Luke 10:1–12, 16–20 After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.
2He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go your way. Look, I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. 4Do not carry a money bag or traveler’s bag or sandals. Do not greet anyone along the way. 5Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ 6And if a peaceful person is there, your peace will rest on him, but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in that same house, eating and drinking what they give you, because the worker is worthy of his pay. Do not keep moving from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and they welcome you, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are in the town and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’
10“But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust from your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom on that day than for that town.
16Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!”
18He told them, “I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19Look, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing will ever harm you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven.”
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17)
When I started as a home missionary twenty years ago near Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the members of Faith Lutheran Church and I were out regularly doing outreach work. We knocked on doors, put flyers on door handles, did phone canvassing, had a booth in festivals and marched in the parade. One family that came from all that outreach work were Rick and Mandy. They lived in the apartments behind our storefront church.
Rick and Mandy came to our church in search of assistance from our food pantry, but they found so much more. Rick came for anger management counseling and both came for marriage counseling. Our members helped them out with food, rides to the grocery store or hospital, babysitting, and moving from one apartment to the next. They came for worship services and Bible studies but were inconsistent in their attendance.
At the time, their lives were a total mess. The two of them were constantly arguing. They drank and smoked. Their home life was so bad that Social Services became involved. Before I left Kentucky, I met with them in the Hardin County courthouse to try to get custody of their children back.
To be honest, I thought they were a lost cause. But God had other plans.
Mandy connected with me on Facebook a while ago. She told me that her name is changed because God had changed her life. She gave me permission to share her story. We may not agree with all the choices that Mandy made in her life, but we can see God at work in her life.
Since the last time I saw Mandy, over 15 years ago, she divorced Rick after he abandoned her. She has remarried and had child number three. She made the most difficult of decisions by allowing another family to adopt her two children from her previous marriage. The children were younger and had been in foster care with Social Services for so long that Mandy thought it would be best for them to live with another family. Currently, she is involved in her church, owns a daycare and a wrecker company with her husband and now they serve as foster parents to other children. She has also given up smoking and drinking. In her message to me she wrote, “I’m not proud of my past, obviously, but thanks to God I am at peace with it.”
I thought that all of the assistance, counseling and friendship that we had given to Mandy and Rick had fallen on deaf ears and hard hearts. But the harvest is plentiful! I am reminded of the apostle Paul who wrote: “[We] are servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). God used me and the other members of our congregation to plant the faith and others helped it grow. Or I am reminded of the promises of the Lord: “[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
We rejoice that the Lamb of God sent his lambs out amongst the wolves. The Lamb blessed those efforts with another victory for his kingdom!
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus sends out his larger group of 72 disciples to do mission work in his name. There is urgency in Jesus’ sending. The harvest field is ripe. And the workers are few. No time to waste. Jesus sends these 72 as laborers into the harvest field to grab what is ripe for the picking. There is danger. They will be like defenseless lambs among ravenous wolves. But they are not going alone. The perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, goes with them. He sends them out empty-handed, dependent, nothing of their own to offer the world. No purse, no backpack, no extra pair of sandals. For in this battle in which they are about to engage, they will not need those things. The Lord will provide.
This is no vacation trip with the family. Not even a polite greeting on the road. The urgency is too great. The kingdom of God has come.
And so they go. And so they speak. Not their words, but his. Not their authority but his. Not their strength, but his. They are like lambs before the wolves. But they are not to fight the wolves, but feed them the Word of God. They are to preach peace, heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God.
We’re not told how long they are gone, but when they return, we find out that in this battle of lamb versus wolf, the lamb wins! All 72 return – not one is lost! – and they joyously report: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus kind of blows them off and says, “That’s nothing. I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” In other words, this was no surprise victory to Jesus. He vividly portrays the effect that the proclamation of his saving gospel had on Satan and his minions. Their evil grip on humanity has loosened.
The 72 disciples were rejoicing that they had great fun stepping on snakes and stomping scorpions, healing the sick, preaching the kingdom, casting out demons, recognizing that though devils all the world should fill, they can harm us none. Those things were great and visible evidences of God’s work in their ministry. But the greatest victory and cause for rejoicing was that their names were written in the Book of Life in heaven.
I was at our WLS registration Thursday night. I saw so many families I didn’t recognize and introduced myself to all of them. That is a ripe mission field right in our own school! More names for the Book of Life!
When we talked about Hispanic outreach a few weeks ago, we learned that 30% of the Racine population is Hispanic. As a culture and a community, they are not being served with the saving gospel. That is a ripe mission field right around our church! More names for the Book of Life!
One third to one half of our Epiphany families do not worship with us during the week. That is a ripe mission field right within our church family! More names for the Book of Life!
We often think that Jesus has called certain individuals to do the work. We pay pastors and teachers to share the Word from the pulpit and in the classroom and make evangelism calls on new families. But Jesus appoints and sends ordinary people to share his Kingdom. He gives ordinary people the opportunity to be a part of his plan to bring his Kingdom near to all people.
I share the story of Mandy with you because all of us have at one point been Mandy. And all of us know a Mandy somewhere in our lives. A broken marriage. Anger out of control. Too much alcohol. Escalating debt. Dead-end job. In and out of the hospital. Messed up family life. No where to go. No where to turn. In need of assistance.
But then one of the nameless, countless 72 came along and told you about Jesus. They told you about the innocent Lamb who lived among ravenous wolves. He felt the fangs, suffered the worst the world had to offer, entered the abyss of death and rose to life again. He appeared conquered by sin but is now the Conqueror. He appeared devoured by death but is now the Devourer. He is the crucified who is now the Victor. Not for himself, but for you. That His death be your death and his life be your life. To reach out to you. To forgive you in his name. To wash you in his baptismal waters. To cover you in his blood. To nourish you with his body and blood. To convert you, change you, save you. To write your name in heaven.
And now Jesus is inviting you, calling you, sending you out as one of his nameless, countless 72. You don’t have to go into the farthest corners of the world. So many of the cultures of the world are right here in our community! Just reach into your own family, your workplace, your neighborhood. Share the love of Jesus with the scared, pregnant teenager. Share the miracles of God with the cancer patient. Share the resurrection with your dying grandmother. Share the perfect Bridegroom with your friend whose marriage is falling apart. Share peace in Jesus with your grumpy, old neighbor. Share the truth of God’s Word with your child who is attending a church with all kinds of false doctrines.
You don’t need to be afraid. Jesus is going with you. You don’t need to be nervous. Jesus is sending you with His authority. You don’t need to be worried about people’s reactions. Some will reject you, but others will hear your message and believe. You don’t need to take anything with you – only your Bible and your faith. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. You just need to do the work. And Jesus will bless your efforts.
Jesus has already promised the victory.
Some of the oldest images of Jesus are of him visually represented as a Lamb. In Christian art and architecture, the Lamb is shown in three different postures. The Lamb is lying on the Book with the Seven Seals hanging out of it. In St. John’s Revelation, the only one worthy to open the seals and look at their content is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). As the divine Judge, Jesus has the right to reveal what God has planned for time and eternity.
The Lamb is also pictured as wounded. There may be nimbus or halo around the head of the Lamb designating it as holy. A mortal wound has been struck upon the Lamb. Blood is pouring from the Lamb’s neck or side. The blood is collected in a cup or chalice. The Lamb may be holding a cross reminding us of the bitter agony of his death or he may be holding a banner of victory reminding us of his resurrection triumph. The wounded Lamb drives home this point: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
In the back of our sanctuary at Epiphany, we have the third way of representing Christ as the Lamb. In one of our stained-glass windows, the Lamb is holding a banner of victory after Christ’s resurrection. This symbol of the triumphant Lamb is very ancient and is often seen in Rome’s catacombs. Our Lamb is holding a banner that reads in Latin: “Ecce agnus dei;” “Look, the Lamb of God!” These are the words of John the Baptist when he pointed his disciples to Jesus saying, “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)!
Empowered by the victorious Lamb, the 72 advance into Satan’s territory carrying the Lamb’s victory flag. We bravely march forward with these brave 72. Until Judgment Day or the day the Lamb calls us home, we are in a war in Satan’s territory. Satan is a roaring lion who does everything he can to destroy us and halt the gospel’s advance. He sends out his ravenous wolves to defeat and destroy us. With the victorious Christ sending us out and standing by our side, we are protected. Jesus has already claimed the victory. We cannot lose.
We follow the Lamb into battle and then go out into the world proclaiming that Lamb’s victory to the world. Amen.
Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. Amen.