Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting
February 1, 2012
The Reverend Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Well it's a great joy to be back. I've missed you and Rosemary is over there and she's missed you too. And maybe afterwards I hope to get an opportunity to say hello to those of you that I haven't already seen. I bring you the greetings of brothers and sisters at First Pres. in Columbia, in South Carolina and I want to say that I have three slots — tonight, Sunday morning, Sunday evening — and I want to try and address three things. On Sunday morning I want us to think about missions and giving. And you have an enormous challenge before you, a challenge that you are more than capable of meeting. But I want us to think through, Biblically, what God would have us do in terms of giving to missions. And then on Sunday evening I want us to consider going, and I want to look at a text that's very well-known, and every missions conference speaker that you can ever remember has addressed a message from the closing verses of Matthew's gospel, the so-called Great Commission with its roots in Genesis 12. But tonight I want us to think about not giving or going but gain. And I want to try and answer the question, “What can we gain from engaging in missions?” This passage is going to answer that question and it's going to say to us, “What you gain by engaging in missions is joy, real, lasting, deep, spiritual, Jesus-filled, Jesus-like, joy.”
Now let's look at the passage, it's Luke chapter 10, and I want to read the first twenty-four verses. Luke chapter 10 and verses 1 through 24. This is God's inerrant Word:
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others” (now if you just glance quickly back to chapter 9, he's already told us of the sending out of the twelve apostles so this has nothing to do with the twelve apostles; these are 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. And 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 His 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.’ 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 sack-cloth 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 Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.’
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!’ And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
In that same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and reveled them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.’
Then turning to the disciples He said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.’”
So far, God's holy and inerrant Word. May He bless that reading of it to us.
Now you've just been taken on a grand tour of the gospel of Luke by Ligon, so you should know the parameters and structures, the points of turning in Luke and as you will recall, Luke chapter 9 is a turning points in Luke's gospel. Indeed, Luke 9 through chapter 19 is a slow journey toward Jerusalem. We read in verse 51 of chapter 9, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” This is a journey, of course, that will lead to the cross. This is a cross-shaped and cross-focused journey that Luke is now beginning to describe to us. This particular story in chapter 10 is unique to Luke. And here, Luke tells us in verse 21, that Jesus experienced joy; He experienced joy in what the disciples, these seventy-two disciples, had done. He experienced joy in His relationship with His Father as the servant of the Lord. He experienced joy in the Holy Spirit. Now we're told many things about Jesus but this is very interesting that Luke would tell us that in the midst of a passage that is about missions, that Jesus experienced joy. Not only did Jesus experience joy, in verse 21, but we're told in verse 17 that the seventy-two returned with joy. Luke in fact, if we had time, Luke has a thing about joy. It's almost as though Luke is saying to you and to me, “Do you want to get joy? Do you want to experience true, lasting, spiritual joy?” How can I experience true, lasting, spiritual joy? And the answer is short-term missions, short-term missions, because that's what this story is about. It's a short-term mission story.
Seventy-two are sent out to towns and villages just ahead of Jesus to prepare for the coming of Jesus, to go with a certain message about the kingdom of God being at hand, being near. Seventy-two, the tradition is this represents the nations following the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11, that these seventy-two languages, these seventy-two nations are being represented in some way here by these seventy-two that are being sent out, to undo the effects of the fall, to undo the curse that God has brought down upon the world to bring restoration and redemption and unity and peace and shalom back into the world as a foretaste of the new heavens and the new earth which is what the Gospel is effecting. Now Luke will expand this theme of course in the Acts of the Apostles as the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Samaria to Judea to the ends of the earth. This is part one of a two-book story that Luke is giving to us and he's saying this short-term missions story was part of the fulfillment of a far greater story, the restoration of Eden itself to the new heavens and the new earth. No, He sends them out in pairs, no doubt to encourage one another and to strengthen one another. It was an evangelistic mission and when they come back from this mission they come back rejoicing.
THE NATURE OF KINGDOM MISSION
Now I want us to see three things tonight. Three things stand out about this kingdom mission that Jesus sends, that Jesus sends these seventy-two disciples on. The first is the nature of kingdom mission — the nature of this kingdom mission. You notice in verse 16 they go in Jesus' name; they go as Jesus’ ambassadors. They go in the name of Christ — “The one who hears you,” Jesus says, “hears Me. The one who rejects you, rejects Me. And the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” They go in Jesus' name. The sent-ones carry the same authority as though Jesus Himself was going. Now that's why the message that they take is so vitally important. The rejection of this message is the rejection of the Lord. The rejection of this message is the rejection of Jesus. Tell them about Jesus and tell them about the kingdom and challenge them to listen, to believe, and to repent.
Now what are the hallmarks of this kingdom ministry in the name of Jesus, what are the hallmarks of this kingdom ministry? The first, and you see it there in verse 2, is prayer. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” The first, the first characteristic of kingdom ministry, kingdom mission in the name of Jesus, is prayer, it's not prayer that the thirty-six pairs, they go in two, it's not prayer that the thirty-six pairs would be strengthened; it's prayer that more missionaries, more disciples, would be sent out into the kingdom. Now you cannot pray that prayer unless you yourself are willing to go. That is, if you are in a position to go, if the circumstances enables you to go, if the providence of God is such that you yourself can be the fulfillment of this prayer you cannot pray this prayer that God would send forth laborers without considering that you yourself might be the answer to that very prayer. The harvest fields are vast. They are vast. Whether we are thinking of home missions, whether we are thinking of the needs within this city, whether we are thinking of church planting within this nation, whether we are thinking of missions in the nations of the world, the harvest fields are vast. Make it, Jesus is saying, make it priority number one — “Lord, send forth more laborers, and maybe, maybe that laborer is me for a short-term missionary trip.”
You know our going, our going isn't something that we should pray for. We sometimes pray when we should go. You know, we sometimes make it an excuse for not doing what is obvious that God wants us to do. We’ll say things like, “Well, I’ll pray about that,” when God is saying, “Go.” There are no obstacles; the door is wide open. The opportunity is before you. The means to go are right there. And sometimes we make an excuse for obedience the spiritual, what looks like a spiritual act of praying. Sometimes we just need to adopt the Nike formula — Just Do It. Just Do It. Prayer, the first hallmark.
The second hallmark is the certainty, you see it in verse 3, the certainty of experiencing opposition. He mentions in verse 3, “I send you as lambs in the midst of wolves.” That's the nature of missions. That's the nature of short-term missions; that's the nature of long-term missions. That's the nature of living out the Gospel in a fallen world. There is nothing new here. As the Master suffered, so His servants suffer. Peter tells us, “Don't think it a strange thing when you fall into fiery trials, when opposition comes, when Satan rears up on his hind legs in opposition to what you are doing. Don't think of that as a strange thing.” God has so ordained the church from the very beginning, Calvin says, that the cross is the way to victory and death is the way to life. “If any man will come after Me let him deny himself and let him take up a cross, an instrument of death and execution, and follow Me.” So don't be surprised. The fact that there's going to be opposition, the fact that it may look difficult, the fact that there may be negative connotations about it is not an excuse for saying no. It's just another reason for asking the Lord to help you and strengthen you and fill you with His Spirit.
The first hallmark is prayer, the second hallmark is opposition, the third hallmark is the temptation to be diverted. Now to be sure, there are mission specific things about this story. There are things that are peculiar to this story because of its setting. There are things about this story that are only true about this particular period in the history of redemption - the part about stepping on scorpions and so on. There are unique features about this story but there are also fundamental principles here. And when He sends them out and He tells them not to be concerned about wages and not to be concerned about carrying moneybags and knapsacks and sandals and so on, He's singling out, He's drawing out four particular things like clothing, food, means of transport, and housing.
And what are the four things that concern us the most, whether it's first century or twenty-first century? They are still clothing, food, means of transport, and housing. And Jesus is saying to them and He's saying to us, “Don't let stuff like that prevent you from engaging in short-term missions nor allow those who go on short-term missions to be deviated by those kinds of things. Make sure you provide so that they don't have to consider those things.” You see what Jesus is saying? He's saying, “Make Me number one. Make My message number one. Make the advancement of the kingdom of God number one. Keep the main thing the main thing.” And what is the main thing here? It's love for Jesus; it's love for the Gospel. It's obedience to the commands of a Savior who loved me and died for me. That's the main thing. And all of these other things need to be put in their place because we are to keep our eyes on the main thing.
THE NATURE OF THE KINGDOM MESSAGE
Well if that's the nature of the kingdom of God in the second place we see the nature of the kingdom message — the nature of the kingdom message. He tells them in verse 9 to preach that message. “Heal the sick in these cities, heal the sick and say to them ,’The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” In other words, there's a spoken message and there's also a mercy ministry that demonstrates how that spoken message transforms life. That's why missions has always been involved in medical work and how medical work has gone hand in hand with missions down through the centuries. Now He gives them certain steps here. He tells them that when you arrive you explain the message to them and that message is the message about peace. It's a message about shalom. It's a message about wholeness and integration in a world that's falling apart. I don't know about you; I'm tired of this election thing already. And all of the promises and so-called solutions and you just want to yell at the TV. The only thing that's going to solve this is the Gospel. The only thing that's going to bring true shalom, true integration that's going to put back together the broken pieces that you see in embryo in the church in the community of the body of Christ who have been transformed by the Gospel and now are living lives thinking of others better than themselves and providing for each other in ways that go beyond description and analysis. Go into these towns and say, “We've got the answer to the mess that this world is in and it's the peace; it's the peace that comes in the Gospel. It's the peace that comes from the King.” And that's why the message here is about the kingdom of God being near and at hand because the King Himself is near, because King Jesus is about to walk through these towns and villages.
But not only are they to preach and transform as a consequence of their preaching by healing the sick and showing acts of mercy, they were also to warn them of the seriousness of turning away from the message in verses 10 and 11 and 12 and shaking the dust off their feet. There is enormous seriousness here about the message and there is a consequence to saying no to this message. And then in verses 13 through 16 He tells them, “Tell them about the judgment of God.” You see, the kingdom isn't just about sitting in Starbucks you know, with your iPad and your iPhones by doing community by sipping on your latte. That isn't the Gospel. That isn't the kingdom. You've got to speak. You've actually got to do something. But what if they say no? What if they reject that message? What if they say no to Jesus? Then Jesus says, “Tell them about the judgment of God. Tell them that God is holy. Tell them that God is righteous. Tell them that it will be more tolerable — listen — it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom, for Sodom, than for these cities into which the Gospel came and it was rejected.
There's something terrifying about that. The solemnity of that. Everyone, you know everyone to whom you speak — you know I came across something in Robert Murray M’Cheyne the other day. You know M’Cheyne died when he was only twenty-nine and one of our faculty, one of our missions faculty is on his way to Dundee to be with David Robertson and of course David Robertson's in the church where Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a minister and so that's the connection here. He died when he was twenty-nine. He was ordained I think when he was twenty-one or twenty-two. He was only in the ministry for six or seven years and one of those years he was in Palestine. He wrote this: “It came upon me today as I was walking that everyone to whom I speak will be brought before a judgment that will send them either to heaven or hell.” That sobers you, doesn't it? That sobers you; that everyone to whom I speak will be brought before a judgment — either to heaven or to tell. Everyone that you speak to.
So what if they say no? What if they say no? And Jesus says in verse 6, “If a son of peace is there your peace will rest upon him, but if not it will return to you.” Now do you get that? Jesus is saying, “If you’re faithful to My message, if you’re faithful as a missionary on a short-term mission” — you go to Peru for ten days with Dr. Story and do extraordinary things and have opportunities to speak and demonstrate the love of Jesus — what if they say no? Jesus is saying it's a win-win. It's a win-win because the peace bounces back to you. Because you've been faithful to Jesus that's why. You can't lose here. Either way they’ll either receive the peace or the peace comes back to you but it's a win-win. It's actually quite extraordinary what Jesus is saying as a motivation for missions. You can't lose here. You can't lose.
THE NATURE OF KINGDOM JOY
But then in the third place, not only the nature of the kingdom mission and the nature of the kingdom message, but the nature of the kingdom joy. And it's quite wonderful how Luke tells us in verse 17. The disciples, first of all, they come back and they’re filled with joy. Of course they’re filled with joy because there was tremendous success in their mission. They were just gone for a short time and there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in towns and villages where they went. And Jesus wasn't with them. They come back to Jesus and they say, “Oh, Lord Jesus, if only You’d been there. If only You’d been there. If only You’d been there and seen and heard what we saw and heard!” And Jesus, well, what do you make of it? It's like a bit of a put-down. You know He says in verse 18, He’ll say, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” and then in verse 20, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” You know, can I say this reverently and then pull it back as soon as I say it? Can't Jesus rejoice with them for a minute? Just let them be happy for a minute because He brings in this word of great solemnity. In the midst of their rejoicing they've seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
And do you know what Jesus is saying to them? You see, usefulness isn't in itself a guaranteed certainty that you actually are a Christian. He's saying, well, He's saying you can go on a short-term mission trip and actually not be a Christian. You can say the right things and God, in His extraordinary grace, can use that for blessing, for real blessing, but the real thing that you need to rejoice about and the real thing that you need to be absolutely certain about is that your name is written in heaven. Isn't that extraordinary? You know, these seventy-two are going on a short-term mission trip to evangelize others and Jesus is evangelizing the seventy-two. He turns around and evangelizes the seventy-two and He says to them, “Make sure that you’re a believer. Make sure that you’re a Christian. Make sure that you truly do love the Lord. Make sure that you've actually believed and repented the very message that you’re taking to others. Rejoice in that; make absolutely sure, because don't mistake, don't mistake extraordinary gifting for saving grace.” Who's the example of that, of somebody who's extraordinarily gifted but didn't have saving grace? Judas, one of the disciples, one of the disciples.
So at a missions conference I want to challenge you, yes you individually, every single one of you — do you actually know the Lord? Do you actually believe this Gospel? Do you actually confess in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior? Are you rejoicing that because of that you can entertain an assurance that your name is written in heaven? He says, Luke goes on to say in verse 21 that Jesus Himself began to rejoice. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. “In that same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit by whose power He had been conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, the Spirit who had driven Him into the wilderness to meet and have an encounter with Satan and demonstrate to Satan that He had come to conquer him, to spoil principalities and powers and make a show of them openly, triumphing over them in the cross, the Spirit by which He would be raised from the dead. The Spirit causes in the soul of Jesus this rejoicing. He begins to rejoice.
And He says to the disciples, and Luke says, “He says to them,” verse 23, “privately.” Do you realize, do you realize what a blessing you actually have in being on this side of Bethlehem? Do you know how enormously complicated and ritualistic Old Testament worship actually was, how hard it was? I mean you complained about having to go half a mile to gather with the Lord's people. If you lived in the Old Testament the only place, the only place you could find the presence of God was in Jerusalem. If you lived several hundred miles away you’d have to schlep it to Jerusalem several times a year and offer a sacrifice and even then you could never come into His presence because of priests and high priests and rituals and curtains. “Do you realize? Do you realize?” Jesus is saying to the disciples, “You’re rejoicing, but do you realize that Old Testament prophets would have given their right arms to see what you see and hear what you hear? To be able to hold a whole cannon of Scripture from Matthew to Revelation as well as the Old Testament in their hands and be able to read it, to be able to go without intermediaries, without priests, into the very presence of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Do you realize, do you realize the blessings that you have?”
You know, at the end of the day that is one of the great motivations for missions. You know, to the extent that we don't realize what we have is the extent that we really don't want to share it with others. It's only when you come to realize what enormous blessings we have in the Gospel and what enormous blessings we have to live on this side of the incarnation and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus that we live in the days of fulfillment; we live in days when atonement has been accomplished once, never to be repeated again. It's then that we realize, “What an enormous privilege that I have and I can't keep this to myself.” Has anybody ever told you a story and you just can't wait to tell it to someone. You've called somebody on their cell phone at work when you shouldn't have and you say, “I've just heard this great story! You’re going to find this story incredible! I've got to share this story with you!” Or you’ll send an email, “I've got to share this message with you!” Are you burdened like that about the Gospel because Jesus is saying, Jesus is saying, “Do you know the gain that you get from sharing, from sharing that with others, even if it's just a short-term missions trip? Do you know what you will gain? You will gain joy. You will gain joy. You will gain a sense of purpose and meaning and shalom that you've never ever experienced before.” Ask Dr. Story and others like him here who've lead short-term mission trips all over the world.
You know, the joy, the joy — that's one of the things that I boast about you in South Carolina and I do boast about you because you are an extraordinary congregation. Now if you actually believe that you've got a problem but I can say that! Right? For you to say that it would be prideful but I can say that about you! But you know, what is it that is so self-evident about the joy, the harmony, the peace that exists in this congregation even in the midst of horrendous difficulties? It's the fact that you have already seen how important missions is. I truly believe that the joy of a congregation is directly proportional to the degree to which it engages in missions and the degree to which we let missions slide and become second is the degree to which we’ll see what shalom and peace and joy disappear. So here's my challenge to you tonight — do you want joy? Do you want real, real joy? Then sign up for a short-term missions trip.
Father, we thank You for the way in which these words of Scripture continue to address us and speak to us in ways that are so utterly relevant to the context in which we find ourselves. We pray for ourselves tonight as those who have received so much. You've shown us the Gospel, you've placed us in circumstances that make us in proportion to the rest of the world some of the richest people on the face of the globe — rich in Gospel blessings and rich in earthly blessings too. And we pray tonight that we might once again find a focus of our hearts and lives and a direction which we want to go that we might catch this priority that nothing must come in the way of Gospel fulfillment and kingdom advancement. So as we reflect over these days of what we must do as we pray that You would send forth laborers into the harvest we want, we want You to address us first that we might be the fulfillment of the very prayer that we pray. So hear us, O Lord, write Your Word within our hearts for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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