Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
Have you ever gone on a trip or taken on a temporary assignment and learned much more from the experience than you thought you would? This is what happened to the 70 messengers whom Jesus sent ahead of him to towns and villages he hadn’t visited before. It was the third year of his ministry. He was making his last trip to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. Then he would rise back to life from the grave. He had preached to many people during his ministry and he had a lot of followers, some of whom he trained to help him spread word of his visit to people who’d never heard him speak. The seventy needed to do their work quickly.
In the next few minutes, we’ll examine Jesus’ instructions to the messengers by examining a few words and phrases. “The harvest is plentiful,” he said. When he used the word “harvest”, Jesus wasn’t referring to the multitudes of curious people who would come to see him. He meant the people who would welcome him and who by God’s grace would receive him. The Holy Spirit creates countless believers. Many would be saved then and many have been saved since that time. And if Jesus doesn’t return immediately, many more will be saved. Jesus and his gospel have always had a lot of appeal. There will be plenty of people in heaven. God doesn’t force himself on anyone, but he blesses abundantly those who receive his promises.
“But the workers are few,” Jesus said. “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers.” Jesus instructed his helpers to pray for workers, our prayers join God’s concern for the harvest; they make our will the same as his; our minds and hearts are united with him. We are partners with Jesus. We notice, however, that Jesus didn’t tell his messengers to go out and get workers. The harvest is God’s, and he provides the workers. He doesn’t force anyone into his service or call someone who is reluctant, as we would likely do if the task were left to us. Jesus finds the right people to help him and in his infinite grace, he hears our prayers and unites our wills with his. This is a miracle. The Lord blesses our walk with him.
“I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves,” Jesus said. Now, nobody would ever do such a thing – send a single lamb into a wolf pack. Jesus told his messengers not to worry – to be brave, to get rid of their fears, and to keep him constantly in mind. He will protect them. Somebody described Jesus’ lambs as people who have lost the viciousness that comes with sin. They can’t defend themselves against the evil of the world. Jesus who rules the world will keep them safe. He will never abandon them. Never.
He gave his messengers instructions about the details of their mission – what to take with them – they will travel light – and how to behave and what to say. They shouldn’t give way to distractions or spend their time in idle conversation. They are to devote their time and energy to the work Jesus gives them and gratefully to receive the good things that are given to them, for the worker deserves his wages.
“When you enter a house,” Jesus told them, “first say, ‘Peace to this house.” Peace between God and man. The Lord said in Isaiah that he that he would extend peace like a river. Jesus brings peace so that life may flourish and all people may receive consolation and happiness from God. The gospel creates peace. God is our friend and we are his children. The peace he gives us is our permanent possession and is the source of our feelings of peace. Our emotions zigzag and go up and down, while God’s offer of peace is steady and will never change. He creates a desire for peace in us and renews our feelings again and again. The 70 were to offer Christ’s peace as if it came from him, and in this way they would help to extend the kingdom.
They would also heal the sick, for these miracles would prove the power of Jesus. We pray for the sick ourselves, of course, and very often – in church on Sunday and in our private devotions. We spend time with ailing friends and relatives and help take care of their needs as best we can, making a quiet, faithful witness to our Lord.
Jesus also instructed his disciples to preach that the kingdom of God is near them. He intends that everyone who hears this message will accept his rule of grace and let it bless their souls in time and in eternity. They shouldn’t spend a lot of time with people who refuse them. The destruction that took place in Sodom is a sample of what will happen when Jesus returns to folks who reject him.
The 70 messengers went out, then, equipped with Jesus’ instructions. Their journey went much better than they thought it would. Nothing happened to disappoint them and nothing came up to cause them to fail. Even demons submitted to them. The messengers were highly pleased with themselves, even giddy, and a bit off-base. Jesus needed to correct them.
He said that he saw Satan fall from heaven, which is a much greater deed than casting out demons in his name. Jesus himself, in fact, had caused the downfall of the head of the kingdom of demons. Jesus wasn’t referring to a specific event that he saw with his physical eyes, for Satan is a spirit, and his fall took place in the supernatural world, where time and space don’t exist. Satan fell from supernatural blessedness. His power, which was once as high as heaven, was corrupted and became ungodly. Jesus defeated him, I’m sure you remember, when he resisted the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. He crushed Satan’s power, so he could give his disciples the ability to cast out demons in his Name.
“I have given you the power to trample on snakes and scorpions,” he said. These are samples of the spiritual strength Jesus gives his people. He doesn’t mean that his people may disregard forces that might harm or destroy them or that we may act toward danger in a foolhardy way. He doesn’t take us out of the natural world, with all its perils and potential for destruction, but he does protect us and give us wisdom. “He will give his angels charge concerning you, “Psalm 91 says, “to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands.” Jesus and his angels protect us so that the devil can’t inflict misery and death whenever he pleases. One of our Lutheran authorities put it this way: “Only when Jesus himself wants us to suffer and die in the interest of his kingdom do such things come upon us. Then we accept them as being sent by him as did all the martyrs who died in triumph and by dying that way defeated Satan. The symbolism of snakes and scorpions extends to all the deadly delusions, deceptions, and poisonous falsehoods of Satan…The defeated enemy constantly shows his defeat before the divine Word in the hands of Christ’s messengers.”
The returning messengers rejoiced at the wrong things. A person may have the ability to cast out demons and yet not escape the devil himself. Joy may lead to pride and to false notions of talent and merit, so we rejoice in everything that has been done for us and not something that we ourselves do. We rejoice that our names are written in heaven, which means that we are justified before God, accepted as one of his children, permanently enrolled among the elect, awaiting Christ’s return in glory when he will claim us.
Someone said that our joy that our names are written in heaven is to increase until in heaven itself we see our names written there, which is the greatest of all victories over Satan.
In the meantime, right now, we are like Jesus’ 70 messengers. Our journeys teach us more than we expect them to. We learn not to take our faith lightly and to cling to the Lord every day. We seek his mighty power so that we may stand against the devil’s schemes. Paul wrote in Ephesians that the life of Christians isn’t a struggle against flesh and blood but against the rulers of spiritual evil. Jesus protects us and equips us with spiritual armor so that we may be strong and stand our ground in faith, if a particularly evil day arrives. Jesus equips us with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith and other spiritual equipment. We have the same blessings he gave his 70 messengers, that is, every quality we need – truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and God’s invitation to pray to him. We call on his help and welcome the support of the One who strengthens us. He encourages us as we spread the good news in his Name. We rejoice that he has claimed us and that our names are written in heaven. In his Name we give thanks. AMEN
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.