Luke 10:1-12 CSB
 After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others, and he sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself was about to go.  He told them, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.  Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road.  Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’  If a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t move from house to house.  When you enter any town, and they welcome you, eat the things set before you.  Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’  When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into its streets and say,  ‘We are wiping off even the dust of your town that clings to our feet as a witness against you. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near.’  I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
In 2011, I had the privilege of being part of a mission team that headed to Guinea-Bissau. A small country on the west coast of Africa. My friend had been there working as a missionary on a gap-year and we went out towards the end of his time to join in some of the work he had been doing. We all have those significant periods in life, expected or unexpected that when we journey through them we are changed. Those two weeks in Guinea-Bissau was one of those periods for me. Every day seemed to have a new challenge and a new lesson to this young Christian who was considering full-time service in the church. I was challenged so much by the Christians that I encountered; their love of life, and their heart for Jesus and the work to which he had called them. They took seriously the call to follow Jesus; and, the call to call others to follow Jesus. The majority of people In Ingoré (the town that we were living in) did not have massive access to material resources, they lived day to day and were happy with what they had. They trusted God to provide for any further need. there way of life and their understanding of contentment was such a challenge to me, and my understanding of what it meant to trust God to provide.
One weekend, we (the team) got into a couple of off-road jeeps and headed deep into the jungle. After several hour off-roading, with the trees around almost blocking out the sky, and dusk settling around us we pulled into this narrow, but densely populated clearings. We had arrived at the village we had been searching for, and found an indigenous people for whom time seemed to stand still. It was a profound experience, and a privilege to witness for a few days such a life of simplicity.
For the sake of what we are thinking about today what I want you to picture in terms of a scene is simplicity in every sense: basic mud huts, with drop-holes for toilets, surrounded by fields of crop. These people were not simple, but they lived simple lives as they sought to survive. Everything they did evolve around their crops. For this village happiness and security was simply having enough to eat and feed their family until the next harvest. Strangely I found my faith being challenged, I remember reading the passage we are looking at today and grasping the urgency of the harvest. You see I had grown up on a farm, and while we never grew crops by any significant scale, I have memories of plucking potatoes etc… Yet, my life never depended on the harvest – Tesco was only five minutes down the road. For those People, (and two-thirds of the world’s population) the harvest was a matter of life and death.
As we think through harvest, let us try to do so with a mind of urgency, as a people for who life depends on it. With that mindset, we will have a better sense of what Jesus is teaching his followers in this passage, and what it means to be called to the work of the Spiritual Harvest.
THE PURPOSE OF HARVEST
It was in the forest of Guinea-Bissau, in that little microcosm of an agrarian society that I was reminded about the ultimate purpose of the harvest: life. The peoples built their lives around the farm: planting, maintaining, and harvesting because it allowed them to live. A successful harvest meant a satisfied family, and that people could have life. Thus, the harvest is all about life and living. Thus, I think sometimes we have lost the fullness of the picture and the language that we see being used in our readings form Luke, because of the comfort we live in, and often the way we gather food. Thus, while the earthly harvest is a matter of life and death the spiritual harvest (that Jesus is calling us to) is far more urgent because it deals with eternal life and death. The urgency we see being worked out in this passage.
DISCIPLESHIP: THE SPIRITUAL HARVEST (Luke 9:10-17)
Context of Passage
Jesus has just given power and authority to the Twelve and with it, they are to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. As the minister, the message is to be proclaimed in duality: word and deed. Through a ministry of signs and healings they will show the authority under which they minister:
“So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” (9:6)
After they have been out, they arrive back to report to Jesus all they have seen and done. This is a significant moment for them, this is the first raster of ministry with Jesus and through him that they have had. Thus, Jesus wants to mark it and teach more from their experience by withdrawing from the crowd and spending time with just the twelve. However, sometimes plans change, and we can either grow frustrated or use the opportunity to our advantage. Jesus was never one to grow frustrated, and never one to miss an opportunity to teach. Thus, as this crowd of five thousand people arrive with all their needs and desires in tail, Jesus displays the lesson that he wants the disciples to learn. Not with words, but with the example of compassion. Jesus is pointing them disciples to what the focus of their ministry will be – people. They were called to be fishers of men; the call to the spiritual harvest is a call to people. For we soon see that while the disciples might have been doing some of the work already, they were yet to have the heart behind it. They where still being motivated by self, thus in his example Jesus is challenging them, and teaching them and showing them the way of the Cross. That the work of the Spiritual Harvest is not about earthly status or power, it is a matter of eternal life and death. It is the difference between a Shepard and a hired hand: The hired hand has been paid to look after the flock, thus he will do to the point that he is capable – but when a threat comes that is too great, they will soon disappear. A shepherd, on the other hand, owns the Sheep, and will give his life for the sheep – his heart is in it.
A Reminder of the Purpose behind the Spiritual Harvest
This lesson as to the purpose of the work extends right through to the feeding of the 5000. People are our crop, our flock. So we get to work, whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The Disciples might have marvelled as they were out healing people, how amazing it was – but now, when the need is greater and less sexy they do not have the same desire or burden for those whom God has called them too. Sometimes before we plant the seed, we have to prepare the ground. Thus, sometimes the deeds of the spiritual harvest come before the planting – in this case, Jesus feeds the 5000 to show them who he was (God) but also to ready them to receive that. The work of the spiritual harvest is outlined for us here, but we must be a people flexible in the order of that work. For first in the crowd Jesus ministered to them, and then told them about the coming of Gods Kingdom, now when the need is greater he feeds them, as a declaration of the coming of the Kingdom. It is all harvest work. The lesson is contrasted between the two opposing pictures: Jesus, as he welcomed the crowd, ministered to them in word and deed, then feed them; The Twelve, who did not have compassion or welcome towards the crowd, but assessed that the need was too great and the best thing to do was to get rid of them. A contrasting picture of hearts and the motivation behind them. A challenge to us who follow Jesus and the work we are called to do. Picture the scene, as the sun settles and Jesus is to crowd the displayed start to assess the situation and think:
“flip, It is getting late and we cannot feed these people, we need to get rid of them!”
Luke, as he writes, is showing us that the disciples are still to grasp the wonder of who Jesus is, and the call that has been placed on their life. They are still to grasp both the cost and the privilege of the work the Spiritual Harvest. It is a shocking contrast as Jesus gives freely of himself to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the crowd; on the other hand, the apostle is unwilling to give of their wallet to feed the crowd. Yet, the lesson is clear that we must understand the fullness of the call to follow Christ and the urgency of the work. In response to the disciples’ assessment and advice, Jesus instructs them further:
“You give them something to eat.”
In these words, Jesus was reminding the disciples of the authority that he had just given them, and of the cost and responsibility that comes with following him. Jesus by his example had displayed the ethic of the harvest the Christian is called to and now it was time for his followers to get on with it.
WORKING OUT OF OUR PURPOSE (LUKE 10:1-12)
This section of scripture is one long continuous tale, the feeding of the five thousand lands in the middle of a commissioning Sandwich. It is placed strategically as an example and challenge to the commission of the 12 and the 72, and to all who might follow after them and live for Jesus. It was the incarnation of the harvest call. The Seventy-Two is gathered by Jesus and commissioned in a similar way to the twelve. Yet, their instructions are fuller and act as a model, motivation, and warning for the work that God is calling each of his children too.
Jesus has gathered them to send them out to prepare the fields for the seed that he will plant. And sent them with this example of the feeding of the five thousand. Thus, in this passage of instruction for their work in the harvest, we find universal instructions to those of us who follow Jesus.
Jesus is in Charge of the Harvest (10:1)
There is the foundation, and then there is what a foundation is built on, or in. While the foundation of the Gospel work as revealed in this passage is prayer. What we built on, and in is something even greater, and more profound. The big theological terms are the Sovereignty of God. What does the mean, simple – Jesus is the King over all things. We built on the truth that God who calls us is the one by whom all things happen. What does that mean for us? In the application of mission and this passage relating to the spiritual harvest, it means that we can get on with the work in the Knowledge that God is governing our work, and if we are faithful to the call he will be faithful in our results. Furthermore, it means we can trust Him for the work. Our ‘success’ or lack of, is not a sign of failure, or that we are not doing what God has called us to, because in all things God is at work. Thus, this is the first thing we see in this passage, that God is sovereign and, that Jesus is the sovereign Lord. Straight away we are reminded of who we work for and that this call is not one of our makings. No, we are called by God to be used by God. This harvest belongs to the Lord, and we are blessed to participate in it.
The imagery is further expanded when you read this passage in parallel to the commissioning of the twelve, for there are we are told that it was Jesus who gathered them. Now, it is the Lord who calls and commissions the seventy-two. Firstly, it is a reminder for us of the duality of Christ, and the mystery of the incarnation – that he is both (and at the same time) fully God and Fully Man. The ‘Lord’ given in Chapter 10, is not merely a title out of reverence, it a declaration of truth, No Jewish scholar would attribute such a title to another man, if they did not know it to be true. Such was the reverence, even in times of irreverence onto the Name of Yahweh and his Lordship that you would not even joke about it. To claim such a title, was an offence punishable by death, to support such a claim was equality as dangerous. Thus, we are given an image of the authority behind the call of the spiritual harvest – it is Gods work. The Greek word used for the title (kyrios) literally means: ‘he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has the power of deciding; master, lord.’ Additionally, the root word behind it is kŷros meaning: ‘supremacy; supreme in authority etc…1 The one who has supreme authority calls his workers (only those in whom the seed of the Gospel grows) to the harvest field, and then in his sovereignty over the universe directs, governs, supplies and supports their work. This is the earth that we build the foundations of our mission, but it is also part of our motivation – that we can trust the one who calls us to work, to work in us and through us. That whatever we find ourselves doing for God, we can be assured he is right there with us.
The Motivation for the Harvest (10:2)
Our motivation is two-fold: firstly, that God has called us, and God is with us in that call; Secondly, the size and significance of the task that we have been called to. Journey back with to the Jungle in Guinea-Bissau for a minute, and imagine for me that you were one of those farmers tending their crops. Imagine it had been a bountiful year, a year that you just had a feeling that it was going to be a good one; so, you hired more land, planted more produce and worked harder. Everything you needed to make a successful harvest had fallen into place; the conditions in the soil, the weather, everything was perfect. The crop stood tall and healthy, and you knew that such was the quantity that you would not be able to bring in all in in the normal time and without help. Imagine the trauma you would feel if suddenly there was a threat to your crop, that as you got ready to harvest it in you knew that unless you gathered it in within twenty-four hours it would all be wiped out. That you could go from having more than enough to having nothing. Suddenly, the urgency of the harvest makes it a matter of life and death. What would you do? You would get to the work, and more broadly you would seek as much help as you could to get to try and gather all the crop in before the coming destruction, you would be motivated by the urgency and size of the work to get to the work.
Save the dramatics, it is that sense of urgency that we see being outworked verse two of Chapter 10. Jesus motivates the seventy-two by telling them that there is plenty of work to do, but not enough to do it. The harvest is ripe for the taking in if we are willing to get out into the fields and get our hands dirty with the work. To get to the (spiritual) harvest, with the knowledge that he who calls us to it will also be there working with (and through) us! Our motivation for the task is its size and the urgency of the need. It is not a question of “Who?” it is a statement of “if not us, then no one!” The Disciples are called to the field as the Shepherd is to his flock. Are we motivated? Thankfully, Jesus in this passage does not just motivate the disciples and then let them at it; he gives them tools and instructions for the work.
Tools For the Harvest (2b -11)
The Foundation: Prayer
After we have assessed the land that we might build something on to make sure it is okay (The Sovereign will of God in the world), the next step before any successful construction is the foundation. By the foundation, something will either stand the test of time or fall at the first hurdle. In our vocation as disciples the foundation of our walk (with God), and the work we have been called to is far more significant (eternal significance) that any earthly foundation. The foundation of our relationship with God is a testimony to the validity of that relationship. If we are with him, then will want to communicate with him. If we are going to work, then we will want to do as such in step with him. Thus, before we get to it there is one thing we must do! Pray. The foundation of every act of the Christian, whether in personal faith, discipleship, or mission is prayer. We are a people who pray because that is how we communicate with God. The seventy-two are instructed as they are motivated to ‘pray to the lord of the Harvest, to send out his workers into his fields.’ It is a challenge, and a reminder: A challenge about the work we are going to do, and a reminder for whom we act, and who governs our work. Furthermore, it is a reminder that it is not our work, God the one who has supreme authority over all things calls us to his work; not because he needs us, but for our benefit. In praying we are reminded of our position, and God’s majesty, thus the foundation of pray bears fruit in us, because through it we are affirmed of Gods hand in the work, regardless of our results, and we are humbled before him, (hopefully) saving us from pride as we work for him. So whatever we do for God, we need to pray before him that it might be for him, and not of us. Jesus tells those whom he is about to send that they are to pray to him (He is the Lord of the Harvest), for people to go to the fields of the harvest; a potent image as the seventy-two become the answer to their prayers as they go to prepare the ground, and as they trust that through their hands others might respond to the Gospel seeds and know the wonder of Jesus. Before we act, let us secure the work and centre ourselves through one of the greatest privileges there is – prayer. Why? because pray reminds us that it is not about us, but about him.
Togetherness: Team Work (1-2)
Sometimes I think when we read through scriptures, we can be searching for something so profound; that we miss the profoundness of the obvious. One of the most wonderful truths of this passage is one of the most obvious things – Jesus calls seventy-two, not twelve, and not even one. The work of the Spiritual Harvest is fundamentally teamwork, there is no room for the lone wolf when it comes to the cause of God. Furthermore, it is not a work for the select few, the elite, the skilled, or the chosen. There is no qualifier to the work of God, other than being a child of God. Thus, as the seventy-two are instructed just after the twelve have returned we see the natural progression outwards into the world of the mission of God. Furthermore, the seventy-two are implored to pray as they work that more might join them in the work. A prayer that presupposes two things – that the Gospel will bear fruit in the world, and to those in whom it bears fruit they will in response to the glorious gift they have received want to join the work. Thus, the image is of the body of Christ out in the fields of the world seeking to plant the Gospel in the souls of those who are yet to know it through acts of proclamation in both word and deed. Additionally, and beautifully as the role of the individual is lessoned we should be encouraged to the work of God because it is not about what we bring, or our ‘qualifications’ Thus, it is not about who does what, or what role we have, it is simply about the work getting done and the blessing that it is to partake in the work. The work of the Spiritual Harvest is not one farmer off in some far-field picking potatoes in the middle of the night, it is the work of an army of workers side-by-side gathering in the Spiritual Harvest, declaring the coming of the Kingdom of God in word and deed and praying, hoping, longing for others to join them still.
Go In Trust (3-7)
We are only something if we do it. If I train to become a medical doctor, yet never practice medicine I can hardly claim to be a doctor. A people called to do something, need to do it for the work to get done. Thus, after gathering and motivating his team Jesus then tells them to get to“Go!” That imperative to the Lord’s work is our imperative as well in daily life. Yes, that specific call was contextual to a different time and a people who were literally following Jesus. Nevertheless, its invocation that reminds for us today where we are, Our calls to the Spiritual Harvest is one given within our reality. Yes, there might be some of us who respond to God and head off to far-flung mission fields. Generally, most of us are called to join the fields of work right where we are. Our homes, schools, workplaces, churches, towns and every other place we might live and move are the fields that we have been called to. So we Go.
Yet, we do not go aimlessly into the night hoping to stumble into what God might have for us. Nor do we go and try to cling onto everything in our lives that we think we might need. The seventy-two are instructed to leave their all behind because God who calls us to the work, will provide for the work. They are to go, and they are to trust as they go. To be called by God, and to be used by God is to be someone who trusts God to provide for his work. Hence, Jesus instruction to take neither a purse, bag or sandals and to stay in a house where the welcome is found and eat and drink what is provided. Why? Simple logic: If you are hired for a job, you expect to be provided with the tools for the job. In the same way, as God calls us to his work he will provide for it. We trust that he will provide more workers and the material and tools we need to see his Kingdom come.
Today, for us as we commit to Gods Spiritual Harvest that does not mean that every morning we leave our house we don’t take our wallet, shoes or bag and then on the way home, we stop somewhere random to eat. It means that as a people called, and a church active we do not become dismayed by the size of the task and moan or withdrawn, but we get to it, and as we act we trust God to meet the needs that need to be met. What God calls us to, we must trust Him to provide for.
Word & Deed (9-12)
In this passage we have been reminded of some of the realities of the world: Prayer, Teamwork, Trust, and ‘Going’. Now, in the final section of this passage that we are looking at as Jesus instructs the seventy-two, we see what the work looks like. Broadly speaking the work of the spiritual harvest is two-fold: It involves both word and deed. As they go out, in the places they go to where they find welcome they are instructed to stay and get to the work. A word of both word and deed as a proclamation of hope and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Yes, the Gospel is communicated with words, that is of no doubt; but, is it also verified through how we act and interact with the world around us. Thus the same wisdom Jesus teaches to the seventy-two then, we are to learn from now; disciples today who are seeking to live out the call of Christ are a people who share the gospel in words, and were welcome is known to seek to verify it via deeds. It is a principle of duality that should not surprise anyone who has ever ready the bible; from the conception of the nation of Israel God’s people had been instructed to worship him in word, and to show that Love of him indeed – in how they treat others. It was a duality further modelled by Jesus, as he came to speak Gods true and to show Gods love to the world. In fact, one of the original words used for ‘disciple’ (akoloutheō) means to learn by participation: It comes from two greek words; one meaning union, and another meaning ‘road.’ Thus, the inference is that as a disciple you join your teacher on the road they walk – you follow behind them. Discipleship is not just the learning of truth, it is at its very core, the participation in truth. Our practical acts of faith (along with the speaking of the Gospel) show the love of Jesus we do the work of the spiritual harvest. As he did, so do we; as he lived, so must we:
“Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing his disgrace” Hebrews 13:13 (CSB)
That “what” of the spiritual harvest will look different from the contexts we find ourselves ministering in, and dependant on the gifts that God has given to each of us. Nevertheless, the imperative is clear, if we are a people who claim to follow Jesus, then it must show how we live. So beautiful is the love of God, and relationship with Christ that we want others to know the wonder of it. Fundamentally, that is the work of the spiritual harvest – sharing the goodness of what we have received. That sharing is done in word and deed. Thus, within the context of this passage where the messengers find welcome, they are to proclaim the hope of the Gospel and show the love of God.
Whereas ‘acts of compassion’ within the context of the Spiritual Harvest seem to be specific to where the welcome is received, the messenger is still called to proclaim and act regardless of welcome. Thus, if the worker finds themselves somewhere hostile to the message of the coming of the Gods Kingdom they are to proclaim (and show) it anyway. Their words will act as a warning and their deeds (the wiping off of the dirt of their feet). This message of ‘the coming of the Kingdom of God’ is both one of hope and judgement: Hope, to those who receive it because it means a restoration of our relationship with God; Judgement, for those who reject it because it means they will pay the price for their sin, separation from God. Thus in welcome or rejection, we speak the same message and trust that God will do the work he wants to do. The work of the spiritual harvest that we are called together to do is one of word and deed, regardless of the context in which we work; some fields require little labour to bare immense produce, others require considerable labour for little fruit – nonetheless, we labour not for the reward, but for the Lord. As we act and speak – either the message of hope or judgment – we trust that God will prick the hearts of many and make them ready to respond. Today, let us consider as followers of Jesus how God is calling us to do the work of the spiritual harvest in our local fields, How are we proclaiming, and showing the coming of Gods Kingdom in a way that both displays the hope of the message, and makes clear the warning to those who do not heed it.
Conclusion: Carrying on the work
As we reflect on the harvest from our land in this season of thanksgiving, let us consider all that Luke has taught us over these two passages sections of his Gospel. We have focused on the second of the commissioning, but let us not lose sight of the structure of the passage. That in-between the sending out of the twelve and the seven-two is the example of Jesus as he feeds the five thousand, as he got the work of the Spiritual Harvest. May the purpose of an earthly harvest, life, challenge us and increase in us the desire of urgency and need, as we deal with matters of eternity. Then let us live out that purpose and respond to the call of Jesus – if we have given our lives to him – to join the work of the harvest.
Let us heed the truth of this passage: remembering that God is sovereign; praying that he will send more workers and then is the answer to our prayers as together we go into the fields to do the work that God has called us to, the work of the spiritual harvest. That corporately and individually through word and deed we get to the work of Jesus, living for, and serving him. That is the example of Jesus given to us as he feeds the five thousand, so as he did let us so do. That by our speaking he might be made known, and by our loving his beauty manifested in this world.
The Fruit of the Harvest made Visible in One
Lastly, I want us to consider one more passage that I think perfectly sums up the picture of the Spiritual Harvest. Why we do it, and the effects of the Gospel seed in the life of a person when the Lord does its work. In John 4, Jesus stops at a wheel to get a drink, and as he is there he meets a Samaritan Women. It is a well known biblical story of the women who had five husbands and now lives with a man to whom she is not married. Yet, it is one (of many) encounters were we see all that we have been considering come to life. In Jesus interaction with the women we see the purpose of the spiritual harvest – true life; and the way of the harvest: Prayer, Action, trust, compassion and proclaiming. Furthermore, we see the fruit of the Spiritual harvest and how it leads others to join in the work. We could spend another day just looking at John 4 and what it teaches us around the same themes. As the disciples arrive back to find Jesus sitting with this strange samaritan women they are dismayed, so disturbed that they try to usher her away quickly. Yet Jesus is having none of it as he responds using the imagery of the harvest to challenge the disciples to their work of the Spiritual Harvest:
“Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” – “John 4:35 NIV
It is like Jesus is saying to them: “Do you know see that this is what we are about – people, and them finding life in me. This is the work I have called you to, this is the work of the Spiritual Harvest.” But what they would see in her, is the fruits of the spiritual harvest. For as she responded to the good news of Jesus Christ, she went and proclaimed all that she had come to believe and know as true: That Jesus was the one they had been waiting for, that he was the source of all life. She went into the very town, where before she would not have known much welcome to proclaim the message of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Was she worried about how she might be received? No, because in Jesus she had found the one who fully receives us. What she had grasped was the beauty, truth and power of the Gospel. That are saving is not static, no as God calls us to himself, he also calls us to his fields so she went carrying the good news of Jesus in the hope that others might know it, and in the hope that others would join the work. She knew that the message was so good, so powerful and transformative that she could not just keep it to herself. She had found love and wanted to make love know. In her example, we see both how we are called to God, and then want to get to the work of the harvest. Are you following her example? Do you know the wonder of Jesus, can you safely say that you have responded to his message, the message of the coming of the Kingdom of God. A Message that is both one of hope, and a warning. To know Jesus and have a relationship with God through what he did on the cross is to respond to the warning of the message by accepting the hope. Then, by the natural overflow of the gifts, we have received, after coming to Jesus we don’t withdraw to a dark room and wait for the world to pass. No, because we know him we want to make him known so we join the workers in the fields to continue the work that God calls all of his children too. Those workers who span nations, tribes, ethnicity, economics, and politics; who in their contexts and faith communities are proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God in both word and deed. The Samaritan women are the reminder of the work of the Spiritual Harvest, that God does not just save us from something, he saves us for something – his work. So together as we give thanks for all that God has provided let us together get to the work that God has provided for us. Through knowing Gods sovereign power, praying, going, proclaiming and doing let us join God and his church in the work of the spiritual harvest. All the gifts the land might give us are nothing compared to the greatest gift of all: the Grace and Mercy of God as received in Christ, that is our hope, and making it known is our call – this is the work of the Spiritual Harvest. Do you know him? And, are you making him Known?