I have a simple question: What is your ambition in life?
With the celebration of the seventy-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, attention has been given to her commitment to serve her people. Service, not self-service, has been a characteristic of her reign.
The themes of royalty and service stand out in Dr. Luke’s record of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. One of the constant features of Jesus’ public life is his service. Although, he is God’s king, he never used his divine powers out of self-interest or self-aggrandizement, but for the good of others.
In the opening lines of Luke chapter 10, we read that Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) of his followers on a training mission so they could experience first-hand what ministry in his name means. Three themes stand out.
1. Prayer. In sending out the seventy Jesus wanted his disciples to involve others in their ministry. Because God’s good news is for all peoples, many more than the disciples would be needed. The harvest is plentiful,’ Jesus said, ‘but the laborers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field’ (10:2).
The Book of Revelation tells us that in the last day the Kingdom of God will include a huge multitude, drawn from every nation and tribe and from every generation. It will be as countless in size as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky.
A vast international company like this will require the involvement of thousands – people who are willing to leave their comfort zones and commit to serving the cause of Jesus Christ; people who, left to themselves, would sit comfortably in church on Sundays and in front of the television during the week.
In Reformation Anglicanism Archbishop Ben Kwashi writes, ‘In much of the world today there are churches seemingly everywhere and very many Christians, yet with little positive impact on society’.
How important it is that we pray the Lord of the harvest to stir up amongst his people a gospel mindset and the resources that are needed for the work of gospel ministry.
2. Partnership. Jesus’ instructions Luke records here were specific to a particular mission. The seventy were to ‘carry no purse, no bag, no sandals’ (10:5). Rather they were to trust God to provide for their material needs.
Jesus also impressed on them the urgency of their work: ‘Greet no one on the road,’ he said (10:5). Saying Hello to someone in the Middle East can be time-consuming. Jesus is saying that someone with a job to do can’t let themselves be caught up in small talk with everyone they meet. It doesn’t mean God’s people are to be dismissive and discourteous. Rather, Jesus draws attention to how easily we can be distracted from the ministry he is passionate about – namely rescuing the lost, giving them new life and hope in his name.
How then were the seventy to find bed and board? Jesus answered by saying: ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’’ (10:5-8).
People who are involved in ‘full-time ministry’ are to receive their support from others who are not so called. But ministers are not charity cases: ‘They work as hard as anyone,’ Jesus is saying, ‘and they deserve their wages’.
However, he also sounds a warning. Our ministry may be rejected: But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near” (10:10-11).
None of us likes rejection. But Jesus warns this is a real possibility. Christian ministry can be unpopular, even dangerous work. ‘I send you out as lambs amongst wolves,’ he says elsewhere. ‘Not everyone will want your message: in some places whole societies will reject you.’ And, Jesus adds: ‘You are to accept the rejection; but warn those who reject you that the kingdom of God is near.
Ministry is about life and death issues. Men and women can reject other views about life with impunity, but when we reject God’s Messiah we put our souls in jeopardy. The stakes are high when we hear God’s gospel and when we open a Bible. We are given a choice: will we reject or accept the message? “He who listens to you, listens to me” Jesus said; “He who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (10:16).
3. Warning. The seventy returned from their mission trip and were enthusiastic about the way God had changed lives. Their ministry was authenticated as they saw people from all walks of life receiving the message of God’s kingdom. Who wouldn’t be excited?
But Jesus has some sobering words. He not only alerts his young followers to times of ministry disappointment, he also alerts them to the perils of ministry success. Taking them aside he points out that the arrival of God’s kingdom heralded the downfall of the evil powers. ‘Ministers of God’s good news will see signs of my greater power and lives being changed for good. But don’t let this success go to your head. Remember Satan himself fell because of spiritual pride. Your greatest reason for joy is that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20).
Three very important themes emerge in 10:1-20. We see that God’s ambition is to draw into his kingdom countless numbers of people from all walks of life. We also see the conjunction of ministry and prayer. Alongside the ministry of God’s Word is the ministry of prayer.
What is your ambition? Jesus challenges us to ask how can we serve in God’s plan to rescue men and women and bring them into his kingdom.
A prayer. Lord, give your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only true God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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© John G. Mason