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Well, if you would, please, to Luke’s Gospel and chapter 9. I think there are Bibles in front of you there in the seats. Please do make sure you’ve got chapter 9 and verse 51 in front of you.
Once again, it’s a great privilege to be here. It’s a joy to spend time with Kevin, Trisha, and their family. They came to stay with us for seven weeks in our house in London with their six children at the time, and I think it’s fair to say that we bonded. It was a great joy.
Allow me to lead us in prayer.
Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Our Father in heaven, we have acknowledged that without You we are blind and in darkness. We thank You for Your Word, this glorious revelation of unseen mysteries that is now playing for all. We pray that You would light up our paths and enlighten us in and through Your Living Word, and we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Luke, chapter 9, verse 51: “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. And He sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for Him. But the people did not receive Him, because His face was set toward Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.”
“As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another He said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.””
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He himself was about to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”
““Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. “The one who hears you hears He, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.””
There is no doubt we live in the West today in extraordinary times. Things have changed rapidly and radically since the end of 2016. As I said, the church I serve is at the heart of one of the most densely populated areas in the world in the working week. March and April 2020 I was the only person there bar one security guard. It was extraordinary. Who would have imagined it?
Who would have imagined an announcement such as this on flight 761 American Airlines from London Heathrow: “The wearing of masks is mandatory. Should you have problems complying with this federal injunction, please contact one of our airline staff. We will be happy to arrange alternative transport.”
I have to say I wondered what that alternative transport might be. But who would have imagined it? In the UK we’ve had Brexit. We are now out of the European Union. Who would have thought it?
A man called Francis Fukuyama wrote an essay called The End of History which spoke of the triumph of liberal democracy, which now would spread across the globe, this was in the 1990s, in exorable advance, unstoppable, and so history has effectively ended.
I was on a plane in late 2016 after a certain election, traveling to Sydney, Australia, stopping in Shanghai airport in Singapore, Time magazine, front cover following this election, picture of the new President, history just got started again.
Now, of course, when we think slightly more widely, there is nothing new about this at all. Kingdoms come, kingdoms go, empires arise, and empires fall, always has been the case.
One of my favorite rooms in the British Museum is room 52. Here you find the remains of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the world in its day. Remember Nebuchadnezzar? “Is this not great Babylon which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” And within a day, reduced to madness. Where do you find Nebuchadnezzar’s glory today? Room 52 of the British museum.
Kingdoms come. Kingdoms go. Empires rise. Empires fall.
One day, all the splendor and spectacular triumph of the United States of America will probably be in a room in a museum in Delhi.
So in the light of the ephemeral frailty of all human activity, I want us to think for a few moments about the times of the only kingdom that lasts, the terms of the only kingdom that lasts, the territory, the tactics, and then perhaps if we have time, the threat of the only kingdom that lasts.
And really I have just eight words that I want us to consider. They’re there in verse 60 of chapter 9: “Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And if you want to know what my aim is, it is that we do not like Nebuchadnezzar simply pour our lives into the sand, we don’t invest in futility.
Remember Steve Jobs? Apple trying to recruit Hugh Sculley, then CEO of Pepsi? Do you want to spend the rest of your life making sugared water, or do you want to change the world?
We’re in the second half of Luke’s Gospel. It runs from verse 51 of chapter 9 through to chapter 19, verse 28. In a sense, the narrative doesn’t really need 9:51 through 9:27. He sets His face Jerusalem, He arrives in Jerusalem.
But as the Lord Jesus sets His face and heads to Jerusalem, so He instructs His disciples, and I want to suggest to you as a thought that these chapters, with their various different narrative breaks, which are plain to see, are, if you like, something of a discipleship manual as Jesus instructs His disciples on the way. Basic discipleship 101.
We’re in the seminary of Dr. Luke. He is instructing us, module by module.
And in verse 52, Jesus sends the apostles, James and John, before His face. Now the phrase “ahead of Him” or “before His face” is a technical one, and in chapter 7 of Luke’s Gospel John the Baptist goes before the face of Jesus, and here in chapter 9 the disciples go before the face of Jesus, and in chapter 10, verse 1, ordinary disciples go before the face of Jesus.
These apostles have recognized Jesus the Lord for who He is. You are the Holy One of God. John the Baptist has completed his task.
So now if you like, the baton has been passed without dropping it. The baton has been passed to the apostles. They now go before His face to herald the arrival of the great King Jesus in Samaria. Quite clearly they see themselves as having a kind of John the Baptist/Elijah heralding type ministry.
Just look at verse 53 and 54: “The people did not receive Him, because His face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?””
Samaria should rightly have surrendered to Jesus. He’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They refuse to recognize Him. James and John: “Shall we call down fire on them?”
Do you remember an occasion in your Bible where previously a king of Samaria refused to recognize the rule of the King of Kings, if you like? His name was Ahaziah and he sent to Elijah, and you remember how he sent a captain of the guard and Elijah, because he’d refuse to recognize the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Elijah rained down fire? And so Ahaziah sent another captain of the guard and Elijah rained down fire. And the third captain of the guard approached Elijah in a slightly more circumspect manner. Do you remember that?
So James and John see these villagers refusing to recognize King Jesus. Do you want us to rain down heaven? They think they’re John the Baptist/Elijah type heralds.
And look at verse 55: “But He turned and He rebuked them.” In other words, it’s not yet time for that kind of judgment.
This is not a new theme, incidentally, in Luke’s Gospel. You see it first in chapter 4 where you have a similar desire for judgment to be rained down and Jesus won’t allow it.
So here is Luke’s first lesson in module 1, if you like, of his discipleship training manual. What time is it? It’s not yet time. Judgment will come, judgment will come. Don’t think you can walk through this life without ultimately meeting Jesus as your judge. Judgment will come. But it’s not yet time. There is a window, a window of salvation, that is open. No, no, don’t rain, it’s not yet time for judgment. Jesus rebuked them.
It’s as if God were to have a diary. Now I know, you know, for those of you like to think about these things, God does not need a diary. Okay, God does not need a diary. But imagine anyway if He did have a diary. It would be an iPhone 14 or something, but it was if God were to have a diary. Here is the page of creation. Here is the Old Testament period. Here is the coming of Jesus. Here is the day of final judgment. And in between what day is it, what time is it, oh, it’s not yet time for judgment. God is holding off judgment, a window of salvation is open.
It’s very easy to forget that, isn’t it? Especially when one meets rejection as one heralds the message of Jesus. We run these events in the business community. We take over a bar or a room in a club or something like that. We bring people in. I give a short talk for seven minutes. People have invited their friends, so 15 or 20 people there. Maybe only 5 or 6. And then there’s an opportunity to take questions, and I was doing that with one group of people, the CEO was there. He turned to me at the end of my talk, it was on the resurrection of Jesus, he said, “If that’s what you — think, you are a — and if that’s what Jesus teaches, then he is a —-.” And the meeting went on like that.
When he got back to the office, there was a lovely girl who’d just become a Christian. He took the Gospel that he’d been given, threw it down on a table, and said, “If that’s what you believe, it’s a load of rubbish.” She had presence of mind to say, “If I was a Muslim, you’d be straight in front of HR. Back off.” Good girl.
But at a time like that, it is, isn’t it? It’s kind of tempting to be like James and John, to hell with them. Jesus rebuked them. It’s not yet time for judgment. The time.
Do you understand the times? Judgment is coming. Don’t be unaware of that. Judgment. Well, you can’t live through life in God’s world without facing God your judge at the end. Judgment is coming, but now a window is open.
The terms. 57 through 62, we find three would-be disciples either approaching or in once case being approached by Jesus. The first and the last offer to follow Jesus, the middle one is summoned by Jesus to follow Him. Here is the authentic disciple. The first promises too much, too soon: “As they were going along the road, someone said, “I will follow you wherever you go.”” The third promised too little, too late, 61: “Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” The middle one is summoned, “Follow Me,” too much, too soon.
Verse 58: Jesus said to the first, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
We speak of home comforts, don’t we? We speak of human rights. The Son of Man, that is the end time judge and glorious ruler of the universe, the Lord and Savior of the world, had no creature comforts and not even animal rights. This individual has forgotten that Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
The third promises, well, I put it like this, “too little, too late.” Yet another said “I’ll follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” and Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Of course, in the 21st century, farmers now have SatNavs in their tractors. Did you know that? I said to one of the farmers in England recently, “Do you get lost in your field?” Anyway, they have SatNavs in their tractors. It kind of all is very technical.
But in the 1st century, the plowman, the plow was in front, the oxen in front of that, and the way to keep in a straight line was to pick somewhere on the horizon and make your way. You look back, you’re off course. No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. He who looks back wants to turn back. Remember Lot’s wife?
The middle guy is summoned, “Follow Me.” Here is a man called to follow. This is the model discipleship. And Jesus says to him, as he says let me first go and bury my father, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” He can’t be saying ignore one of the single most important responsibilities in any adult’s life, the proper and appropriate oversight of your parents’ final ceremony. I mean, elsewhere He tells us we should look after our elderly relatives and so forth.
Surely that He’s saying is that even as you go through such a key event as this, the burial of your father, there is a higher, a greater, and a more significant priority, which is to proclaim the only Kingdom that lasts.
Notice these are ordinary disciples. These are men and women like you and me. And here is this second theme in this module, the times, the terms.
Discipleship is not a hobby. It’s not a side interest. Discipleship is not a summons to put off and pursue later. Discipleship is an immediate command to follow the Lord Jesus today, here and now. Discipleship is a taking up of the cross, to follow Jesus. Discipleship is being given everything and surrendering everything. Discipleship is extraordinarily enriching and utterly costly.
The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head, but discipleship in service of the kingdom is a summons to proclaim the kingdom, “As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
So evangelism is not an optional extra for the Christian disciple. Evangelism is what Christian disciples do. Evangelism is not an optional extra for the Christian disciples, it is what Christian disciples do.
May I put it like this? And forgive a rather sort of cheesy illustration, just cheesy illustration, a kind of quaint illustration. I served in the British Army for five years. When you pass out of the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen, you go up the steps into Old College and you have now the Queen’s commission. It’s a tremendous moment. I actually discovered in my pocket tickets to the Military Academy passing out parade for my son’s parade just a few months ago. I don’t know why they’re still in my pocket, but here they are. It’s a great moment. You have the Queen’s commission. You actually get to meet the Queen from time to time. I can’t say she remembers specifically who I am, but you do get, you know, you’re working for the Queen. You’re part of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, a moment of tremendous discipleship.
The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. The only empire that ever lasts with Jesus the risen Lord. As for you, go and proclaim.
Discipleship is not, evangelism is not an optional extra. Why, it’s such a privilege to go and proclaim and herald.
So the times, the terms.
Chapter 10, verse 1, is a fascinating verse. People, I’m sure, have written Ph.D.’s on it and this sort of thing. It is really very interesting, indeed, and it takes, I think, an extraordinary twist: “After this, the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them on before His face,” is how it reads literally, “ahead of Him, two by two, into every town.”
Now you’ll see here that there are 72 and that they are 72 others. In other words, 72 of the same sort as the one He has just summoned. So this isn’t now James and John, this is 72 other ordinary disciples who are summoned by Jesus and sent ahead of Him. Why 72?
I don’t know if your Bible in the pew there, in the seats there, has a little footnote at the bottom. Some of the early manuscripts have 70, some have 72. My suggestion is this, and I’m not the only who thinks this, but in Genesis chapter 10 there are 70 nations of the world in the Hebrew and 72 in the Greek version of Genesis chapter 10. So my suggestion is this, that these 72 are symbolic of a mission that is going to extend to the end of the world. These 72 are symbolic of the nations, and this sending is an anticipation of Acts 1 and 2, Matthew 28:18-20, to go into all the world.
But notice they are sent before His face, just as John the Baptist goes before the face of Jesus in his Elijah-like ministry. Just as the apostles James and John are sent before His face in a John the Baptist-like ministry, now these ordinary disciples like you and me, having met the model disciple, are sent before His face to herald the arrival of the king. So this is, if you like, Acts 2 in anticipation. Young men and old men, boys and girls, maidservants and manservants, with all the authority of an Elijah or a John the Baptist, or a James and a John. Now you have this news that Jesus Christ is King, you are empowered to go before His face, to the nations of the world to announce the arrival of King Jesus.
Now I put it like this, this is a first snapshot of what is going to become the democratization of Christian ministry. This is new covenant ministry. This is a snapshot of what is to become Spirit-filled, Christ-proclaiming, every member a minister of the Gospel ministry, with the Word of God in your hand, the presence of God in your heart, the Gospel of God in your mouth, “As for you, go and proclaim.”
Evangelism not an optional extra. It’s what Christian disciples do. You are a minister of the Gospel if you trust in Jesus. He summoned you to follow Him. You are a minister of the Gospel. You have the Word of God. It’s His Word. It’s the apostolic Word. And you have all the authority of Jesus Christ, your King, to go into the world and announce the Gospel.
The times, the terms, the territory.
Two through twelve. I call it the “tactics.” Forgive these T’s, it just helps me to remember where we are. But the times, the terms, the territory, and now the tactics.
We find in verses 2 through 12 two key things: Prayer and proclamation. Proclamation and prayer.
Now, of course, there is some here that is unique. Jesus is still physically present and so the physical aspects of His kingdom are manifest. Jesus has not yet been rejected outright in Jerusalem and therefore the messengers that He sends ought to be welcomed and fed and paid for. They are to move fast, they are to travel light. The time is very short before His crucifixion.
But there is much that is general, and the tactics of proclamation and prayer, for this every member ministry is key.
Prayer, verse 2. We’re in chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel, by the way, if anybody is just wondering quite where we are. Luke chapter 10 and verse 2. He said to these ordinary disciples who He sent before His face with all the authority of an apostolic delegate, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to thrust out laborers into His harvest.” The harvest is plentiful.
I come from a farming background. Pretty much every farm in the area that I come from has its own little apple orchard and the apple trees in our little orchard, you know, they still bear terrific fruit that are very, very old indeed. They still bear fruit. And every now and then, there is so much fruit on them, every five years or so, that when you walk into the orchard, you can, you know how people say they’re groaning? You can actually, when the wind blows, you can hear the branches groaning, bowed down with fruit. What do you need at a time like that? Laborers. The harvest is plentiful.
Now the harvest may not be, or appear to be, plentiful in your little corner. I’m well aware of that. But open your eyes, look around the world, think of Asia. Where is the fastest growing church at the moment in the world? I’m told it’s in Iran. There are Iranians coming to Christ like you just can’t believe it. In London we’ve got Iranians joining our church, there are other churches that Iranians, and I am told, this is a mission agency, they may have slightly inflated things, but even if it’s 50% true, I am told that before the recent Afghanistan closing down, there were Afghanis become Christians in, you say I-ran, don’t you? In Iran, hand over fist.
Pray earnestly. I love that word, don’t you? Pray earnestly to the Lord. It’s His harvest. It’s not ours. He directs the harvest. To thrust out. The word is literally “to out throw,” to drive out laborers. It’s His work to lay it onto the hearts of ordinary Christians like you and me, “I must speak the Gospel in my workplace. I must speak the Gospel in my hospital, my school,” whatever it happens to be, on the street and so forth.
I think of two of the most effective Gospel workers that I have known in recent years in the church in which I serve, one of whom, busy, busy banker in a bank called Schroeder’s, used to set aside one hour a week and he used to find a quiet place and just spend that hour praying for people in his office. For an hour. Another guy, a guy called David, extraordinarily effective. He would be turning up to our lunch time ministry in the city of London with a little team of people. I met his mother in Australia. She prays every day for his ministry. The harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few.
Pray earnestly to the Lord to out throw hard workers into His harvest field.
We’ve talked a lot about evangelism over these last 18 hours or so. It is a supernatural work. It’s His work. For all the techniques and ideas, He directs His harvest. He’s the One. Will you pray earnestly?
I sometimes say to our staff team at this point, “When was the last time you set aside an hour to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest? Half an hour? Quarter of an hour?” How would it be in Christ Covenant? If as a result of your vision statement, “We hope to see every member of Christ Covenant mission-minded and engaged in personal evangelism,” how would it be if we began? Think of that over-60 group. I mean, I now I’m in that group and people say, “Oh, you have more time when you’re over 60.” Well, I don’t know about that. You know, there are medical appointment, you know, Andy, you know what it’s like, but nonetheless, think of it. If you actually devoted some time each day to pray that in Christ Covenant the Lord would thrust out laborers. It’s a supernatural work. It’s His work.
Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest.
And then proclaim, proclaim, proclaim.
So verses 3 and 4 are specific to the time. There’s an urgency. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He will be crucified.
Verse 5 is where we find the message: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!'”
Now to understand that, we need to understand peace in Luke’s Gospel, which is shorthand for the Gospel, reconciliation with God. From the very opening verses of Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist comes calling for repentance and forgiveness and John the Baptist’s ministry is summarized as peace.
Key section on salvation, chapter 7 and 8, right at the very heart of it is the woman, the sinful woman, “He who loves much has been forgiven much. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
“Peace” in Luke’s Gospel is reconciliation with God. So these ordinary disciples now, the democratization of Christian ministry, they are going out with all the authority of an apostolic delegate to herald, to pray, to herald the possibility of peace.
Here then is the time, the day of salvation. Here then are the terms, “As for you, go and proclaim.” Here then is the territory, the 72, to all the ends of the earth. Here then are the tactics, here is mission of every ordinary disciple. Here is why we have been left on earth. Here is the task.
This, then, is how you and I are to invest our lives. May I put it as straight as that? You see, kingdoms come and kingdoms go. Empires rise and empires fall. Do you want to spend the rest of your life making sugared water, or do you want to change the world?
Jobs is dead. The iPhone one day will be history. There are all these great things to do. Do you want to spend the rest of your life doing deals, seeing patients, teaching kids, playing golf? I mean, they’re fine things to do, but over and above, overarching all of these things, even the burial of your own parents, is to be this one key priority that Jesus summons ordinary disciples to do: As for you, go and proclaim.
We had the great joy of going to Biltmore. What a place, eh? George Vanderbilt, 1889 to 1983, a house with 63 rooms, 32 guest rooms, and 43 bathrooms, none of which now work. I had to Janet, my wife, “I’m so sorry I only built you a house with six rooms.” She replied… Six bedrooms, sorry. She replied, straight quick as a flash, “At least the bathrooms work.” Well, there you are. But Vanderbilt died at 52,1914. There was then a recession. They had to sell 75% of the land and his house is now a theme park.
I don’t know if you’re here as somebody who’s investigating the Christian faith. As Kevin said, we’re always so thrilled in the church I come from when people come in who are investigating the Christian faith. Do you see what the Lord Jesus is offering you? The opportunity for reconciliation with your Creator. Life. Forgiveness. Freedom from judgment. Living under His rule, which is what you were made to be and do.
The times, the terms, the territory, the tactics, and finally the threat, which has to come, doesn’t it?
Look at 13 through 15. I mean, they are chilling. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented … It will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon.”
Yet judgment is coming. Judgment will come. Notice it’s future here. It’s not yet time for judgment.
“You, Capernaum, will you be exalted… ”
You see, if you reject the Lord and Ruler of the universe, there will be consequences.
Most of us would call ourselves Christians, I’m sure. “As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom.” Can you think of a better way to spend your life? Whatever priorities you’ve got this week, there is one over-arching priority, to invest in the only thing that lasts, by proclaiming the kingship of King Jesus.
May I suggest there will be some here who have the gifts, the temperament, the character, the conviction, that really you can teach the Bible and you can do it in such a way that other people listen to, you’ve had perhaps a little bit of experience. Well, how are you going to invest your life? Will you get behind this perhaps in a paid, full-time capacity? Give yourself full-time to the proclamation? In a sense all of us are in full-time Gospel proclamation, but you know what I mean. Will you be paid to do it? “As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom.”
And here verse 16 is the glorious privilege of it. In your workplace, amongst your friends and neighbors, as we speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “The one who hears you hears Me, the one who rejects you rejects Me, the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”
You are on royal business. What a privilege, what an honor, commissioned by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
Let’s pray together. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. We praise You, our Father in heaven, for the grace and self-sacrifice, the selflessness and service of the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of Man, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, before whom every knee will bow. He came to this earth with no creature comforts, no animal rights, and gave Himself to death on a cross so that we might be forgiven. We thank You that He is now enthroned as Lord of all. I pray for every single individual one of us in this building, that in Your kindness You would grant to us such conviction of the glorious rule of Christ and of His selfless love for us, that each one of us might find ourselves unable to do anything other than to fulfill this commission You’ve given us to go and to herald the kingdom of God. We ask it Jesus’ name. Amen.