We have a gust blogger today. Michael and his wife Julie are serving as medical missionaries in an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia. The exact location is secret because it is inherently dangerous for Christians living in their location. Michael and his family are home on furlough for a time and will be returning to the field in the next few months.
Michael speaks of the harvest from Luke 10:1-20. I hope you’ll grab your Bible and follow along.
[In this passage] Jesus is in the tail end of his earthy ministry and has set his face to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover one last time with his disciples before his betrayal and crucifixion. He had already sent out the 12 on a similar mission and now he rounds up 72 of his disciples and sends them out before Him in the region of Galilee. Some attribute this number to be symbolic of the nations (Gen. 10) and the fact they were to go in the place of Jesus foreshadow the coming mission of the church after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Some of your Bibles might say 70 were appointed. There are reliable ancient document that support both numbers. The Hebrew Old Testament lists 70 nations in Gen. 10 and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) lists 72 nations.
Jesus’ harvest imagery points us to what is urgently important in vs. 2-9. Jesus begins to instruct the disciples on the mission at hand. Jesus’ imagery of the harvest also foreshadows the greatness of God’s grace in world evangelization and points us to the important. The harvest imagery in the OT often symbolized judgment. Amos 8:1-3 says, “Thus the Lord GOD showed me, and behold, there was a basket of summer fruit. He said, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, the end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer. “The songs of the palace will turn to wailing in that day,” declares the Lord GOD. “Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence.” Joel 3:12-13 tells us, “Let the nations be aroused and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the wine press is full; The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.” Those [people] under the old covenant were under God’s wrath. But we are now reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus; Jesus has endured the wrath we deserve for our sin; and Jesus the inaugurator of the new covenant now uses the harvest; not as a metaphor of judgment, but as a metaphor of grace. Because of God’s grace there is now redemption. There is rescue from the coming judgment.
His disciples [were] from a largely agrarian society [and] would know the importance and the urgency of bringing in the harvest. If the ripe wheat was not cut quickly it would die and the farmer would lose the crop. For this reason it is believed the United States has a three month summer vacation because the farmers needed as many hands as they could get to bring in the harvest, when our economy was largely based on agriculture.Jesus tells his disciples: “The harvest is plentiful” [meaning] there is much work to be done. “The laborers are few” [meaning] they must not delay. “Pray earnestly to send out laborers” is a command and something we should be doing. [Contextually] this a statement directed at the 72 in light of the pressing situation [because] the harvest at hand. Those who labor in God’s vineyard are the ones most acutely aware of [the] need for more laborers. They look to the God of the Harvest in their time of need asking Him for help. Furthermore they are sheep sent out among wolves. They are not to take any provisions. All of these circumstances force them to depend solely on God. He is the Lord of the Harvest who calls people to himself. He is the Good Shepherd who protects his helpless flock. And He is Jehovah Jireh our gracious provider who provides for all our needs. He tells them to greet no one in the street. He is not telling them to be impolite. His instruction once again carries a tone of urgency. The ancient near east greeting could elaborate and time consuming. It would have been understood at the time to others on the road if the disciples did not stop to greet people it meant the were on an urgent mission.
We see that in the account of Elisha and the Shunnamite woman in 2 Kings 4. After her son dies Elisha sends his servant Gehazi to go and try to revive the dead boy with his staff. Here is what Elisha asks his servant to do: 2 Kings 4:29 says, “Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.” Elisha tells him to tie up his robe so he can hustle and not greet anyone along the way. Failing to greet others along the road would have sent a clear message to those around the disciples were on an urgent mission. I want to take a moment to pause and reflect on what we consider urgent. Charles Hummel, who was director of Intervarsity Fellowship, wrote a little essay on the Tyranny of the urgent. In his essay he talks about how we often allow urgent things in our life crowd out the important. What we are left with are unfinished tasks and an uneasiness that we may have failed to do the important. We live in the constant tension between the urgent and the important. Our greatest danger is letting the urgent crowd out the important. Our culture runs us at a feverish pace. We have to schedule appointments to sit down and have a coffee break. We have an endless barrage of requests making demands on our time and in the word of Hummel we become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent.
You may be thinking, weren’t you just talking about the need for urgency? And indeed I was. I believe Hummel would also say there is urgency needed in serving the Lord. What we need to distinguish between is the urgent unimportant and the urgent important. What is important is the will of the Father and everything else is unimportant. The will of the Father is the reconciliation of man to Himself. That has been His mission from Gen. 3 through Rev. 20. His desire for us is that we would be a part of that mission. That is why he calls us ambassadors, the aroma of Christ, witnesses, salt, light, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are to be on mission. He has called us all to be His laborers. Our work is to point others to Jesus so they may be reconciled to God.
This is why Jesus was able to say to the Father, “I have finished the work,” when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed. He had only been in ministry for 3 years. There were countless people who had not yet heard the Gospel of the Kingdom and received forgiveness of sins. There were still many people left unhealed heaps of urgent human needs left unmet, but Jesus had peace and knew He had finished God’s work. How can we know what God’s work is for our lives? How can we know what part of his vineyard he has called us to work in as his laborers? Jesus left for us an example in the way He did life. He worked incredibly hard. Sometimes well into the night healing the sick and [the] demon possessed (Mark 1:32-34). One time He was out all day teaching and after He got on a boat He slept [so soundly that] a huge storm didn’t rouse him (Matt. 4:37-38). Yet His life was never so busy He did not have time for people. He could spend most of the day talking with one person like the woman at the well. And he had a keen sense of timing. He didn’t get caught up in the agenda of other people. Once when His brothers wanted Him to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover He declined only to go up later at God’s appointed time (John 7:6-8).
How did Jesus know what the Father’s work was for Him at a given time? He prayerfully waited for the Fathers instructions. In Mark 1:35 we read, “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” Jesus didn’t have a playbook with play-by-play layout. He discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer. This is how He avoided the urgent and accomplished the important. It is because Jesus prayerfully waited on God’s leading that He was able to complete every task God assigned. We need to cultivate a life of prayer. It is through prayer we will know how God wants us to join His mission. The need itself is not the call. The call must come from God who knows our limitations. It is not God who loads us down until our health fails us and we are at our wit’s end. That comes from inner compulsion coupled with the pressure of circumstances. If we are too busy to stop regularly and hear from God we will become lost in a bunch of urgent unimportant work. We may work day and night and achieve a lot that seems significant to us or others, but we will not finish the work God has for us to do. We need to give our schedules to God and allow him to interrupt them with the urgent important. With the work he has prepared for us to accomplish.
Let’s look back at the text and see what else the disciples were to encounter while laboring in God’s vineyard. Take a look at vs. 10-16. The disciples were clearly instructed what to do if a town does not receive their message. They were to go into the street and shake the dust off their sandals. This symbolic act showed the people they were placing themselves outside of God’s covenant people. Their rejection of these poor itinerant missionaries was a rejection of God [that brought] devastating consequences. [Because they rejected God, they brought] judgment down upon themselves. Their guilt remained on them and on that day, the Day of Judgment, they will receive a harsher punishment than the city of Sodom. When we are rejected for our witness it is Jesus who is rejected.
Jesus goes on to mention cities that had already rejected His message. Woe here is not a call for vengeance, but a cry of regret that these cities chose to turn from Jesus’ message and continue in their sin. These cities are not mentioned outside of this account which shows how little of Jesus’ ministry we really know about. Apparently Jesus had done some extensive ministry and miracles in [the cities of] Corizan and Bethsaida. Yet they rejected Him. We don’t have any record of His ministry in these places. Just this indictment against them that it will be more tolerable for gentile cities warped with sin who did not have the opportunity to be exposed to His ministry than these cities who chose to reject God’s offer of salvation. Capernaum was the city Jesus chose to base his Galilean ministry. He probably did more work in Capernaum than any other city, yet the people there were largely unrepentant. Capernaum today [contains] ruins [that] stand as a silent testimony to Jesus’ prophecy. The storehouses of heaven are not filled with the souls of the people of Capernaum nor will there be in our generation. I fall into thinking the harvest always is plentiful and I should be seeing people turn Jesus left and right and maybe I should. There are times, especially as we get further from the time of the cross and closer to the time of the second coming, that hearts are increasingly cold. The night is coming when no one can work. The gospel is an offense, a stumbling block, and foolishness to the spiritually dead, and because they receive the gospel as such they condemn themselves. When we labor among such people we must not get discouraged. Our efforts are not going to be measured by how many sheaths we gather into the barn at harvest time, but by our faithfulness to urgently carry out the work Jesus has call us to.
When the 72 returned in vs. 17-19, they were amped at the work the Lord completed through them. [They were amazed at] the power they had over the forces of darkness. Jesus responds to their excitement and says He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. There are a few interpretations here as the precise meaning of Jesus’ statement. However, it is widely believed “Heaven” here refers to the height of power. Through the triumph of the Gospel [and] the ministry of the disciples, Satan is quickly and decisively beaten. To the casual observer these missionaries from a remote region in the vast Roman Empire healing the sick and delivering people from demonic control was hardly something the rest of the known world would have taken note of. However the power of the gospel will disrupt Satan wherever it is on display through followers of Christ. Remember what Jesus said to Peter in Caesarea Philippi? Jesus is going to build His church. As His kingdom expands through the ministry of the apostles and those who come after [Him], it is going to come crashing in on the gates of hell. So what that means for us is the seemingly small acts of our obedience and service severely thwart Satan’s plans and dismantle his strongholds. When we serve in the nursery, help out with the needs of others, wash someone with the water of the word, pray for the sick, proclaim the Gospel….God’s Kingdom breaks in and lives are freed from Satan’s grasp.
Jesus informs them [in v. 20] that they have been given this authority to accomplish the mission God entrusted to them. Serpents and scorpions here should be interpreted fugitively to represent the forces of evil. God’s promise in Gen. 3 has been fulfilled in Jesus. The serpent’s head has been crushed. Satan is defeated. He no long wields power over those who have given themselves to Jesus. And Jesus will protect those who go out in His name to complete the work the Father has given them. However, Jesus shifts the focus to what really matters. Healing people of illness and demonic control solves problems in this temporary physical world, [but] this world is passing away. The disciples are a part of God’s covenant people. He has written their names in the book of Life. The real reason to rejoice is not what we accomplish for God, but what God has accomplished for us: the salvation of our souls to the praise and glory of God.
How will you respond to the Savior’s call to the urgent important? Pray and ask the Lord what is the work he has for you. He may want you volunteer in the nursery, if Jesus were here at C4 in the flesh and bone right now; I dare say He would not be in here listing to me ramble. He would be loving the little children in the nursery. He might want you to touch someone’s life through the operation Christmas child or ministry or another outreach He has put on your heart. He may be asking you to become an intercessor for the women of Care Net, financial partners with [the Salvation Army’s] Red Kettle Campaign, or go and serve Him at 2nd Mile Ministries or overseas. He may even want you to go to a remote corner of his vineyard that has few or no laborers. A place where the sun has scorched the land and trying to search for and salvage any fruit is arduous and results in a handful of grapes if any. Prayerfully wait on God to show you the work he has prepared for you. Join Him in his harvest so when all is said and done, you can say as Jesus, “Father I have glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (Jo. 17:4)