TEXT: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
… the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “… Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:1-4).
If today’s gospel lesson tells us anything, it tells us that you do not want Jesus organizing volunteers at your church! Can you imagine? It’s coffee hour, and everybody’s milling around after the service, chatting and laughing and getting caught up with each other. Then Jesus steps into the middle of the room. He clears his throat and holds up a clipboard as he says loudly: “Excuse me, can I have everyone’s attention for a minute? I still need 70 volunteers for a service opportunity this week. This is a great chance to go out into strange and dangerous neighborhoods and invite yourselves into people’s homes.
“It will be like you are defenseless lambs sent out alone into the midst of ravenous wolves. Oh, and please remember not to bring anything that might make it easier or safer or more comfortable for you to do that, okay? So just come on over here and we’ll get you all signed up. Thank you!”
That’s no way to recruit volunteers! How can he expect anyone to answer that call? Everybody knows you have to sell it, right? Say it won’t be hard. Say, “Anyone can do this.” Tell them it won’t take much time or effort. Tell them everything will be set up for them, that all they have to do is show up.
Look—we all know how this works, don’t we? If you want volunteers to help with a church project, you have to make it easy for them to commit. You can’t ask too much of people—and you certainly can’t expect them to take any kind of risk! What is Jesus thinking? This is no way to gain a following. This is no locker room pep-talk. Where’s the inspirational speech? Sheep in the midst of wolves? Who wants to play that role?
That’s not all. These first Christian missionaries are commanded to take nothing with them—not even the most basic provisions necessary for the road. No purse. No bag. No sandals. Sheep in the midst of wolves. It’s bizarre, isn’t it? Jesus is certainly aware of how dangerous the work will be, and yet he allows them to take no precautions whatsoever as he sends them out.
And yet, he does not send them out empty-handed. No. Listen to what he tells them:
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (vv. 5-9)
What Jesus gives them is the power to share in his work. He gives them the power of his peace. The peace that they give will be the peace of Christ. And wherever the peace of Christ goes, powerful things happen—as these missionaries soon find out. When they return for debriefing, this is their report: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
“Even the demons submit to us!” Wow! What a rush that must have been. How wonderful. How awesome. And, how frightening. How life-changing. Jesus has pushed them beyond their comfort zones—and out into the world.
No longer safe on the sidelines, these 70 disciples are commissioned to a task. Jesus gives them a charge, a mission, a project. He gives them his labour of peace. They are to share his peace through table fellowship, by curing the sick, and by proclaiming the kingdom of God. In other words, Jesus calls them to live out and practice the faith which they have already professed. And it is in the doing that the 70 are transformed from bystanders into harvesters.
Now, they are active participants in the work of God—and Jesus urges them to travel light. They are to carry with them no money, no food or supplies, no sandals for their feet. All of these comforts and necessities must be left behind. The only thing they are to carry is a message—and the message is simply this: “The kingdom of God has come near.” This is their proclamation, and this is their promise: “The kingdom of God has come near.” They are to speak these words to those who offer them hospitality—and even to those who reject them: “The kingdom of God has come near.”
These 70 souls are now ambassadors for Christ. And, as such, they are to live out God’s vision for the world. They are to practice peace, do justice, perform the faith. After seeing what they have seen—after witnessing so much pain and so many miracles—these followers were sent out to be doers of the word, carriers of the kingdom.
There is something about the Christian faith that simply has to be lived in order to be understood. If you’ve ever been engaged in any kind of Christian service or outreach or mission, you will understand what I’m talking about.
There are some gospel truths that only make sense in the homeless shelter or the prison cell, at a hospital bed or a disaster scene—or in any one of the great number of places where people cry out for mercy, for bread, for justice, for compassion. This, I think, is why Jesus sends his followers into the mission field carrying only the message that the kingdom has come near.
He gives us the same commission today—and the task is no less daunting for us than it was for the 70. We can clearly see the pack of hungry wolves circling around us—but the kingdom of God … Well, that’s not so visible.
We might be tempted to disagree with Jesus in so strongly asserting that the kingdom has come near. I mean, all you have to do is open the morning newspaper and scan the headlines to come to the conclusion that we do not live in such a peaceable kingdom. Wars rage on with little sign of stopping. Poverty and hunger claim the lives of millions while a few live in comfort with more than enough. Many are unsafe even in their own homes, while others enjoy the security of gates and fences.
These are not the signs of the kingdom that we would expect! In fact, if the kingdom itself knocked on our door with no sandals, no food, and no money … we might be tempted to tell it to go away!
But Jesus is insistent. The 70 are to proclaim to those who receive them—and to those who do not—that the kingdom is near.
How can they do such a thing? If the kingdom has indeed come near, why can’t we see it? What are the signs of its coming?
Well, let’s take another look at the instructions Jesus gives to the 70 missionaries:
- They are to enter a town, and—wherever they are welcomed—that’s where they are to stay; that is Christian hospitality.
- They are to eat whatever is given to them; that is table fellowship.
- They are to cure the sick; that is compassion and caring.
After all of that, they are to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. But you know, by that time it should be obvious, because—in all of these things—God’s kingdom has been revealed. In the faithful and loving ministry of the disciples, the kingdom of God has in fact come very near.
Many Christians in our own time have begun to speak of the kingdom of God as a metaphorical and idyllic symbol of life as we wish it could be—as we hope (albeit dimly) it may be … someday. But this is not Jesus’ message to the 70 as he sends them out. Instead, Jesus declares that—through the mission and ministry of these believers—the kingdom of God has come near.
Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was a theologian and social reformer who was one of the great voices of the Social Gospel Movement in the early 20th century. As a young man, Rauschenbusch became pastor of a German Baptist Church in New York City. His congregation was located in a part of the city called “Hell’s Kitchen”—a depressed area in which poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, disease, and crime were rampant.
It was precisely in this setting—and not within the ivory towers of academia—that Rauschenbusch began to develop his theology of the kingdom of God. Later, he would write, “The kingdom of God is always coming, but we can never say it has arrived. It is always on the way.” *
I’ll say it again: there is something about the Christian faith that must be lived in order to be understood. Jesus knew this, and so he sent his disciples out into the world with only the message of the kingdom to guide them.
It was all they needed.
We can use our theology as a hammer with which to bash others who cannot muster the faith we have. We can shout louder, speak longer, or preach harder than anyone else. We can be absolutely sure of our right answers and the certain damnation of others. We can stay in our comfort zones, detached from the real issues of faith. But, if we do—if we refuse to get our hands dirty and our hearts changed—we risk missing the kingdom of God that has already come near in Jesus Christ. We risk missing the terrifying and empowering journey that requires nothing but faith in God to sustain us—and trust in our fellow-travelers to support us.
Jesus is sending us out, today. He is sending us into a complex and hostile world—like sheep in the midst of wolves. All we carry is a message; but the message is all we need. The kingdom of God has come near! Amen.
* Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: Macmillan, 1917), p. 227.