Years ago an artist was asked to paint a picture of a decaying church. He did so, but he did not do it in the way most people figured he would. Most thought that his canvas would display an old dilapidated building that was tottering on ruin. But instead, he painted a stately edifice. It was beautiful building, filled with modern grandeur.
But—and this is where the artist idea of a decaying church came through—right above the offering plate there hung a square box bearing the inscription, “Foreign missions.” And right over the slot where the contributions were to be placed the artist had painted a large cobweb.
The illustrator’s point was clearly made. The elegant building was nothing more than a ornate tomb. They had lost the drive for evangelism and seeing the gospel propagated throughout the earth, and that was a clear indication that they had lost the gospel themselves.
It is true: A church that doesn’t press the gospel is a church that isn’t impressed with the gospel. If a church doesn’t have it in their hearts, they are not going to be taking it to the streets. The people will develop a sort of tunnel vision; they will lack any real fervor for church planting and missionary activity throughout the world.
But a lively church will be one that is deeply concerned for such things. And we see something of that drive—that determination in our passage today.
This passage shows us that our Lord Jesus was himself a man who was devoted to missions. Of course, as we learned a few weeks ago, He himself was on a mission. He had set his face towards Jerusalem so that he could bring salvation to his people. And in this passage we see his fervor for expanding the reach of the gospel. Jesus organizes a short term mission trip with these 70 guys. He has no other goal but to expand the scope of his ministry.
And this morning we are going to we are going to be looking at this missionary activity, and we are going to consider it’s three parts. We are going to look at how it was commenced, how it was conducted, and how it was concluded.
And as we do so, I want us to be thinking about how zealous we are for missions and for the propagation of the gospel. But before we step out the door, before we make any attempt to expand into the wider region around us, the first thing we should do is get on our knees.
That’s what you see here in this passage with Jesus’ mini mission. It was commenced with prayer.
I. Commenced with prayer [1-2]
The passage begins by telling us that Jesus appointed 70 guys and sent them out two by two into every town. But then in verse 2, we find that before they went out jesus told them to pray. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefor pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
If there is one thing we learn from this passage it is that Jesus has a great concern for missions. His goal here was increase the scope of his ministry so that it could have the biggest possible impact. But what is interesting is that Jesus knew that 70 guys were not enough for the task at hand! He says, “Pray for more! The harvest is too much for us!”
Now I love this imagery. He draws from the world of agriculture and basically says, “God has ordained that there be many souls who are saved. As a matter of fact, there are so many we don’t have enough hands to do it! We need more people to go out and preach the gospel. So make sure you’re praying for more ministers of the gospel to be raised up!”
Now that is where we need to focus in too. I understand that you might not be called to be a missionary yourself. You might be called to be a mother and a wife. You might be called to be an entrepreneur or a teacher. But you should see through this that you still have an obligation to be praying for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. No matter what your occupation may be, it is still your duty to ask the Lord to raise up godly men who can help storm the citadels of Satan.
I thank you so much that you have called me to do ministry here. I love having the opportunity to start Bible studies, write newsletters, and preach each Lord’s Day. But we are still shorthanded for the job. There is so much more to be done! Sometimes I get overwhelmed at how much work there is to do.
We need more men who are equipped to lead bible studies and preach the gospel. We need more work to be done in Mansfield, and Wooster, in Ashland and the south county area. We have college campuses that need bible studies (NC State, Ashland University, Wooster College). And that’s not counting all the churches around here that have apostatized and lost the light of the gospel. There are over 100 churches in Ashland county alone. But how many of them would you recommend to a friend? Hey, I’m preaching to the choir here! Most of you have come here because you have sought high and low for a church that cleaves to Christian principles.
Certainly, I do not think that we are the only Christian church in this area, but I think you will agree with me when I say that we are still very far from any sort of revival. Satan sits quite comfortably in the nest he has made right here in North Central Ohio.
That is why the Lord wants you to pray. Pray that the kingdom of Satan would be destroyed. Pray that the kingdom of Christ would be advanced. Pray that there would be others who sense the call of God. Pray that men would be equipped with a deep knowledge of Scripture and a tongue that is able to articulate the gospel.
He wants us to pray because as long as there are no laborers, there is no harvest. If we neglect making this petition, the field remains unharvested.
Jesus was concerned that as many people as possible hear the word of God. And for that reason he commands us to earnestly beseech God for the means of bringing the harvest in. So before we move forward, we need to kneel down. It is incumbent upon us to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
But you’ll also notice that Jesus was not only concerned with the way it was started. He was also concerned with the way it was carried out. In other words, he not only wanted it to be commenced with prayer, he wanted it to be conducted with prudence.
I. Conducted with prudence [3-16]
In verses 3-16 read the instructions that Jesus gave his missionary team. And he says that prudence should dictate how you live among these people and how you leave them.
He begins by saying in verse 3 that he is sending them out as lambs among wolves. In other words, there are going to be people out there who are not going to welcome your message. They are going to want to tear you apart.
And then he goes on to tell them how to live among these wolves. He tells them not to take an extra pair of shoes or move house to house. In other words, He wants them to be happy with the standard of living that they get. He doesn’t want them to detract from the message. If they are distracted by all kinds of invitations and dinner parties and finding a nicer place to live, then their opponents can start making a case that they are just a bunch of charlatans.
I read just this week a little about Ray Comfort, a famous missionary out in Southern California. People are always harassing him about the kind of car he drives and the money he makes off of his books. The truth is, Ray rides a bike wherever he goes. His lifestyle is pretty simple. He’s not overly concerned about making it big and living high off the hog. But his detractors would like to think that he is and they would like to use that against him.
That’s what Jesus is talking about. Jesus essentially says, “Don’t get distracted from the ministry. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!”
And what is the main thing? Well, He says in verse 9, “Heal the sick and tell them that the kingdom of God has come near.” Let them know that there is life and salvation through Jesus Christ.
But you’ll notice that Jesus’s instructions pertain not just to how they live. He is also concerned about how they leave.
In the following verses, starting with verse 10, he describes what to do when they are rejected. Jesus says, in some places you will make some headway, even though you might face some opposition. But other places are not going to tolerate you at all! And Jesus tells these guys that the most prudent thing to do in that situation is to just walk away.
Isn’t that a good message to you and me? Don’t give your pearls to pigs. Sometimes, you just need to walk away. If someone is so hard hearted and stubbornly opposes your message, Jesus says, “Don’t waste your time!” Once you’ve clearly proclaimed the gospel, you’ve done your duty. That’s all that is incumbent upon you. You don’t have to belabor things.
After all, things are going to be pretty bad for them after that. In verse 10 he says that they are to shake the dust off their sandals as a testimony against them. And in verse 12 he says, “I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.”
In other words, once they hear the gospel, they are put in a place where their punishment becomes more extreme than that of Sodom. That’s why he launches into this denunciation of these three cities in verses 13-16. He says, “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre & Sidon, they would have repented long ago.”
What is Jesus doing here? He’s showing how greater revelation will mean and greater guilt for those who reject it. Jesus had conducted much of his ministry in these three cities Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. He had done most of his miracles in that region of Galilee. But they didn’t listen. They had not believed his works. Now he’s saying, “You just wait and see. When the Day of Judgment comes, you will find that what happened to the people of Sodom will be a treat compared to what happens to you!”
And that my friends is something you all need to take into consideration. If you don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and become his follower, then you need to recognize that you are in a perilous position. Your judgment will be more strict for having sat here in this room today. It is better to never have heard it in the first place. I would have been better for you if you had lived in Africa and never heard the message of Christ’s saving power. For on the day when he returns, you will wish you could be numbered with the Sodomites.
Please take heed to that. Don’t be a fool. Jesus wants you to enjoy grace and salvation. He wants you to come and partake of that life.
And if you are sharing the gospel, he wants you to be aware of the way you should be conducting yourself in this world. Jesus says that you should use prudence in deciding how you should live and when you should leave.
In the last portion of our text, verses 17-20, we are told about how things wrap up. We’ve seen that this mission was commenced with prayer and conducted with prudence. And in these verses we see that it was concluded with praise.
II. Concluded with praise [17-20]
In verse 17 it says that these men came back filled with joy. They were because they had witnessed so many miracles. They say, “Lord, Even the demons are subject to us in your name!”
Now, you would think that Jesus would be excited about that too. You’d think that he would be high fivin’ them and whooping it up because the forces of evil are cowering at the mention of his name. But that’s not how he reacts, is it?
If you look at verse 20 you see that he says, “Do not rejoice in the fact that the spirits are subject to you—Don’t praise God because of that. Rather rejoice in the fact that your names are written in heaven.”
Jesus wants them to keep their focus on the real miracle. The most glorious thing is not the fact that you can exercise demons or make someone walk again. The real thing that we should glory in is the fact that God has had mercy upon us.
That’s the whole theme of this passage. It is all about the gospel. It is about the grace that God demonstrates towards sinners like us. The real wonder is that God would have mercy on you and me.
If you have believed in the Lord Jesus, you recognize that you should be one of the Sodomites. And the only reason that you are not going to meet with the same fiery fate is because God has, for some unknown reason, set his affection upon you and chosen to take away your sin.
I think it is summed up in the old hymn,
While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast,
Each of us cries with thankful tongue, “Lord, why was I a guest?”
Why was I made to hear your voice and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come.
We praise God because the gospel has come to us.
Conclusion:A young missionary man stationed in China frequently wrote home so that he could maintain contact with his family. On one occasion he included a picture of himself in his mailing. When the family received the message they were somewhat taken aback at the sight of their beloved. They were glad to see that he was in good condition and that the rigors of the ministry and the China land had not taken its toll on him physically. However they were shocked at his dress. While in China he had decided to set his western clothes aside and take up the garb of the natives. His sister expressed her dismay and concern that he was so intermixed with the heathen.
The man who had delivered the message said to her, “Did not Christ do the same for him? Did not Christ take on his form in order to bring him life and salvation? Is it not then appropriate that he should do the same for these heathen people?”
It is true. Missions begins with the work of the great Missionary Himself. We must keep our eyes on the fact that the good news has come to us, and God by his sovereign will has given us life. That and that alone will be what moves us to seek the advancement of the gospel.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.