CS Lewis is one of the greatest writers of the Christian faith, but he did not start out a great writer; in fact, the first thing he published – a book of Lyric Verses – in 1919 attached little attention or interest. Every writer writes for a reason in the hope that people read their work, think through their ideas or are captured by their stories. While Clive Hamilton would not be known as a great poet, that rejection would lead him to write in the areas of Academics and faith: works that are still the standard texts for study today and that have impacted millions of Christians and societies across the generations. One of those great works was the chronicles of Narnia, a collection of books that told of the Resurrection Hope (that he had in Jesus) in a way that was both Mystical, simple, and obvious – yet powerful. When asked why he had written those books, Lewis was reported to have said it was the sort of book he wished he had read as a child and that there was a need for them now.1 The Chronicle of Narnia helped shape the thinking and imagery of a generation of Christians, and you could say that there is no greater set of books that have had an impact for the Kingdom of God, with each book the story unfolded and then the hope of Christ was made known and clearer.
The bible is a collection of books brought together into one library that help unfold the amazing story of God’s love, grace and Mercy for humanity made known through the story and history of His people Israel; and then declared loudly through the story of one person – Jesus. We know of the Life of Jesus and his ministry, his death and teachings through the written accounts of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, John and Luke, and it is today that we mark the ministry of one one of those men and give thanks for all that he did – Luke. Luke is the author of the third Gospel as we see it written in the New Testament, but we sometimes forget that it was not a stand-alone work. Luke wrote two books to be read together. His Gospel account of the Life of Jesus: which tells of the Ministry and teachings of Jesus, his death and resurrection and then Acts: Which records the Early church’s history – the life and ministry of Jesus continued through his Body in the Power of the Holy Spirit. As Lewis wrote a series of books so that the world might Know Jesus, St Luke wrote a two-part epic that each of us here might come to know Jesus as God and Lord, then as we go from here that we would make him known! Hence the words of Luke at the beginning of this Gospel: “since I have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.2 Luke the Doctor wrote his two volumes that we might know.
Just before our reading this morning, Jesus had sent out the twelve in power and authority to drive out all demons, cure disease and proclaim the Kingdom of God, a sort of practice run for the men who would become the Apostles and carry out the work of Christ in his Body when he ascended in Victory to heaven. In the moments after that, we have had the feeding of the five thousand, the declaration of Jesus as Messiah by Peter, the transfiguration, Jesus driving out a demon, and the beginning of opposition from the those opposed to Jesus as he taught about the Kingdom of God. Chapter nine ends with a startling exchange for all who might follow Jesus as different men declare that they will follow Jesus wherever he goes and to each Jesus warning about the cost of discipleship, summed up in the warning: “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” It is after this start truth about the reality of the call that Jesus calls and commissions the 72 sending them out ahead of him as both emissaries of the Kingdom of God and missionaries for the work of God. In the 72, we are reminded of the “why” Luke wrote his two-volume work and challenged to consider what it means for us today, so let us think about what we learn about Jesus and what it means to follow Him.
The Reality of Following Jesus (1)
One of the most dangerous understandings of following Jesus is that it requires nothing of us. That the results of faith are nothing more than something to come and something we wait for, yet, when you read Lukes work you soon realise the call that is placed on every disciple. We see that call here in the mission of the seventy-two as they are sent out to serve and make ready the ground for the ministry of Jesus. As they are sent out, so are we sent out now in the same way to the same end – to make ready the ground for the coming of Jesus and declare the coming of his Kingdom. Notice how these willing disciples were sent out not alone to face the world, but together in pairs: There are no lone wolfs in the Kingdom, no super-disciples who get it all done on their own strength, we are sent individually but collectively because our strength for the work comes from the Body of Christ, the community of Believers. So as we go, let us go willing and let us remember that we are called together, all serving the same ends.
The Potential and Urgency of the Harvest (2a)
One of the biggest stories these last few months has been the unfolding crises around fuel supply in England because of the shortage of Haulage drivers to deliver the fuel. It has not been because there is not enough petrol or diesel in the UK, but there have not been enough drivers to get the fuel to the pumps. The limited supply of HGV drivers has had a cascading effect not just on fuel but shops and food supplies as suddenly we are being told to order our Christmas present at the start of November! Jesus begins his commission to the seventy-two by sending them out and telling them about the abundance of the harvest; it is “plentiful,” yet inequality with the abundance of the harvest is the urgency, highlighted by the lack of workers. Our call is to join the work, grasp the urgency and help fulfil the potential of the harvest.
He Who Sends is Sovereign over the Work So We Trust (2b – 4)
The strange dichotomy of the Kingdom of God is highlighted immediately after we see the urgency of need. How? Yes, there is a great urgency due to a lack of workers for the Harvest, yet, we are not needed for the work. Jesus implores the 72 to go out into the fields and do the work and pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers. The point that Jesus seems to be making is that while we go, we go as people under the authority of the one who sent dependant and us on his power – The Lord of the Harvest. The potential of the harvest and the lack of workers compels us to pray for people to join in the work and reminds us that as we are both an answer to our prayer, we are dependant on the one we pray to The Lord of the Harvest, Jesus who is sovereign over all things.
Jesus is not shy about the reality of the call, using a common Jewish metaphor to highlight the dangerous reality of this vocation. The seventy-two are being sent out like lambs among wolves. The potential of the labour is great, but so is the danger that will accompany it. Yet, greater than any danger is the one who has authority – the Lord of the Harvest, so we are to trust Him and depend on him. The seventy-two show their trust by travelling light and carrying little.
Go and Proclaim (5-12)
As an HGV driver must go and deliver the goods that they have been given, so we all Disciples are entrusted with something of infinite value that needs to be delivered. Jesus here sends out the 72 under his authority. As they travel light for the journey, they are to seek peace with the people they will come across (5-6), a peace that will then provide for them as they work for the Kingdom, yet in that providence, we are to remember that we are not working for our own advantage but the one who sent us (7). As we are sent, we are to accept whatever is offered to us, serve freely for the Kingdom, and bring about the Kingdom. Proclaiming and living out a message that is both good news to those who hear it; heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God has come (9): and a warning to those who might reject it; wiping the dust from our feet and warning “The Kingdom of God has come near… it will be more bearable on the day of Sodom than for this town.”
Conclusion: A Story Still Being Written
There are seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia, finishing with The Last Battle in 1956, which chronicles the end of the Narnia as Jill and Eustace return to save Narnia from the Ape Shift has tricked Puzzle the Donkey into impersonating Aslan. I love how that book ends as Lewis wrote: “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now, at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Today, as we celebrate the ministry of Luke and his writings and we think about the example and challenge of seventy-two, we are reminded that although his work was a Two-Volume collection, it is still being written today! Lukes account of the Life of Jesus laid the foundation for his account of the Body of Christ the church, and that book of Acts is the only book of the bible that does not finish with a fullstop! Why? Because it is still being written this day and until the day that Christ comes again. So let us get on with writing our bit about the Kingdom of God where Christ has called us to together because the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.