This last week, there was another school shooting. In the aftermath of the school shooting, we heard and read many opinions about what ought to be done. We also heard many people condemning those who disagree with them. Any shooting, in fact, any death, is a tragedy and we ought to keep the families of all the victims in our prayers. What I notice, though, is that there are so many supposed Christians who are quick jump on society’s hate-train. As a society, we are quick to condemn those who disagree with us. Grace is lacking and people seem to be more and more hateful and quarrelsome as time passes.
As we think about discipleship and our participation in the work of God on this earth, I wonder precisely what our message is to be in the midst of society’s depravity. Is the message of God a message of condemnation or of peace? Are we to declare war on the moral failures of the society we live in? As I preach, teach, raise my children, and tell others about Jesus, what is my focus to be? Exactly what sort of message does Jesus want us to proclaim as we make disciples and as we live among wolves?
Luke 10:1-12 HCSB
After this, the Lord appointed 70 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 son 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 be moving 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 as a witness against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. 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.
As we dive into this passage of Scripture, there are a few things that I notice from the outset. First, Christ has declared that the harvest is abundant. Second, He is sending his people out like lambs among wolves. Third, the primary message is to be a message of peace.
As Jesus was sending people out to preach the Gospel and to prepare a way for Him, He told them explicitly that the harvest is abundant. What is this harvest and what can we glean from the fact that Jesus said this harvest is abundant?
Jesus was sending these people out to work the harvest and the way that they would work the harvest was by doing good deeds and telling the people that the kingdom of God has come near. The harvest, then, is the bringing of people into God’s kingdom.
By the time Jesus is sending out these seventy-two people, He is saying that the harvest is already abundant. The seventy-two people did not prepare the harvest. They were simply to go out and reap the abundance that had already been prepared.
When we think about discipleship, then, especially when it comes to the great commission (the command to make disciples of all nations), we cannot think of it in terms of our bringing people into the kingdom of God. By this simple statement from Christ’s own lips, I cannot believe that I, by any power or skill of my own, can actually bring anyone into Christ’s kingdom. The harvest has already been prepared and is, according to Christ, already abundant. My only job when it comes to evangelism, which is part of discipleship, is to, by good works and the proclamation of Christ’s kingdom, reap what has already been prepared.
In John 4:34-38, we see John’s account of this teaching:
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”
Jesus specifically stated that this harvest is God’s work and that He (Jesus) is the one finishing that work. God, through the person of Jesus, sows and we get to reap what we did not labor for. We get to rejoice with Jesus and we get to benefit from the labor of others.
Jesus also told those that He sent out that He was sending them as lambs among wolves.
Message of peace
Even though He has sent His disciples out as lambs among the wolves, there is an abundant harvest and, according to verses five and nine, the primary message is a message of peace. Even though people are prone to violence, to jealousy, toward condemnation, toward racism, and toward domination, God’s message is a message of peace.
We, then, consider the stereotypical ‘christian’ in our day. We have gotten really good at condemning people and making it sound like we are spiritually mature when we do. A teenage girl gets pregnant and people who should be mature in the faith condemn her for the atrocious act of having sex before marriage. Somebody does something in a manner that we think is inappropriate and we condemn. Someone takes a divergent political view than our own and we ostracize him or her. We tell people that they are going to hell because of what they are doing. We still hear fire and brimstone sermons from many pulpits. We still hear a sort-of therapeutic moralism and works-based righteousness taught in many classrooms. I know that God is just. He must punish sin. What we forget, though, is that He punished sin on the cross of Christ and now declares peace to people regardless of how terrible they are. As we make disciples, our primary message is peace. People are wolves, yes. Jesus recognized as much. Even when we look at a parallel passage in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 10), Jesus sends out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom and to practice good deeds. Yet, He told them that even sons would persecute fathers because of the message. For this reason, Jesus told them, in Matthew 10, that His goal was not to bring peace in this world of wolvery, but a sword. That is why we say that the goal of discipleship is not peace, but repentance. The disciples were to declare the peace of God. The world of wolves would ignore that peace and act in war toward God and toward God’s people. This is the way that it will be in this world until the judgment. Then, in the resurrection, Jesus will establish an everlasting physical peace for His people (Revelation 21:3-4). So, then, let us declare peace. Christ is the one laboring to produce the harvest. He will regenerate hearts and transform wolves into lambs. I preach peace and trust God to produce the harvest. I am here to reap, not produce. Let all who would come, come. Those who do not come have chosen not to accept God’s offer of peace, the offer that we are to make to everyone as we are making disciples.
So, the point of discipleship is repentance (Luke 3). The demeanor of discipleship is humility. Those who wish to be great are to become like the youngest and leaders are to be servants (Luke 22). The message of discipleship is always peace. This means that when we practice accountability or church discipline, the objective must always be restoration. This is why Paul makes the application, “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:19). It is why in Hebrews 10:25, the biblical author writes that we are not to forsake our religious meetings so that we might encourage one another all the more. God declares peace with people. It is people who make an enemy of God.
In verse twelve, Jesus teaches that those who do not accept the peace of God will indeed reap the consequences in the judgment. For a great many, it will be worse for them than for the people of Sodom. I fear that there are many, even within the walls of the organized church, who have not accepted God’s peace.
Jesus is the prince of peace.
Jesus is so honest about this: there will be people who do not accept a good message of peace. There are wolves! Our objective is not to force people, trick people, or entertain people into accepting this message. We continue to harvest a field that God, by His grace, has prepared. God declares peace with people. It is people who make an enemy of God. It has been this way from Genesis 3 onward, but for some reason, people like to blame God for everything bad. There will be a judgment, and the enemies of God, who are enemies by their own choosing, will receive their due judgment. This passage in Scripture, the very words of Christ, indicates that some judgments will be more tolerable than others. There were many people who could not be disciples and in the verses following this passage we even read that Jesus named several towns full of people who rejected Him.
When we arrive in Luke 13:34-35, Jesus is lamenting over the city of Jerusalem because the people were not willing to receive the prophets of old or the Messiah. It’s like anyone through history who has truly spoken the words of God has not really been accepted by the world. In chapter 14, as Jesus’ heart gets heavier and heavier, He is teaching about lost children and the downfall of religiosity. In verses 25-27, Jesus turned to the crowds that were following Him and actually told them what sort of people could not be His disciples:
Now great crowds were traveling with Him. So He turned and said to them: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, and even his own life — he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
If Jesus were to say this in our day, we would want to be so politically correct that we would foolishly turn to Him and say, “Jesus, you can’t say stuff like this!” We forget that Jesus is concerned with building His kingdom, not ours. Before Jesus makes this statement, He tells a parable in which a man was having a banquet and invited many people to attend. Those who were invited to the man’s banquet began to make excuses. They were too consumed with their own lives to go. One man had to go see his new field. Another had to try out his new oxen. Still, another got married and did not want to come on account of his wife. The man became angry and sent his servant to invite the poor, maimed, blind, and lame, people who were not attached to anything in this world, instead. After they came, there was still room, so the man instructed that more people be invited until the whole house is full. Those who were invited that were too attached to the things of the world would never be able to enjoy the man’s banquet (Luke 14:15-24 summary).
Hatred could mean a few different things. I hate what cake does to my body, but I oh so love cake. This hatred that Christ speaks of is not, then, a vindictiveness or maliciousness toward another human person. Remember, the primary message is peace. We are to live at peace with everyone as much as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). This hatred, instead, is such that I detest the worldly or ungodly nature of things, even my own self. Romans 8:6-8 reads:
“For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
I am brought by God to a humbling recognition that this world and this flesh are not my home. I am a sojourner here and I am carrying my cross in this life that I might be raised with Christ. If I get too attached to the stuff I have or find my identity in my worldly, human relationships or the size of my following, then I am concerned with my kingdom. If I love anything or anyone more than Christ, then I cannot be a disciple of Christ. When I am a disciple, when I accept Christ’s invitation to dine with and have fellowship with Him, I have chosen to detest the worldliness of things, even my own life. So I die to my own worldliness daily. That is what it means to carry my cross: the instrument Christ used to redeem me and a sign of the suffering and the shame of this world. Either I love my own life and the things that I bring into my own life or I long for the life that Jesus has for me that will be established in eternity. This is not the only instance in which we see language like this in Scripture:
“But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ — the righteousness from God based on faith” (Paul in Philippians 3:7-9).
“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.
“This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you — you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Jesus in Matthew 6:24-34).
Christ is the unifying factor, here, not some love that I can muster for myself. Everything I have I count as loss for the sake of just knowing Christ. My position, I count as loss. My religiosity, I count as loss. My works-based righteousness or my moral standing, I count as loss. My property, I count as loss. My money, I count as loss. My theology, I count as loss. My way of doing things, I count as loss. My family, I count as loss. For when my attention is entirely devoted to any of these things, I become the man who has refused Christ’s invitation to dine and to fellowship with Him. If Christ alone has my complete devotion, then I get to go into His house and be with Him and I receive a great promise. If I seek first the kingdom of God, loving Christ with all of my love, all of this will be added to me. God is the one who adds these things for His glory and for our good. It is by God’s grace that I get to be married and have a son and that I get to do anything that I do. When my dedication is to Christ alone, then it is Christ who brings all this other stuff together in a way that is more beautiful and has deeper meaning than I could ever muster with my love. When I hate the things of the world, even my own life, Christ gives life and relationships and rewards that are based in His kingdom and for His glory in place of this empire of dirt that I would build for myself. He does so at His own discretion, meaning I may not get everything that I think I want. Romans 8:28 promises that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
In John 15, we read of how Christ is the vine and His people are the branches being cultivated by Christ to bear fruit. In verse five, Jesus implores His disciples to abide in Him because apart from Him they can do nothing. I want to, in the next few moments, rest in this idea. Apart from Christ, we are not capable of anything. It is only by God’s providence that I can even strive to declare the holy word of God. It is only by Christ’s graces that any imperfect and sinful person can serve as the pastor of a church. Only by grace can a deacon truly be the servant that we read about in Acts 6 and only if Christ allows can any person or any local church live by faith. Christ is pruning His own branches. By grace alone can I even try to follow or love Christ. Only by Christ’s providence does anyone actually have the opportunity to deny Him. In fact, even my will only exists if God, through Christ (John 1), speaks it into existence. For every person, every choice, and every action is impossible without Christ’s providence. Yet, I get caught up in my way of doing things and often speak in ways that do not build others up. I am often concerned with my own position or status. I forget that without Christ I can do nothing. I forget that without Christ others are incapable of doing anything. So when I speak, I must not tout the preferences or methodology or tradition or philosophy of Andrew Cannon. I must speak Christ and Christ will move people as He sees fit for His glory and for the good of those who love Him.
I count everything as loss for the sake of knowing Christ.
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
a light has dawned
on those living in the land of darkness.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.
The people have rejoiced before You
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
For You have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as You did on the day of Midian.
For the trampling boot of battle
and the bloodied garments of war
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:2-7).
Jesus is the prince of peace.
I count everything as loss for the sake of knowing Christ.