The Sending Out of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-16)
[June 28, 2009] Three years have passed since Jesus began His ministry in Galilee. During that time, Jesus chose twelve of His disciples and appointed them to be His eyewitnesses and apostles (and to one day rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, 22:30). He sent them out (9:1-5) into the towns and villages of Galilee, but very little is told of what happened when they returned (9:10). Then, in 9:33, 37-50 and 52-56, we are told six stories that are very critical of them.
In 10:13-15 Jesus expresses how disappointed He was with the towns of Galilee, including Capernaum. He did not think their response was adequate. This reminds us of what Paul says in Romans 9-11 about the Jews in general. Though all the apostles and most of the church was Jewish, and therefore many Jews had believed, Paul was disappointed with their response. It was inadequate. According to Paul, this was the reason so many non-Jews were responding—as God’s sign to Israel that Jesus is the Jew’s Messiah.
Part of the problem was that the leadership of the church in Jerusalem (led by members of the Twelve and the family of Jesus) was slow to embrace the Gospel as Paul understood it.
Now as Jesus begins His final journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with His disciples, He chooses seventy other disciples and sends them out ahead of Him into every city and village of Judea that He intended to pass through. This group of sent-ones is not mentioned in any of the other gospels. The instructions that Jesus gives them are the same as He gave the Twelve (a little more detailed). These instructions also describe the work of the apostles (the “mission”) in Acts. Since they are a pattern for the church after Pentecost, it would be worthwhile for us to pay it some attention.
The first instruction is to simply “go”; then He tells them to be cautious because they are lambs in the midst of wolves; and then He tells them not to waste time chatting with travelers along the way.
The next instruction is to depend completely on the hospitality of others—to such an extent that you do not even prepare for their inhospitality (no purse or bag or sandals). Do not be afraid to accept their hospitality: you do not owe them, rather they owe you! Once people invite you into their house—to bed and feed you—and you bless their household with peace, then you are to do all your work from their house. (Don’t move from house to house; and eat whatever they feed you!)
This house becomes your base, and from there you are to heal the sick in the village and proclaim to them that the kingdom of God has drawn near to them. This household, in other words, becomes the foundation of a future church.
The mission, in other words, has all to do with towns or villages and households. Later, in Acts, the apostles (like Paul and Barnabas and Silas and Timothy and Titus) would go from town to town and visit people in their homes. The new church represented the town, or rather the kingdom of God in (God’s claim on) the town. And the location of the church was people’s homes.
We are wrong to identify the church with the building it owns. When we can no longer support the building and its staff, then we close the church. This is not how the Bible represents the church! A building and a staff are a privilege, but they are not necessary for the church.
We also identify the church with an organization so that it is no longer local and it no longer represents the town. The church becomes a platform for a particular ministry or an entertainment center. This also has nothing to do with how the Bible represents the church. As we reconstruct the church in the twenty-first century, we need to understand the Biblical/apostolic model. The Biblical model is resilient. As we can see, these other models are not.
But, that our modern society has deconstructed the locality and weakened the household makes it very difficult for the church.
The Return of the Seventy (10:17-24)
When the seventy return, they are exuberant with how things went. Demons are subject to the name of Jesus! Jesus describes an event that will take place at the end of history—Satan will be cast out of heaven where he now holds his ground (Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7-12). It has not happened yet. Nevertheless, through the mission of the church (the apostolate), Satan gets that much closer to defeat. As long as the church represents the kingdom, it has the power and authority of Christ to defeat Satan case by case.
(The church and the kingdom of God are not the same!)
However, the real cause for rejoicing is the salvation of people, not the overcoming of Satan’s power per se. People’s salvation is the immediate goal. The church should not focus on Satan but on people and their eternal salvation. Our authority over Satan is a “given.”
Jesus then exults in the Holy Spirit and praises His Father. The “wise and intelligent” reject Jesus, but who Jesus is is revealed to “babes.” Babes are beginners. They are fresh and able to perceive something that is entirely new. The wise and intelligent have things all figured out. When something new is before them, they immediately categorize it so that it becomes “familiar.” They think they understand when they really don’t. They are attached to what they already know. Let us be learners, not the learned.
Jesus also praises the Father because everything is in the Father’s hands. If people reject Jesus and His messengers, that is in the Father’s hands, and if they receive Him and His messengers, that is also in the Father’s hands. No one really knows the Son except the Father. If we do know the Son, it would be the Father’s own “knowing” taking place within us—thus, it can only be through the Holy Spirit. But no one can know the Father except the Son and it is up to the Son to reveal the Father. We can only know God as Father through the Son—because the Father is such only as the Father of the Son.
Others may claim to know God’s being and nature. Can we argue with what they claim is their inner experience? But it is not the same as knowing God as the relationship of love between Father and Son.
The light that Jesus brings into the world, this unique revelation of God as Father and Son, is something that, until Jesus came, was unknown, even to the prophets and kings of Israel. If we perceive who Jesus is, this revelation of God that brings salvation, then we would realize how privileged (blessed) we are.
This is not to say that the prophets and kings of Israel did not know God’s salvation. They still had a personal relationship with God, as did Job (a Gentile). So they participated in it. Only, it is that the true nature of salvation was hidden from their eyes.
The Apostle Paul as an Example (Acts 20:17-37)
In Acts 20 Paul is on his way to Jerusalem with the offering of the Gentiles to the poor among the saints, but since he is in a rush, he has the elders of the church in Ephesus meet him on an offshore island. Paul spent three years in Ephesus and ran a kind of conference center in the “School of Tyrannus” where he trained workers to establish churches in the neighboring towns like Colossae and Laodicea. This was not the church for that met in the house of Aquila and Priscilla. It was a difficult time for Paul, some of which he spent in prison. It was also very productive. From there he kept in touch with other churches around the Aegean Sea (like Corinth and Philippi).
The church is going to really be on its own. It was very unusual for Paul to stay so long in one place. Usually apostles move from town to town. Because apostles do not stay in one place, the church cannot depend on them but must be self-sufficient: no clergy, no seminary interns, no one imported from outside at all. The churches have to be intensely local (in this way), though Paul did see to it that workers—like himself and Silas and Titus and Timothy—would visit the churches, minister to them and help them with problems. The goal, as we see in this speech of Paul’s here, is to develop the churches to such a point that they can really stand on their own.
This means that when he was with them he taught them constantly—publically (probably the rented School of Tyrannus) and from house to house, night and day. He held back nothing but tried to impart everything he knew that was profitable—especially “the Gospel of the grace of God” and “the kingdom”—or in other words, “all the counsel of God.”
Throughout Acts and the Epistles are clues about how churches were hatched and grown. What we see is like what Jesus describes in His charge to the seventy. Paul would connect with people he knew or meet new people (like Lydia and the jailor and their households in Philippi), and from their households he would work with their neighbors, “solemnly testifying to Jews and Greeks repentance unto God and faith into our Lord Jesus.” Then he would work with them night and day “admonishing” them until things were in order.
Paul accepted their hospitality (as Jesus charged), but in order to stay there longer, he received financial help from the Philippians, and worked as a tent-maker on the side with Aquila, also a tent-maker. This was probably how he (they) were able to rent the hall. But the hall was a training center. It was not where the church met.
For us to be a church according to the apostolic pattern that we see in the New Testament, all the believer needs to be committed and take responsibility for their own spiritual life and growth but also for the spiritual life and growth of others. This is what makes the church resilient. As long as people are dependent on “professionals,” it is not really being the church, and it has no resilience.
What is your concept of the church? Where did this way of looking at the church come from? Some traditions that we take for granted are very old—things we inherited from the Constantinian church in the fourth century or from the Middle Ages. Other traditions that we take for granted only go back to the nineteen century or even the 1950s. Most traditions are an adaptation to older cultures that no longer hold. We need to question these things.
What I have always wanted to see here is a church in which people have enough spiritual understanding, maturity and stamina that they can carry on with the ministry (of teaching and serving) without the support staff of pastors and clergy.
People are afraid to stick their necks out because they feel like they do not know enough or that they cannot commit the time. What it really boils down to is a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit.