Sending the 72 Disciples: the 2nd mission trip.
After rebuffing some who wanted to follow him, Jesus appointed some from from among his disciples to send on a mission trip. Some versions say there were 72 disciples sent; some say 70. He sent them to the villages he would visit on his way to Jerusalem.
He sent them in pairs to support each other. He may also have had in mind the requirements of Deuteronomy 19:15, that a fact can only be established by two witnesses. The context of that rule was a criminal trial, but the concept seemed to have been expanded by the Jews to establish any fact. That is why the Jews accused Jesus of testifying to himself.
Jesus gave several instructions to these disciples.
First, he said to pray for laborers. Isn’t it interesting that he did not pray for people to receive him or for people to be saved. He said there were plenty of people. He used the metaphor of the harvest. He said the harvest is plentiful. (2) But the laborers are few. So, Jesus said to pray that God, the Lord of the harvest, would send out laborers. This seems to be a clear statement that the church is to go into the world and preach the gospel.
It also means God is in control of the harvest: he is Lord of the harvest.
This should be an encouragement to you. You are not a salesman charged with a quota of sales. You are a witness. Jesus will call to himself those he will save. He told Paul, as he approached the City of Corinth, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people”. (Acts 18:9-10)
Who did Jesus have in Corinth? There were no Christians there. No Christian had gone there yet. Paul was the first. Jesus had the people he would call to himself through Paul’s preaching.
Years ago I went to Venezuela on a mission trip. My Spanish was weak. But I wanted the trip to count. I felt a burden for the lost in that country. I prayed for God to use me. One day in my quiet time, I came upon Acts 18. The Spirit led me to understand that God had people in Venezuela. He would use my witness to bring them to himself. And he did! By the time the week was over, I had led more than a dozen people to the Lord. It was amazing. There is a harvest out there. You are not a salesman. You are a harvester.
The disciples would also go as lambs among wolves. (3) They were to be gentle and honest in sharing the gospel. They were not to employ worldly means of force, deception or guile. It should be the same with us. We are tempted always to attract people with a show in order for them to hear the gospel. But the apostle Paul wrote “For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
But the presence of wolves also indicates danger. The Twelve were mostly executed as were many early Christians. Today in the Middle East, Christians have suffered and died in great numbers over the last few years. Right here in American, you may be opposed and ridiculed and, in certain places, beaten for sharing the gospel. There is a cost to proclaiming Jesus.
Second, Jesus instructed the disciples to travel light and accept the hospitality of those they encountered. They were not to carry extra money or shoes, no bag, and to refrain from greeting those they encountered on the road.
This instruction is a testimony that God will provide for those who go in his name. This was to be a quick trip for the disciples. It was important that they not get mired in thinking of their comfort.
Jesus said to accept the hospitality of the first home that welcomed them. (7) They were not to go home to home or to seek better accommodations. They were to eat whatever they were given. (8) This is often a challenge for missionaries. But, again, Jesus wanted them to focus on their mission, not on their food or their mattress.
In return for hospitality, they were to declare peace on the house. That peace would remain on those who welcomed them. In other words, God would reward those who showed hospitality to the disciples by bringing peace to their household. But if the person rejected them, the peace would not remain with the household.
This acceptance was tied to the message of the kingdom, the gospel. Those who accepted the message, and thus the disciples, were sons of peace. They received peace with God. Those who rejected the disciples and their message, brought judgment on themselves rather than peace.
The same is true today. When you knock on a door and share the gospel with the person living there, they are put into a dilemma. They may accept Jesus, his message and his messenger. If so, peace with God in eternal life is theirs. If not, the reject Jesus and face judgment for that rejection.
Third, Jesus said not to greet anyone on the road. Greetings in that culture and time could be lengthy. Jesus again established priorities: getting to the villages and preaching was their priority. It was their mission. They should let nothing get in the way of that.
Fourth, they were to heal the sick and preach the coming of the kingdom of God. The advent of Christ’s righteous rule was coming and the villagers needed to be ready to receive Christ. In addition to preaching, the disciples were to minister through healing. The disciples had been given the authority we saw in 9:1, to heal the sick and to drive out demons.
The healings blessed all of those who suffered with diseases. The healings were also signs that God was at work and that the kingdom was coming. It confirmed the truth of the disciples’ message. In fact, upon healing a person, the disciple was to say “the kingdom of God has come near to you”. These people would think, if Jesus’ disciples can do these things, they must represent God and his Anointed One, the Messiah or Christ.
People experience the kingdom of God by hearing the word of God preached. They also experience the kingdom of God through the ministry of believers who love them and care for them. Sometimes it is the act of loving service that creates the willingness to hear the gospel.
Fifth, Jesus had a special instruction regarding towns who did not receive the disciples. They were to wipe the dust of that town off their feet, showing they, and Jesus whom they represented, had nothing to do with the town. It was a judgment. Indeed, Jesus said that they rejected the kingdom of god and would receive a judgment worse that that of Sodom.
Jesus singled out two cities for this judgment for what they had already done. These cities were Chorazin and Bethsaida. (13) Jesus said they would be judged more severely than Tyre and Sidon, two pagan cities in Lebanon. Those cities, which were destroyed, would have repented had they seen the miracles of the disciples. Likewise Capernaum. Jesus had healed and driven out demons there, and fed the 5,000 near there, but had been rejected. Judgment will be harsh for those who have seen and heard, but rejected Christ.
As Jesus said, those who rejected the disciples rejected Jesus. And those who rejected Jesus rejected the Father. (16) Being Jewish would not save them. They were condemned for rejected Jesus. In John 3:18, Jesus said “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”. That condemnation comes to final fruition at the judgment. (14)
The Return of the Missionaries
When the disciples returned, they were joyful. They were especially impressed that the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name. Jesus acknowledged the defeat of Satan. He said he saw him fall like lightning from heaven. (18) This could also be translated as “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning”. The New American Standard Bible translates it that way.
The Greek verb translated as “I saw” or “I was watching” is “theoreo” It means to look closely at something, to make a careful observation of the details. It is used in connection with a meaningful even where you want to get an accurate view so you will understand the meaning of it.
What did Jesus mean? He could have meant several things. But he at least meant he saw the swift (as lightning) defeat of Satan and his power over people. Jesus had given them authority over all the power of the enemy, who is Satan. (10:19; 9:1)
Yet, as exciting as this was, Jesus told them not to dwell on it. They should instead rejoice in their salvation, that their names are written in heaven. (20)
Jesus' mission was to save people to eternal life. It is our mission to spread this message. Our salvation is also the most important thing we have. All else is secondary. Rejoice in your salvation!