Sermon preached on Luke 10:1-24 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 02/27/2022 in Novato, CA.
The Harvest is Plentiful
At the time of this passage, already there was a great harvest for the kingdom of God to be had. Already there was a need for more people to go out and declare on behalf of Jesus that the kingdom of God was coming near. As that gospel was being proclaimed, God was revealing to people that way of peace and salvation in Christ Jesus. Many believed. Too many did not. But today’s passage describes how Jesus appointed seventy-two others to go and be authorized messengers of his kingdom message to look to gather people into his coming kingdom. This message is something that is ultimately for all the world. We will consider this theme of evangelism today.
Let us begin then by looking at verses 1-11 and considering how he appointed and sent these seventy-two. The description of how Jesus commissions and sends these is very similar to how Jesus did so for his twelve disciples last chapter. But now, in addition to his twelve inner circle of disciples, he has this broader group of seventy-two that he here commissions. We can appreciate why Jesus expands the number of appointed evangelists in light of verse 2. He says that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Evangelism is described as harvesting. Someone goes out and shares the gospel looking to convert people to the Lord. Those so converted are that which is harvested. But Jesus says we need more people to do the harvesting. In other words, we need more people to be telling others the good news about God’s kingdom. So then, Jesus here adds to his authorized messengers by appointing these seventy-two. We should note that these are largely the same instructions he gave when he sent out the twelve last chapter. Again, he tells them to not take extra provisions but to rely on the hospitality of those who receive them in each town. He again sends them with a message about the coming of the kingdom. Again he endows them with authority over demons and to heal the sick. Again, he says to shake the dust off their feat against any town that doesn’t receive their message.
So, while there are many similarities between this sending and the sending of the twelve last chapter, we note of course that the number is different. That Jesus had twelve inner circle of disciples is not a surprising number. There were twelve tribes of Israel, so we are not surprised that Jesus would have a same number of special apostles. That surely reflect Jesus’ intention to bring the gospel to all of Israel. But we can also note that the number seventy-two does have some precedence in Scripture too. Actually, to talk about the number of seventy-two we should also talk about the number of seventy. There is an interesting minor mystery when it comes to the number of seventy versus seventy-two. Our pew Bible has the number of seventy-two in this passage, But maybe your Bible translation says seventy. This is one of those rare cases in Bible transmission where you have variant readings in the ancient manuscripts and it’s unclear whether the number seventy or seventy-two was the original reading. Some manuscripts, like the Textus Receptus for example, only have the word “seventy”. The “two” is missing in those manuscripts. But a number of others including some old ones have the word “two” to make “seventy-two.” So did the word “two” get added into some manuscripts at some point, or was the “two” accidently missed when copying on some manuscripts. It’s hard to say with the available evidence at this point.
What becomes more interesting is that the significance of the number seventy or seventy-two in Scripture really draws itself back to two key passages in the Bible. In Numbers 11, Moses appointed seventy elders to receive the Spirit to assist him in leading the people but two extra get ultimately added in, making seventy-two from the seventy. The other passage is in Genesis 10 where there is a list of all the nations that initially came out of Noah’s sons after the flood. That listing is referred to as the table of nations. In our surviving ancient Hebrew manuscripts, there are seventy nations in that list. But in the even older surviving Greek translation of that chapter, known as the Septuagint, there is a minor variation in the text so that there are seventy-two nations. And even that name of the Greek translation as the Septuagint further adds to this mystery because that name means seventy which was given to refer to the number of translators used, yet there is also competing Hebrew tradition that says there were actually seventy-two translators.
So, it seems that a number of either seventy or seventy-two have been closely connected in Hebrew history and predate this Luke passage. It may be that seventy has just been used as shorthand at times to the more precise figure of seventy-two. While I slightly lean toward the number seventy-two as the most likely, that detail doesn’t seem overly important. What is surely more important is what is the significance of this number. I already mentioned the two key Old Testament passages that utilize the number. For the seventy-two elders during Moses day, it has been noted that such works out to six elders for each of the twelve tribes. Back then Moses needed more help in leading Israel, and six per tribe seems like almost the perfect number. A similar idea could be here too, that this represents 6 more witnesses per each of the tribes of Israel.
On the other hand, the notion that seventy-two reflects the number of all the nations of the earth from Genesis 10 is also thought-provoking. That might suggest that the kingdom’s message is ultimately going out beyond the twelve tribes of Israel to all the nations. Such is suggestive even from this passage. I mentioned a few weeks ago that this large section of Luke is his ministry “on the way” to Jerusalem and a lot of it would be occurring in the Perea area which would have had a significant Gentile population. Along those lines, he says to them in verse 8 that the seventy-two should eat whatever their hosts set before them, which very well may have in mind that they might end up at times being hosted by Gentiles in the course of their ministry in this area and that they shouldn’t ask questions about what they are being served. Also, I’ll point out in our second point for today that there is a comparison given in the next section between Jewish and Gentile cities and this might again suggest a widening of how the gospel is going forth.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say with certainty what was the significance of the seventy-two here. I suspect it is some combination of these two ideas. For example, maybe Jesus’ sending of the seventy-two shows his growing outreach to all of Israel but with the subtle warning behind such that if Israel rejects Christ and his kingdom then the gospel will go out to the Gentiles instead. This possible explanation is attractive because that is exactly what ended up happening historically. I think we can see the seed of that history right here in Luke 10. In Luke’s gospel which is believed to especially had a Gentile audience in mind, we would not be surprised to see such an idea beginning to be developed here.
Let us then further develop this idea now in our second point for today by turning to look at verses 12-16 and think of what Jesus says concerning those who reject the witness of the seventy-two. Start in verse 16. “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.” In other words, Jesus says that if people reject the message that the seventy-two have given them, then they are really rejecting Jesus. Why? Because Jesus sent them with that message. Jesus then connects the dots further by saying that means that those people are ultimately rejecting God. Why? Because God sent Jesus with that message. And see one reason why Jesus sends them out two by two – because you need at least two witnesses under the law to establish someone’s guilt, Deuteronomy 17:6. Jesus knew that many would not accept his teachings, that’s why he warned the seventy-two in verse 3 that he was sending them out as lambs among wolves.
So then, in these verses there are six cites mentioned. Three of them are Gentile cities that are historically infamous for being wicked cities. I refer to Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon. Sodom was a city along with Gomorrah that was known for great wickedness back in the days of Abraham and Lot and God destroyed those cities by fire. Tyre and Sidon particularly became noted infamously during the time of King Ahab when he took his really wicked wife Jezebel as a princess from the area of Tyre and Sidon. In contrast, you have the Jewish towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. What those three Jewish cities have in common was that they were all near each other along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the area that Jesus had done the bulk of his teaching ministry and where he had done so many miracles. And so, Jesus brings up these six cities to make a comparison. Jesus declares that it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for those historically infamous wicked Gentile cities than these three Jewish cities. Jesus’s reasoning is basically that these Jewish towns have received far more revelation from God through Jesus’ ministry among them. The more revelation you receive, the more guilty you are when you reject it. Jesus even says that those infamous cities would have repented if they had received Jesus’ powerful ministry like these Jewish cities had. Please note, that when Jesus says it will be better for these infamous cities on the day of judgment, it doesn’t mean they won’t be punished too. But Jesus does speak in degree of punishment here, and says that it will be even worse for Jewish towns like these that heard the gospel and even saw all the miracles and yet rejected it.
This is serious stuff. It is why I have trouble understanding how people can act like Jewish people today who reject Jesus are still to be considered God’s chosen people. No, unless they repent, they are worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah and Tyre and Sidon. As Jesus says in verse 15, they will not enjoy heaven in the afterlife, but they will find themselves brought down to the punishment and prison of heaven. When Jesus had the dust shaken off as a testimony against them, it’s saying they’ve become like the unclean Gentiles. Meanwhile, Jesus has sent witnesses and harvesters out to the unclean Gentiles and has been saving many of them, cleansing them from their sins and saying of them that they are now a part of his chosen people.
This was serious stuff back then, and it is serious stuff still today. If you reject the gospel message today, it will have eternal consequences. Since the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there has only been more revelation received about Jesus and his call to repent of your sins and turn in faith to him to find forgiveness and grace. If today you will not hear the gospel message when his appointed ministers bring it, if today you reject that message, then you will know eternal damnation. God’s threat of hell is real. It’s not a myth. It’s a warning. But the good news is that he also provide a way of salvation in Jesus.
We will then be reminded more of that salvation in our third point for today. Let’s turn now to verses 17-24 and see the great joy of salvation. This section begins with the seventy-two returning from their missionary journeys and giving a report to Jesus, verse 17. Notice it says they returned with joy. They are joyful and exuberant about what happened during their short-term missions experience. Notice what they choose to first report about. They say that even the demons submit to them in your name. You have to love this for a few reasons. One, remember last chapter how Jesus’ disciples had trouble casting out that one demon and we learned that they were trying to do it in their own strength. Two, we see here that the seventy-two rightly were casting out the demons not in their own strength, but in the name of Jesus. Three, I love how Jesus joins with them in that joy by his initial response. Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven!” Jesus rightly recognizes that casting out demons and Satan’s downfall are intimately related.
What did Jesus have in mind when he says here that he saw Satan fall like lightning? Some have thought this is a reference to the distant past when Satan first rebelled against God and became a fallen angel. Others think this refers to Jesus having victory over Satan in the wilderness temptation, back in Luke 4. Still others think that Jesus is speaking more immediately, that while the seventy-two were out casting out demons he could somehow observe or perceive that this had the effect of simultaneously causing Satan to fall. Regardless of the exact reference, we can note that Revelation 12 speaks of Satan cast down out of heaven in conjunction in some way with Christ Jesus’ ministry on earth. And we can also remember that elsewhere Jesus describes his ministry as one that binds the strong man, referring to some curtailing of Satan, in order to liberate his elect from his deceptions and grip. So then, while it may be difficult to know exactly what specifically Jesus referred to here, the idea of Satan and his demons needing to be defeated is a major aspect of what Scripture says that the Christ would have to accomplish that. It’s even the first description that we find in the Bible about the gospel. It’s in Genesis 3:15 where it foretells how the Christ would one day crush Satan’s head. There would be no salvation if it doesn’t include conquering these evil enemies. Jesus and his disciples rejoice here that such a victory was in progress even as the seventy-two had been proclaiming the coming of the kingdom. Jesus even further explains in verse 19 that they will yet have further such victories when he describes them as being given authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, which is surely a figurative statement of how they will continue to win over these demonic forces through their continued testimony of Jesus.
Nevertheless – that’s what Jesus goes on to say in verse 20. Nevertheless, Jesus says, there is something more worthy to be rejoicing over. He says to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. Sure, there is something to rejoice about that all their enemies are being defeated. But something even more to celebrate is that they themselves are being saved. It’s joyful to see God’s enemies put down. It’s even more joyful to see yourself lifted up by God to glory. Especially when you consider that because of your sin, you deserve to be put down by God too. But in his great mercy and grace he had chosen to save them from their sins and make them citizens in his coming kingdom of heave and to grant to them a blessed everlasting life in the glory of the age to come. In comparison between the downfall of their enemies and their being saved unto such glory, the ladder is far more reason to rejoice.
This is a practical reminder that the nature of what Christ accomplished on the cross includes both of these things, but they are not of equal importance to us. Some when speaking of what Jesus accomplished on the cross will point to his conquering of Satan. Well, while that is very true and very significant, it is secondary to the most important benefit. I refer to that of making propitiation for our sins so that our guilt can be put away and we can be reconciled to God. The ultimately result of that is our salvation unto eternal life. So, the conquering of Satan is an important part of what Jesus did on the cross. But as we see here, Jesus’s substitutionary atonement to pay for our sins is paramount.
I love how we see that Jesus illustrates this point in the last few verses by personally rejoicing with them over this fact that their names are written in heaven. Starting in verse 21, we are given a window into Jesus’ prayer life where it specifically describes Jesus rejoicing at their salvation. As a side note, there is a wonderful glimpse of the Trinity in verses 21, where Jesus, i.e. God the Son, is said to be rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, as he then prays to God the Father. The passage then goes on to give us a wonderful glimpse as well of the doctrine of election, where Jesus in verses 22 acknowledges how God has chosen to reveal his saving truths only to certain people. Those two doctrinal glimpses aside, it is wonderful to see how full of joy our savior is in our salvation. But that should not surprise us. It was for the joy of redeeming a people unto himself that Jesus came and suffered and died. So, we should not be surprised to find him rejoicing at those whom had already begun to be saved from Satan and sin and find new life in himself.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, in conclusion we are presented again with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something that each of us here today need to believe. There is a great warning given against rejecting Jesus and his message. And there is great reward and blessing held out for receiving it. This is a reminder that the visible church of Jesus Christ needs to continue to speak to ourselves that each us of would truly hold fast to Christ Jesus. And this passage reminds us that this gospel message continues to need to be proclaimed to the nations. Let us tell those around us of this gospel. And let us continue to support the worldwide proclamation of it. And in all of this, may we rejoice again today at how wonderful it is to know our God through our Lord Jesus Christ and by his Holy Spirit.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.