Luke 10:1-20 “The Mission of the Seventy”
This morning I want you to look in your pew Bibles at a curiosity that exists in the layout of the text of Luke 10. First, look back at Luke 9 with all of its subheadings. You will note that under every subheading one can see references to where the story can be found in the other Gospels. For instance, we see in Luke 9:46 from last week the subtitle “True Greatness,” and the textual references back to Matthew 18:1-5 and Mark 9:33-37. So with these, we can look up the parallel texts elsewhere in the Bible.
Now, look at the subtitle for Luke 10: “The Mission of the Seventy.” What is missing? No references to other texts are listed there. Could it be that Luke is the only one who mentions these seventy other disciples? It would seem to be the case. And, Luke, who is the author also of the Book of Acts, will make mention of these extra disciples in that book, but really nowhere else in the Bible do we see all of these other disciples of Jesus being counted up to seventy.
Furthermore, we have to read the footnote that says “Other ancient authorities read “seventy-two.” Wait a minute. Did we not just say that this text only is to be found in Luke and not the other Gospels? What other authorities are we discussing here? Well, in 170 AD Hippolytus of Rome made a list of these 70 apostles. Other lists were generated by other early church fathers. Some of the lists had seventy. Other lists had seventy-two.
What is so fascinating about all of this is that Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Book of Acts, is mentioned in the lists. In fact in every list that the early church fathers made of these seventy apostles, Luke appears. Nowhere in the Bible itself do we have evidence that Luke knew Jesus personally, but according to the early church records of the seventy, Luke was one of those sent out by Jesus! So, this is the only evidence we have today that Luke knew Jesus personally.
Why does Luke tell the story of the mission of the seventy while the other Gospel writers do not? Maybe it is because he was actually part of the greatest mission body sent out by Christ! This is when Luke is first commissioned to the ministry by Jesus.
In the orthodox Christian tradition, these seventy missionaries are still celebrated as saints throughout the year. Luke’s day of celebration is October 18th, by the way. But, if you went to an orthodox church, every Sunday of the year you would be reminded of one of these seventy early missionaries sent out by Jesus. I hope that we can remember them, especially Luke, this day.
This is not the first time that Jesus commissions His disciples to go out to minister in his name. If you remember a few weeks ago we read Luke 9 about how the 12 disciples were sent out. We have to note that there is a major difference between how the 12 were sent out and the how the 70 are sent. Looking at Luke 9, we see that the 12 disciples were actually first empowered by Jesus: “Then Jesus called the twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. . . .” In Luke 10 we see that Jesus simply appoints them to go off in pairs ahead of him. Even scarier is that Jesus says he is sending them out as “lambs among the wolves” (verse 3).
Let us not be too frightened by what this portends for those 70 missionaries! We get to jump right up to Luke 10:17, “The seventy returned with joy, saying ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us.’” Jesus recounts how he saw “Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightening.” Then, Jesus says that indeed he has given them the authority over the power of the enemy. Lastly he says that they should rejoice that their names are written on a list up in heaven. (That is probably why the early church fathers made lists of the seventy—because they wanted to match up with the list made in heaven by God!)
These missionaries were given power by Jesus and apparently were not even aware that they had this power! They just went out and cured people and cast out evil in the name of Jesus without any type of formal instruction.
I need to compare and contrast a bit more with the sending of the original twelve disciples at the start of Luke 9. As we see, both groups are sent out with no burdens to carry; that is to say, no food or extra clothes. They are both to enter a house (it is assumed by invitation.) The difference with the seventy comes with a caveat in Luke 10:7, “Do not move about from house to house.” So, the original twelve disciples would stay at one house and cure and heal, sharing the gospel of the coming kingdom, then the next night move on to another house. The seventy are told NOT to do that but rather just pick your one house and stay on there.
The command therefore is to stay and disciple the people in that home. The rule now is to create more missionaries to send out. Luke mentions actually in Acts 1:15 that the seventy are now one hundred and twenty. By the end of Act 2, Luke reports three thousand. We have to stay with those we want to disciple for Christ. That is the plan for the harvest: Get more workers by staying with them!
We have a different emphasis on mission being carried out now. It is not just enough to heal a person and share the gospel, now we see the seventy must stay and be present in the lives of the people. They are not just to tell the story of Jesus and heal in his name; they are to hear the stories of the people whose hearts they are changing for God. Theirs is a simple ministry of presence.
You see, you do not need special powers from Jesus to affect healing in other people’s lives. All you need to do is to listen, hold a hand, touch a shoulder, or even give a hug. Just stay with the person who is in need of having Jesus in his or her life. This is truly what makes the mission of the seventy so different from the previous mission of the twelve.
I am not sure who first said this, but this is an axiom that my husband and I live by: “Ministry is 90% presence.” In fact, one cannot do any kind of ministry if he or she is simply not there—physically and empathetically. We must stay in ministry with others until we look into the other person’s eyes and see Jesus looking back at us.
This last Good Friday, we learned of a pastor who had set up a worship service for the membership of his church. At 7pm he opened the doors of the church. He was not expecting a lot of people. Yet, he had prepared a sermon and prayers. After a half hour of waiting for folks to show up, he came to the conclusion that no one was coming. He did not know what he should do. Should he go ahead with the service even though no one showed up? Later his Facebook friends were asked what they would have done. At least through Facebook, he would not have to feel totally alone in his church on Good Friday.
When I say that “presence” is 90 percent of ministry, that means your very own presence here today and every Sunday. We sing “Surely the Presence of the Lord Is in this Place” to start the worship experience here. “I see glory on each face. . . .” is one of the following lines. When you come to worship in the Lord’s presence, you see him in the eyes of the people around you. You feel the Lord in the gentle hug, the hearty handshake, even a shaka from across the room.
This is a truly different kind of mission when we stay together in the Lord’s presence. The seventy missionaries had “staying power.” Indeed, it can take a lot of strength to stay on.
This last Sunday night, my husband got a call from the Emergency Room at KVMH. A man was about to die, and the family requested a Christian blessing. The man was eighty years old and had married his high school sweetheart. They had been together for sixty-six years. She would not leave his side in his final hours. She stayed with him. The next morning Olaf found her sleeping next to him in the hospital room.
What incredible “staying power.” This is what Jesus gives to those disciples when he commands the seventy to not jump from one house to the next but rather stay in that same house. That is the power that Jesus gives all of us today still. Do you feel it? Here we have staying power!
The other difference we see between the commissioning of the 12 in Luke 9 and the 70 in Luke 10 is the instruction of Jesus to “declare peace over the household.” That is a really good thing if you are planning to stay there awhile. Have you ever had houseguests that did not bring peace to the household? That is really tough.
Can you imagine the opposite of a missionary bringing peace to a house. The homeowner might have to evict you! “Great message about Jesus, but pick up your stuff and leave now you have upset my whole household!” I think we have all had a few houseguests like that!
I think the picture we are supposed to get from this scripture is of a missionary perhaps being invited to stay in a house where there is no peace, but then he or she gives the peace of Christ over to that home. This is again a different kind of mission that gets very personal with other people’s lives. Stay, bring peace. Bring peace to your own families as well by accepting a Christian or two into your home!
I invite you now to consider that we are all called by Jesus to make disciples of all nations. Let us begin by being present with those other people. Let us bless them with peace over their lives. And, lastly let us have the staying power that those too might feel the call to this very mission.