The Kingdom of God Has Come Near

Text: Luke 10:1-20
Date: Pentecost VI (Proper 9) + 7/4/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” He was, of course, speaking of people, sinners He came to redeem and save. In chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel Jesus sent out the twelve “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal,” and “they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (9:2, 6). But “the harvest is plentiful” and the twelve were not enough. So now He sends out seventy-two others. But apparently even that was not enough because He tells them, even as they are being sent, to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out [even more] laborers into his harvest.” And we are bidden to continue that prayer today. Be careful, however, when you pray thus, because the very next word is, “Go.” And with that word He sends you to labor in His harvest. He may call and send you to cut your ties with the world and go full time as He did the twelve and the seventy-two and countless others in the ministry of the Church to this day. Or He may call and send you to confess Him before people while in your earthly vocation. On the eve of the next, the 64th regular convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod next week and with today’s Gospel of the sending out of the seventy-two, we consider the church’s continuing task of mission and evangelism, of bringing the Good News of the Gospel to bear in peoples’ lives and calling young and old to the grace, peace, life and salvation that are by faith in Jesus Christ.

We need to be clear that there are two kinds of calling and sending when it comes to the work of evangelism, or else we will end up saying some things that really aren’t true of or for every Christian. The charge and sending of the seventy-two is really not that different from the charge and sending of the twelve apostles. And here is described an aspect of the work of what we today call “full time” church workers, evangelists or pastors. At the same time the Lord certainly calls every Christian to follow Him and to bear “witness,” testify or confess Him before others. Therefore some of what is said here applies also to all.

Following on the heels of three would-be disciples who offered at the end of chapter 9 in Luke’s Gospel to follow Jesus, but were reluctant to cut their ties to their previous life in this world, the seventy-two are to take no provisions on their journey (“no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals”) and rely solely on God who will provide for their needs through the people to whom they minister. This is a main theme and principle here as well as for the general operation of the Church’s ministry through the ages, namely, that the preaching or proclamation of the Word produces faith, and then faith produces the hospitality or means of care for the workers. Jesus said, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Therefore congregations today are asked in the Rite of the Installation of the Pastor among other things if they will “support him by your gifts” (LSB Agenda, p. 180). It should be noted, by the way, that later (Luke 22:35-36) Jesus would again speak of sending His disciples, this time, however, with moneybag, knapsack and sword in view of the hostility and persecution that would be part of the picture. In other words, while we are to continue to rely upon God’s provision for us, we are also to be wise in our dealings with the unbelieving world.

Here, then, Jesus speaks about the rejection they will bear for the sake of His name, while making miraculous accomplishments for the kingdom. “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ …Heal the sick and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” All who have served as pastors and evangelists in the Church since then have these things in common: they were called and sent by Christ Himself; they were prepared, taught and formed to be Christ’s representatives, given His very words to speak; and though they suffer as sacrificial lambs sent in the midst of wolves they are also protected by God and given the great joy of seeing many being converted, coming to repentance and faith and fellowship in Christ.

This is what the kingdom of God, God’s reign and rule is, namely, the conversion of the sinner into a saint by working repentance and faith in the heart. This kingdom or rule comes to you and me again today, as it needs to come, so that by God’s power we may continue in true repentance and faith in our new life in Christ. Even now the Lord is continuing to turn us away from sin, death and the devil and fill us with saving faith that looks upon, grasps and trusts in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His blood and righteousness for our forgiveness, life and salvation. For this we rejoice not in our own works but that our names are written in heaven by grace (Is. 66:10; Lk. 10:20).

The other kind of calling and sending is for every Christian, and is that work of evangelism that happens as part of whatever your vocation or role in this world is. It’s not really accurate to say that it is “part time” in contrast to “full time” workers, because it involves your whole life lived as service to God and to the neighbor.

There is to be the same reliance on God for His provision of what you need for your day-to-day life. This, of course, has proven to work best in a free society such as what the United States of America has been for 234 years now as a representative republic motivated, as we say in the United States Declaration of Independence, by God-given, unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Such reliance on God is just as important for the layman who must provide for his own family as well as for the work of his larger family, the Church.

To witness, testify or confess the faith before the neighbor certainly involves simply inviting others to “come to church.” In fact what more effective way of bringing people into contact with the kingdom of God is there than here, in the public Divine Service where God’s very means of grace are handled and proclaimed? That’s of utmost importance, for this text warns us not to think that conversion, repentance and faith happen because of your persuasive personality, or anything else in you or of your invention, but solely because of the Word that is proclaimed. This is Jesus’ great promise to preachers and laymen alike, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” The Holy Spirit works through and blesses the Word of God “when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news” (Augsburg Confession V:2).

But notice, “success” is not guaranteed if success is defined as conversion, repentance and faith. For sinners have the awesome ability to say “no” to God! And if any say “no” to God, they also say “no” to God’s ministers and believers. To them the Word of Christ stands as judgment that, “Nevertheless…the kingdom of God has come near.” To minister or confess the Gospel in this world will, therefore, necessarily be dirty, dusty, messy business. The dust will cling to our feet. But the rejection of some will not negate our joy. While we are responsible to others, we are not responsible for them.

Today we are reminded that our Lord calls and sends each of His disciples in their vocation in this world to proclaim the kingdom of His grace,
peace and salvation for all. As it began with twelve, quickly expanded to seventy-two, and includes also all Christians in their various vocations, so today. So while St. Luke is talking numbers, let us note that in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, to some (currently around 9,000) the ministry itself is their vocation as pastors and evangelists (a little over 5,000 serving in parishes and congregations). To all, some 2.3 million baptized members, Jesus promises His continued care and provision in their vocations, and the blessing of His power and protection for the sake of His kingdom.

Bonds rent asunder, death’s fetters dissolved, release from guilt, fear and shame, Jesus calls us to follow and leads us on. Even Satan, the strong one, continues to fall in the triumph of our mighty Redeemer, the King of all glory. Today we take great confidence in the grace and power of Christ who calls us to confess His glory in the world, to proclaim the kingdom of God.