1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
As a church family, we have committed ourselves to what we call “the four canons.” As a church, we would like to become (1) an authentic family (2) around the whole gospel (3) for the glory of God and (4) the reaching of the nations. We believe that these four canons are biblical and God-honoring. What would it look like, though, if we failed to get the fourth canon right?
What if we were an authentic family but did not care about going and reaching the world with the good news of Jesus Christ? It would mean that we had become a cult or a closed society. It would mean that we were obsessed with our own comfort, with maintaining a club just the way we like it.
I have a friend who was passionately calling his church to reach the nations. A lady in the congregation said to him, “Pastor, I know you are right, but honestly we do not want a bunch of new people coming in here and messing things up.” Some years back in another context I was having a conversation with a church member about reaching the kids on the streets around our church. They were not like the majority of folks in our church. They did not know the unspoken rules of decorum. They would sometimes say and do things that were upsetting and off-putting. This particular individual said to me, “Ok, I get that they have a right to come, but do we have to encourage them?” That is what it is to be a family without a sense of mission.
Or what if we got the second canon right but not the fourth? What if our doctrine was solid but we did not reach people? It would mean that we had become some kind of egghead debating society, a group of exclusionary nerds who love the intricacies of theology more than people. I, for one, believe that right theology is essential. What is more, I believe we should love theology! I believe we should guard against false teachings. But what does it say about our theology if it does not lead us to love and reach people? It would mean that in our study of Christ we had missed Christ!
What if we got the third canon right, but not the fourth? What if we were ecstatic for the glory of God but did not care about reaching people? It would mean that we had become a cult of spiritual euphoria, a group obsessed with religious ecstaticism but not with the actual love of the God for whom we claim to be ecstatic.
In so many ways it seems to be the case that whether or not we love and reach people is the great evidence for whether or not we truly understand who Jesus. Toward that end, the sending of the seventy as recounted in Luke 10 is a critically important passage. I believe this passage provides us with a model for the sending of the Church today.
The church reaches the nations as an extension of the life of Christ Himself.
Luke 10 begins with an account of the commissioning of the seventy.
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.
We should first acknowledge that the English Standard Version of the Bible (used here) says “seventy-two” instead of “seventy.” This is a textual issue that is likely impossible to unravel. The Greek manuscripts that lie behind the English New Testament seem fairly well divided between whether the number should be “seventy-two” or “seventy” and our English translations reflect this fact. In this sermon we are going to go with “seventy” because of the likely allusion that is being made to Genesis 10 (though the issue of whether the number is seventy-two or seventy is not terribly important overall). Malcolm Tobert believed it most likely that “the number is a symbol for the Gentile nations of Genesis 10.” Her further points out that, “in the Masoretic Text the number is 70, whereas in the LXX the number is 72.)”
Peter Liethart has offered some further thoughts on the significance of this number.
Jesus has already sent out the Twelve on a mission that mimics His mission in Galilee. Here, He sends out an additional seventy in pairs to prepare the way for His journey. The number is significant. According to Genesis 10, there were seventy nations of the world, and from that point the number becomes a symbol of the nations. Importantly, when Israel went into Egypt there were seventy descendants of Jacob among them (Exodus 1:5), and later we learn that there are seventy elders that share in Moses’ spirit (Number 11:24-25). These passages indicate that though Israel is a nation herself, she is a microcosm of the “seventy nations” of the world. Jesus adopts this same symbolism: The people who gather to Him are a new Israel (ruled by twelve) and a new humanity (represented by seventy).
This means that as an allusion to Genesis 10 the sending of the seventy is profoundly significant. Genesis 10 tells us there were 70 nations that arose from the descendants of Noah and his family after they were rescued out of the flood. The seventy therefore represent the whole earth or all the peoples of the earth. When Christ sends forth the seventy He is therefore making a clear statement about the scope and breadth of the mission He gave to His church: the Church is to take the gospel to the entire world!
The identity of these seventy is also important. Earlier, Christ had sent the twelve. Now He sends forth a larger number. “These men were not called ‘apostles,’” writes Warren Wiersbe, “but they were still ‘sent [apostello] with a commission’ to represent the Lord. They were therefore truly ambassadors of the King.”
I believe this is profoundly important. Right or wrong, modern Baptists tend to see churches as being comprised of (a) the clergy and (b) the laity. Some agree with this distinction and others say it is unhelpful and unbiblical. Whatever it does or does not mean, Christ’s sending forth of the seventy, in addition to His sending forth of the twelve, forever destroys any notion that the commission to take the gospel to the nations is or should be limited to the clergy or the professionals. The call to take the gospel to the whole world is a Church-wide call! It is placed upon all of us! It is not something we hire out. It is something we all do. If we do not, then we are in violation of Christ’s commission for His people, the Church.
Then we have the second half of verse 1: “and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” The reference to the seventy being sent forth “two by two” is intriguing because in it we might find yet a second reference to Noah. As the flood came, God called the animals onto the ark two by two. Now, in order to warn of the judgment to come, God sends His people out two by two.
Interestingly, Jesus tells them that He is sending them “into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” They were to go out and announce the King before He came. This was customary in the ancient world, this sending forth of heralds for a coming King. Seen in this light, evangelism is the act of sounding the herald trumpet to announce that King Jesus (a) has come and (b) is coming!
Fred Craddock defines this mission as “running ahead to announce Christ’s coming” and notes that their doing so “implies preparation” and “gives to the mission a magisterial or regal tone.”
What an honor it is to be herald of the great King!
Once we grasp this heralding aspect of the Christian life, all fear is removed, for we are simply there to announce good news! Jesus has coming and Jesus is coming!
On June 23, 1947, Jim Elliot wrote the following:
Missionaries are very human folks, just doing what they are asked. Simply a bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody.
I like that! A bunch of nobodies trying to exalt Somebody! That is what it is to be a herald. It is not about you. It is not about me. It is about the King whose coming we announce!
Church, we are the seventy! We are the sent! We are the heralds of the great King!
Blow the trumpet! Do not be shy! The nations need to know about the coming of the King!
The church reaches the nations as God-sent agents of the Kingdom of God.
After the commissioning, Jesus next calls upon the seventy to pray. For what? To pray that more workers will be sent into the fields to gather in the harvest.
2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
The Lord Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor to describe our current situation in the world. It is an image that Jesus used before. In John 4 He said the same when speaking to the disciples after His encounter with the woman at the well.
35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
When we put these two passages together, a fuller picture emerges. The world is the field. Humanity is growing in the field of the world. The Church is the laborer who goes into the field of the world to reap the harvest. Those who are not gathered in are lost to the coming judgment upon the world.
Our great high privilege is therefore to reap the harvest, to herald the coming of the King who has come, and to participate with God in the great ingathering of souls.
But Jesus says the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. For this reason, we should “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” That is, we should plead with God for more people to go and help with the ingathering!
What is fascinating about this is that, in a sense, it puts the pray-er in a conundrum. Why? Because first and foremost to pray this prayer is to recognize that you yourself are the answer to the prayer!
Imagine that you are sitting in a classroom at school and you notice a girl on the other side of the room. You heart goes out to her. She has had a hard path in life. She frequently seems despondent. She seems like she is hurting. You have felt for some time that she needs the good news of Jesus. So you remember the words of Jesus and you pray: “Lord, send the laborers into the harvest. Send somebody to reach her.” Then immediately it hits you: you are the one who has been sent to reach her! You are the answer to the prayer you just prayed!
Before this is a prayer for God to send others it is a prayer for God to send you.
This sense of burden, this sense of calling, this desire to see the lost come to Jesus, is the starting point for a life of missions. In his study of evangelism in the early church, Michael Green wrote this:
I argue…that neither the strategy nor the tactics of the first Christians were particularly remarkable. What was remarkable was their conviction, their passion and their determination to act as Christ’s embassy to a rebel world, whatever the consequences.
This is the making of a missionary heart. Put another way, the missionary heart is the heart that is willing to live in consistency with the full implications of the indwelling of Jesus. It is the heart that does not shrink away from what it means to have the missionary God living within them, changing them, transforming them from the inside out.
We are not an authentic family if we do not want others to come into the family.
We are not a family around the gospel if we do not wish to share the gospel.
We are not bringing glory to God if we do not see that the salvation of lost humanity is that which brings glory to God.
We must reach the nations.
It is our privilege to reach the nations!
We reach them in the name and the power of the King who has come and who is coming.
 Malcolm O. Tobert, “Luke.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Clifton J. Allen, ed. Vol. 9 (Nasvhille, TN: Broadman Press, 1970), p.90.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. New Testament, Vol. 1 (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2001), p.210.
 Fred B. Craddock, Luke. Interpretation. (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990), p.145.
 Daniel L. Akin, Five Who Changed the World (Wake Forest, NC: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008), 94.
 Michael Green. Evangelism in the Early Church (Kindle Locations 173-174). Kindle Edition.