Dear friends in Christ.
The story has been told about the great violinist, Nicolo Paganini, who willed his marvelous violin to Genoa, the city of his birth. The only condition he applied to this bequeathal was that his violin was never to be played. This was a very unfortunate condition because as long as wood is handled and used, it shows little wear, however, as soon as it is discarded it begins to decay. Today Paganini’s beautiful, mellow-toned violin has become a worm-eaten, useless relic in a beautiful case. (This illustration is the combination of two illustrations copied from: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/servant.htm and http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/servicet.htm. Accessed July 10, 2010)
Well, in the same way that Paganini’s violin fell apart because it did not continue in the service of making beautiful music, so also as Christians, if we do not continue on in our Christian Service, we might find that our capacity for usefulness in the Lord’s kingdom has been seriously hampered if not destroyed. It is because of this very reason that the Lord Jesus our Savior is calling on us as his servants to serve the Lord by sharing our faith.
Now, if you think about it, sharing our faith is the very thing that we were born to do. After all, we are all experts on the subject of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ our Savoir. For the truth is, most of us, if not all of us, have been Christians since the day that we were baptized as little children. Our parents first taught us about Jesus through songs like, “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb.” As we grew, our faith in Jesus grew right along with us as our parents first brought us to church, and then, when we were old enough, sent us to Sunday School. Our knowledge of salvation through faith in Jesus continued to grow as we continued on in Sunday School or as some of you continued on in Lutheran Elementary School. We learned even more about Jesus our Savior when we came to church week after week to study the Catechism under the direction of the Pastor. Even after confirmation our faith continued to grow as we gathered for worship each week and had opportunity to gather with others to Study the Bible every Sunday morning. Whether we’ve been on this earth for a mere 8 months or 80 plus years, we are all experts on the subject of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. We all know everything we need to know in order to go out and serve the Lord by sharing our faith with others.
Yet, how often don’t we simply fail to do this? Though we know the joy that fills our hearts because our sins have been forgiven, how often don’t we hide that joy deep within our hearts and only take it out to look at when we are in the safety of the church or maybe the safety of our own homes? How often haven’t we run across someone who absolutely needs us to hear the good news of salvation, but we chicken out and don’t say anything about the hope that we have? How often haven’t we seen the sorrowful eyes, the pained expressions, the slumped shoulders as a co-worker trudges through life, looking for the answers he just simply can’t seem to find anywhere and wondering how in all the world he’s going to make it through today when another day just as bad filled with just as many stresses is coming tomorrow, yet we can’t seem to work up the nerve to tell him about the joy we have in Jesus? How often hasn’t it happened that a perfect opportunity to share our faith with a classmate passed us by because we simply didn’t feel prepared to share our faith by in school with so many other people milling about; people who might hear what we were saying and ask us questions we didn’t feel ready to answer? How often haven’t we had a dear friend, maybe even a fellow believer in Jesus, open up to us and emotionally fall apart because so many worries of life had weighed them down, yet rather than encouraging them and building them up in their faith by talking about your Savior, rather than taking time to pray for them that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them and comfort them with the comfort that Jesus himself offers, all we do for them is pat them on the back, offer encouraging sounding words, and tell them, “I’ll be praying for you.”
How many times haven’t we simply failed to serve the Lord by sharing our faith with others? If we’re honest, we have to say that we don’t know. We don’t know because we’ve failed to share our faith on so many different occasions that simply cannot count them all. Though I hate to admit it, I am just as guilty of failing to share my faith in the Lord with others when opportunities came my way. To this day there are faces that haunt my thoughts because I failed to serve the Lord. I was too afraid to share my faith with them, and I still pray that I was not their last or only opportunity to hear the message of salvation. As Don Piper writes in his book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, “If you saw a little kid run out in the street, you’d dash out there and try to save the child’s life. Human nature is like that. We try to preserve life, and I will do that any time I get the opportunity. So would you. Yet, here we are sitting in this [restaurant], surrounded by people, many of whom are probably lost and going to hell, and we won’t say a word about how they can have eternal life. Something is wrong with us…We’re willing to save someone in a visible crisis, but a lot of folks are in a spiritual crisis and we don’t say a word about how they can get out of it.” (Piper, Don. 90 Minutes in Heaven. p. 131)
But even though we may have failed at serving the Lord and failed miserably at sharing our faith, there is hope even for us. In fact, it was just last week that we heard how Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. It was just last week that we heard how Jesus had entered into the last six months of his earthly ministry, and he was heading to Jerusalem where he would step up to the plate of the cross and belt our sins out of the park with the cry of “It is finished!” It was there, in Jerusalem, with the soldiers nailing him to the cross that Jesus prayed, “Father, forgiven them. They do not know what they are doing.” It was there in Jerusalem that Jesus showed how much he loved us. Though people taunted him and tempted him to come down from the cross, it was his love for us that caused him to remain there. It was on that cross that Jesus stretched out his arms and died in our place. For in the same way that the Mighty Mississippi begins as a small trickle from Lake Itasca, so also the river of Jesus’ blood that has washed us clean of every spot and stain of our sins began at that cross in Jerusalem! Though we don’t deserve it by any means, it was the Holy Spirit who immersed our heats in the river of Jesus blood on the day that he called us to faith. It was the Holy Spirit who sealed us as members of the Father’s house through the forgiveness that Jesus won for us. Even now, as we sit here in worship, it is the Holy Spirit who is assuring us that our past failures have been forgiven. Those missed opportunities have been washed away, even those times we were too afraid to speak up or simply didn’t feel prepared enough to speak; they have all been forgiven by through faith in Jesus Christ who now calls us to go out and serve him once again by sharing our faith.
Now, if you haven’t already done so, I invite you to open your Bibles to our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 10 beginning with verse 1; Luke chapter 10, which begins on page 1027. Last week we heard how Jesus set out on his way to Jerusalem, how he was refused lodging in a Samaritan village because he was headed to Jerusalem. We also heard how he spoke to three different people along the road whom either expressed a desire to follow him or whom he invited to follow him. Now, after all those events our text opens with Luke writing in chapter 10 beginning with verse 1: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ (Luke 10:1–11, NIV)
Now, when Jesus sent these 72 disciples out to share their faith and proclaim the kingdom of God, Jesus had only 6 months left in his earthly ministry. Jesus didn’t have much time left and he passed that urgency on to his disciples. Their mission, in fact, was so urgent that Jesus wanted them to leave from right where they were. They didn’t have time to go home and grab extra money, pack an overnight bag, grab an extra pair of sandals, or even greet people on the road because that could easily suck them into a long conversation that would delay their mission. Rather Jesus wanted them to simply go and preach the message of salvation showing their complete dependence on the Lord in what they said and how they lived.
The same thing is true for each and every one of us. As Jesus disciples, he is sending us out to serve him by sharing our faith, and just like the mission was urgent for the 72, the mission is urgent for us, because we are living in the last days. We are living in a time when Jesus could be returning at any time. We are living in a day and age when satan seems to be winning the battle and more and more people are falling away from the faith every day. We are living in a day and age where each and every one of us is standing guard on the front lines of the kingdom of heaven as we advance together into a sinful world to share our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Though we still may not feel ready, we are ready through faith in Jesus. Though we may be worried about what to say, Jesus has promised to give us the words. Though there may be times when we are afraid to go on, Jesus has not sent us out alone, for just as he sent out the 72 in pairs of two, so also Jesus goes with us wherever we go. Though we might be afraid of rejection, well, Jesus covers that as well. Jump back up to verse 8 and we’ll continue from there:
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Jump down to verse 16) 16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:8–12, 16, NIV)
Though the disciples could have faced some rejection as they shared their faith in Jesus, Jesus assured them that the rejection they faced was not a mark against them, but a mark against Jesus and his Father. The same thing is true for us today. Though there may be times when people laugh at us or ridicule us when we share our faith, their laughter and ridicule is actually against Jesus. Though we might have to bear the physical brunt of their rejection, the truth of the matter is that they are not rejecting us, they are rejecting Jesus as their Savior and God the Father as their God. Though it may pain us to do so, shaking the dust off our feet and walking away will serve as testimony against them that they had the opportunity to hear the Word and the rejected it. It may even serve as such a testimony that one day they turn from their ways and repent at a later time. But just as time was short for the disciples whom Jesus sent out, time is short for us. As we share our faith in the Lord’s serve, we simply don’t have the time to fool around with those who don’t want to listen, be they friends, relatives, neighbors, or even members. There are so many millions of people who need to hear the Word of God that we simply have to keep going and pray that those who reject today may come around tomorrow.
What else can we learn from Jesus sending those 72 disciples out? Look at verse 17: “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17–20, NIV)
When they returned, they were overjoyed because the demons had submitted to them in Jesus name. Though this was indeed an amazing thing, Jesus immediately refocuses them on what is most important. He tells them to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. As we serve the Lord and share our faith with the people around us, this also is our comfort. Our names are written in heaven and no one can change that. Though we may be mocked, ridiculed, and rejected by those with whom we share our faith, our names are still written in heaven. Through faith in Jesus our names are written in heaven. Our sins have been forgiven by Jesus our Savior. Eternal life is waiting for us when the Lord Jesus calls us out of this life. Until then, we have been given the opportunity to serve him by sharing our faith.
So dear friends, as you leave here today; continue on in your Christian service. Take your personal sermon study sheets with you and during the week consider answers for the last two questions that I chose not to answer today. I’m sure that I could have answered them if I kept on preaching, but I can tell that I’ve already spoken long enough and you are not ready for me to go another 20 minutes or so. But take those with you, continue on in your Christian service, always looking for ways to serve the Lord by sharing your faith.