Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sermon: Luke 10: 1-24 Sent by Jesus

My first job came completely out of the blue. I was 15, and one day I got home from school. Mum said that the owner of the corner shop up the street had rung, asking would I like to work for him. Immediately, I said no, I wanted to play computer games and go to youth club! But with a quick talking to, I started working in Jackie’s.

With the new year started, you might be thinking about a new job. Perhaps you’re fed up where you are, so you get the paper and look through the job adverts. No matter what job it is, you normally get the same sort of information in the ads. Firstly, there’s a vacancy, there’s a job to be done; secondly, there’s the job description, some sort of details about what is to be done, what you have to do in the job; and thirdly, there’s the reward, the wages, what you get out of the job.

It struck me as I was studying the passage this week, that this is what we have in the first part of Luke 10 - a job vacancy, a job description, and the job’s rewards. Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem. We saw last week that he calls us to follow him, even though it isn’t always easy, it’s urgent, and it needs determination to press on. This week’s passage follows on directly. As we follow Jesus, we find that he sends us out in his service.

Jesus is on the road. He has set his face to go to up to Jerusalem. He has an appointment with the cross. But as he goes, he sends seventy, two by two, to prepare the way for him. They go to every town he is coming to. But look at how he sends them out: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ (2)

There’s a vacancy to be filled. In fact, there are lots of vacant posts to be filled. When the harvest time comes around, it’s all hands on deck. Friends in Scotland tell me they still have a week’s holidays for the potato harvest (even in schools in the middle of the city!). As Jesus looks out, he sees a harvest, not of potatoes or wheat, but of people. People ready to accept him and believe the good news, but they need to be brought in. They need to be harvested. The gospel workers are few.

The cry goes out to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers. When we see the need for workers, we need to pray to the Lord. Are we stirred to pray for gospel workers, not just here in Northern Ireland, but across the world? Will we join in the Lord’s other prayer?

So we pray, asking God to send out labourers. The need is there, the vacancy is advertised. Yet from verse 2 to 3, the disciples are the answer to their prayer! Ask the Lord to send? Go on your way!

Have you ever discovered that you only really know what the job is whenever you’re in it? The seventy disciples are sent, they’re on their way, and Jesus fills in their task. Here’s the job description. ‘I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.’ Bringing the news of peace, the news of God’s kingdom is amazing, but it’s also a wee bit scary sometimes. They’re to take nothing with them, just to live on what they’ve given, and bring the message of God’s kingdom coming near. Notice that it’s the same message whether they are received well (9) or rejected (11). Their labour doesn’t depend on the response - the kingdom comes in blessing and in judgement.

In verse 12, we find mention of Sodom. Now, back before Christmas, we heard of its destruction for great wickedness. Yet Jesus says it will be better for Sodom than for the town that rejects these labourers. And those pagan cities, Tyre and Sidon, they too will fare better at the judgement than Chorazin and Bethsaida. If they had seen the same deeds of power, demonstrating God’s kingdom, they would have repented. But the towns of Israel, they refuse to listen.

But who is it they’re not listening to? Peter Westmacott lives in the United States. You could walk past him in the street and not recognise him. His name probably doesn’t even mean anything to you. Yet he meets with the US President regularly, because he is Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the USA. When he speaks, he speaks on behalf of the Queen. That’s the idea in verse 16: ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’ There’s a chain of command, a sending out by the sent one. The Father sends Jesus, who sends us. To refuse to listen to us is to refuse to listen to Jesus and the Father.

This is the job description of every Christian - to be sent out, to speak for Jesus, by bringing the kingdom to the places we find ourselves. So are we willing to go? Are we ready to go to the places God has prepared for us?

When we do go, there’s a great joy in seeing how God acts. There are reasons for rejoicing. In verse 17, the seventy return with wonderful stories of their experiences. What a great reward! They saw demons submitting to the name of Jesus. Jesus had a vision of Satan falling from heaven. All amazing stuff. Yet look at what Jesus says about it in verse 20: ‘do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

What is the ground of our rejoicing? Not in the amazing experiences we have, but just that our names are written in heaven. To be a member of the kingdom is the grounds for rejoicing! To be known by God beats any spiritual experience we might have. Your feelings can fluctuate, go up and down; but the fact of being saved by God is unchanging - and this is what leads us to rejoice.

Jesus also rejoices, because God’s will is being done. You see, as the labourers are sent out, people make their choice whether they listen or not; whether they believe or don’t. At the same time, though, God is accomplishing his will. God has chosen this way to proclaim his kingdom - it’s hidden from the wise and the intelligent (or at least the people who think themselves to be too wise and too clever to need God). By refusing to listen, they exclude themselves. But God reveals the kingdom to ‘infants,’ to those who will listen, to those God has chosen to listen and reveal himself.

If this is what causes Jesus to rejoice, then it should cause us to rejoice as well. Even the preacher can be tempted to think (sometimes), I’m so pleased, that was a really great sermon today! But our rejoicing isn’t in what we’ve done, but in what Christ has done for us - revealed himself to us in his word, and brought us into his family. This is where blessing lies - to be with Jesus, to see him and to hear him. The disciples were blessed, but we are too, as we come to know Jesus.

When we rejoice that we are indeed children of God, we see the need for other people to come to know him as well. We see the job vacancy, the need for gospel workers, for people to share the good news, across the world and across the street. We’ll be motivated to pray, to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers. And as we pray, we’ll find that the Lord is sending us as well. So let’s pray, and let’s go, to the people we meet this week, as we bring the news of peace, of God’s kingdom come.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 11th January 2015.

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