Jesus Sends His Disciples
In this series, we are exploring what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus didn’t recruit members for an organization; he invited people to follow him. The risen Jesus issues the same invitation to us today.
“If I follow Jesus, what will he ask me to do? What lessons will he want me to learn? What provisions will he make for me? Will it be worth it in the end?” We learn answers to questions like these by studying Lk.8-12, in which Jesus focuses on training his disciples. Today we will look at an important training exercise on which Jesus sent 72 of his followers. It is found in Lk.10 (read 10:1-12,16).
On one level, this is a unique exercise with many unique features. They are going to specific Jewish villages to prepare the people for Jesus’ imminent visit. Since it is to be a short-term trip, they are not to take long-term provisions, have extended visits with other travelers (“greet no one on the way”), and they are to rely exclusively on the hospitality of the towns-people.
On another level, there are many features of this training exercise which apply to all of Jesus’ followers. We know this because of other passages which make this wider application. Specifically, following Jesus involves a mission, a message, and a motivation...
MISSION: “Go out to the people who don’t know me”
Jesus sent them out; he told them to “Go” (10:1,3)—to go to others who don’t yet know him. You may say: “But Jesus only sends missionaries and special Christians!” No, he sends out all of his followers (Matt.28:19). That’s probably why he didn’t just send out his 12 apostles (Lk.9); he also sent these 72 nameless followers to make this point. They represent all of his followers, which includes you and me.
This sending out is actually the second part of a two-fold calling for all of Jesus’ followers. In Mark’s gospel, we read that “He appointed twelve... that they might be with him and that he might send them out...” (Mk.3:14) Following Jesus always involves a call to be with him and a call to go out to people who don’t know him. This is the heart-beat of the Christian life!
He calls you to “come in”—to be with him. It is by being with Jesus (in prayer, through his Word, in community with other Christians) that you experience his presence, and hear his instruction, and receive his love. This is the nourishment we need every single day. This is why those who go out without regularly being with Jesus grow weary.
But he will also call you to “go out”—to serve others and meet their needs in his name so that they can be with him and then be sent out to do the same. Before you were with him, you had an excuse to be self-focused, self-protective, self-absorbed. But now that you can be with him, you no longer have this excuse. That’s why he’ll keep saying: “Trust me that I will take care of you by going out there to give yourself to others.” This is why those who want to be with Jesus without going out grow stale in their times with him. As we learned a few weeks ago, you can’t hoard Jesus’ love for yourself; you have to pass his love on to others or it will grow stale in your heart.
To whom is Jesus sending you? Have you been asking him? If you ask him, he will send you because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (10:2). He will put individuals on your mind and impress their needs upon your heart. He will bring you into contact with people you are uniquely suited to serve. Some will probably be a lot like you (e.g., FRIENDS; FAMILY; NEIGHBORS; WORK ASSOCIATES). But others will be very different from you (e.g., INNER-CITY KIDS; INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS; NURSING HOME RESIDENTS; REFUGEES; etc.). Ask him to send you, and ask him to send someone else with you (10:1) for help and encouragement. You can’t just stay in to be with Jesus—you have to go out to the people to whom he sends you!
MESSAGE: “Jesus is the promised Messiah – receive him!”
What did Jesus send these followers out to do? He sent them to do many things—but the heart of their mission was to proclaim a message: “Tell them: ‘The kingdom of God is near you’” (10:9,11).
This is not an announcement of chronology: “The kingdom of God is coming tomorrow.” It is an announcement of opportunity: “The kingdom of God has come within your reach.” They were to enter these towns as Jesus’ representatives and say: “God’s Messiah/King has come, and he wants to bring the blessings of his kingdom to your town. Will you welcome him?” The townspeople’s answer to the 72 was their answer to Jesus (10:16).
Jesus calls every one of his followers to proclaim this same message (Lk.24:47). “God’s long-promised King/Messiah, predicted in detail centuries in advance, has now come in the person of Jesus—and the blessings of his kingdom are now within your reach. He is offering you the opportunity to receive God’s forgiveness of your sins, for which he paid the price of his own blood. He is offering you the opportunity to escape from the misery of trying to rule your own life, and to experience the blessing of living under his loving rule. Don’t pass up this opportunity—receive him and enter his kingdom!”
There are many ways to do this: public preaching; private testimony; discussion/debate; etc. But we are all to speak as his representatives—telling people who Jesus is, and what Jesus has done, and urging them to enter into God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus. Notice how Jesus keeps together two things that we tend to dichotomize:
On the one hand, we should always communicate this message with gentleness (10:3 – “sheep among wolves”)—never with self-righteousness, coercion, etc. Our communication should always be accompanied by good deeds (10:9 – “heal the sick”) toward people, even if they don’t believe our message. Many Christians violate these “mission orders”—thereby misrepresenting their King and needlessly turning people off to his message.
On the other hand, we should never dilute or compromise this message. Jesus tells them (and us) that even when we communicate it with gentleness and good deeds, there will still be people who reject it. Sometimes they will demand that we say that this is just our opinion, or that Jesus is just one of many paths to God. But we have no right to do this—it is not our message to change. We are to proclaim that Jesus is the Lord, and to insist that this is true even when people reject it (10:11).
I am so glad that those who communicated this message to me obeyed Jesus on this. I rejected this message, and I called them foolish and old-fashioned. I am so glad they didn’t cave into my objections by saying: “Well, this is just our opinion. It’s true for me, but it may not be true for you.” They were gentle, they were good to me—but they also stood like a rock on this message. They said: “Jesus is Lord and you need to receive him—even if you don’t believe it.” Later, when I wore myself out trying to be my own god, their words rung in my ears—and this was a big factor in my conversion. Let us love people by telling them this message, and gently but firmly insisting that it is true!
MOTIVATION: Jesus wants us to serve him from his identity, not for our identity
When these followers returned from their mission, they reported their success and Jesus responded to their report by instructing them about their motivation for serving him.
Read 10:17 (with emphasis on “even the demons submit to us”). Read 10:18,19. Jesus affirms that what they did was significant (Satan was being displaced through their ministry), and he affirms that he has given them authority to overcome Satan. But he detects something in their attitude that leads him to give them a strong warning.
Read 10:20. The key to understanding this warning is the last phrase—“your names are written in heaven.” In the ancient world, only a few people in any given town were actual citizens; most of the people were slaves or common people. To be a citizen was to be someone, to have a significant identity. How did you know who was a citizen? Their names were written on a list that was kept in the town archives.
We all long to be somebody—to know that we are significant. And because we are fallen, prideful people, we naturally try to derive our identity from what we accomplish (GRADES & SPORTS >> JOBS & POSSESSIONS). Even as Christians, we still tend to try to derive our identity from the accomplishments of our service to Jesus—like these disciples. But Jesus says: “Serve me from the identity I give you; don’t get your identity from serving.”
If you have received Jesus as your Lord, he has given you a new identity—your name is written in heaven. God calls you his son or daughter. God accepts you and approves of you in exactly the same way that he approves of his own Son. This new identity is not based at all on your accomplishments for God; it is a gift—based entirely on Jesus’ accomplishments for you. On the cross, Jesus lost his identity as God’s Son, he had his name blotted out of heaven so that you and I could have our names written in heaven (quote 2Cor.5:21—“righteousness” [dikaiosune] means “approved”).
When this identity is in the forefront of our minds and hearts, then we say: “I rejoice that you have made me your child—therefore, I serve you as a way of thanking you for this gift.” This is why all Christians begin to serve Jesus—not in order to be somebody, but because God has made us somebody. But it’s easy to lose this focus and revert back to building our identity on our accomplishments. Then, whether we realize it or not, we are saying: “I rejoice when my service makes me feel like somebody—therefore, I ‘serve’ in order to get.”
I can attest to this, because many times I have corrupted my “service” of Jesus into a self-validation project. It may be the exhilaration that comes from sensing God’s power working through me. It may be the gratitude expressed by the people I have served. It may be the respect and esteem that other Christian workers express to me. None of these things are wrong in themselves, but like these disciples, I have a way of making them the basis of my identity and joy. Then I am using ministry to make a “name” (identity) for myself. I know I am doing this when I start to feel irked when people don’t praise or appreciate my service. When I feel anxious or despondent when I don’t see the results I wanted. When I feel threatened by or jealous of others who get better results or more esteem than me. This is really ugly stuff! You may be wondering: “Why is he up there teaching?” That’s a good question! I guess my answer is: “Primarily because of God’s grace—and secondarily because I’m trying to listen to Jesus’ warning in 10:20.”
Do you struggle with this temptation? If you don’t, it’s probably not because you’re so holy! It could be because you are taking your identity and joy from some other project you’re building (CAREER; EDUCATION; FAMILY; etc.). It could be because you have never been willing to serve Jesus and experience the joy of seeing God work through you—so that you could be tempted to make take your identity from it. It could be that you used to serve Jesus out of gratitude for his grace—but then you shifted to serving him to be somebody, and when this fell apart you quit instead of heeding Jesus’ instruction in 10:20. Those who feel the force of this temptation feel it because they are taking Jesus’ call to service seriously! In that sense, being tempted in this way is a compliment!
How can we heed Jesus’ warning? Two things are helpful for me. The first is to be honest with God and others when he shows me that I am starting to take my identity from my service for Jesus. Simply admitting this and asking God to help can cut its power substantially. The second is to prioritize doing what Jesus says in 10:20b—taking time regularly to praise and thank God for his mercy and grace, and asking him to open the eyes of my heart to see how privileged I am. Feeding the proper joy so that it grows is the best way to starve the improper joy so that it shrivels! Maybe some of you have some additional advice...