Preparing the Way (1): Selling Sugar Water
October 12, 2014
Intro – Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer, was trying to recruit John Sculley, 38-year-old president of Pepsi-Cola to become president of Apple. After a lot of discussion, Sculley was still reluctant until Jobs put it this way: “John, do you really want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” Sculley came on board.
That’s a critical question, isn’t it? What are we living for? What gives meaning to our lives? Has God really left us here just to collect enough for a comfortable 5-year-retirement? Is that what life is about? Nothing wrong with preparing for retirement, but that’s sugar water compared to what our Lord suggests – representing Christ – preparing the way for Him in the lives of others. Listen! God’s left you here to change somebody’s world.
That’s what this passage is all about. As Jesus embarks on His journey to die in Jerusalem, He commissions 72 followers to prepare the way for Him at various stops. They are doing what believers are made for – representing Christ. That’s what the text is about – representing Christ to best advantage. Our outline – The Commission, The Challenge, The Commandments, The Conditions, The Communication, The Conclusion and The Consequences.
I. The Commission
V. 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.” This is an introductory verse; it gives the big picture for what gives meaning to us as believers. This is our commission. So let’s unpack it.
A. The Master of the Commission
Who does the appointing? “The Lord.” Interesting choice of titles. Jesus is commissioning as Lord, as master, as boss, as the one in charge. Because when we come to faith in Christ, that is exactly who He becomes to us. This title emphasizes authority, majesty, ownership. It is as Lord He sends these to represent Him; as Lord that He sends us to represent Him -- representing Him to a world that has no other answers.”
Turn to Matt 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Here is Jesus’ last commission to His followers. But notice how He starts it. He doesn’t say, “Look guys, I want you to go out and make disciples.” He doesn’t start there. He first reminds them that He is the source of all authority, both in heaven and on earth, and that means in their lives as well. He’s saying, “I’m making this command as your Lord and Master. Fail to deliver and you show one of two things – either you are in rebellion against me, or I am not your Lord and Master at all in which case you have a far greater problem.”
God gifts us all in different ways. Thus we all have different careers, different home lives, different ways of doing things. But we have a single commission. We are all sent out to represent Him – just in different ways. He issues the command as our Master. He means business because He loves those who do not know Him. To represent Him is not a duty; it’s our greatest privilege.
How much would you pay to get written into a famous novel? Rhett Butler’s sidekick in Gone With the Wind? Well a few years ago a non-profit offered that opportunity to the highest bidder. The winner paid $25,100 to be written into a Stephen King novel, receiving literary immortality by being named in a book -- before being killed off – in the story, of course! We all want to be part of a story that is bigger than we are – one that is bigger than life. And that is exactly what our Lord and Master if offering us by commissioning us to represent Him. It’s a fantastic privilege to serve the Lord in this way.
Charles Spurgeon had a wealthy woman claim faith in Christ at his church. But she would not make public confession for fear her socialite friends would abandon her, leave her off committees and such. He responded, “She is a traitor to the Master who sent her if she is so beguiled by the beauties of taste and art as to forget that to ‘preach Christ . . . and Him crucified’ is the only object for which she exists among the sons of men. The business of the Church is salvation of souls.” We’ve been commissioned by the Master.
B. The Ministers of the Commission
V. 1, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others.” Ancient texts are almost equally divided as to whether the actual number was 70 or 72 others. So are English translations with ESV and NIV using 72 and NASB and NKJV and Holman using 70. The bigger issue is what does the number signify? And the answer is it’s a number that signifies universal participation.
The number 70 was symbolic to Jesus’ Jewish audience. 70 elders helped Moses in the wilderness. There were 70 members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jewish nation. 70 was held to be the number of nations in the world in Luke’s time. Here it represents the universal nature of the gospel – and the fact that all believers are to be involved in the task of taking it to the world. In the very next verse, Jesus urges these to pray for other such workers. These are ordinary men being appointed to do an extraordinary task.
The ministers of the commission are all of us. We are not all evangelists. We need not and should not put that burden of guilt on ourselves. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know how to lead someone to Christ. Could you do that? Do you know a few key verses – like Rom 3:23 to show that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God – like Rom 6:23 that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life thru Jesus Christ our Lord – like Rom 10:9, that if you confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. That’s the gospel in 3 verses. Come on, we can all learn that, Beloved. Or how about 1 verse, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” If we don’t have the time or inclination to learn 4 verses to help a friend or neighbor or fellow-worker come to faith in Christ, we’re either not trying very hard or we don’t care. We can and must prepare as ministers of the commission.
We’re not all evangelists, but we are all ministers. Look at Eph 4:11-12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, [those are pastors] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” This is how a church is supposed to work. There are leaders – Why? To do the work? So we think. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. Look – those leaders are to v. 12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Leaders equip the saints for the work of ministry. Who are the saints? All believers. So the ministers aren’t the pastors, the ministers are all of us. We share equally in the responsibility of being ministers of the commission to represent Christ. We just do it in different ways.
Some of us preach; some teach; some invite; some help; some build; some open their homes for Bible studies; some lead the studies; some provide the food; some demonstrate unusual integrity at work that raises questions about Christ; some sow; some water; some reap, but we are all ministers. We have met the ministers – and they are us! This is our golden opportunity to not waste our life selling sugar water. Representing Jesus in different ways.
An unbelieving Greek philosopher named Lucian who lived in the 2nd century AD observed firsthand the warm fellowship of Christian believers. He wrote: “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it into their heads that they are brethren.” That’s exactly right, isn’t it? He commissioned them as His representatives and they did it superbly. SO what will the historians of Eaton write about us? Will we get it right? Will we accept the commission to represent our King? God grant that we would also get it right – that we could be so commended as His representatives.
C. The Mission of the Commission
V. 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.” It’s not hard to identify the mission, is it? These guys were sent to prepare the way for Jesus. As time grew short Jesus was keen to reach as many people as possible. So he sent these men to prepare the way – to open the discussion, to break down physical and emotional and spiritual barriers, to do anything and everything within their power to make known to others the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. To make the gospel clear and compelling.
Jesus followed these teams as time permitted. But He is not going to appear personally everywhere we go. So how does this work? Two other passages capture my attention in this regard. Paul says in Eph 2:17, “And he [Christ] came and preached peace to you.” Did Jesus ever preach in Asia Minor? No! So what is Paul saying? Paul knows that when the Christians came and shared their faith, Christ came. That’s why he could say, “Christ came to you and preached to you.” In representing Him, we become Him to others. That’s an awesome responsibility. We are the only Christ that many people will ever see. Ours is the only gospel some will ever hear. Wow!
Now the other passage that is striking is Matt 11:11 where Jesus has the audacity to say, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” What did he mean by that? How could little old us be greater than John the Baptist. How? Can we preach better? No. Are we braver or of better character? Of course not. So in what way could we possibly be greater? It is in this, Beloved. We know the gospel in a far greater way than did John, and Paul reminds us that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” What John, and for that matter all the OT prophets, knew only in a dim way, we know in full. They knew there must be a sacrifice for sin; we know it was Christ. They knew that there would be a great Anointed ruler; we know it is Christ. They thought Messiah would be a man; we know He is the God-man. They could not reconcile the suffering Messiah of Isa 53 with the powerful Son of Man in Dan 7. We know that both are Jesus in 2 advents to earth, not one. We have the big pix they never had.
When I was in the 5th grade, someone came to test eyes. I was told I needed glasses, but I never told Mom and Dad because I knew we didn’t have money for something like that. Next year, I tested worse. This time, they called my folks and shortly I found myself at the eye doctor getting an exam. Two weeks later we picked up the glasses. I will never forget the day. As we drove down Main Street in Hutchinson, KS, I could see things I’d never seen before. It was incredible. I had no idea what I’d been missing until it all came into focus.
Well, that’s what happened with the gospel by the time Jesus was done in His first coming. With the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus; with the promise of a Second coming, the gospel came into focus with a clarity unimaginable before that. Peter tells us as much in I Pet 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” This is exactly why the least believer in this age is greater than Elijah, Moses and Daniel rolled into one. What they could see only in vague outlines, we see with pristine clarity. And so our ability to prepare the way for Christ is infinitely greater than that of anyone in any previous age. What a privileged responsibility we have.
An English prof was famous for the little notes he left on students’ essays. One day a student approached him and said, “Mr. McDonald, I can’t make out this comment you wrote on my paper.” The prof looked at it, studied it for a couple of minutes and sheepishly said, “It says you should write more legibly.” Get it in focus! Well, that’s the mission – bring the person and work of Jesus into focus for a world that desperately needs freedom from guilt, forgiveness, healing. What people do with the message – over to them, but for us – bring it into focus.
D. The Might of the Commission
The intro would not be complete without looking at the power of the commission. Tho the 72 and us by extension are appointed for a task, the Lord in no way expects us to produce the results. Look at v. 17: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Where’s the power? It is in Him. All He asks us to do is – obey. Make Jesus known. Prepare the way. The rest is up to Him. He does miracles, Beloved. He’s just waiting for us to believe and obey
Conc – Alexander Grigolia immigrated to the US from Russia in the early 20th century. A brilliant man, he learned English from scratch and went on to earn not one but 3 doctorates. He became a prof at University of PA -- the epitome of the “absent-minded prof.” He was the classic American success story. But despite all his accomplishments he was empty inside. He had a misery his heart could not dislodge.
One day while getting a shoeshine he noticed the joy that emanated from the man who was doing the menial task of scrubbing and buffing while smiling and talking. It got to him. He finally asked, “What makes you always so happy?” Know what the guy said. He didn’t peach a sermon; didn’t give an apologetic lecture; couldn’t have if he had wanted to. He just said, “Jesus! Jesus! He loves me. He died so God could forgive my badness. He makes me happy.” Simple? Yes, but let me tell you – Elijah didn’t know that; Moses didn’t know that; Abraham didn’t know that. But a simple shoeshine boy knew that. You know that and I know that. And we’ve been commissioned to make sure others know that. It’s just that simple. Not one of us has an excuse.
Know what happened to Dr. Grigolia? He stormed away angry. But that 3-time Ph.D could never escape those simple words. Couldn’t escape the truth. Those simple gospel words haunted him and led him to investigate. He became a believer. He went to Wheaton College to teach anthropology in a Christian environment where a young student named Billy Graham called him his favorite and most influential prof. Because a bootblack was commissioned by Christ and carried out his mission. This kind of thing happens every day – to people who obey the Master. So, what do you want to do? Sell sugar water all your life – or change somebody’s world? Let’s go change some worlds! Let’s pray.