Laborers in the Harvest
July 3, 2022 | Laborers in the Harvest| Luke 10:1-20
(Click here for the sermon audio) Laborers in the Harvest
There are two equally devastating mistakes we can make when we approach the narrative portions of scripture. We can immediately wedge ourselves into the story, this causes us to appropriate promises not made to us, misapply prophecies that have nothing to do with us, this is famously what Matt Chandler was getting at when he proclaimed you are not David in the story of David and Goliath. That story is not about you and the obstacles you are currently facing.
The other side of that coin, is to only treat it as historical and never ask, are there any principles here that can be applied to my life at this time in redemptive history. The better approach is to dig in, understanding the context of the scripture, not just in the immediate story but in the arc of the bible story, what God is communicating through the inclusion of this story, and then try and understand what it may mean for us.
Let’s pick up where we left off last week, in chapter 10 of the gospel of Luke.
Background context- The 'After this' in our text connects us back to what we looked at last week in chapter 9 where Jesus made some clarifying statements on what it meant to follow him. Now that he has essentially eliminated the hesitant and the half-hearted disciples he is ready to send them out on a mission.
Biblical context- Jesus’ earthly ministry, headed to Jerusalem, proclaiming the kingdom has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.
One principle that touches this overall story here is that the ministry of the kingdom is Jesus’ to initiate, direct, and empower. He will call whom he wills and he will send as he wishes. And although this narrative is about 72 of his disciples being sent out on an immediate and urgent mission to prepare the way for him as he made his way to Jerusalem, I believe there are five commands Jesus gives those who are about kingdom business that can and should be applied to us as we labor in our own callings.
The mission, as it were, is the same, although the circumstances are much different. Those that answer the call to follow him should be ready to proclaim Jesus and his kingdom to those he is quickly approaching when he says go.
At its core, I believe this passage gives us a description of our mission work, a precursor to the great commission.
There is no doubt that we all have a mission, to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them everything Jesus taught. Here, in this story, we find insight into how to go about that very clear work.
Two opening observations:
Seventy-two others- normal disciples, not apostles, never mentioned again (Jesus is beginning to broaden the share of ministry from himself, to the twelve (previous similar mission-Luke 9:1-6), to now 72, and then ultimately at his ascension when he charges those he empowered at Pentecost to go).
two by two- the importance of co-laborers, As you read through the New Testament epistles you see how this principle continues, Paul and Silas, Barnabas and Mark, Luke, Timothy, Titus, and all the co-laborers that Paul takes time to mention in his letters and Luke records in the book of Acts. God gives us co-laborers to bear the burdens and weight of ministering to a lost and dying world. You are not in this alone.
Here is why those two observations are important as we get into our text. One, yes, this is for you, a regular disciple, and two, when you hear a command, it is neither only for you or only for someone else, it is for us, the body and the church.
Five commands Jesus gives those who are about kingdom business- The first is found in verses 1-2
Luke 10:1-2 (ESV) 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.
The first command is to…
What?- pray earnestly: to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
Why?- the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore- for this reason.
The Lord used this expression at least a couple of times in his ministry. Once, right before his appointment of the 12 disciples after his own journey’s through the surrounding areas. We find this in Matthew 9:35-38 (ESV) 35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus uses this metaphor to present a spiritual problem using an agricultural example.
You harvest when the crops are ready. Imagine you had a much larger crop than you anticipated, and looking around at your current workforce, you realize there is a problem. You don’t have enough people to work the harvest. The job is bigger than your current resources.
This would be a familiar problem for an agricultural society.
By the context, we know Jesus is not talking about a physical harvest, so what is he trying to help the disciples understand?
In Matthew, we see that as Jesus looked around at the crowds, he was moved with compassion, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They were willing and ready to follow but did not have anyone rightly pointing the way.
Here again, as Jesus prepares to travel through these little towns and areas, he wants the disciples to understand that there are many people ready to follow the Great Shepherd if someone will just tell them about him, but there are just a few that are willing to go.
This is simultaneously encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging because Jesus is telling them that there is a ripe spiritual harvest of men and women eager to hear the good news of the kingdom, discouraging because there is not enough workers for the task.
So Jesus gives them their first and foremost responsibility, pray that God would send more laborers.
But not just to pray, as a cursory action before they left, but to set about this work with genuine and consistent effort. The word here carries the idea of begging for something to fill a real and tangible need. They were to pray that God would do just what Jesus was doing here now, that he would bring out and then send out workers for His harvest.
Again and again we are reminded in these short verses that the harvest belongs to the Lord.
The Lord appointed the workers, pray to the Lord of the Harvest, that he would send out workers into His harvest.
As we said in the beginning, it is God who calls and God who sends, because it is His harvest.
If God knows that the harvest is plentiful, and he knows the workers are few, and he is the one who sends, why does he even need us to pray?
Here is what I think, he invites us to step into his work by being men and women who are as concerned with the harvest as he is.
By praying to Him we are acknowledging that we understand whose harvest it is, that we understand who does the sending, and we pray earnestly because our heart is as burdened for the lost as his is, it is God’s way of aligning our hearts to his.
This is why prayer is the beginning work and prayer is the sustaining work. It is what aligns us with him and what keeps us aligned with him.
If we are going to be faithful laborers in God’s harvest then we must be faithful and earnest prayers first and foremost. As the disciples went from town to town proclaiming the Kingdom and healing the sick, they could quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the work, and when they were, they would be reminded to go the Lord of the Harvest and ask him to raise up more laborers.
Just like these 72, even as we answer the call to be laborers ourselves, we are constantly reminded of the size of the task and the desperate need for more laborers, so we pray. Here is what I’m convinced of, if we do not pray about and for the lost and people to reach them it is most likely because we have not been very serious about the work ourselves.
The first command is to pray earnestly, we find the second in verses 3 and 4.
Luke 10:3-4 (ESV) 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.
The second command is to…
Jesus second command is simple. Now go your way.
Prayer was a priority but they had to also get busy working. The one was not a substitute for the other.
They were neither to go without prayer or to pray without going.
Then Jesus says behold. Like saying listen up, or look here. This is the pre-game huddle, here is the last minute instructions. This is where the coach would say something profound and inspiring, right?
Jesus says, look here, listen, I’m sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. What???
We saw this last week, Jesus does not ever operate with the bait and switch. He is upfront about what it means to follow him and here we find the same principle at work. He gathers them up and says, alright guys, I am sending you out into the harvest. Ready? I’m sending you out like sheep in the middle of wolves.
This will be no easy mission, acting as heralds for the Messiah. They should expect resistance, they should expect rejection, and they should expect to be chased out of certain places by ravenous wolves. But at least they would be prepared right? Right?
Then he says, Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.
They were to leave immediately, not going to make a withdsrawl from the bank first, not to grab their suitcases, extra shoes or clothes, and to pack no lunches. This was an immediate and urgent mission, to go ahead of him to prepare the way.
Furthermore, the urgency of this mission was not just at the beginning, but throughout.
Greet no one on the road.
Now I do not think Jesus is telling his disciples to be rude, but rather we must understand that in this culture, greetings were prolonged, sometimes hour long activities. You understand this if you are from the south or have spent any significant time here because we have a similar cultural experience in the southern goodbye, right? The southern goodbye has at least three stages. The first ‘well’… that signifies it is time to start any final conversations. The ‘alright then’… that signifies it is time to stand up and keep talking, pack any leftovers and holler at the kids to get ready. Then ‘it’s getting about that time’…where you go to the car, if you don’t stop on the porch, which adds another step. You have to go back to the ‘well’.
No family event I have ever been to, does it take less than 30-40 minutes to leave, if we are in a hurry, longer if not.
Jesus says, there is no time to delay the mission, not even for pleasantries.
This is where we must understand that Jesus is speaking to a specific group of disciples at a specific time and this is not to be universally our approach to all missions and kingdom work, but the principle is there nonetheless.
When God calls us to go, when we know what we should be doing, we should not waste one minute getting to it.
There needs to be an urgency in our labor. To go back to his harvest analogy, when the fields are ripe, you get to work immediately lest any of the crop spoil because of your lack of urgency.
How often do we excuse our obedience to go because we don’t feel ready?
If we truly understand the work before us, if we truly understand that there are men and women spiritually ready to hear the good news of the kingdom and God desires that we bring that message, that they will perish without it, how could we not feel a sense of urgency in the work?
How often do we excuse our obedience to go because we don’t feel ready?
How often do we put off our obedience because we are busy, even with good things?
Jesus here gives us an example in the sending of the 72 that we shouldn’t let preparations or pleasantries keep us from going with urgency.
Jesus commands we pray earnestly, that we go urgently and the third commands we find in verses 5-8
Luke 10:5-8 (ESV) 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.
The third command is a summary of the commands Jesus gives his disciples in these verses, we are to…
Jesus tells them what to say first, what to do there, and what not to do.
i.They were to trust that God would lead them to the right places.
ii.They were to be thankful for the provisions God provided for them in those places.
iii.They were not to seek out what they perceived to be better accommodations.
Jesus sent out the disciples empty handed and without immediate provisions in order that they would learn to trust in his provision, but there was also another reason. In the Reformed Expository Commentary, the author says,
"...their (the disciples) poverty would force people to make a decision. Either people would welcome the evangelists into their homes, or they would leave them out in the cold. But either way, they had to make a spiritual choice. Here is how David Gooding explains it: “If the missionaries had enough money to support themselves, then letting them hire a room in a hotel would be a simple commercial transaction carrying no spiritual implication. But if the people were faced with penniless, destitute men claiming to be Messiah’s own ambassadors, they would be forced to decide whether they would receive and entertain them as such, or reject them.”
We see this clearly in Jesus’ description of the way they would find the houses where the harvest work was to take place.
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.
Son of peace seems to mean someone who is ready to accept the gospel message of the kingdom as well as the one delivering the message. When they found someone ready to receive the message, the peace of God would rest on that place.
They were to remain there, sharing meals with the household while they shared the truth of Jesus and his kingdom.
7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages.
They were to thankfully receive what the household provided, whether abundant or scarce, extravagant or simple. God promises to take care of his laborers because he is a good Lord and he does not abuse his laborers, they deserve their wages. Notice that their wages were what God provided, not what they earned, or even what they thought they should receive, but rather what he provided through his providential care.
This is about contentment in what God provides. Be easy to please and grateful for what is offered.
In the rest of verse 7 and 8 he concludes his instructions about what God provided for them on their mission.
Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.
As the message spread, as they ministered in the town, maybe they would encounter another household that welcomed the message, that the disciples may find more luxurious accommodations. In that case, they were not to shop around looking for a better situation, but to remain where God had led them first, graciously receiving what was offered.
Their particular situation looks differen than ours, but there is a wider application for us. In our own gospel work, we are often tempted to look around at other people and places and compare what is happening.
Are we growing like them?
Are we baptizing as many as they are?
Is our (insert) ministry doing as well as theirs?
Instead, we ought to be willing to labor where God has led us diligently, patiently, and trusting that God will accomplish what he desires through our faithful labor. Or maybe, we longingly look at other people and ministries and think if I had what they had, I would do more, we would do more, we could.
To be discontent and dissatisfied is to show a lack of trust in the one who sent us and providentially provides for us.
So the questions is are we content with where God has placed us to minister, and what he has provided for us?
To be discontent and dissatisfied is to show a lack of trust in the one who sent us and providentially provides for us. When God says go we can trust that he will not only prepare people for us, but that he will care for and meet our needs through his providential care. We can leave everything for the sake of the kingdom and not fear that we will not be cared for.
If these disciples could leave every physical possession behind and hit the road trusting that God would open doors for them to minister and provide the necessities from the hospitality of strangers, surely we can trust him to lead, guide, and provide for us in our own calling to go and make disciples. Amen?
So far we have seen how they were to go, prayerfully and urgently, how they were to conduct themselves as they went, trusting God to provide, and Jesus’ last command prior to their departure is found in verses 9-12.
Luke 10:9-12 (ESV) 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
The fourth command is to…
Their message was simple, regardless of whether they were received or rejected.
They were to say to those who received them, The kingdom of God has come near to you, and to the town that rejected them, the kingdom of God has come near.
In both cases, the message is simple.
The message didn’t change, just it’s implications for the hearer. To the one who received them, the message was that the kingdom of God had come near and they had received it and were now in it, experiencing the peace of God. This internal peace and favor was externally witness through the blessing of physical healing and in some cases spiritual freedom from demonic influence.
If they were not received, they were to go to the next house until they did. Finding no household ready to receive God’s message, they were to proclaim that they town had missed their chance and dramatically shake the dust from their feet.
(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) Shaking the dust off their feet was a sign of rejection and exclusion, even condemnation. It meant that the people of that community were outside the people of God, that as far as God was concerned, their town was foreign soil.
The message was the same, but the implication completely different. The kingdom of God had come near, but because of their rejection, they would not experience it and would remain outside it.
The principle here is that our message doesn’t change. As the apostle Paul said in Corinthians 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (ESV) 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. And a few verses later 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV) 1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16)
We need nothing else to share with unbelievers. If they do not accept that, nothing else we say matters.
A great many things in and around the church can and should change, but what cannot ever change is the message to a lost and dying world that Jesus saves.
A great many things in and around the church can and should change, but what cannot ever change is the message to a lost and dying world that Jesus saves. The kingdom of God has come and any who would enter it must receieve the one God sent, who is the Lord of Lords and king of kings.
Not everyone will accept us or that message, Jesus makes that plain here where we see to reject the messenger was to reject the one who sent them, they do so at their own peril. They should expect no further opportunities. What a scary thought. To reject the message is to potentially reject it for the last time.
Our calling is not to be a salesman for the kingdom, to be the slickest evangelist or the wordiest disciple, our call to go is a call to proclaim simply the message of God, leaving the results up to God.
We find the final command in the return of the seventy in verses 17-20
Luke 10:17-20 (ESV) 17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The final command from our Lord to these seventy-two disciples is to…
We will not spend much time here, but I did not want us to miss this final command.
The disciples experienced an exciting and fruitful mission. Not only did people receive them, not only did they heal people, they even had power over demons. Talk about a successful mission trip!
The way had been prepared for Jesus to come, people had accepted his messengers and his message, and Jesus rejoiced with them. He says of their kingdom advancing work in his name that he saw Satan fall like lightning. He goes on to say, no evil forces shall hurt them. It is a glad reunion day.
But, he reminded them to keep their joy placed in the right place.
As great as all their success was, as awesome as the harvest they got to participate in, their greatest joy should be found in their eternal life in Him.
The idea of a believer having his name written in the book of life, or written in heaven is common biblical language. It is the idea that God has an incorruptible, everlasting list of those who are his.
This is the source of our greatest joy, whether we are in the midst of being rejected and impoverished or accepted and blessed in our mission.
Who we are in Christ will always be greater than what we do for Christ.
No matter how many people you lead to the Lord, no matter how much growth our church sees, this is our source of joy.
Who we are in Christ will always be greater than what we do for Christ.
Five commands for those who are about the kingdom work.
Pray earnestly, go urgently, labor trustingly, proclaim simply, and rejoice rightly.
I believe that if we will take these to heart, we will be well on our way to fulfilling the great commission of our Lord faithfully both in our individual lives and in the life of our church.