The People, Purpose, and Paradox of Mission
The rule of 72 is shortcut to estimating how much time it takes an investment to double at a particular rate of interest. Jesus is interested on expanding his harvest reach, but he uses a different kind of 72 - he sennds 72 on mission.
When we talk about the mission of God, we mean that God’s mission is to redeem a people for himself from every tribe, nation, and language and to restore creation for his glory. At the centre of God’s mission is to bring people to himself, to relationship with himself, into fellowship with himself.
In the words of Jesus, ‘I came to seek and save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). And that relationship is possible because of what Jesus did. But when we think about ‘mission’, often we get other pictures in our minds based on how we grew up.
When I was growing up, I attended a traditional church that had something we called ‘family night suppers’ about once a quarter. These were bring and share meals with a bit of programme after the dinner. And the programme was often a ‘missionary’ who would give a talk about their mission work and show slides up on a screen
Invariably these missionaries ran medical clinics in Asia or Africa. They were doctors working in third world countries. Now, as an 8-year old, a 10-year old, a 12-year old, I had no desire to live in third world country, and I had no desire to be a doctor. So I crossed missionary off the list of potential careers.
When Jesus describes being a missionary, it has nothing to do with third world countries, and nothing to do with being a doctor. It can include those, but the vision Jesus casts is much bigger.
A missionary – or, to use the Jesus term – a sent one – is anyone he sends to anyone, anywhere, with the good news of God’s kingdom. A missionary is any follower of Jesus who takes the good news of Jesus to someone else. And so here’s the big point: all of us have a role to play in God’s missionary movement.
Nine Mission Lessons
In Luke 10:1-16 Jesus sends 72 followers to proclaim the kingdom of God. Before making three key observations, let’s look at what Jesus says:
1. The PEOPLE of Mission: Jesus’ followers (Luke 10:1)
More than the 12 sent out the at the beginning of chapter nine, now the number is expanded: the harvest is so big more people must be mobilised.
2. The PURPOSE of Mission: reaping the harvest. (Luke 10:2)
Harvests required hard work to bring the ripe produce into the barn. Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor. And the estimation Jesus makes is that the harvest is plentiful. Remember – this is the nation that ultimately killed him, not what we would normally think of as an ‘open’ place’. Jesus sees harvest opportunity where others don’t.
3. The PROBLEM with mission: not enough labourers (Luke 10:2)
Although the harvest is plentiful, the labourers are few. And this is in the context of Jesus sending out 72 labourers. Even that is not enough. The harvest opportunity is so big, more and more people must be mobilised.
4. The PRAYER of Mission: Send labourers (Luke 10:2)
Through the call to pray, Jesus acknowledges that the Father is sovereign over mobilising labourers into the harvest. But here’s the kicker: if you’re going to obey Jesus and pray, you have to be willing to obey Jesus and go.
5. The PAIN of Mission: like sheep amongst wolves (Luke 10:3)
In midst of wolves, sheep are vulnerable and susceptible to attack. Jesus was preparing his followers for difficulty in mission. Our threat, here in Scotland, is not physical violence, though there are a few neighbourhoods where we’d be smart to watch our backs; rather, our big concern is loss of reputation. We’re scared about what someone might think, and if we are faithful with the gospel, it may impact us negatively.
6. The PROVISION for Mission: labourers deserve their wages (Luke 10:4 and Luke 10:7)
Jesus tells the guys to get going because provision will be found on mission. Paul affirms a similar thing when he writes In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14).
7. The PEACE of Mission: Key Contacts (vv. 5-6)
God sovereignly provides people of peace to pave the way for gospel advance. When we went to Ukraine, God connected me with a family that took me in and the church in L’viv was birthed out of their home.
8. The POWER of Mission: Healing and Preaching (v. 9)
These missionaries were instructed to declare the kingdom’s nearness. The kingdom of God is his rule and reign, and in his first coming Jesus inaugurates this kingdom. By healing the sick, these 72 were meeting the practical needs of people, but they didn’t stop there; they also declared the kingdom. It doesn’t do any good for somebody to get a healthy body and go to hell. So the ministry paradigm Jesus gives these 72 – meet people’s needs, and proclaim the kingdom.
9. The PARADOX of Mission: Acceptance and Rejection (vv. 10-16)
Unfortunately, not everyone believes. There a lot packed into the section of scripture, but not these points:
- Repentance is the appropriate response to the message; when people come in contact with the message of the kingdom, they should repent.
- Not everybody is going to say ‘YES’. Some people will reject the message.
- Judgment is based on degree of revelation: cities that reject the messengers of Jesus will have a more severe judgment because more and greater revelation has come to them.
And finally, Jesus offers theological reflection on the importance of mission:
Luke 10:16: The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.
To reject the messengers is to reject Jesus, and to reject Jesus is to reject God.
There are two big lessons to derive from this text:
1. The harvest is reaped when we open our mouths with the gospel.
This is what we read in Romans 10:14-15
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
Look at this:
- People call on the name of the Lord because they have believed.
- People believe because they hear.
- People hear because someone preaches.
- People preach because they have been sent.
So here’s the BIG IDEA: The response of belief begins with the act of sending. Now, if we turn that around it goes like this:
- Sending produces preaching;
- Preaching produces hearing;
- Hearing produces faith.
- Faith leads someone to call on Jesus.
So – remember that all this started with Jesus’ commentary on his current situation – the harvest is plentiful.
Calling on the Lord is the right move – this is the right response to God – to call on him, to believe in him, to trust him, to repent and turn and to follow him. But it all goes back to being sent.
To go, you need to be sent – and to be sent, you need to say ‘Yes’ to God’s mission.
Jesus draws all of us into this sending in the GREAT COMMISSION found in Matthew 28:19 Go and make disciples. So Jesus has already described the harvest as plentiful, and he has already told us to go; so how do we get in on this?
There’s an encounter described in the Old Testament where Isaiah is recruited to be a participant in God’s mission:
Isaiah 6.8: And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
So here’s the deal: you need to opt in. You need to say ‘yes’ to God’s mission. You need to say, ‘here am I, send me’.