In the Gospel of Luke, in chapter ten, Luke records when Jesus sent out seventy-two of his followers in pairs to the towns where he was going to visit. This is similar in some ways to when Jesus sends out the twelve disciples earlier in the book. There are, however, some differences. Jesus uses very specific words to convey the task he was setting before these individuals. Here is the passage as it is written in Luke:
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.’
12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
There are a few key things that I want to focus on. First of all, Jesus sends seventy-two (some manuscripts record that there were seventy). Why seventy-two? Well, in Exodus, when Moses recognized that he could not govern the Israelites by himself, he appointed seventy judges to govern the people. This was a familiar number to the individuals Jesus was sending. Even if the actual number was seventy-two, it is estimated that there were seventy-two Gentile nations during this time period and the seventy-two were being sent out to the Gentiles. The twelve that were sent out earlier in the book were sent to the Jews. The twelve represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus knows his audience.
Second, Jesus sends them out in pairs. Why? Jesus tells them that they are being sent out as sheep among wolves. Wolves prey on weak individual sheep, or sheep that are hindered or unhealthy. There is strength in numbers. The two can provide accountability and encouragement. They can also stand against false witness. We cannot live out our Christian lives as islands. We need each other. Jesus designed ministry to be done in teams.
Third, they are told to pack light and not to waste time making small talk. There is a sense of urgency here. This mission is for the seventy-two to go into the ‘fields’ and reap the ‘harvest.’ The Kindgdom of God is near, there is no time to waste!
What is so interesting about this agricultural reference is that when the seventy-two ‘laborers’ go into the ‘harvest’ they are not simply looking for wheat or corn to stick in a basket and store away. They are reaping more laborers to help bring in the rest of the harvest.
What I always missed was that this passage is not about the harvest. That’s the easy part. What this passage is about is the laborers. The laborers were few. We are sent out to those who have not met Jesus yet. We are sent together with other believers to keep us accountable and encouraged. There is urgency and we must go. But here is the encouragement: the harvest is guaranteed. Jesus says it is plentiful. Mark Driscoll, Lead Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, refers to these ‘pre-Christians’ to be harvested as the low-hanging fruit. These are people who have already been prepped. These are not the people who are going to fight you, these are the people who have been waiting for you to invite them to church. The work has already been done, we are just called to collect what God has planted and tended to.
This is not a job we have to do. If you don’t, there will be others to come along and collect the harvest. This is a job we get to do! God is our Father and the land owner. His Son, Jesus is the seed, or the crop. The Holy Spirit is the sun and the water. We get to join in the reaping of the harvest! The reason we do this is not duty. The reason we do this is because we cannot possibly think of a better way to respond to the gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you are moved by duty and believe that if you DO, then you can get some reward, you are doing it wrong. There is no special formula. You can’t DO anything to earn your reward. It has been given to you already.
The seventy-two in Luke are not named. We do not know who they were. In the same way it is not about who YOU are. It is about who HE is. God does the work, we just collect the harvest. Pray for more laborers. Ask God to show you the low hanging fruit in your life and join together with the body of Christ and reap the harvest with me!