Jonah 1:1-13, Luke 10:1-17
March 25, 2012
Today we look at the next stage in the story of Jesus. We’ve been on a journey through the Gospel of Luke, his version of the “Good News” – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And now we come to the next stage in the ministry of Jesus, a ministry which we are continuing, here in this place, two thousand years later! I hope the thought of that sinks into our heads!
So far on our journey, we have seen Jesus come on the scene and begin his public ministry, which he did by integrating his life and ministry with that of John the Baptist. That was pretty smart! Because John was a hugely popular man, who already had a great following, because the people believed to be a prophet. (And don’t forget, John was also the cousin of Jesus.)
Then Jesus “branched out” on his own. He started preaching and teaching, and before long “a report had gone out about him.” Word spread! And soon he was drawing huge crowds whenever he spoke. And we’ve been “tweaking” our images of those crowds, because they were probably much larger than we may have imagined before. The people came to hear Jesus because taught with authority. He healed the sick. He forgave sins! He honored the Roman Centurion. Then last week he had calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. He controlled the chaotic winds and waves in a way that bespoke of the power of God in creation.
Now today we come to the next stage in his ministry. Jesus has now begun to “send out” his disciples to spread the “Good News.” And that’s something new. Sometimes we read over passages like this and we don’t think about them. But this was a new thing. Rabbi’s, teachers of the day, didn’t do that. People came to them. But Jesus wanted sent people out.
Luke saw that as hugely important. In fact, Luke included both accounts of this sending. The place we read today is from Luke 10, were he sends out the 70.
But before that, back in chapter 9, we find that he first “sent out” the 12. Go back and read that story sometime. We’re told there that he “gave them power and authority to cast out demons and to cure diseases.” That’s pretty amazing. Because if you think about it, those are the very things that had brought him fame!! Now his disciples would go before him doing those things!
So, that was the first hint of the way the ministry of Jesus would go. As that ministry became what we now call the Church, we find the same thing. Jesus is head, but his power and authority would go out through all of his followers. First there would be the 12, then the 70, and later all the leaders and people in the church would be part of what we have come to call the “apostolic succession.” We’re part of the ministry of Jesus given through his Apostles.
For a moment let’s consider that word “Apostle.” As Gus would say in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, “You know, the word “Apostle” is Greek word!” Don’t you love that movie? (“You give me any word, and I’ll show you how it comes from the Greek!”) Well, the word “Apostle” is a Greek word! And the heart of that word is the word “send.” “Apostle” means “one who is sent.” Eventually, those twelve men we know as “Apostles” would take that calling seriously. They would go out “to the ends of the earth” with the “Good News” – the message of God’s love, and how he had come to this earth to be with his people.
If you read the book of Act, you would find there the story of Paul’s “missionary journeys.” And if you have a Bible with maps, (and I love maps!) you can see graphic representations of where he went on those journeys! But we know that the other Apostles also went on such journeys. You can find books and articles written by people who have done research on those other journeys. I read one just recently. And the “traditions” of the church give us some idea of that, too. The bottom line is, that when they were sent, they went!
So Luke 9 was the beginning of that. And now in Luke 10, we find the next story of “sending.” Here, Jesus sends the 70. And as he does, he tells them that “they will be like lambs in the midst of wolves.” This would be no pleasure trip! He gives them these instructions which I read earlier. And they were to have a similar authority as the earlier twelve. Maybe not the “supernatural” power they had, but these were to be his ambassadors. They were to prepare the way for him to come, himself. And that made a big difference in how his fame and his ministry grew. (As if it weren’t growing already!!)
Well, as I said, in these two stories, Jesus was setting the pattern for the Church. He was preparing the people to continue his ministry beyond his resurrection. And if you think about it, that’s a good way of describing this season we call Lent. Lent prepares us for the days beyond the resurrection. It prepares us to live our lives in the post-Easter world. If it doesn’t, if it only just teaches us more about Jesus’ life and ministry, it can easily become just academic.
This was more than that. Here Jesus was setting the pattern for his new Church. And the time would soon come when the Good News would spread this way, by the church, across the entire known world. The message of the early church that has been described by historians as “spreading like wildfire.” And as my firefighter buddies tell me, they’d much rather fight a building fire, than a wildfire!
So Jesus sends his people out. That’s the pattern. And remember, “disciples” are those who follow. “Apostles” are those who are sent. And throughout the ages Jesus has called his people to be disciples, and then he has “sent them out” – in the manner of the Apostles. And notice, that doesn’t mean just his “one person” or even “his leaders.” It has always included all of his people. And that means us are sent! That’s why I’m telling you this today. By our words and by our deeds we are the ambassadors for Jesus Christ. We are “sent out” by his power and authority. So, we are not just believers. We’re not just disciples – those who follow. We also sent. We are part of the spreading of the “Good News.”
The sad thing is that too many people in too many churches are barely even followers. They seek only to be “believers,” believing the right things. But they don’t give much thought or energy to living their lives as Jesus would have them live. And they don’t give much thought to the idea that they are sent. And this is not easy, folks. In fact, if you think about it, how many of us actually would have even followed Jesus in his day? It wasn’t easy following this new rabbi, with his different, and sometimes controversial, ideas and teachings. I’m afraid not many of us would have followed then. And I much doubt I would have, either.
In this time of Lent, when we prepare ourselves not only for Easter, but for the days beyond Easter, we need to ask ourselves if we are followers – disciples of Jesus. And as we think about that, we need to remember that Jesus sends his people! We spread the “Good News,” not just by our words, but also by how we live our lives. The sad thing is that, no only do we have the power to spread that Good News, we also have the power to hinder it! By our words and our deeds we have the potential to harm the cause of Christ!
Which do you do? Do you help or hinder the spread of the Gospel? And by they way, I think it’s either one or the other. When you identify yourself as a Christian, you’re no longer neutral. You’re either spreading the Good News, or you’re hindering it! Because even doing nothing is a hindrance of sorts. If people see that we have the Good News, but that it has no effect on us, they say “why bother.” That’s a hindrance!
While you’re thinking about that, remember that true evangelism is not just giving people “information.” That’s where I kind of parted ways with the people who would just give out “tracts.” You know… “Jesus died for you so you can live eternally with God.” That information is fine. Don’t get me wrong. But true evangelism is not just giving information. It’s giving testimony! It’s telling, or simply showing, what the Good News has done for us! Madison Avenue has known that for years! Products are sold best when someone we know and trust tells us that they use it!
So the Good New goes out through us! Positively or negatively! We need to show what it has done in our lives. Later on, the Apostle Peter would write, “Always be ready to give answer for the hope that lies within you.” (I Peter 3:15) But do people see that hope in us? Notice also that it’s not, “Always be ready to give answer for why life is always great and why you’re always happy.” That bothers me sometime. The Good News does not promise that! It promises hope and peace despite circumstances. It doesn’t promise perpetual happiness because circumstances are always great! We know they’re not!
Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” But the abundant life doesn’t mean we’ll always have plenty, and we’ll always be healthy, and we’ll always be “happy.” We’re not talking about abundance in the way the world uses the term.
So, are we living that abundant life? And do people see that in us? Are we promoting the Gospel, or hindering it? Do we remember this pattern Jesus established for his Church. Throughout the ages, people have been called to be disciples. And then they were sent. And when they were sent, they went! What about us? As followers of Jesus, we are sent. Will it be said of us, that when we were sent we went?
Lord, you have called us to be your people. Give us the strength we need to follow you. Help us to live our lives in such a way that people know we are yours, see the hope that is in us. For these things we pray in your name, and for the sake of your kingdom in our midst, Amen.