ones He promised to speak directly through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, the church was to be built on the apostles preaching, with Jesus as the cornerstone of that message (Eph. 2:20).
But at the same time, even though these 72 were not apostles, and even though we are not apostles, with the 72, we are appointed as Christ's witnesses in this world by our calling through Holy Baptism into Christ. When Jesus commanded His apostles to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations, he certainly didn't mean that only the Twelve would be carrying out that work. After all, the Twelve died long before the Gospel could be proclaimed to all the world. Jesus always intended for His "others" to take His Gospel as delivered to them by the apostles to all the nations. God considers all believers in Jesus Christ as a holy priesthood who are, as the apostle Peter has written, to "declare the wonderful deeds of Him who has called out of darkness and into His wonderful light" (2 Pet. 2:9, 10). He has not sent us to preach publicly, but He has called us all to see through the gifts He has given us—time, talents, and money—that the true Word and Witness of Christ be published, proclaimed, taught, and shared in our days.
Jesus further elaborates on what constitutes this mission by describing the church's mission as harvesting. He told the 72: "The harvest is plentiful, but there are few workers. Therefore, ask the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into His harvest field."
When a farmer does the work of plowing, planting, tilling, and fertilizing, he does not do them as ends in and of themselves. Instead, he always does such things with an eye toward the harvest. Harvesting the grain is his mission. Everything else he does is to get that grain into his bin or granary.
In the same way, we are to focus on praying that God will send harvesters into His harvest field. For even though we as a church might do many other things, the sole goal of all that we do is to harvest souls for the kingdom of God.
Before Jesus elaborates on how to do this harvesting, He gives this sobering warning: "I send you as lambs among wolves." Little defenseless lambs among a pack of wolves do not paint a safe picture of harvesting souls for the kingdom. But that's Jesus' whole point.
The church's role is not to keep everyone in the world safe. It is saving souls for eternity. And that is not easy because Jesus had and still has many enemies. They all want to see him fail and those who follow him destroyed. Doing mission work, then, is dangerous business. As the apostle Peter points out, the devil is a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). He will use anything and everything at his disposal to ensure that not one of us will end up in heaven. He has all the power of darkness at his disposal. You and I are mere lambs, ready to be slaughtered.
These 72 and the apostles faced outright rejection, beatings, stoning, imprisonment, and even death for proclaiming the kingdom of Christ. The wolves were everywhere, especially within the confines of their religious hierarchy.
Make no mistake. The wolves are still out there. They are, in many ways, even more dangerous today because they have become much more subtle in their attacks but just as deadly. Their tactic of choice today is to marginalize those who speak the truth. By that, I mean they seek to characterize anyone who speaks up for Christ and His true Word as some crazed fundamentalist, overzealous religious fanatic, or someone who lacks love. Someone who is just out of touch with society, someone who is too exclusive, or even someone who is just plain stupid. We see such marginalizing in their sarcastic criticism of those who stand firm on traditional and biblical values in society and those who proclaim the exclusivity of the Gospel: that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus Christ.
Facing such wolves demands resoluteness, faith in Christ, and the power of His Gospel. After all, Jesus' characterization of us as lambs reminds us that we have no power or strength to proclaim His kingdom but need a shepherd.
At the same time, the term lambs encourage us not to worry because it reminds us that we have a good shepherd in Jesus Christ, who is there to protect us from all harm and every danger and who willingly laid down His life for us to save us from every evil.
Accordingly, Jesus tells those He sends into His harvest fields not to take any provisions with them but to leave their pocketbooks, their traveler's bags, and even their sandals at home. They will not need them, nor should they become dependent upon them. All that they need will be provided through the message they proclaim. The message will cause those who hear it to step forward and supply the workers' needs.
So it is for us in the church today. God brings forth support for His preacher through those who hear the words of the kingdom. Likewise, the power of mission work stems from something other than our strengths, talents, resources, or even our slick programs. "The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Ro. 1:16). The Gospel is a self-germinating seed. It does not require our help. Accordingly, we see God purposely choosing the weak, the powerless, or the untalented to accomplish His greatest harvests for the kingdom. He chose Moses, who claimed to be slow of tongue. He appointed David King, the smallest and ruddiest of his family. He called Paul, a persecutor of Christians, a wolf and made him St. Paul, the premier apostle of Christ.
Next, Jesus says, "Greet no one along the way." Here we see God's appeal for resoluteness among His harvest workers. Even though greeting others was an expected and important part of Jewish civil society, Jesus wanted His workers to be as committed to the mission as He was.
He wanted them to be focused on the mission to save souls for the kingdom by getting caught up in social niceties. Don't get me wrong; Jesus was not against helping one's neighbor with his worldly needs. Look how many people Jesus healed and helped! But He does not want His workers to become so distracted by the courtesies of social interaction that, even though they befriend others, they do so to the peril of their souls if they never get around to proclaiming the kingdom of Christ to them.
People need to hear another greeting from our lips: the greeting of peace, as Jesus says, "Peace be to this house." After all, we are in the peacekeeping business. As St. Paul writes, Christ has given us the reconciliation ministry. Reconciliation involves two warring parties being brought together to enjoy peace. That ministry is accomplished by proclaiming to those whose sins have set them at odds with God that Jesus has atoned for their sin. It is assuring the sinner that God is at peace with him. They can be at peace with Him by believing the Gospel and accepting it as true.
If those with whom we have shared the message of the Gospel are sons of peace, that is, have been brought to faith in Christ by that good news, the same peace we have with God will also rest upon them. However, should someone reject the message of Christ, it will not mean the end of our peace. Through faith, we will still enjoy the peace of God in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, those who reject the words of peace in Christ will be left with no peace.
Correspondingly, Jesus says, "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me." What a powerful concept! What we do as the church, as workers in the harvest fields for God, is not without consequences. It is the most eternally important work done in this world.
For when we speak the message of Christ's peace to our neighbor and proclaim the kingdom of God to others, as Jesus says, God's kingdom comes to people through us. Through the word of the Gospel, we speak, and the sacrament of baptism we administer, all the gifts of God's kingdom that come to us in Jesus Christ are given. We are the hands, feet, and mouths through which Christ works to save people and bring them into His kingdom. When they listen to us, it is Jesus' voice they hear. Jesus touches, heals, and saves through us.
Those who reject the message we proclaim are not rejecting us. More importantly, the world rejects Christ and, accordingly, salvation. That also needs to be made clear to everyone. That is why Jesus instructed the seventy-two to shake the dust of their sandals off against those cities that rejected them. It was as if to say, "We leave you with what your life will forever amount to without Christ, nothing but dust and ashes under the judgment of God. Know this: The kingdom of God has come to you through the Gospel we preached to you and
You have rejected it. You will have no excuse when our Lord returns as Judge of heaven and earth. By rejecting our message, you have rejected Him, the only one who can save your soul and give you eternal life. You are left with your self-chosen fate, which is worse than what even Sodom and Gomorrah received."
It sounds harsh, but it isn't. After all, to truly present the truth of the Gospel, we must also make it clear what the Gospel saves people from.
Our account concludes with the comfort and joy of all who work in the Lord's harvest fields. Luke moves quickly ahead to the return of the seventy-two from their mission. As He describes it, "they returned with joy and said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name. "
The 72 were pleased with the results of their preaching and teaching that they had witnessed, even the power they had over even demons. Jesus quickly concurred that what they had experienced was no fluke. He said about their ministry, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." But He reminded them that He had given them that power through the very message He had given them to speak. The power was not in their hands. Their ministry was comforted that the Gospel had power over even the demons.
That is our comfort in our ministry of the Gospel as well. Even though we are sent as lambs among wolves, the wolves do not have power over the Gospel we have to share and proclaim.
Even the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Gospel of Christ. We will trample on serpents and scorpions every time we baptize someone, every time we teach a Sunday School class, with every Biblical lesson shared in our school, every time we share the simple Gospel across the fence with our neighbor, and every time we absolve those who have sinned against us with the word of forgiveness. There is no power greater in all the universe than this proclamation of the Kingdom of Christ. It breaks souls from the chains and grips of the devil and every darkness and frees them to bask in the light of God's Son.
But as Jesus states, as comforting and reassuring as it is that even the demons are subject to His servants who proclaim His kingdom, the true joy in our ministry is not to be found in that power but rather in the harvest of souls saved for His kingdom. Jesus says, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
Think of all the places where your names are written. They appear on birth certificates, school records, Social Security cards, and marriage licenses. You may even take pride in some places your name appears on paychecks, letterheads, business cards, plaques, and awards. Someday your name will even be on a death certificate and maybe even chiseled or sandblasted into a headstone. However, not all places your name appears will bring you the same joy, or even any joy at all.
One thing you can be sure of, however, is that your name will not remain in these places forever. Sooner or later, it will disappear, leaving you with no consolation and, in all probability, not even a record that you even existed.
Not so with your name in heaven. Jesus was committed to His death to put your name there. The word Jesus uses is not simply written in heaven; your name is engraved in heaven. Through His prophet Isaiah, the Lord promised you a name that is an "everlasting name."
Your joy is that God, in Christ, has guaranteed your place in His heavenly barn. Your heritage is an everlasting one with Him in glory. So is the heritage of those who hear your message about the kingdom and believe. Their names are engraved alongside yours in God's Book of Everlasting Life. There can be no greater wages or joy for the worker in God's harvest field! Amen.