“And the Reaching of the Nations” (Part 4)

4canonsgears2016Luke 10

9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Richard John Neuhaus once received a promotional brochure about columbariums. What in the world is a columbarium? Neuhaus explains:

A company called Armento builds columbariums, a facility for the interment of the ashes of the cremated deceased. A promotional brochure includes this testimonial from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas: “The columbarium is one of the most significant actions in the history of our parish.”[1]

Neuhaus found that comment odd and so do I. One very much hopes that “one of the most significant actions in the history of” the church would not be the creative way in which it housed the remains of the dead but rather in the powerful way in which it emboldens the living. The church is not a container for the dead but rather a body for those made alive in Christ.

Of course, I am not speaking against a church having a literal cemetery or a columbarium. The point is that the church, if it is not careful, can itself become a tomb. It can become this when it ceases reaching the nations and when it fails to call its members to mission.

Christ Jesus sent His disciples on mission. Luke 10:1-12 is the account of His sending of the seventy (or seventy-two). Verses 9-12 give us two final insights into the nature of the church’s efforts to reach the nations.

The church reaches the nations through (1) word and (2) deed.

We begin with a statement about the extent of the church’s mission.

9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

Verse 9 is critically important for it contains the two elements of our missionary life:

  • “Heal the sick…”
  • “…and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

The mission of the church is therefore to do something and to say something. The church is to be a mission of (1) word and (2) deed. We are, in other words, to reach the whole person with the whole gospel. Put another way, we are to care for the body and the soul, to care for the person’s safety and wellbeing as well as for their eternal destiny.

James got at this reality powerfully in James 2.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

If we give people the gospel but do not give them the love that should arise from our embrace of the gospel, then we undercut the gospel itself. Unfortunately, throughout the history of the Church, there have been those who emphasize one of these aspects of mission to the neglect of the other. There are churches, for instance, that emphasize primarily physical care ministries. For these churches, the gospel is nothing more than soup kitchens and benevolence ministries. On the other hand, there are churches that seem only to care about getting people to heaven. To these churches, the Church has no real responsibility to suffering humanity now. All that matters is heaven. But do notice that Jesus said, “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

  • Heal the sick.
  • Preach the gospel.

Most of us want to do both of these but sometimes it is hard.

Fred Craddock once told a heart-breaking story about his frustration in trying to do this well. Craddock tells a story of a time when he was the acting dean of Phillips Seminary for 15 months. He tells how, during his time there, his secretary came to him once and said, “There’s someone here to see you.” So he goes outside and there is this lady wanting to talk to him. She asks him if he could come outside with her. So Fred Craddock agrees and walks outside with the lady. The lady takes him to her car and opens the back door. There, slumped over in the back seat, was her brother. He was a senior at the University of Oklahoma, had been in a bad car wreck, and had been in a coma for 8 months. This lady, his sister, had quit her job as a schoolteacher to take care of her brother. All of her money was gone. So was her hope.

So she opens the door, points to her brother, looks back at Fred Craddock and says, “I want you to heal him.” He responds, “I can pray for him. And I can pray with you. But I do not have the gift of healing.”

She looks at Fred Craddock, turns away, opens the front door, gets behind the steering wheel, looks back up at him and asks this question: “Then what in the world do you do?” And then she drives off.

Fred Craddock says that he spent the rest of the afternoon staring at his books and trying to forget what she had said.

It is a good question: “Then what in the world do you do?” To be sure, our efforts to alleviate physical suffering and pain are limited. Jesus never said, after all, that all sickness, all tragedy, all disease, and all infirmity would be done away with on this side of heaven. All of that will, of course, be done away with in Heaven. But we are to seek to bring the message of the eternal kingdom to bare even here in this fallen world, and this means reaching people in their brokenness.

On the other hand, we must recognize that eternal life is just that: eternal! We dare not neglect the salvation of souls! We dare not neglect calling men and women to faith in Jesus Christ! If, in the name of philanthropy and works of mercy, we avoid the good news of Jesus and a clear explanation of how we might be saved, then we have undercut our good works!

The church reaches the nations with the conviction that the Christ we offer is the only hope of the nations.

Undergirding all of this is a profound conviction that the Christ we offer is the only hope of the nations.

10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

What are we to do when those to whom we present the gospel reject the gospel we offer? Jesus said to do the following:

  • Go into the streets and proclaim, “Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.”
  • Wipe the dust of the place off of your feet.

Put another way, we are to proclaim boldly the absolute truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and we are to make it very clear that rejecting the gospel means inviting the judgment of God. It is almost as if Jesus is asking us to say, “Listen, I know you are rejecting our message, but hear us one last time: the message is true even if you reject it! Jesus is Lord and the Kingdom of God has come near!” Leon Morris writes that “they are to say that the rejection of their message does not alter the realities: it was nothing less than the kingdom of God that had come near.”[2]

That is, our message must be one of unwavering conviction! In his book, God and Man at Yale, William F. Buckley, Jr., quotes Arthur Koestler as saying this about writing: “One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or shut up.”[3] The same should be said of the church’s proclamation of the gospel.

We must understand how against-the-grain such conviction is in our society. Some years back, according to Christianity Today, a New Jersey appellate judge named Joseph F. Lisa ruled “that overtly religious people can be barred from serving on juries.”

Individuals who are demonstrative about their religion do not share the same values, tenets, or practices, and thus do not represent a cross-section of society.[4]

Tragically, the judge is correct (in one sense): actual conviction is increasingly rare in our society, and to believe what you believe is the truth to the extent that it would compel you to bold proclamation is a strange thing indeed. Our culture is one of perpetual uncertainty, perpetual qualification, perpetual nuance. We are a people who cannot simply say anything anymore and contend earnestly that it is true!

The early church was not like this. This was not the mindset out of which Jesus sent His missionaries. They were to go and preach the coming of a King and a kingdom. If rejected, they were to say it again, warning those who had turned away that the message was true whether or not they accepted it.

Accompanying this proclamation there was to be a symbolic act. The missionaries were to say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you,” and then wipe the dust from their feet. What does this mean?

Joel Green explains that “‘[d]usting of the feet’ was an act connected to ridding oneself of defilement, such as when one had traversed Gentile lands” but that in Jesus’ appeal to this image it is “designed not…to render the traveler clean…but to declare the village ‘unclean.’” In this way, Green argues, “Jesus’ instructions…circumvent ordinary rules of purity by turning them on their head.”[5]

Yes, the wiping of the dust from their feet was the missionaries’ way of saying that they were now turning the town over to God. They were saying that the had called and cautioned the town but that if the people chose to reject the message of salvation they were placing themselves firmly under the judgment of God.

This is not giving up.

This is not refusing to love.

This is not wishing for another’s destruction.

The wiping of the dust from their feet was, in fact, a simple declaration of truth that arose consistently from their message: to reject salvation is to embrace judgment.

Perhaps you have encountered somebody who simply refuses to believe despite your pleas to them to be saved. You never give up on that person, but there is a time to tell them that you are turning them over to God, that you realize that only God can change their hearts. There is a time to recognize that your own efforts have come to nought. There is a time to shake the dust from your feet…but there is never a time to give up! We must ever and always pray that the lost will be saved, that those without Christ would come to embrace Him in repentance and in faith.

This is how the nations are reached: with courage and a sense of raw conviction that the gospel is indeed life! This is how the nations are reached: when the church actually believes that heaven and hell are quite literally at stake in the nations’ response to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Do we have this kind of conviction? Do we have this kind of courage? Do we believe like this?

An authentic family around the whole gospel for the glory of God and a reaching of the nations is a church that is bound together in and around a central conviction and that honestly believes God is most glorified when the nations are brought to faith in and adoration of Him.

 

[1] RJN, “While We’re At It,” First Things. December 2000.

[2] Leon Morris, Luke. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 1988), p.202.

[3] Buckley, William F. (2012-02-06). God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’ . Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[4] Christianity Today. “Quotation Marks.” March 2003, p.19.

[5] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), p.360.

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