“And the Reaching of the Nations (Part 3)”

4canonsgears2016Luke 10

4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 

In the mid-1980’s, a Russian filmmaker made a controversial and powerful film entitled “Repentance.” This was during the time of glastnost when critiques of Soviet communism were increasingly creeping out of the shadows and into the light of day. The film, Jane Ellis writes, was all the talk of Moscow and “audiences left cinemas in tears.”

The film powerfully and unforgettably stripped the mask from the face of Stalinism: it showed episodes from the life of the recently deceased mayor of a small Georgian town whose body keeps surrealistically reappearing. Among many inhuman acts in his life have been attempts to consign the church to the past. The film’s Christian theme is powerfully restated in its closing sequence. An old woman asks the central female character:

“Is this the road to the church?”

“This is Varlam street. It will not take you to the church.”

“Then what’s the use of it? What good is a road if it does not lead to a church?”

The phrase “Is this the road to the church?” and “What good is a road if it does not lead to a church?” soon entered the language and formed the stuff of newspaper headlines.[1]

In the context of the Soviet suppression of religion, the phrase, “What good is a road that does not lead to a church?” was profoundly politically subversive. It is a good question, but some years back Philip Yancey asked an even more interesting follow-up question. Yancey said that the truly interesting question is not, “What good is a road that does not lead to a church?” but, “What good is a church that does not lead to a road?”

When we consider our responsibility to reach the nations, that really does become the great question, no? “What good is a church that does not lead to a road?” Which is simply to say this: the gospel nourishes us in here, but the gospel belongs out there! Let us remember that the doors of the church not only open inward but also outward! Some years ago George MacLeod hit on this point memorably when he wrote:

I simply argue that the cross should be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church.  I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek, . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble.  Because that is where he died.  And that is what he died for.  And that is what he died about.  That is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about.[2]

The early church certainly understood this. Jesus sent his disciples out. Jesus pointed to the road. It is our responsibility, yet, but also our joy and privilege to go! As we continue journeying through this amazing text, we now consider what the missionary Church (which is simply another way of saying “Church”!) and the missionary Christian needs.

The first need of a missionary Christian: utter dependence on God.

In the arsenal of the missionary Christian nothing is as important as utter dependence on God. When Jesus sent out His followers, He said this:

4a Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals…

This sounds serious. This sounds challenging! Of course, it is. James Edwards has provided some helpful background information that sheds light on what exactly is being said here.

Ancient travelers often bound money in the outer garment under their belt (so Matt 10:9), but the Greek word for “purse,” ballantion, which occurs in the NT only in Luke (10:4; 12:33; 22:35-36), refers to an actual money bag or purse, such as a well-to-do traveler might carry. The first prohibition thus may not forbid taking money for essentials, but it clearly forbids taking extra or excess money. Nor may the seventy(-two) take a “bag.” The Greek pera means a traveler’s bag or knapsack for clothing and provisions, common to shepherds and even more to Cynic philosophers…Anyone familiar with the rocky and thorny terrain of Palestine will find the prohibition against wearing sandals a painful deprivation. This prohibition was not made of the Twelve (9:3; Matt 10:9; Mark 6:8). Is it an example of Jewish hyperbole, or perhaps a prohibition of a second pair of sandals?[3]

Now, this text is unique in its particulars but it is eternal in its principles. Meaning, the literal details of not taking a moneyback or knapsack or sandals were applied to these seventy (or seventy-two) who went out. The specifics are not normative for all missionary endeavors, but the principle of what Jesus was saying certainly is!

And what would the timeless principle of these instructions be? It would be this: that the sent Church must not seek to reach the nations in its own power as if the success of her mission depended upon her provisions but rather in the power of and in utter dependence upon the God who sends her!

What was Christ telling those he sent out in Luke 10? “You cannot drag your moneybags and your closets full of clothes. You must travel light and go! I will provide for you! I will care for you! You can trust that I am with you!” William Barclay says of this verse, “The preacher is not to be cluttered up with material things; he is to travel light.” He then recounted how “Dr. Johnson, after seeing through a great castle and its policies, remarked grimly, ‘These are the things which make it difficult to die.” “Earth must never blot out heaven,” Barclay concluded.[4]

Cyril of Alexandria argued that, in saying this, Christ “does wish them to learn and to attempt to practice that they must lay all thought of their livelihood on him. They must call to mind the saint who said, ‘Cast your care on the Lord, and he will feed you.’” Ephrem the Syrian wrote, “He forbid them to take money for fear they would be considered businessmen and not announcers.”[5]

In Matthew 10, Jesus encouraged His sent disciples to trust in Him even for the words that they would say!

17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Luke, in Luke 12, adds the element that the Spirit “will teach” us what we need to say.

11 And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.

They could trust that God was with them! They could hold fast to His promise and His presence. We see this further fleshed out in the verses that follow.

5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’

It is an interesting proclamation: “Peace be to this house!” Joel Green has pointed out, however, that the proclamation did not simply mean, “May things go well here!” but rather was a declaration of and offer of salvation.

“Peace” as metonymic for “salvation” is well attested in the Third Gospel, where the Greco-Roiman notion of “peace” as the absence of war, social discord, and sedition has been shaped by the expanded presentation of peace, shalom, in the OT as communal well-being: euphoria, security, plenty, and the like. The Israelite greeting, whether in correspondence or in conversation, was a wish for peace. At least this much is meant by the greeting Jesus’ followers are instructed to convey upon entering a household. Verse 6 suggests that more is at stake, however. Peace is portrayed not merely as something one might wish for another, but as an entity that can be transmitted and possessed or returned. Inasmuch as peace is the gift of Yahweh…the nature of Jesus’ directive is to identify these sent ones as persons capable of extending the peace that is God’s to others.[6]

So the missionaries were to declare the message of salvation. Then Jesus adds:

6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.

Ah! Jesus returns to the thought of provision. The missionaries will be fed by the people to whom they are sent. So Jesus is not sending them out on a suicide mission, though it may very well cost them their lives. No, He will provide for their physical needs in His good will.

They are to depend utterly and completely on the grace of God! So must we.

We do not begrudge good planning and good efforts in our missionary endeavors, but let us be clear of this: any success on the mission field is a result not of our planning but of our dependence on God! “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6.

Let us trust in God! Let us depend upon God! Let us throw ourselves into the task of reaching the nations with the certain knowledge that our God is with us!

The second need of a missionary Christian: intense focus and a refusal to be distracted.

Jesus’ prohibition of a money bag or knapsack or sandals may strike us as peculiar, but His next prohibition seems almost rude.

4b …and greet no one on the road.

Again, the text is timeless in its principles though time-specific in its particulars. Why, in the ancient world, would Jesus tell His disciples not to greet anybody on the road? A.T. Robertson wrote:

The peril of such wayside salutations was palaver [i.e., prolonged discussion] and delay. The King’s business required haste… These oriental greetings were tedious, complicated, and often meddlesome if others were present or engaged in a bargain.[7]

Glenn Ludwig comments further:

Now at first hearing that may sound like a bit of snobbery – “Greet no one on the road.” But, again, Jesus knows human nature. There was a job to do and it entailed getting to a destination so that healing and words of comfort and salvation could be spoken. To dawdle on the road, to spend precious moments in mundane and meaningless chatter, to stop and chat about the weather or the Orioles was not their mission. They had a job to do and he didn’t want them to be distracted.[8]

What does this mean for us? It means this: the missionary Christian must have intense focus and a refusal to be distracted. Two-thousand years ago in Palestine, they might avoid the intricacies and customs of roadside delays. What, for us, are the roadside distractions? They are many and manifold indeed and, if we are honest, we know when we fall into them. Roadside distractions consist of anything (and it need not be a bad thing in and of itself) that pulls us away from being missionary Christians! That could even mean our busyness in church itself!

Paul understood this well. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul wrote:

No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Do not get entangled! Stay focused! Distractions can have deadly consequences.

Ever so often we read about some air traffic controller who gets distracted with terrible consequences. An AP article entitled, “NTSB faults air traffic controller distracted by personal call in Hudson River midair collision,” said the following:

WASHINGTON — Errors by an air traffic controller distracted by a personal phone call set the stage for a midair collision last year over the Hudson River between a tour helicopter and a small plane that claimed nine lives, a federal safety panel said today…

Hersman said the collision was due to “a merger of missteps” that began with the controller who cleared Steven Altman’s Piper Lance for takeoff. Altman, 60, of Ambler, Pa., requested that the controller continue to advise him of potential traffic conflicts after takeoff.

But the controller at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, engaged in a bantering personal phone call about a dead cat while directing traffic, was distracted and violated several procedures, investigators said. He waited more than two minutes to give Altman a new radio frequency after he handed off the plane to controllers at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport. When the controller did relay the frequency to Altman, he spoke very rapidly, making his words difficult to understand, investigators said.

Altman read back the frequency to the controller incorrectly as 127.8 instead of 127.85. Controllers are supposed to listen to a pilot’s readback of a frequency and correct it if it’s wrong. However, the controller received a radio call from Newark controllers at the same moment, as well as being distracted by the personal phone call and other traffic he was handling. He didn’t correct — and probably didn’t hear — the incorrect readback, investigators said.

As a result, Altman was probably tuned to the wrong radio frequency and couldn’t be reached by controllers when they tried to warn him of the impending collision, investigators said.

“It is easy for people to make errors,” Hersman said, “but what we see in this accident is a lot of people made a lot of little errors” that added up to a tragedy.[9]

Yes, a lot of little errors can add up to a tragedy. Our neglect of the missionary imperative as a church is rarely the result of some single, intentional, momentous decision. No, it is the result of a thousand distractions. In an ABC article entitled, “Investigators Exclusive: Air Traffic Controllers Texting While Directing Planes,” we read the following:

NEW YORK (WABC) — The Eyewitness News Investigators have uncovered exclusive details about air traffic controllers distracted on the job, including workers who were watching sexually-explicit videos and taking selfies while directing planes in the air…
One recently retired New York air traffic controller, whose identity we are protecting, spoke at length about what she considers to be a growing problem.
In the last few years of her highly-demanding job, she noticed more and more of her fellow controllers often distracted by their cell phones, even though FAA rules require all cell phones to be turned off when on duty.
“I would see people talking on the phone, I did see it many times,” she said. “While they were working traffic.”…

In a case from last year, a supervisor received a letter of reprimand for taking selfies while responsible for all traffic on the ground and in the air. The letter stated, “Fortunately, your misconduct did not result in loss of life or destruction of property.”…
“There is no task that I can think of that requires more intense, repetitive continuous concentration than being an air traffic controller,” retired pilot Capt. Bob Ober said…

“You’re responsible for what happens,” our retired controller said. “How could you do anything that would be an obvious distraction?”…[10]

The very same might be asked of the Church today! How can we allow ourselves to be distracted when so much is at stake?

Interestingly, this phrase, “greet no one on the road,” appears one other time in the Bible, in the Old Testament in 2 Kings 4.

One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” 11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there.12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” 14 And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.”15 He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway.16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her. 18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28 Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” 29 He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.” 32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the Lord.34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.

How unbelievably fascinating! The only other time we find instructions for somebody not to greet anybody on the road is when the prophet Elisha sends his servant Gehazi to the home of the Shunammite woman whose son had just died. God intended to raise the son back to life, and he did so ultimately through Elisha himself, but Gehazi’s task had its purpose in the unfolding of this miracle.

Again: the only other time such a command appears in scripture is when a man of God sends a servant to another place where a dead person needs to come back to life!

That is evangelism

That is why Jesus warned against greeting anybody on the road!

This is a matter of life or death! The gospel of Jesus Christ brings life to the dead! It is filled with resurrection and resurrecting power! How can we delay? Hear me: whenever it is a matter of life and death we cannot afford distractions! We dare not delay on the road when our task is before us!

To reach the nations requires radical dependency and staggering focus.

Let us keep our eyes on the King and on the calling He has put upon us! Let us go forward, not backwards and not sideways!

This is a matter of life and death! Let us go forth and proclaim the word of life!


[1] Jane Ellis, The Russian Orthodox Church: Triumphalism and Defensiveness. (New York, NY: Palgrave, 1996), p.17-18.

[2] George Fielden Baron MacLeod, Daily Readings with George Macleod. (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 1991), p.106.

[3] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015), p..

[4] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Study Bible. (Edinburth: The Saint Andrew Presss, 1970), p.136.

[5] Arthur A. Just., Jr., ed., Luke. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Thomas C. Oden, Gen. Ed. New Testament, Vol. III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p172.

[6] 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. 413-414.

[7] A.T. Robertson, Luke. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. II (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1930), p.145.

[8] Glenn L. Ludwig, Changing a Paradigm – Or Two. (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Company, 1999), p.57-58, p. 57-58.

[9] https://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/ntsb_faults_air_traffic_contro.html

[10] https://abc7ny.com/news/investigators-exclusive-air-traffic-controllers-texting-while-directing-planes/1186886/

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