Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 3/12/95
Luke 10:1 Now after this, the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them two and two ahead of him to every city and place where he was going to come. 2 And he was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your ways; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. 5 And whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6 And if a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you. For the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. 8 And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you 9 and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near you.' 10 But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 'Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' 12 I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom than it will be for that city. 13 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades! 16 The one who listens to you listens to me, and the one who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects the One who sent me." 17 And the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name." 18 And he said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the powers of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."
The division of labor in the work of God for the salvation of sinful mankind is something to contemplate. The Father conceives and initiates. The Son accomplishes, purchases, and provides. The Spirit applies. And the Church takes the message to the world. Last week we saw the urgency of the Church's task: it requires the acceptance of the Lordship of Christ and the way of the cross, the path of potential rejection and deprivation. It takes precedence over every other priority and demands full commitment, complete, unswerving, and unwavering devotion. Today the Lord sends out the Seventy. In his instructions to them, we learn part of the reason for that urgency and something of our proper response to it. (Much of these instructions are the same as those given to the Twelve in chapter nine. This we will not repeat here, but we will focus on what is added.)
The reason given for the urgency of our task is twofold. The first part of it is that the harvest is plentiful. Plentiful? Indeed, it is universal. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none that is righteous, no, not one. All we like sheep have gone astray. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. In other words, all human beings are rebels against God's kingdom, and as such they deserve and are headed for eternal punishment. But God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God commended his love to us in this, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, a complete pardon, forgiveness, and eternal life are offered as a free gift to all who repent and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This message is desperately needed by every single person on the planet, and we are commissioned to take it to every single person on the planet. "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Yet of the several billion of such persons alive today, roughly half have never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. Truly, the harvest is plentiful!
The daunting size of the task would be bad enough were it not for the second part of the reason: the laborers are few. We said last week that of about 35,000 conservative Protestant North American missionaries, 95 % of them are working with 17% of the world's people. If all of those missionaries were uprooted and sent to the 83 % least reached--and that would not be a good thing necessarily, for many of them are needed where they are--but if we did it, there would be one witness for every 111,714 people. Obviously, we have two problems. Not enough people are going to the hardest places, and not enough people are going, period. But if we were to double the missionary force of the Evangelical Free Church this year, if that many people volunteered to go, would we be able to find the support to send them? That is a very serious question, and the answer is probably not at our current level of mobilization. We had an annual Faith Promise Pledge for missions at the church I pastored in Marietta, which I thought was a pretty impressive missions program for a church of that size. Yet only about half of the families in that church participated in it. Interestingly, there was absolutely no correlation between a family's wealth and their participation. To have more people going, we would have to have more people giving, and more people giving sacrificially. In other words, we would have to start acting as if we thought the task actually was urgent! The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.
To say that the harvest is plentiful is simply to say that the opportunity is great. The problem is not the size of the harvest but of the labor force. We think we are a mission-minded church, we think we are doing well, for one reason: We are comparing ourselves to other churches rather than comparing ourselves to the need! That is why J. Robertson McQuilken wrote his classic book The Great Omission. He asks, with so many unreached people, why are so few going to reach them? And he concludes that in order to get the job done, we will have to completely change our way of thinking. The mission of the church would have to become its first priority, rather than something it gets around to after it has done everything else. Currently we assume that we are not supposed to go unless we receive a specific "call." But McQuilken suggests that when we consider what is at stake, the enormity of the need, and the lack of laborers, the presumption ought to be that we are going to go unless we are specifically called to stay. And it should go without saying that those who are called to stay are automatically called to help send others. Yet a church in which half the people are giving to missions is considered to be a mission-minded church! Brethren, we need to get serious. The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few.
The response to this urgency is laid out in the second half of verse two: And he was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." The response to the urgency of the situation is not to go, as even I have been implying above, but to pray. The response is to pray that God will send more workers. Is this a copout? No! To say that would be to deny the importance and the efficacy of prayer, which is to deny the power of God, which is to deny the Christian faith. To make "going" the first-line response would be short-sighted. Only God can truly send missionaries. The commitment required for successful missionary service cannot be manufactured. Therefore, unless the going is preceded by the praying, the going will not be sustained or fruitful anyway. As usual, the Lord's solution is not the first thing we would have thought of, but it makes perfect sense and is the only answer that really has a chance to work.
Well, then, we are to "beseech" the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into his harvest. "Beseech" implies an earnest and fervent pleading. Therefore, the Church should make it a perpetual priority of its prayers to agonize before God for the needs of the harvest. Leaders should model this priority and practice before the people in their own public and private prayers. Services should be structured to remind us to include it. "Father, the need is so great! The laborers are so few! Please, you've got to sent some more!" When the Church starts being obedient about praying and meaning that, then a wonderful thing will happen. God will say to some, "O.K. You can go!" Look how verse three follows from verse two: "Go your ways." It looks very much as if something very like this is just what happened with the Seventy! Could the same thing work today?
You see, if you pray that prayer with understanding, sincerity, and consistency, then it will not be long until you will want to go. You will actually be relieved when God says, "Yes." And if you wish you could go but are not given that freedom, you will certainly be zealous to support those who can go in your place. You will certainly be zealous to go to those who are at hand, across the street. It always hurts me to hear people talking about budgets as if foreign missions and home missions were in competition for the same limited funds. If we had the dynamic the Lord intended--and we would have it if we would just obey his instructions--then we would see that a heart for foreign missions is also the key to effective home missions. "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
If the disparity between the needs and the resources is so great, where do we start? We start right where the Lord told us to. "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Let us begin right now.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams