Called to Labor
Luke 10:1–12, 17–20
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Summarize the mission of the 72.
2. Compare and contrast Jesus’ sending of the 72 with modern mission work.
3. Give greater support to the evangelistic and missionary efforts of his or her church in one specific way.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
shalom (Hebrew). shah-LOME.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Jan. 28—Instruct the Believers (Psalm 78:1–4)
Tuesday, Jan. 29—The Twelve on a Mission (Luke 9:1–10)
Wednesday, Jan. 30—The Seventy-two Go in Pairs (Luke 10:1–3)
Thursday, Jan. 31—Travel Lightly in Peace (Luke 10:4–7)
Friday, Feb. 1—Proclaim God’s Kingdom (Luke 10:8–12)
Saturday, Feb. 2—They Returned with Joy (Luke 10:17–20)
Sunday, Feb. 3—See God’s Work (Psalm 66:5–12)
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.”
Why Teach This Lesson?
In the kingdom of God, there are no “spectator-only” believers. God calls all Christians to be participating actively and faithfully in the work that builds and advances his kingdom. To sit in a monastery doing nothing but singing and praying is not an option!
God has invested in each believer certain spiritual gifts. Our task is to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading regarding how to use those gifts. We hone this sensitivity through Bible study and prayer. As we do, we come to know Christ better, growing in our knowledge of his calling on our lives. Each of your learners needs a clearer understanding of his or her calling. Today’s lesson will help them realize that Jesus does indeed call his disciples to do his work. If we don’t answer the Lord’s call, then who will?
A. Twenty-First Century Mission Strategy
The work of the church in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was marked by a great interest in foreign missions. To be a missionary in that era often was a life commitment—a commitment to be trained for service, to leave one’s home country, and to take up permanent residence in a foreign land.
The risky nature of these ventures was shown in the requirement of some missionary agencies for their people to take caskets with them when they went out. This was because of the high likelihood that they would die on the mission field. Yet there are many success stories from this era, and nations such as South Korea and the Philippines, as well as many African countries, were left with a permanent Christian witness.
Christian missionary endeavors boomed after World War II, as military veterans came home with a clear understanding of the need for the gospel in foreign lands. As new technology emerged, it was often incorporated into mission work. This included airplanes to reach remote regions and radio broadcasts to penetrate areas closed to missionaries. Later came computers to assist with Scripture translation as well as e-mail and Internet access.
When we speak of missions in a technical sense, we mean more than occasional or random opportunities to share the gospel. Missions is intentional, strategic, cross-cultural evangelism. It does not happen accidentally. Crossing cultural boundaries to bring the gospel to others requires planning.
One of the most dynamic developments in Christian missions in the last few years is the rise of short-term missionary trips. These have allowed Christians with little training or experience to travel abroad and engage people with the gospel. Admittedly, some short-term mission trips are more productive than others (as is also the case with long-term missions). But the short-term trips have brought a renewed excitement in many congregations concerning the need for worldwide evangelism. Some believers who would never be candidates for full-time mission work have experienced spiritual growth in ways that may not have happened otherwise.
Today’s lesson is about a mission trip. It was intentional, because it came from Jesus’ directives. It was strategic because it involved advance planning and sought to accomplish a larger goal. It may have been even a little cross-cultural in that the missionaries were going to places where they were not known. (We do not know if those whom Jesus sent out ventured into non-Jewish environments.)
We may be surprised, though, to realize that this was a short-term missions project. Perhaps some of these disciples became “career” missionaries at a later date, but probably most did not. Yet as is true with short-term missions today, the participants engaged in important tasks.
B. Lesson Background
Luke 9:51 begins a new section of Luke’s story of Jesus. Here we are told that, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” So Jesus and his group departed from Galilee to visit the holy city.
Some commentators refer to this section (which extends from Luke 9:51 to 13:21) as “the later Judean ministry.” This section contains many great teachings of Jesus (example: The Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30–37) as well as his interactions with some interesting people (example: Mary and Martha, Luke 10:38–42).
As we know, it was in Jerusalem that Jesus fulfilled his earthly destiny: the cross. His arrival in the Jerusalem precincts to fulfill that vital part of God’s plan (which would be his final trip to Jerusalem) did not happen until Luke 19:29, some 10 chapters later. At least part of the reason Jesus sent out the 72 disciples (Luke 10:1) was to prepare the way for that final trip.
Earlier, Jesus had initiated a similar “sending out” project that was limited to the 12 chosen disciples (Luke 9:1–6). They had been sent out with the authority to cast out demons, the power to heal diseases, and the responsibility of preaching the gospel. The word used to describe the act of sending in Luke 10:2 is related to the word apostle. Indeed, when they returned from their mission, the 12 were called apostles, for they had been sent out (Luke 9:10).
I. Sending of the Seventy-two (Luke 10:1, 2)
A. Preparing the Way for the Lord (v. 1)
1. 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.
Occasionally, the Gospel accounts give us a glimpse of the fact that Jesus was accompanied by a large band of followers. Here we learn of at least 72 disciples, beyond the initial 12 apostles, whom Jesus chooses for special service.
The alert reader may notice that while the New International Version says 72, other versions of the Bible and a footnote to the New International Version say 70, both here and at Luke 10:17. This is because both the numbers 70 and 72 are found in old copies of Luke.
Both 70 and 72 are significant numbers in the Bible. The number 70 is associated with God’s timing in years (see Genesis 11:26; Daniel 9:2) and with the number of Israel’s elders (Exodus 24:1). The number 72 is 12 multiplied by half of 12. The number 12 is significant because of the previous mission of the 12 in Luke 9:1–10.
What Do You Think?
What is the value in conducting ministry in teams today?
There is more strategy involved here than first meets the eye. The large group of 72 is divided into pairs and sent to specific places that Jesus plans to visit (where he was about to go). Thus they, in some sense, prepare those places for Jesus’ arrival.
B. Working the Harvest for the Lord (v. 2)
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.
What Do You Think?
How can you and your church fulfill the prayer request of Jesus for more laborers?
The harvest is the multitude of potential believers who have not yet heard the good news about Jesus. The Lord of the harvest is not someone controlling who believes and who does not. Rather, he is God, to whom those who believe owe their allegiance.
The workers are no more than that. They are not building their own empires or reputations. They are working for the Lord of the harvest, God, and bringing glory to him (compare John 4:35).
Visual for Lesson 10
Point to this visual as you introduce the question above.
I once worked with a church located in the heartland of the American Midwest. While I was there, the senior minister told me a story that he had heard. It seems that a windmill salesman had passed through that farming area in the early part of the nineteenth century. This was long before the days of electrification, and windmills provided the power to draw the needed water. The windmill salesman was quite skilled; he took hundreds of orders.
Unfortunately, the factory he worked for could not produce enough windmills to keep up with his orders. So they fired him. Unwilling to make the adjustments necessary to meet demand, they found it easier simply to get rid of the successful salesman who was putting such pressure upon their factory schedule. A great “harvest” thus was lost!
We chuckle at such shortsightedness. Couldn’t the factory simply have added more workers, putting on a second shift? We may ask the same question about the church. Christ still needs messengers to convey the good news about his kingdom. —J. B. N.
II. Testing of the Seventy-two (Luke 10:3–12)
A. Traveling in Faith (vv. 3, 4)
3. “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
No missionary endeavor is without glitches. Such glitches cause participants to be tested in their patience and their faith. Jesus seems to be designing the mission of the 72 to ensure that such testing will take place.
The metaphor lambs among wolves indicates that the 72 disciples will be people of peace thrown against violent opposition. Jesus does not raise up an army of warriors to do battle with physical weapons. They are defenseless in this respect.
4. “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
A purse is a small leather bag to hold coins; thus the 72 are to go without money. A bag, carried over the shoulder, is made of cloth or leather; it holds general traveling accessories, such as a change of undergarments. Sandals are their footwear, of course; Jesus prohibits any of the 72 from taking along an extra pair. They must travel light.
What Do You Think?
How does living in a materialistic society hinder the work of the gospel of Christ?
To greet involves stopping and talking with a person going the opposite direction. The teams are to stick to their purpose and not dilly-dally along the way. Jesus gave similar instructions to the 12 apostles when he sent them out earlier: “He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic’ ” (Luke 9:3; compare 2 Kings 4:29).
B. Partnering in Peace (vv. 5–7)
5, 6. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.
To say Peace to this house is to offer a blessing (Hebrew shalom) upon a household. This means to ask for God’s prosperity to rest upon the family in question. If the man of the house is a man of peace, a fellow “lamb” seeking God, then this blessing will rest on him. If the householder rejects the team, however, there is no harm done because the blessing will be withheld by God to 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.
The teams are to accept with graciousness whatever meals are provided. The idea that the worker deserves his wages does not mean that if the home offers low quality food and drink, then that is all the laborers are worth. The quality of ministry is not measured by the level of compensation. Instead, the assumption is that those who minister should have their physical needs taken care of by those to whom they minister (compare 1 Corinthians 9:6–14; 1 Timothy 5:18).
The instruction do not move around from house to house is similar to the directive given to the 12 in Luke 9:4. “Staying put” will help eliminate the distraction of always seeking better accommodations.
C. Blessing When Received (vv. 8, 9)
8. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.
When accepting hospitality, we should be careful not to offend because of our personal pickiness (compare 1 Corinthians 10:27). What may seem unappetizing to you may be considered an expensive delicacy to others. Hospitality is a reciprocal relationship, involving courtesy on both sides. Ultimately we must trust God to provide our daily bread (Matthew 6:11, 25-26).
Eat What Is Served
One health condition I have is a tendency for cholesterol buildup, even when the cholesterol numbers themselves are in the normal range. The result has been two experiences with angioplasty to open up some coronary arteries. A further result is that I am now on a diet restricted in saturated fats. I can live with it easily. I have lost some weight, and in general I feel fine.
However, I also go to East Europe each summer to teach some classes in a mission situation. To my dismay, I have discovered that most people in that area do not understand the meaning of the phrase low-fat diet. Sausage, cheese, and other foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats are standard fare.
So I have a dilemma. The people want to honor me as their guest, and they serve me their finest—things I should not eat. For me to refuse would be to insult them.
So I go ahead and eat. I try to be careful, but when a low-fat meal is not possible, I just indulge (moderately). I figure that I am in East Europe for the Lord’s business, so the ball is in his court. If he can turn water into wine, he can turn saturated fat into fiber. One night I was served a five-layer torte. I mentally said, “Thank you, Jesus,” and I ate it. See 1 Timothy 4:3–5. —J. B. N.
9. “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
As with the mission of the 12, the 72 are given power over disease (compare Luke 9:1). In the Jewish villages of Jesus’ day, this is seen as a sign of God’s visitation. This is most clearly demonstrated in the person of Jesus himself (see Luke 11:20), who plans to visit these villages.
D. Denouncing When Rejected (vv. 10–12)
10, 11. “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘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.’
If a team is rejected (is not welcomed) by a village, that team is to waste no time there. Symbolically, the team members are to wipe the dust of that place from their feet, indicating that they had received absolutely nothing from the residents (compare Acts 13:51; 18:6). In such a case, the arrival of the kingdom of God will not be good news because the villagers rejected the ministry of the 72 disciples.
What Do You Think?
How should we respond when our message is not accepted?
12. “I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”
The ancient city of Sodom is infamous both for its immorality and for its lack of common hospitality (see Genesis 18:20-21; 19:5; Ezekiel 16:49-50). Jesus promises here that that vile city will receive more mercy on the Day of Judgment than the villages that reject the 72 and their mission! (Compare Matthew 10:15; 11:24.)
III. Rejoicing of the Seventy-two (Luke 10:17–20)
A. Victory over Demons (v. 17)
17. The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
This mission is for a limited time and includes a planned report-back session. This will be a time for the teams to share their experiences and relate them to Jesus. Jesus will use the information in some way as he continues to plan his itinerary in his travel toward Jerusalem.
Whatever the levels of success, the teams return with joy. They have received personal blessing from this experience. The thing that amazes them the most, though, is the reception they had received from the demons they had encountered. Those evil spirits had recognized the delegated authority of Jesus in the 72. The devils had been driven out.
B. Victory over Satan (vv. 18–20)
18. He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
Some see this verse as a reference to a prehistoric event, namely the rebellion of Satan in heaven and his expulsion to earth. However, this interpretation has more in common with John Milton’s Paradise Lost than with the information we have in the Bible. The Bible has little information about the origin of Satan and his authority on earth (compare Job 1:6, 7; 2:1, 2; John 12:31; Revelation 12:8, 9).
Jesus’ comment indicates that he sees the success of the 72 as a grave blow to the power of Satan. The prince of demons had been able to operate freely in some of the villages, but he is now being fenced in by the power of the coming kingdom of God. The claims of the gospel and the power of Jesus’ name are always threats to the people and places controlled by Satan.
Many missionaries today experience unexpected spiritual resistance to their work. In such cases we must believe that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than evil spirits, which are controlled by Satan (compare Acts 13:6–12; 16:16–18).
19, 20. “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The truth that Jesus’ missionaries will be protected from the poison of snakebites is shown when Paul survives such an attack (Acts 28:3–6). This is not a blanket promise that those who preach the gospel will never suffer physical harm, even death. The history of missions is full of accounts of martyrs for the cause of Jesus.
Ultimately, though, physical well-being is not of paramount importance. The greatest danger comes from God’s authority to consign souls to Hell (Luke 12:5). When we are believers and thus assured that we are not headed for Hell, we truly can say in faith, “nothing can hurt me.” Even in the times of greatest trial, we should find joy in knowing that our names are written in heaven, in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:27). There is nothing Satan can do to take this away from us.
What Do You Think?
In what ways have you rejoiced in right things? How have you made progress in this area over the years?
Experiencing and understanding God’s call to service is one of the most perplexing issues facing church members. Most assume that “calls of God” are reserved for career preachers, missionaries, etc. Yet we are all called to be faithful and to serve God as the Bible teaches us. This is a universal call, and we should rejoice in it. The more specialized calls to ministry come to relatively few believers. This does not make them elite or specially privileged. It just means they are chosen by God for certain tasks.
I have spent a quarter of a century preparing people for the various ministries of the church. At the same time, I have preached in over 150 local churches. These experiences have caused me to observe two great tragedies.
First, I have found people in ministry positions who were never called by God to be in that ministry. This has caused them to doubt their vocation, act in a tentative manner, and generally cause damage to the people they work with. Ministry training alone does not make a minister.
Second, I have encountered Christians—some who were in their twilight years—who knew they were called by God into ministry but did not respond to the call. Such people may have been successful in business and may have lived rich, productive lives. But they have lived regretfully, knowing in their hearts that God intended them to be preachers or missionaries.
In counseling many people through the process of evaluating God’s call to ministry, I have found two principles that seem always to apply. First, if God is calling you to ministry, the call does not go away. It is not a one-time invitation. It is not the stirring of the heart at an emotional moment that disappears after a good night’s sleep. If God is calling you to be a missionary, for example, that desire will be etched on your heart until the day you die.
Second, if God is calling you to ministry, you will never be satisfied doing anything else. If you are called to be a preacher, circumstances may require you to take a job selling cars or delivering mail at particular points in your life. But you will not be happy doing just that. Your call will cause your heart to yearn for the ministry to which God has appointed you.
Participation in limited ministry experiences is a good way to explore a possible call to ministry. Many churches organize short-term mission trips. Have you ever considered going along on one of these? Such an experience may help you explore the possibility of God’s call. Even if God is not calling you to be a career missionary, perhaps he intends that you become an annual mission-trip participant. Maybe he has some other plans for you. In all things, however, we should be guided by Scripture and open to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.
Thought to Remember
A few dedicated workers can accomplish much for Jesus.
Lord of the harvest, many years have passed since Jesus sent out the 72, but not much has changed. We still see a great harvest of souls waiting, with few workers for it. We pray that you would raise up laborers to work the fields of the unsaved, whether in foreign countries, another city, our own neighborhood, or even in our own families. We pray that each of us will find a way to be part of this army of evangelists. We pray this expectantly, looking forward to your blessing and our rewards in Heaven. We pray in the name of our master, Jesus Christ, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 195