If you have been here on a regular basis for the last month or so, then you may have noticed that the opening verses of chapter 10 have a great deal of similarity to the opening verses of chapter 9. In chapter 9, we saw the commissioning of the 12 apostles. Jesus giving them the commission to go to the cities throughout Galilee and preach the gospel, to heal and cast out demons. And if you were there when we covered that, then you will remember that I made the point that these 12 apostles were uniquely appointed by Jesus Himself, and that their apostleship was not repeatable. That is, their authority and position was given to them at one place and one time for a distinct, unique purpose in the foundation of the gospel.
And then if you remember a couple of weeks later, I followed that with a message from near the end of that chapter on pride, showing how the 12 apostles were vulnerable to pride that came with that unique calling. There were four episodes that dealt with pride in vs. 37 through 56 which begins right after Jesus’ transfiguration. As the apostles came down from a mountain top experience, literally and figuratively speaking, they fell right into the trap of pride that is oftentimes the downfall for all of us.
Now as we come to chapter 10, we see an almost identical setup. Instead of commissioning the 12 apostles however, in this case Jesus is commissioning 70 other disciples, and He sends them out on a very similar mission, with very similar instructions as He did with the apostles. We don’t know who the 70 were, none of their names are given. As far as we know it was just 70 ordinary people who had been faithfully following Jesus, and now Jesus is going to commission them to do something very similar to what the apostles did in chapter 9.
There are some very important principles of discipleship in this passage which we want to look at, but the culminating point that I think is being made here is found in vs. 20. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” Once again, we are going to see the same problem that beset the apostles happening with the other disciples. It is a problem regarding the danger of pride, and the danger of a wrong focus of our ministry. We will get to that point, but first let’s look at some of the particulars of this commission, and we will have to move quickly if we are going to tackle this entire section this morning. Some of these points we covered a few weeks ago with the apostles, so we will spend less time on those, and more time on those unique to this chapter.
Now I have already alluded to the fact that the 70 were just average followers of Jesus. The fact that they are not named here, nor elsewhere confirms their anonymity and a certain degree of ordinariness. We should consider though that they were true disciples, as that is how Luke concludes chapter 9, with a discussion of Jesus regarding the nature of true disciples and their willingness to leave everything and follow Him. And so the juxtaposition of the 70 right after that discussion would lead us to believe that these were considered true disciples who could be trusted to truthfully and faithfully carry the news about Jesus as forerunners before Him. One distinction would seem that the apostles had been sent back out over the region of Galilee that Jesus was leaving, to give them one last chance to accept the gospel, whereas the 70 are sent out before Him to the region of Judea that He is about to go ultimately to Jerusalem where He would be crucified.
In vs. 2, Jesus says “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” I think that it is important to understand that the harvest is the world. Scripture is replete with the imagery of the end of the age being that of a harvest, when all the nations of the earth will be gathered together, and the wheat will be separated from the chaff and the tares. And the wheat will be gathered into barns, but the chaff and tares will be burned up. Revelation has many references to the Lord coming with a sickle in His hand, to reap the nations of the world. So the harvest is the judgment that is coming upon the world. But the laborers, Jesus says, are few. The picture is that the world is lost and condemned to death, and there are few laborers for the kingdom who are reaching the lost for Christ.
So Jesus instructs them that they should pray for more laborers. And interestingly, those that are told to pray are then told to go and do the work of the laborers. The principle is that when we pray for God to provide the need, many times He will reveal to us that we are the means by which God intends to supply that need. Prayer is not bending God’s will to our desires, but bending our knees to God’s desires. And in so doing we often end up fulfilling that need ourselves.
But there is another way of looking at that verse which I think is also important. And that is that we beseech the Lord to send His servants to preach the gospel to the dying world. The value of the preacher today is sorely diminished in most churches. But Ephesians 4 tells us that when Christ ascended into heaven, He gave gifts to men, and the first gifts that He gave were apostles and prophets, and then evangelists and pastors. Why are those the first gifts? Why are those so necessary that we need to pray for God to send them? Because in 1Cor. 1:21 it says “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Rom. 10:14 also, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” So we see the need for preachers to be sent by God to the harvest. Not necessarily sent by a seminary, or denomination board, but appointed and sent by God to preach His word.
So in vs. 3, Jesus tells them to go. And this is where the rubber meets the road for a true disciple. All the characteristics Jesus laid out for a true disciple at the end of chapter 9, vs. 57-62, stop being a hypothetical situation discussed in a Bible study, and actually have to be employed. As we see in the example of the 70, we need to understand the urgency of the need, the complete commitment that is required, the sacrifice of leaving the comforts of home, the sacrifice of leaving family and friends, the abandonment of earthly possessions, of being willing to turn your back on the pleasures of the world for the sake of knowing and serving Christ. This is what we see in the 70. They had heard the messages, they had learned the doctrine, and now it was their turn to act on what they had learned.
And so it is with us, ladies and gentlemen. God has called ordinary men and women like you and me to turn from all the things you once held dear, all the things you once considered treasures, family, friends, career, finances, social standing, and become a true disciple who are willing to let go of all of that and go and labor in the harvest for the kingdom. He is calling us to see that the world is lost, it is dying and on it’s way to hell. That judgment is coming upon the earth, the harvest is plentiful, and we need to see the urgency of that and go to work. We are not called to be spectators, to sit in church one hour a week and think that somehow we have fulfilled our commitment. But we need to be going out into the communities around us telling people that the kingdom of God has come, that Jesus has come to offer peace to those who will repent of their sin and confess Him as Lord.
Notice how the instructions of Jesus to the 70 reiterate that mandate for complete commitment. We are told to go out empty handed. Without human resources, as lambs among wolves. Defenseless. And totally dependent upon God. Jesus says in vs.4, “Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes.” It’s the same principle He told the apostles back in chapter 9. It’s a matter of being obedient to God and trusting Him to provide for your needs. We so often find people, especially young people, who may sincerely have a desire to serve God with their lives. And they always want to know the big picture; what God wants me to do in five years, or down the road. Should I be a pastor, or a missionary, or what? And yet before we can really comprehend fulfilling such a call, there always seems to be these great obstacles that prohibit us from making such a commitment. Many times, it seems like those obstacles come in the form of finances. How can I afford to do that? But if I could encourage you in that regard, I would say, first be found faithful in the little things. God has already amply provided for you to be a witness for Him right now in your work, in your neighborhood. Don’t worry about the future so much as the present. Be diligent in what He has put before you today. Be faithful in the little things, and having been found faithful, He will open more doors to you.
So the principle here is that the 70 needed to trust God for their provision. Many times in the formative years of a Christian, God will put us in a situation where we have to be totally dependent upon Him for provision. And the trial of years of living like that provide a resource of faith that will carry us for years to come as we continue to follow His leading. It’s called proving our faith. It’s a test of our faith, so that when we have been refined in the fire we will come out as gold.
Following on that principle, the next injunction Jesus gives to them is in vs. 5, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” Jesus isn’t suggesting that we flash a peace sign to every household you come to. He isn’t even talking about the traditional Hebrew greeting of shalom. What I believe He is talking about is the peace that comes from reconciliation with God. That is really the message of the kingdom of God they were to proclaim; that peace with God is possible through our Lord Jesus Christ. Eph 2:13 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace…” The peace that He is talking about is that we were enemies of God, but now through Christ we have been offered peace.
Now, vs. 7-16 are basically an extrapolation of that principle of preaching peace. All of these are sub points of the main point of preaching peace. Let’s break it down quickly. If they accept your gospel of peace, then stay with them, eating and drinking what they give you. See, Jesus provides for their needs through the people that they minister to. That is a principle of ministry. The laborer is worthy of his wages. In 2Tim. 2:6, Paul says it this way; “The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.” And again in 1Cor. 9:11, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” So Jesus is not only providing for these 70 by this instruction, but He is providing the doctrine of provision for future generations of preachers even today.
Another principle of ministry is that if you find a house that welcomes you, “Do not keep moving from house to house.” It’s the principle of contentedness in ministry. Don’t keep jumping from house to house, from church to church, from this place to that place, trying to find better circumstances. This is a matter of grave concern in 21st century Christianity that threatens to seriously undermine the churches effectiveness. It almost has become perceived as a virtue not to be tied down to a local assembly. But folks, that is not the biblical standard, and it is not God’s will for your life. God wants you part of a local body. He wants us the church to be a complete body of working parts, all working for the common good, responsible to one another rather than independent and seeking self fulfillment. (like Black Friday)
Vs. 8 and 9 can practically be understood to mean that we need to adapt to the local environment, accept the local customs, bear the common burden of ministry and do the work of the ministry, preaching the gospel of the kingdom and bringing compassion to those who are lost. Listen, it’s important to making disciples that we understand that it takes time, it takes a certain amount of investment. We aren’t called to just go and make converts, in and out in 20 minutes or less. But discipleship takes time. It requires eating with people, living with people, teaching people the truth of the gospel and living out our lives as an example to them.
But then Jesus turns His attention to those that reject the peace offering of God. They reject the gospel. Vs. 10, “But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ’Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ “I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than for that city. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. “But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades!” “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”
Now here is what Jesus is saying. First of all, He is using a rabbinical proverb against them. The Jews were taught that even the dust from Gentile lands was so polluted that they would shake it off their shoes before walking back into Hebrew lands. And Jesus is using that same judgment against them, because they had rejected the offering of peace from God, the very form of God in man, who had come to be the substitute, the lamb of God for their sins, so that they might have peace with God. Jesus is saying that if even the worst Gentile cities had the miracles performed in them that you had, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. And so consequently, at the judgment, those Hebrew cities that rejected Christ will suffer a greater judgment than those Gentile cities that never had that opportunity.
Here then is the principle; that it is very dangerous thing to have heard the gospel clearly preached and yet reject it. It would have been better to have never heard. I don’t know exactly how it works, but the Bible clearly teaches that there will be varying degrees of punishment in hell. This passage as well as others speaks to that. Conversely, I believe there will be varying degrees of reward in heaven. But here Jesus is speaking to those spiritually superior, self righteous people who did not feel the need to repent. That did not consider themselves needing repentance, and therefore not even needing to be saved. And I’m afraid that the church today is full of those type of people. They are morally superior. They are financially superior. They are socially superior. And they think that they have religion all squared away because they belong to a certain church, or a certain denomination, or because they have been sprinkled, or baptized, or something. But they have never been saved, because they never accepted the fact that they were lost. Religion was merely something added to their credentials.
I have a great fear for America today. There has never been a nation with more privilege, or more opportunity. There has never been a country that has had more exposure to the gospel, and yet today our country is blasphemed around the world and recognized as the great polluter of morality. Judgment is coming on America unless she repents. And in order for that to happen then the church in America has to first be on it’s knees. But I’m afraid the love of the church in America has grown cold, much like the love of the church of Ephesus in Revelation. And Jesus told them that you better repent and do the deeds that you did at first or I am going to come and take away your lamp stand.
Part of that spiritual indifference that plagues the church comes from the next principle that is shown in verses 17 -20. The disciples eventually come back from their mission with joy and they say, ““Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And Jesus responds in a curious way. He says, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
Just as the sin of Tyre and Sidon and Capernaum was essentially a sin of pride, a refusal to bow the knee to Christ, a refusal to repent of their sins and accept their need of a Savior, so is the sin of pride a problem for the church that focuses more on spiritual gifts than on regeneration, that puts more of a premium on experience than on godliness. Spiritual gifts are far too often a source of pride. And pride leads to a downfall that results in an indifference toward the things of God.
Let’s look how this passage teaches this principle. Notice when the 70 returns and says with joy that the demons were subject to them, Jesus answers that they shouldn’t rejoice that demons are subject to them, but that their names are written in the book of life.
Now there are many ways that commentators have tried to understand this passage. And yet there is no conclusive evidence that allows us to say categorically that one interpretation is better than another. But let’s consider what the text says. First of all, Jesus declares that He saw Satan fall from heaven like lighting. Now we could conjure up all sorts of possibilities as to what this may mean, but one thing we know is true from the Bible is that Satan was in heaven at one time, and he lifted himself up in pride and said I will be like the most high. And in that sin against God he was thrown down from his position as the covering cherub, as the worship leader of heaven, and came down to earth as the prince of darkness. The Bible calls him the prince of this world. Isaiah 14:12 says, “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations!” Now that is not conjecture, that is Biblical truth.
So at the outset Jesus is reminding us that the sin of pride resulted in Satan’s downfall. This is the same principle that we saw with the apostles a few weeks ago after their mission. They came back puffed up, feeling full of themselves perhaps because of all the power that they had exhibited, and one of the first things that they wanted to do was abuse that power and call down fire from heaven and burn people up. And Jesus rebuked them in four different events because their pride was interfering in the purpose of their mission.
Secondly, Jesus reasserts that He is the one that is protecting the disciples and that He is the one who has given them the authority to do the things that they are doing. Vs. 19, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” Now once again, we have a verse that has led some carnal minded Christians to run off down a tangent and think that being a Christian means that we have some supernatural ability to handle snakes, as proof that nothing can harm us. But we are not to take verses like these and pull them out of context with the rest of scripture and come to a conclusion that is not born out in the totality of scripture.
That kind of wrongful attitude concerning the power of miracles or the power of spiritual gifts show a carnal attitude that is at odds with scripture and the purposes of God. Listen, we do have power over the enemy but we need to understand the source of that power. It is not us, it is the power of Him that lives in us. The enemy is the snakes and scorpions mentioned here that are metaphorically referring to the devil and his demons. Revelations 9 says demons have tails like scorpions and a scorpion king over them. In Rev. 12 and 20 Satan is referred to the great serpent of old. In Romans 16:20 it says that “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” And in 1 John 4:4 it says, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” So there is no silly injunction to play with snakes or that nothing will ever happen to us that will harm us. Otherwise, thousands of martyred saints died for nothing during the last 2000 years. But what we are guaranteed is that the sting of death, the sting from that scorpion is taken away.
1Cor. 15:54, “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hebrews 2:14 tells us that the devil no longer has the power of death over the Christian; “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” We don’t need to fear him that harm the body, but we are told to fear Him who has the power to cast men into hell.
The principle though is this; that we are not to rejoice in the gifts that are given to us, whether of a temporary or permanent nature, but we are to rejoice that our names are written in the book of life. Don’t rejoice in the gifts, the experiences, the outward manifestations, don’t rejoice that the spirits are subject to you. Taking pride in those kinds of things lead to the downfall of Satan. 1Tim. 3:6 warns that an elder “not be a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” Now the elders of a church are referred to as gifted men. And yet even as gifted men it’s something that we always have to be on guard against. Especially as gifted men we need to be on guard. Because Satan is adept at taking down people through the sin of pride and if you have a special gift then you are more prone to it.
Listen, I don’t even want to go into whether or not a so called gift is really from God or not. The text is not concerned about that today, and so neither am I. If you come long enough you will find out what I think about many of the so called gifts being exploited in the church today. But what I will tell you unequivocally is what Jesus himself said, and that is don’t take pride in that the spirits are subject to you, don’t rejoice in some power that you have, some authority that you have been given. That is a sign of carnality. But rather rejoice that your name is written in the book of life.
See, gifts or spiritual power are not a guarantee that a person is saved. Jesus said that Judas Iscariot was a devil, and yet he had been commissioned with the 12 to cast out demons and to heal. Matt. 7 Jesus said that many will say at the judgment, “Lord, Lord, did we not do many miracles in your name? Did we not cast out devils in your name and do many miracles?” And yet Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”
Listen, part of the problem with the church in America today is that we put too much confidence in gifts, we are to complacent because of our blessings, we are trusting in some experience that we had that we think validates our Christianity. We are not eternally secure because we have a little power, or because we have some gift. We are saved because God in His sovereign grace plucked us out of the cesspool of the world and washed us off in the blood of the Lamb, and God opened our eyes that we could see the truth, and God gave us a spirit of faith that we might believe, and God gave us the spirit of repentance that we might be saved, and God gave us the offer of peace, and God adopted us as sons, and God gave us an inheritance in heaven, and God has written our names in the Lambs Book of Life. See, in that scenario, there is very little that I can lay credit to, if any at all. Everything that has happened for my benefit has happened because God loved me and gave His Son to die on the cross for me, and God has taken the blood of Jesus Christ and written my name in His book with that priceless ink that can never be erased. That is what we are to rejoice in.
Listen, rejoice in what is permanent and cannot be taken away. One day we will end our earthly lives. One day we will get sick and not recover. One day we may lose our earthly “blessings.” One day our finances might be ruined. One day our treasures on earth will be burned up. But there is a treasure that can’t be burned, that can’t be taken away. That my name is written in the Lamb’s book of Life. If your joy is tied to earthly things, to temporal things, experiential things, then you are going to have a joy that fluctuates, up one day, down another. But when your joy is tied to your reward in heaven, then nothing can take away that joy. They can take away your finances, they can take away your health, they can even take away your life, but they can’t destroy your eternal inheritance. Because death has been swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is gone because Jesus suffered that sting upon Himself that I might be given eternal life. That I might be found in the day of judgment to be written in the Lamb’s book of Life.
Let me ask you today, is your name written there? Are you certain of it? How do you know? What are you trusting in? Are you trusting in some vision, some experience, some gift, some thing that you think validates your salvation? Or are you trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to save you, the power of His blood to pay for your sins? That is what I am rejoicing in, and I hope that you are as well. It is the only thing we can have confidence in. And it’s free to all who come to Christ in faith and repentance. It’s the offer of peace with God. Today the kingdom of God has come near to you. I hope that you will be a man or woman of peace and accept His offer and be saved, that you may know the eternal security of knowing that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. And having known Him, that you might answer the call of God to consecrate your life in service to Him, going into your community and making disciples.