The Greatest Work of All

A sermon preached on Luke 10:1-12,16-20 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD, on July 28, 2019.
www.gswels.org

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:1-12,16-20

What picture comes to your mind if I ask you to think of a time in the Bible when God sent them two by two? When you picture this, are giraffes and elephants in it? The Gospel this morning has another time Jesus sent his followers out two by two and we’ll see the great work we share in the gospel and the greatest work Jesus has done for us.

Our reading begins with “after this.” What’s this after? We’re picking up right after last week’s sermon. Jesus sets out to die in Jerusalem and he shows how following him takes an all or nothing kind of commitment. Some people said they would follow Jesus but he showed they really didn’t have much commitment.

That’s what makes this 72 so impressive. Jesus had more than just the disciples who followed him. The twelve disciples received a much more personal instruction, but there were many people following and learning from Jesus. Jesus sends 72 of them out ahead of him. This was the last time he ever passed through these towns so he wanted each town ready for him to come so the people could hear him preach and teach. As God, he knew there were people in these towns who were just one conversation away from hearing the gospel and being brought to faith.

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Fitting words for us a week after celebrating a new missionary being ordained and installed in Brandon right? There are more people in Sioux Falls and Brandon who are just a conversation away from hearing the gospel and being brought to faith. And so we thank God when God sends workers to our harvest fields here to tell people about Jesus. We thank God for the pastors here, at Bethel, Pastor Wilke in Brandon. We thank God for our teachers here and at Bethel who tell our children about Jesus.

Jesus encouraged the 72 by assuring them they would be able to devote themselves to full time ministry because God would move others to support them. “Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.” God looked at it and said this would give great joy to everyone if we have ministers able to give all their time to caring for their flock spiritually without having to work another job or worry about paying their mortgage. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you give a generous offering later in church. You’re doing more than keeping the lights on here. You’re allowing Pastor Were and myself to pray for you, visit you, prepare for Sunday, and much more without wondering how we’re going to pay for this or that. Your offering means our faculty can teach the children here God’s Word in its truth and purity. Your offering supports missionaries around the world like Pastor Wilke. So let me take this opportunity on behalf of the called staff here to say thank you. Thank you so much for your prayers and for supporting us to do what we love full time.

The amazing thing is about being a Christian, we get to work together in spreading this amazing Word of God. Why? The Bible is very clear what happens to those who die without faith in Jesus: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). That doesn’t sound fun does it? So God sends you and me to tell them of his grace. He sends imperfect people. He could have sent angels and they would have done a perfect job no doubt. But in his wisdom he sends sinful human beings like you and me.

He warns us: “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” The truth is, spiritually, unbelievers are our enemies who are opposed to God’s Word and do not hesitate to attack us for trying to follow God’s will. Yet, God sends us out as lambs who don’t need to trust in their own strength because  their shepherd will protect them.

How good are we at answering that call of Jesus to go? More often than not we hear Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations and I act like he said “go make a bunch of excuses why someone else should do it.” I know there are people dying and being thrown into an eternal lake of sulfur but inviting my friend or neighbor to church might make things awkward. Or maybe I don’t worry about supporting the gospel with my offerings because it’s the summer and I’m not here much so I don’t worry about it. Maybe there are times in life I’m not forgetting to pray for mission work, I’m forgetting to pray period. I know something like that applies to each of us at least at some point in our lives. And if I’m honest, the best description of that kind of attitude is lukewarm. And here’s how Jesus feels about lukewarm Christians in the Book of Revelation: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

That’s exactly why I don’t focus on my actions for my hope of heaven. I focus on the greatest work Jesus has already accomplished for you and me. Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” In a very vivid way he describes his defeat of Satan for you and me. It’s not a partial victory for Jesus. No, he completely defeated Satan and cast him into hell. In fact, that’s exactly what he was on his way to do. He was traveling to Jerusalem at that very moment for you. He had lived perfectly for you. He was never lukewarm but completely on fire for God. And by dying on the cross, he paid the punishment your sins deserve. He cleansed you of your sins and defeated the Devil by removing any hold he had over you.

You are completely set free from Satan and Hell in Jesus. I want other to share that joy. So I want to share the gospel that gives them that freedom. Jesus says the fields are ripe for harvest and he calls us to harvest. Here’s the thing for you and me – harvesting is the easy part. So much work planting and watering has gone into it. Jesus has already done all the hard work for you. He already gave up his glory in heaven to live here for you. He already resisted Satan for you. He already suffered hell for you.

We simply go and share that message. And again, God does all the hard work. We don’t convince people to believe, we simply share the gospel, which God tells us is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believers” (Romans 1:16).

Rejoice in the amazing fact God uses you in this. He uses you when you pray for your pastors and the pastors of our church body. Pray that God lead us to share his Word boldly and correctly. God uses you when you invite a friend to church or tell them that the hope you have in Jesus is what gets you through the hard days. And God uses you when you generously give an offering and support work here in Sioux Falls, in Brandon, in Vietnam – all over the world.

We do this with rejoicing. Not to look or feel good. Not to earn God’s favor. We do this in thanks because in Jesus “your names are written in heaven.” Amen