Last Sunday we began the journey to Jerusalem behind our Lord, Jesus Christ. â€œAnd when the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set His face to go to Jerusalem.â€
It is the journey of Isaac, who willingly, obediently followed his father, Abraham to the place of sacrifice only to be spared because a ram got its head caught in a thicket of thorns and was laid on the wood and sacrificed in Isaacâ€™s stead.
Now Jesus, led by His Father, willingly, obediently, â€œsets his faceâ€ to go to the place of sacrifice where He will be caught in a thicket of thorns and be laid out on the wood and sacrificed in YOUR STEAD.
If youâ€™ll remember from last Sunday, the journey to Jerusalem passed through the region of Samaria and the Samaritans didnâ€™t receive Him very well at all and the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on them and Jesus said, â€˜calm down boys.â€™ Because the only fire that is going to burn anyone is the fire of the Fatherâ€™s wrath for your sin that is going to come down on Him.
So this morning on this 2nd stop on the journey, weâ€™re still in the region of Samaria. And instead of sending down fire on the stubborn Samaritans, Jesus sends out more messengers. â€œAfter this the Lord appointed seventy two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.â€
Thatâ€™s 36 pairs of men, each to a different town and place. And thereâ€™s no word from Luke that Jesus first consults with His political advisors to decide which places they should go to get the best results. He just sows these 72 like seed that falls where ever it will and on every kind of soil.
His only regret is that He doesnâ€™t have more seed to sow than 72. â€œThe harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore,â€ He tells them that as they go their way they are to â€œpray EARNESTLY to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.â€
The first thing that seems like itâ€™s just got to grab us here if weâ€™re paying attention at all is just how eager Jesus is to â€˜seek and to save the lost.â€™ He is such a â€˜PURSUING GOD.â€™ He doesnâ€™t wait for people to GET IT and make their journey to Him. He goes to them, to us, where ever we are, geographically, intellectually, ideologically, emotionally, spiritually.
And when He comes to where we are, He greets us with words, NOT OF â€˜FIRE FROM HEAVEN,â€™ but words of â€˜PEACE.â€™ â€œWhatever house you enter, FIRST SAY, â€˜peace to this house.â€™â€ They are going in His name and by His authority and they speak the word that He has given them to speak. So that â€œthe one who hears you, hears me.â€
They are to be like the angels that appeared to the shepherds who were tending their flocks on that 1st Christmas night. â€œGlory to God in the highest and on earth, PEACE, goodwill toward man.â€ (Luke 2:14).
The work of the devil, the sin of the world, the temptations of the flesh, the selfishness that has taken root and grown in each one and that has produced its crop envy and jealousy and greed and competition and coveting and murder, and that constant demand to produce more and more and do better and better and the demons keep sowing their weeds and they wonâ€™t let go and thereâ€™s nothing that we can do and the harder we try the worse it is. And they donâ€™t even know how miserable they are because they think that this is just the way life is.
And Jesus sees all of this and sees how â€œripe the harvestâ€ is for His word of â€œpeaceâ€ that actually gives what it promises. â€œPeace I give to you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives to I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.â€ (John 14:27) He has â€˜set His face to go to Jerusalemâ€™ just so that they may have â€œpeaceâ€ â€“ â€œshalomâ€.
Long before Jesus sent the 72, He sent His prophets to proclaim this same peace to a troubled world. He sent Isaiah with the words that we heard in our Old Testament reading. â€œNurse and be satisfiedâ€¦ drink deeply with delightâ€¦ Behold I will extend peace to her like a riverâ€¦ As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort youâ€¦â€ (Is.66:11-12).
On Easter evening, He Himself will go to the house where His disciples and probably more than a few of these 72 are huddled in fear. Right through the locked doors, Heâ€™ll stand there and say, â€œpeace be with you.â€ And His peace will rest on the SONS OF DAUGHTERS OF PEACE.
But Jesus pulls no punches with these 72. Theyâ€™re not going to be welcomed by everyone to whom they proclaim His word of peace. They will face rejection, and lots of it. But they dare not take it personal. This is not about them, no matter how much they may think it is or try to make it all about them. â€œThe one who hears you hears me AND the one who rejects you rejects me.â€
They were not to bring any swords or concealed firearms for self defense â€“ the 2nd Amendment not withstanding. And certainly NO CALLING DOWN FIRE FROM HEAVEN ON THOSE WHO REJECT YOU. Just shake the dust off your feet and remind them that â€œthe kingdom of God has come among you.â€ In other words, â€˜donâ€™t say you never heard, and donâ€™t say we didnâ€™t try.â€™
They were to travel light. â€œCarry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandalsâ€¦â€ And no stopping to chit-chat with folks along the way. â€œGreet no one on the road.â€ There is a clear urgency here that demands that all distractions and preoccupations be set aside.
And then, not to put too fine a point it, He says, â€œGo your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.â€ Which must have raised the hairs on the back of their neck. â€œLambs in the midst of wolves.â€ Thatâ€™s not a SAFE place to be. But thatâ€™s just where He sends them.
Luke may very well have been one of those 72. Luke gives us a since of the significance of Jesusâ€™ words here by using the word â€œaraynâ€ for â€˜lamb.â€™ Itâ€™s the only time in the New Testament that his word is used for â€œlamb.â€ It happens to be the Greek word that translates the Hebrew word for the PASSOVER LAMB. (Ex. 12:5). This is the â€˜lambâ€™ that Moses said was to be offered on the altar as a â€˜PEACE OFFERINGâ€™ to the Lord. (Lev.37)
As these 72 men infiltrate the region of Samaria with their word of â€œPeace,â€ they bear the image of Jesus Christ in a profound way. They are going in the name of the â€œLamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,â€ to proclaim His peace to a world of hungry wolves.
Thereâ€™s a couple of ways to think about this beneficially.
First, if these men are being sent out as sheep among wolves, then they must absolutely listen carefully to the voice of their shepherd who will lead them and guide them. He is not the â€˜hired hand who does not own the sheep, and who, when He sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.â€ (John 10:12). No, His is the â€œgood shepherdâ€ and His is their shepherd and they are His sheep and He will lay down His life for His sheep if it is necessary â€“ and it will be necessary.
Second, this is why Jesus sends them out in twoâ€™s. Itâ€™s neither wise nor safe to go it alone. Wolves prey on lone sheep. Theyâ€™re easy pickings for hungry wolves.
It seems like there are lots of folks these days that are choosing to go it alone in journey with the Lord. â€œI believe in Jesus, but I donâ€™t need the church.â€ Individualized Christianity is a dangerous thing. We need the â€˜communion of saintsâ€™ where we encourage and watch over each other and cover one anotherâ€™s back and hold each others hand. It may well be that the â€˜voice of Jesusâ€™ and the â€˜hand of Godâ€™ that we are searching for is the voice of our brother and sister in Christ and when we hear them we hear Jesus and when they hold out their hand, it is the hand of God stretched out to us.
In other words, â€˜donâ€™t say that I never spoke to you,â€™ and â€˜donâ€™t say that I didnâ€™t reach out My hand to help you.â€™
But then thereâ€™s the third way to think about this, which I think helps to clarify who Jesus is, even if it may confuse who we are.
The fact of the matter is that the only interest that wolves have with lambs is to eat them. So, in a sense, Jesus sends these little lambs out among wolves to be devoured. Because this is just what wolves need to eat. They need to eat the body and blood of The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the WOLVES. And the harvest is ripe with hungry wolves.
Itâ€™s not that Jesus sends out 72 lambs to be devoured by the wolves. But He has put His word into their mouth so that whoever hears them hears Him and whoever devours the word that they speak devours Him and in devouring Him, the â€œaraynâ€ of God, they have His peace, and the â€œwolf and the lamb dwell togetherâ€ and â€œgraze togetherâ€¦â€ in His peace. (Is. 11:6, 65:25).
And so if you happen to hear the Lordâ€™s called and sent servant come into this house and say, â€œThe peace of the Lord be with you always,â€ donâ€™t be too ashamed to admit that there is a good deal of wolf in all of us and quickly respond with your â€˜Amen.â€ And then come and eat the body and drink the blood of the Lamb, and receive His peace.
â€œThe seventy-two returned with joy, saying, â€˜Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!â€ They were amazed and excited at that power that His word actually had. They saw people who were caught in the demonic grip of envy and jealousy and anger and that constant demand to produce more and more and do better and better â€“ set free and come alive, anxious to love and serve their neighbor, even if it meant being eaten up by wolves.
All they did was speak the word, and those who believed it were loosed from their chains. â€œLord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.â€
And Jesus must have smiled and replied, â€œYea, I know. I was watching.â€ â€œI saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.â€ What power His Word and His Name has AGAINST the demons and the devil. And what power His Word and His Name have FOR men and women, boys and girls like you and me â€“ to set us free. Itâ€™s a shame really that weâ€™re so cautious about using it and speaking it. The harvest REALLY IS SO ripe.
â€œBehold I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.â€
And no sooner do the word leave His mouth than He sees where this is headed in their minds – thoughts of power and sensational success and â€˜just think about what we can do with this.â€™ So before pride and a theology of glory can ruin them, He corrects them saying, â€œNevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.â€
â€œFor you were one of those poor souls who were in Satanâ€™s grip. But I have set you free and given you life â€“ even eternal life and even your name is written right alongside of names like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and Samuel and David. All of them, â€˜sons of peace.â€™â€
Next week, we will meet a man on whom this WORD OF PEACE fell and was well received. And this â€œGood Samaritanâ€ will show us what this life of FREEDOM in the PEACE OF GOD looks like.
Until then, the journey continues. â€œLet us ever walk with Jesus.â€