Preparing the Way (2): How Could God Be Missing?
Read Lu 10:1-3 – Two mischievous brothers aged 8 and 10 were always in trouble. One day their mother heard of a new pastor who was great with kids, so she asked if he would speak to her boys. He asked to see the younger boy first, then the elder. On the day appointed, the boy came in. The pastor sat him down and in his deep, booming voice he asked, “Do you know where God is, son?” The boy’s mouth dropped open in shock but he said nothing. The preacher repeated the question, “Where is God?” Again, no answer, so he raised his voice, shook his finger at the boy and asked, “Where is God?” The boy let out a scream, bolted from the room, ran straight home and dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him. His older brother followed him in and asked, “What happened?” The younger bro replied, “Jimmy, we’re in big trouble this time. Big trouble!” His bro asked, “What do you mean?” The little boy answered, “Welp, GOD is missing – and they think WE did it!”
The truth is God is missing, in a lot of people’s lives. The question is did we do it? Are there people out there – friends, neighbors, co-workers – who don’t know God because we are failing our commission to make disciples? We began to look at this commission that Jesus gave to 72 of His followers last week. He knew His time on earth was drawing short, so he sent the 72 to represent Him. It is a commission that by application given to every believer. Our reason for being is to introduce people to Jesus. 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
II. The Challenge of the Commission
It is stated very succinctly in v. 2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” So what is the harvest and who are the laborers? The laborers are those, like the 72, who are being commissioned to represent Christ. As believers we are part of that group, but the group is small. It’s pretty clear that even in a “Christian” society, we operate as a significant minority. The laborers are few. Not many care about the gospel message today.
So, how about the harvest? What is that? It seems pretty clear from the context that the harvest is people. Harvest often speaks of end time judgment in Scripture in passages like Joel 2, Rev 14 and Mt 13 where Jesus talks about letting the wheat (believers) and weeds (unbelievers) grow together during this age to be separated at an end time judgment. The harvest is people.
But in this analogy, Jesus is looking near term, not the end of the age. He is speaking of people who are ready for harvest now. Who would those be? As Jesus looks out on the masses gathered around Him, and sees even further, beyond the borders of Palestine, beyond His Jewish heritage and even into the future, He sees those who are His and He wants to see them brought in. John 6: 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” We see in this passage the unexplainable mix of the sovereignty of God – “All that the Father gives me will come to me” – and the free will of mankind – “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” The first guarantees the success of the mission, but the second leaves no doubt as to the accountability of every person. Therefore, even as Jesus sees the harvest, He sees the need for laborers.
Thus, He says in John 4:35, “35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” The gospel is for everyone, but as Jesus looks out, he sees many who have never had the message. He needs laborers.
A teacher asked, “Class, if there were 100 sheep in a field and 5 walked away, how many would be left?” Johnny answered, “None.” She said, “Johnny, don’t you know your math. 100 minus 5 is 95 left.” Johnny didn’t give up. He said, “Mrs. Clark, you may know math, but I know sheep. Once one gets out, they all get out. One leaves, they all leave.” And he was right, of course. That’s why the Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” That’s the harvest that Jesus sees – lost individuals, blindly following each other like sheep to the slaughter. And so He seeks laborers to help bring them in.
III. The Commands of the Commission
Jesus answers that question with two commands. Two things for us to do because people are waiting to see and hear a clear presentation of the gospel. To do these is to share in the passion of our Lord. But it doesn’t come naturally. We must fight for this. In Matt 25 Jesus tells how even the act of giving a cup of cold water represents Him when done in His name. But He warns that when we fail to show the compassion that is close to His heart, we must take heed. Matt 25:46, “And these [those who fail to give the cup of water – that is to reach out to a lost world] these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Jesus is saying that failure to represent Him well in things big and little could mean we’re not really His!
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” John Piper says, “I need to hear this message again and again, because I drift into a peacetime mind-set as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth “home.” Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. . . . It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.” Jesus is calling us to DEFCON I wartime status, even in the comfortable and affluent USA. We’re in a life and death spiritual struggle. [Ex Houston order] The battle rages; the field is white to harvest, so 2 things are required –
The first command is fascinating because it is unexpected. Think about it. Jesus says in v. 2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” So, what would you expect next? You’d expect, “Saddle up. Let’s go. We got work to do!” Right? Isn’t that what seems like the obvious thing to say? Instead what do we get? “Therefore pray.” Pray earnestly. The harvest is plentiful and there aren’t enough laborers – but the first thing I want you to do is -- pray.
Now, doesn’t that seem a bit strange? After all, the harvest belongs to the Lord. It’s His harvest. He knows far more about it than you or I. Furthermore, He knows the laborers are few. My prayer certainly cannot enlighten Him about the challenge, right? He’s perfectly aware. So why does He ask us to pray? Beloved, He asks us to pray because He wants our heart to beat in synch with His. He wants our vision to align with His – His passion to be our passion. Have a heart for the lost. Pray.
And note that He does not just say, “Pray for those lost people” tho we should do that. Paul in Rom 10:1, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [Israel] is that they may be saved.” He’s praying for lost people, and so should we – by name, with compassion and urgency. BUT here Jesus instructs that we pray for the Lord to send out more laborers. Not something we pray very often, is it? But it pulls us into the global vision of our Lord. See the lost? See the world? Well, pray for God to send out laborers. Pray it and mean it. Get your heart in tune with His great heart which is not willing “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (II Pet 3:9). He wants us to share that passion. And if we pray, Beloved, He will answer.
Lyman Jewett had seen little fruit after 17 years as a missionary in India. His mission board had dubbed his location as “Forlorn Hope”; wanted to close it down. But early on New Year’s Day in 1854, Jewett and his native helpers climbed a big hill to pray. Jewett read from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ ” Then they prayed for just one man with beautiful feet who could break thru the barrenness of the field. They came back often to Prayer Meeting Hill to repeat the request. Ten years later, in God’s timing, a farmer named John Clough was harvesting wheat in Iowa when he received news that he had been accepted for missionary service -- to a place called “Forlorn Hope.” He arrived and began sharing the gospel with anyone who would listen, praying for results. What he got was drought and famine. But undeterred, he worked tirelessly to bring food to those who were starving. It was the opening that had been so needed. The Indians came to love him for his works of mercy and compassion. And they began to respond to his message. A powerful revival eventually swept the area and on one day alone Clough and helpers baptized 2,222 converts. In 39 days they baptized another 8,691 new believers. Eventually over 20,000 people came to Christ – all because someone prayer the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers. It all starts with prayer – for individuals, for laborers, for help as we go.
Which leads to the next command. Jesus says “I want you to pray for laborers. Then I want you to put feet to your own prayers. I want you to be the partial answer. I want you to go.” V. 3, “ Go your way; behold, I am sending you.” There’s a great principle at work here. God never gets you in without sending you out. We’re not so keen on the sending out, are we? We love the bringing in. We love salvation and forgiveness and being right with God and the hope of heaven. But please, Lord, don’t ask me to speak to anyone else. We wimp out quickly at the thought of sharing our faith. We are like the little boy whose teacher asked him to name two pronouns. Scared to death he responded, “Who, me?” She said, “Correct.” And that’s what Jesus is answering when we say, “Who me?” “Yes, you! Get ready. I’m commissioning you as my representative and I’m sending you out.”
You say, “But, Dave, I don’t have the gift of evangelism.” And perhaps you don’t. But that’s irrelevant to representing Christ. An urgency attaches to harvest, right? When harvest time came on our little dry-land farm in NE, everyone turned a hand – kids, wives, grandparents – everybody. When the crop was ripe you got it in – fast! No one sat around at harvest time saying, “Sorry, I only milk cows, or I only fix lunches, or I have to go to school.” That didn’t fly, did it – not at harvest time. It was all hands on board. No one could say, “I don’t have the gift of harvesting.” Well, the same is true in the Lord’s harvest. It won’t do to say, “Well, my gift is teaching only, or I only administer, or I give so others can go.” Good for you, but that doesn’t take you off the hook! If we can’t bear witness to what Christ has done in our life in some way, it’s probably because He hasn’t done anything in our life.
Notice Jesus says, “Go your way.” Prepare the way for Christ in your own way. Training helps and we should learn all we can, but it’s not the main thing. Remember the demon-possessed man in Luke 8? Jesus healed him. Then what? Lu 8:39, Jesus told him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” Brought him in and sent him out. No training! Didn’t take much training to say, “Jesus saved me.” We can all do that. How about the blind man Jesus healed in John 9? The religionists brought him in for questioning. They were leading the witness when they advised him, “Look, give glory to God – but don’t tell us Jesus did this. We know he’s a sinner. Doesn’t even keep the Sabbath! Renounce Him!” He answered in John 9:25, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” It doesn’t take a seminary degree to say, “I used to think I could make it on my own, but Jesus opened my eyes and now I see, I need a Savior. Yes, I’ve accepted Him and He’s changed my life.”
Every Christian is sent. These 72 represent all of us – just common, everyday people. These are not seminary grads. They are regular folks. God never calls you in without sending you out. He never blesses you but that you might be a blessing. He calls Abraham in Genesis 12. “Come in, Abraham. I will make you a great nation. I will be your portion and your exceeding great reward.” Then what? Then, “Get out to a land that I will show you. You’re not only blessed, but you will be a blessing.” In Exodus 3 God invites Moses in for a face-to-face relationship at the burning bush. Imagine. Then what? “Now, I’m sending you out – to deliver my people.” Isaiah saw God high and lifted up in Isaiah 6. Invited in. God forgave his sin, cleansed his heart. Then what? He said, “Who will go for me?” Isaiah said, “Here am I – send me.” God never invites us in but to send us out. Every Christian is on the harvest mission.
Does that mean we’re all to be pastors or missionaries or something? Of course not. Paul says in I Cor 7:17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” In the context, it’s a career call that’s in view. Whatever career God has called you to – get on with it. That’s exactly where I want you to go. Why? To raise cattle or feed sheep or do business deals? Yes, but not primarily. Primarily to prepare the way for Jesus. Do you see how this works? Paul ends that section by saying in I Cor 7:24, “So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called (whatever career, whatever status in life), there let him remain with God.” In other words, you’re not doing it by yourself or for yourself. You doing it by Him and for Him. You’re part of the harvest crew. So get on with it.
Conc -- Two young Moravians heard of an island in the West Indies where a British owner had several thousand slaves. He had forbidden any minister or any missionary work among them. He refused to have his slaves exposed to the gospel. But these young men had a passion. So they did the unthinkable. They sold themselves to the British owner and used the money they got to transport themselves to the island. As they boarded the ship in Hambourg, the friends and family came from everywhere knowing they would never see these 2 boys again. They had sold themselves into lifetime slavery because that was the only way they could go to the harvest. As the ship began to leave, one of the boys shouted out the last words that were heard from them, "May the lamb that was slain receive the reward of his sufferings." This became the call of Moravian missions. It’s the only reason any of us are here – to be part of the harvest by praying – and going. Could God be missing in someone’s life we know? Only if we don’t pray – and go. Let’s pray.