The Lord's Missionary Plan

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 10:1-2

After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

Luke 10:1-2,16 RSV

In all four of the New Testament gospels, we read of what is called a Great Commission: Jesus’ last charge to His disciples. They were to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” They were to “make disciples of all nations.” The message of “repentance and forgiveness of sins” was to be preached in the name of Jesus to every people group. But just how, we wonder, was this missionary project to be carried out?

I’ve been studying a passage of Scripture recently that unveils the heart of the Lord’s strategy. Listen. I am reading from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 10, verses 1,2 and 16. “After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to them, `The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” Then verse 16: “`He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.’”

I see here three key elements in the Lord’s missionary plan: 1. He sends His people out in pairs, 2. He enlists His peoples’ prayers and 3. In the preaching of His people, He preaches. Let’s look today at that strategy of Jesus for reaching the world and how it applies to us.

SENDING OUT PAIRS

First, He sends His people out in pairs. All the gospel writers tell us how Jesus chose His twelve disciples and what their names were. They had a special relationship to Jesus as the inner circle of His followers. They were given special authority as His apostles. Theirs was a unique, unrepeatable mission. There aren’t any apostles in the world today – people who walked about with Jesus in the days of His public ministry and beheld Him risen from the dead.

But they aren’t the only persons to whom Jesus gave a mission. Luke tells us in this passage of some seventy others whom Jesus sent forth with His message of the kingdom of God. We don’t hear much about these people. We don’t know any of their names. But they were all commissioned by Him and sent out two by two.

Here’s the first thing to note about all true missionaries, all authentic heralds of the cross: they are sent by Jesus. Remember how He said to the Twelve: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit”? (John 15:16). That was true not only for Simon and Andrew, James and John, but for these seventy others as well. It’s true for every other Christian missionary from that day to this. All are called, chosen and sent by the Lord of the church. He uses a myriad of means to make His will known to them. But they all come to the conviction that their ministry is a given, that they are not their own but have been bought with a price. They’ve all heard the Lord saying in some way, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And they have all responded, “Here am I, send me.” They know themselves to be sent.

But here for the first time we learn that they are sent out in pairs. Maybe that was true for the Twelve in some of their missionary expeditions also. We aren’t told. Here it’s specifically said that Jesus sent them by twos. The preacher in Ecclesiastes observes that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up” (Eccl. 4:9). Again, “If two lie together, they are warm, but how can one be warm alone, and though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.” Those are weighty reasons, aren’t they, for going out in pairs? Sometimes they are husband and wife, who support each other and keep each other warm. But it’s always good to have some companion to lift you up when you fall and to stand with you when you are under attack.

Here’s another Old Testament principle: in the mouth of two or three witnesses, let every word be established. When our testimony is supported by another voice, it gains weight and authority. A good missionary strategy, this two by two.

If you who are believers have ever done visitation evangelism, you know how great it is to have a partner. When you’re going out to knock on doors, to visit people you’ve never seen before, to try to share with them the gospel of Christ, that can be scary. As you stand on a door step, you may have butterflies in your stomach and your palms get moist. Sometimes you can be so nervous that you almost hope no one will come to the door. But having another person along gives you what you need to “hang in there.” Often when you don’t know exactly what to say, your partner chimes in with a timely word. You are praying while he speaks or she, and vice versa. And when you’ve completed your mission and you go back to the church to report on your calls, what a rich experience it is to celebrate with your partner! A strong bond of friendship is established when we go out together on the Lord’s mission by twos.

ENLISTING PRAYERS

Here’s the second element in the Lord’s missionary strategy: enlisting prayers. Jesus says to the seventy as He’s sending them out, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). Jesus tells His people in advance what the true situation is. There’s a plentiful harvest out there. They must have envisioned vast fields of waving grain. That image suggests a couple of things to us: one – preciousness. The harvest is the farmers’ livelihood. Gathering it in is a tremendously important task. Also, the idea of harvest implies urgency, doesn’t it? When the fields are ready to be reaped, there’s no tomorrow. Delay is out of the question. The priceless harvest can be lost if it isn’t gathered in time. Those are the people of the world to Jesus: precious in His sight, and needing to be gathered in while it is day.

But the Master of the fields has a problem: a labor shortage. The waiting fields are wide but the laborers are few. There were many in Jesus’ day who were professedly religious, but not many apparently who cared about bringing in the harvest, about reaching unreached people, about saving the lost. More zealous harvesters were obviously needed.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus told the Twelve and now the seventy about this need for laborers? They were going out to be harvesters. It would be well for them to realize that there was a great harvest. But why tell them that there weren’t enough workers to do the job? What could they do about that? It was the Master’s work to do the sending. Were they to try to enlist other workers for the task?

No, that wasn’t the Master’s plan. He would do the sending. He would raise up workers. He would put the gospel in their hearts, constrain them by His love and thrust them forth. That creative miracle only He can bring about. But there is something His missionary friends can do. They can pray.

And they are the logical ones to do it, aren’t they? They have the vision. They’re involved in the work. They see firsthand how great the need is. And because the Lord has moved their hearts, they care. Those pray best for the cause of the gospel who are already invested in it themselves.

But the truly amazing thing here is that the sending out of the laborers seems to depend in some sense on their prayers. Could the Lord do it without them? In one sense, of course He could. He can call into existence things that have no being at all. He can speak and it will be done. There’s nothing too hard for the Lord. But apparently, He has not chosen to do it that way in the sending out of harvesters. He could tell the gospel to everyone in the world, I suppose, without the agency of human preachers. But He hasn’t chosen to do that. And He could surely summon those laborers, thrust out those preachers, without our prayers. But He hasn’t chosen to do that either. In the wonder of His gracious purpose, He gives us a significant place. When we pray, “O Lord, send out workers into Your harvest,” He does it.

I wish I could convey to you how strongly I believe that. I’ve seen a group of people in a small church begin to pray that God would send out laborers into His harvest from their little community of faith. And I’ve seen, as a result, how one person after another decided to go into some form of ministry, to carry out some Christian witness. In simple terms, friends, it works. It happens just as Jesus said it would.

Here at Words of HOPE, we think about this promise every day. Ours is the work of launching pioneer foreign language broadcasts among peoples who have no Christian witness. And whenever we do that, we always have to find the key person who knows that language, who knows the Lord, and who wants to be an ambassador to his or her own people. So if we’re going to launch a broadcast in the Kashmiri language, we’re praying, “Lord, raise up a witness to this people. Send out a laborer into this area where the harvest is great and the laborers are few.” And time after time we have seen in miraculous ways how the Lord raises people up. That’s His strategy. Blessed be His name. He enlists the prayers of His people, and through them, He thrusts out the workers needed.

PREACHING THROUGH PREACHERS

Now for the last part: through the preaching of His preachers, Jesus preaches. Did you notice how it was put in the verses we’ve been considering? Jesus “sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place, where he himself was about to come.” Commentators have puzzled over this text. Jesus is sending out thirty-five teams. They’re going to towns and villages all over Israel. In what sense was Jesus going to go to every one of these places? There wasn’t time in the rest of His ministry. He was already on His way to Jerusalem for the final drama of His ministry: suffering, death and resurrection. In what sense were they going before Him? Listen to verse 16 that concludes this section in the gospel: “He who hears you,” says Jesus, “hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Somehow in the preaching of His followers, Jesus Himself addresses people.

For about ten years, I taught preaching in our seminary here in Michigan. As I worked with the students, I often used the late Bernard Manning’s definition of preaching, “Preaching is a manifestation of the incarnate Word, from the written Word, by the spoken word.” I think every Christian sermon fits into that framework. All preaching is a manifestation of Christ because He’s the central theme of our proclamation. We preach Jesus incarnate, crucified, risen, reigning, coming again. But there’s another way in which preaching is a manifestation of Jesus. He’s not only the great theme of preaching. He’s the author and proclaimer of it. Just as He said here, “He who hears you hears me.”

The apostle Paul had grasped the truth of that. Listen: “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). It’s God who makes His appeal through Christian preachers. It’s Jesus who in the words of His messengers calls men and women, boys and girls, to be reconciled to God, to come home to Him.

Now imagine that! Can it really be true? Preachers are such a bumbling bunch, weak, failing, sometimes pompous and pretentious, often getting in the way. You mean that anything some clown says from a pulpit is Jesus speaking? Well, however limited and unworthy the preacher may be, if the gospel is being preached, the answer is yes. If the word of the Lord is being proclaimed – not the preacher’s opinion on certain current affairs – but the Word of the Lord, then a miracle is happening. The risen Jesus is making His appeal through the preacher’s voice.

You can imagine how that affects a preacher if he or she really believes it. It’s enormously humbling. It’s tremendously encouraging, too, when we think about the possibilities it brings to our preaching.

And it’s a powerful message also for people who hear, people like you listening to this message now. I’m one of those fumbling, failing preachers, but I’m telling you today about Jesus Christ and how God loved you so much that He sent His Son into the world to share your life and bear your sins and die for you. I’m telling how God raised Him from the dead and now through Him offers forgiveness and new life to everyone who will believe. He is saying to you now, “Acknowledge your sins. Turn from them. Believe that Jesus died to save you. Call upon Him. Commit your life to Him.”

Now if you turn that down, you’re not slighting or offending me. This is not my pet idea. This is God’s gospel. And the important thing about this program is not that I’m speaking but that Jesus Christ is addressing you through His Word.

That’s heavy, because if you reject the Lord’s Word, you’re rejecting Him. Surely no one wants to be in that situation. So, beloved friends, listen, and realize that in the gospel you are now hearing, the Lord is calling you by name. Oh, say to Him, not no or maybe, but with your whole heart, Yes!