Lambs among Wolves
Sending out the 72 in Luke 10:1-16, Jesus says, “I’m sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” That’s not very comforting, is it? Like chum in a shark pool or the hamster in a boa’s cage, our savior sends us out to be ripped to pieces. It is not as though a sheep has no protection against the wolf. It’s just that his protection doesn’t lie within the sheep. It lies with the shepherd.
Ever since man’s eyes were opened to evil, people have been trying to clothe themselves, protect themselves, defend themselves. Fear and the desire for self-reliance dominate every area of our lives. But Jesus wants his messengers to be vulnerable. This is the counterintuitive principle, the great irony of the gospel: When we are weak … then we are strong. That is true because when we are weak, his strength is at work in us. When we abandon ourselves to him, he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).
Take Nothing with You
They were to take no moneybag with them, nothing they could cling to for self-reliance. They weren’t to pack a carry-on, just in case Delta lost their luggage. They were to be radically dependent. Just as he sent Elijah to the brook Kidron, because God would provide food for him there. He had the ravens feed him — And just as he sent him to Zeraphath, because He had appointed a widow there … a widow who would be willing to give up her last meal for this man of God –, so God would have us be totally dependent on his provision. And he will provide. Just as surely as he met Elijah’s need, he will meet yours. You don’t need sandals!
Jesus is not saying that a servant must take a vow of poverty. But he is illustrating that our power and our persuasion is not found in our wealth or in our self-sufficiency. It’s found in our utter, destitute poverty … and our utter dependence. That’s when HIS power shines through. When we are weak … THEN we are strong, because HIS strength is ours. Yes, we are sent out as lambs … little defenseless lambs … in the midst of a wolf-pack. But we are safe. Ultimately safe anyway, because He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. And therein lies the gospel.
These people are to offer peace to the homes they come to. The opposite of that peace is not war … it’s anxiety, anguish, fear, confusion, division, distress. The opposite of peace is — in a word, sin — or it’s consequences. That’s why Paul co-opts the term in his greetings. He greets the church with “Grace and Peace” from God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Our peace is only found in the grace of God, as the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And so we alone have true peace.
Only in Christ is their peace with God, our sins no longer testifying against us. Only in Christ is their freedom from fear and anxiety. And that is what we offer to others … freedom from fear … what can man do to me? (Psa 118:6)
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–10)
And that’s why he tells them not to bounce around from house to house. Some commentators think that Jesus is cautioning them against constantly seeking better digs … better accommodations in another house. … Perhaps … But as I look at the text, I think the emphasis is on the fact that the worker is worth his wages. I think they aren’t to feel like a constant burden on their hosts. It’s not as if they don’t have something to offer. They offer peace. So, not only are they to trust that God will provide for them, they are to receive that provision, knowing that just as God kept the widow’s oil and flour from running out, so, he will provide for those he uses to support his servants.
“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”” (Matthew 10:42)
There’s a principle there for us to take hold of, whether we are ministering the gospel, or whether we are supporting those who do.
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29–30 ESV)
Fearless and Dependent
And so we go, offering peace, offering hope. But the offer of peace is often answered with a sword. The path to peace is one of humility and confession. It’s an admission of weakness. We lay ourselves out there … utterly vulnerable. We set ourselves up to be trampled, laughed at, kicked while we are down.
But what can the really do to you? They could perhaps take things from you … but never your inheritance. We have no friendship with the world, anyway, right? That would be enmity with God. We aren’t attached to things here, are we? Don’t we store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal? They could perhaps take your life … but to be away from the body is to be home with the Lord … which is better by far.
Jesus sends out his messengers in a manner that matches their message. The message is that those who humble themselves will live. Those who confess their sins and admit their need, those who abandon all pretense of self-sufficiency, these are the ones God saves. There is power in our weakness. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2Co 4.7) And in Chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, Paul pleads for relief from the thorn in his flesh. Do you remember Jesus’ response? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, Paul says, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
The messengers proclaim the coming judgment. The offer of peace only makes sense against the backdrop of destruction. There is an urgency that comes from the reality of coming judgment.
Now, this was a special time in the history of redemption. This was still in the period before Israel crucified her King. This was when Jesus was “sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem, because the time for him to be taken up out of the world was drawing near. And he hasn’t visited everywhere yet. There’s an urgency to his own mission.
He seems to be commissioning official representatives of his presence to go in his stead, with his authority. That’s why they have been given the power to heal. That’s why their greeting of peace has an effect. These people could offer an efficacious benediction. They are Christ’s representatives, and speak with his authority. When they speak, he speaks. And so, in them, he is visiting the lost sheep of Israel.
Greet No One
And he sends them out with something of an urgency … They aren’t to greet anybody on the road. He doesn’t want them to be rude. That’s not the point. But greetings take time, and their business is just too pressing to be hindered.
We have a different, but similar urgency. Christ has won the battle. The deed is done. Christ is crucified; Christ is risen … but …. Christ will come again. The coming judgment ought to fill you with hope for vindication on the one hand. After all, many lambs will be torn by the wolves, and you may be one of them. But on the other hand, at the very same time, there is something woeful about the impending judgment. A true horror awaits those who reject the gospel. It will be an eternity of the darkest night. It is outside … away from God’s presence …where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. They will be eternally separated from God … from the source of everything good, and the only One who restrains the evil around and in them. The Scriptures paint that picture for us as a searing pain that never, ever, ever ends. There is an urgency to our mission.
We live in the last days … Hab 2:3; 2Pet. 3:9; 1Pet. 4:7; Rom. 13:11; Phil. 4:5;Heb. 10:25, 37. And when he comes … there is judgment. And it will be too late.
Pray for Workers
The fields are ripe and the harvest is plentiful. But you only know how big a task is when you start doing it. When you begin to share the gospel, you’ll find that the harvest is indeed plentiful. And you’ll know that it’s a much bigger field than you can handle on your own. You’ll be desperate for more laborers.
Ask any missionary. I’ll bet his prayers are full of the desire that God would send more laborers out into the field. And there are many, many people all around us who belong to God, but have yet to hear his voice. This is what Jesus told Paul in Macedonia … in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” (Act 18.9-10) They are waiting to hear his voice. And we are in the last days. The task is an urgent one. It’s a local urgency, and a global one.
But there is a comfort in the urgency. The comfort is, that there’s a lot of sheep to bring into the fold; there’s a lot of grain to gather in. And there’s comfort in the authority that we use to bring them in. That same principle of utter dependence, by which we live, and by which we have peace … true peace … the shalom of freedom from fear and anxiety, and the freedom of reconciliation with God … that same principle of utter dependence is what we as followers use, to gather in other followers. He gives us his authority, because we have His words. He gives us power and authority to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).
And as humiliating and self-abasing as this gospel is … And Paul knew it was … he had counted everything rubbish in comparison with knowing Christ. He boasted in his weakness … He proudly proclaimed the foolishness of the gospel. But as humiliating and foolish as this gospel is, Paul is not ashamed of it. Why? Because it is the power of God for salvation. He boasts in his weakness, because that’s when God shows His strength. It’s when we abase ourselves before him and plead for mercy … He grants it.