To hear one whom Jesus sends is to hear Jesus Himself. To reject one whom Jesus sends is to reject Jesus. And to reject Jesus is to reject the Father who sent Him. Those are the words the engage us in this morning’s Gospel. Good news (Gospel) to those who receive; bad news (Law) to those who reject.
It’s all in the sending. The Father sends Jesus; He doesn’t go on His own initiative. And Jesus, in turn, sends others. His sending of the 72 with His authority and mandate is one of the foundation stones of the Office of the Holy Ministry. You heard a bit of that in the beginning of the service. “As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you all of your sins.” He who hears you, hears Me. You have Jesus’ word on it.
The seventy-two were sent into Judea, ahead of Jesus. He was on His way to Jerusalem to die for the sin of the world. Why seventy-two? Why not eighty? Or a hundred? For that matter, why twelve apostles? The numbers have significance beyond their number. Twelve is an Israel. Twelve apostles are Jesus’ Israel. They represent His Church in all its fulness. But what about seventy-two? Seventy-two is the number of the nations given in Genesis after the Flood. Perhaps this is what Jesus has in mind, and what Luke is trying to tell us. Jesus comes for all the nations, as in “make disciples of all the nations.” Symbolically seventy-two, sent out in pairs to cover the territory before Jesus arrives. It is a snapshot of the mission of the church, sent out into all the world to preach repentance unto forgiveness and life in Jesus until He comes, that is, appears in glory on the Last Day.
There is urgency in Jesus’ sending. The harvest field is ripe. No time to waste. He sends these seventy-two as laborers into the harvest field to grab what is ripe for the picking. There is danger. They will be as lambs among the wolves, and we all know what happens to lambs among the wolves. He is the Lamb who goes to His sacrificial death; He sends them as lambs. Empty, dependent, nothing to offer the world. No purse, no backpack, no extra pair of sandals. 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.
Would you want to go under those terms? Disturbing to think about, isn’t it? What if you were one of the seventy-two? Last week we heard about excuses. The honest answer is likely, “No, pick someone else for the job.” And then rejoice and be exceedingly glad that Jesus is not speaking to you but to the seventy two. He doesn’t call you to leave house and home, to travel without a wallet or an extra pair of shoes, or to live off the hospitality of others. You have your own calling, your vocation as father, mother, son, daughter, citizen, member of parish, neighbor, worker, and friend. These too entail risks and dangers, and sometimes you don’t want to be there either. Like the prophet Jonah, who thought Spain might be a bit nicer than Nineveh. Where Jesus sends you, there He also blesses you.
The seventy-two are sent to proclaim peace from the Prince of Peace. “Peace be to this house,” they are to say before entering. More than a happy little greeting like “Good morning, how are you?” A blessing, giving what the words say – peace. Shalom. Everything in order and in harmony. Peace that surpasses our understanding. Peace that the world cannot give. Peace that comes from the cross-inflicted wounds of Jesus. That peace is what they are sent to deliver.
With shalom, peace comes healing, peace to the body. “Heal the sick,” Jesus says. He gives them the same authority of sickness that He has. He came to bear our sicknesses and all that sin has done to destroy the shalom of this world right down to the cells of our bodies. Healing is for them a sign of the kingdom of God having come near. We have the yet greater sign – Jesus own Body and Blood, which strengthens and preserves us in body and soul to life everlasting. The “medicine of immortality” and peace.
To receive any two of these seventy-two into your home is to receive the peace and health of Jesus. The kingdom of God has come near. Imagine a knock on your door, and a man, who identifies himself as an agent of IRS tells you that he has some good news for you. Your taxes have been paid in full for life. Or imagine someone driving up in one of those vans you see on TV, and a man comes to your door with a bunch of roses and balloons and video crew and announces that you have just won ten million dollars in the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. If you are convinced that these men have the authority to speak those words, you would take them at their word and rejoice in your good fortune, I would think.
“You sins are forgiven.” “This is my Body given for you. This is my Blood shed for you.” Words from Jesus to you through His minister, one whom He has sent so that you might hear and believe it. Our Lutheran Confessions quote this verse often to the effect that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us according to His mandate and institution, those words are as valid and certain, in heaven also, as though Christ Himself were dealing with us. The Confessions call the voice of absolution “a living voice of the Gospel” and “a voice coming down from heaven.” Even when the owner of the voice is less than honorable (Judas also was sent by Jesus), nevertheless the words are Jesus’ words, the peace is Jesus’ peace. “He who hears you, hears me.”
It only goes wrong in the rejection. To those who would reject the seventy-two, even the dust clinging to the bottom of their feet testifies against them. The only way out is to refuse to be in. Jesus underscores this with His woes. Woe to Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum! Israelite cities. Cities that had lots of Jesus. Tyre, Sidon, and even Sodom compare favorably. Even that wicked city of Sodom that was consumed by fire and brimstone fares better than an insider city, an Israelite city that refuses the Savior. The only way out is to refuse to be in.
What is unforgiveable about the unforgiveable sin is not how bad it is, or how destructive or great, but that it refuses forgiveness. That forgiveness is there all along for everyone. As near as the Word preached, as near as the water of Baptism, as near as the bread and wine upon the altar. This is how the kingdom of God is revealed to you. But to refuse these gifts, to reject what Jesus has died to win for you, to reject those whom He sends to you, is to incur the judgment of God’s wrath. “You shall be brought down to Hades.” And it is entirely unnecessarily, and entirely your own fault.
The seventy-two returned brimming with joy. “Even the demons submitted to us in your name.” Great fun it was casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching the kingdom. Such great fun it is stomping on snakes and scorpions, recognizing that though devils all the world should fill, they can harm us none. It’s heady stuff, and often authority does go to one’s head.
We see it when people who have little authority in life are given a bit of authority, and how easily they lord it over others. It happens in the workplace, and in the church too. But the nature of authority does not permit the one who holds it to boast. Authority does not reside in the person who has it, but the one who gave it. Authority is permission to act, given by one to another. It is always given. Even Jesus, who has “all authority in heaven and on earth” has it not on His own terms, but as given to Him by the Father.
The big thing in the kingdom is not who has the authority, or who holds the office. It’s not about everyone being a minister or ministers being the same as everyone else. To each is given as Lord sees fit, and for the good of all.
The big thing, what is cause for rejoicing is that your names are written in heaven, written in the Book of Life of the Lamb who slain from the foundations of the world, written in His blood shed for you and for your sins. That’s cause for your rejoicing. Your names are written in heaven, as surely as baptismal water poured over you, as surely as Jesus’ absolving words spoken into your ears, as surely as the Bread that is His Body and the Wine that is His Blood goes into your mouths, so surely are your names written in heaven. This is why the Father sent His Son into the world; this is why the Son sends His ministers, His agents, to tell with all certainty that the kingdom of God has come near to you, that Jesus has come near to you, that His peace and life are yours, and that your names are written in heaven.
Hold on to those words. Trust to those words. Cling to them today and every day until the last day. They are as certain and sure as the One who promises, “He who hears you, hears me.”
In the name of Jesus,