To Follow Jesus – Part 2.
Last week we thought about what Jesus had to say concerning the cost of discipleship and we saw how three different people reacted differently to the idea of following him.
The reactions of those three people stand as warnings to us today because we can be tempted to do things just as they did:
The rash or hasty man wanted to follow but didn’t bother to reflect on what it might cost him to follow Jesus.
The delaying man was basically sympathetic but didn’t feel the time was quite right yet to commit himself to anything more than that for the moment – so with a plausible excuse he responds with a yes – but not yet.
The irresolute of dithering man can’t make up his mind and is still too attracted to the things that this world has to offer and likely to be easily swayed by others urging him not to become "fanatical" or something else equally pejorative.
Now as we move on we find that there were plenty of people who were prepared to follow Jesus and to do what Jesus told them.
A Brief Overview
Let’s start this morning by simply highlighting some of the things that may be involved if a person decides to become a serious follower of Jesus Christ. Having done that, we will then work our way through this section more slowly with our attention focused not so much on the disciple but on the Master.
Jesus appointed 72 others – if the three cases we have already considered were examples of poor quality discipleship here we meet with a better group! If those three were wrong-headed it didn’t mean that everyone else was too and now we find that Jesus has no problem in appointing a large number of his followers to accomplish a specific mission.
For these 72 to follow Jesus literally meant to go ahead of him but only because that is what he sent them to do!
Jesus told them what to do and what they might expect to encounter:
To visit the towns he planned to come to himself
To meet with danger
To speak and to preach
To heal (to do good)
If that was what they were to do then the manner in which they were to do it all was also important:
They were not to allow themselves to be hindered by lots of things
They were to be directed by thoughts of personal comfort and ease
Jesus: his concerns and his approach
As we think about Jesus and his concerns this particular episode shows us that he is:
There was so much to be done in a short space of time. Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem where his mission would come to its climactic completion and yet there were so many places he still wanted to visit.
In order to help him fulfil his goals he chose and equipped 72 more of his followers to go and prepare the way for him. The cost of discipleship was high – that has been spelled out in the previous verses – and yet 72 were ready and willing to serve when Jesus called.
It really isn’t a complicated thing to follow Jesus. Discipleship can be summed up as: believing, trusting, obeying. Simple and clear? Yes. Easy to do? No.
The instructions Jesus gave to this group of 72 were largely the same as the instructions he had earlier given to the 12 apostles when he had sent them out on mission, though Luke does give us a little more detail here. The 72 are less well-known than the 12 apostles but were nevertheless entrusted with an important mission after all it was Jesus who sent them (in v.3 the "I" in the statement "I am sending you..." is emphatic!) When we consider that Jesus sent first 12, then 72 and instructed them to pray for yet more labourers it is fair to conclude that there is a work for Jesus that you too can do!
I for one find it encouraging that there have always been those who are prepared for costly discipleship and I believe there always will be. There is no need to water down the terms of discipleship in order to gain followers.
Now Jesus had already been using the policy of sending messengers ahead of him to prepare for his coming, and he maintains that policy now.
A short while before he had sent some to Samaria but the folk there had reacted badly and wouldn’t receive him forcing him to leave and go somewhere else. But he is not knocked back by this rejection with the apparent failure of his plans. Instead he redoubles his efforts. No negative experience is going to make him give up – the stakes are just too high. He has more places he wants to visit, so many more, and so he sends out more followers. He wants to do men and women good.
It is important to note too that Jesus doesn’t hide behind the efforts of his followers as though he was sending them where he was unwilling or afraid to go himself. He sends them where he fully intends to follow in due course.
And all of this clearly demonstrates Jesus’ heart for people. He see them as lost, like sheep without a shepherd and he wants to help them, to save them. That is, of course, the reason he has come. So even though he had been rejected in Samaria he now energetically sets about visiting other places and organises exactly what needs to be done.
If Jesus shows that he has a loving heart full of concern for the lost his attitude and subsequent behaviour show, as I’ve already said before, that he is optimistic, realistic and very practical. It is time to look at this assertion more carefully.
Jesus is Optimistic
There is work for his followers to do! Lots of it. Even the team of 72 that he is just about to send out into a relatively small area can only be thought of as a small team – the labourers are indeed few (v.2)!
But there is lots of work to do for there is a harvest to be reaped! And that harvest will not be a small one either for as Jesus declared:
v.2 "The harvest is plentiful..."
Jesus does not extrapolate from his rejection in Samaria and conclude that rejection will be the universal result. After one bad result he doesn’t throw up his hands in horror and say "That’s it, finished" and give up. No, forgetting the past he presses on towards the goal – the Word will not return void, it will not fail to achieve what it was sent forth to accomplish.
"The harvest is plentiful" but the harvest is in no way haphazard or left open to chance – there is a Lord of this harvest, God himself, and if he stands behind guaranteeing it all they that labour will by no means labour in vain.
And so Jesus sends his followers to carry out what he fully expects to be fruitful ministry; he firmly believes that their needs will be met as they go – they are his labourers and they will receive the wages they deserve as they obediently follow his orders.
Jesus is Realistic
Jesus doesn’t allow his optimism to cloud his view of things as they really are. His feet are set firmly on the ground as he sends his followers out ahead of him. He had sent out the 12 before and now he sends the 72 – a five-fold increase but what is that when the needs are so great. We see the number 72 for what it is – it is pitifully small when there is so much to be done.
Well if the number is small then it must be augmented, others too must be sent out – but how? Where are they to be found? Who will send them? Will they go? The answers to these questions all lie with the Lord of the Harvest and Jesus’ followers must pray him to send out the needed workers.
A great harvest but only a few workers – it doesn’t look altogether promising does it? If you think that I need to tell you it gets worse! The workers that are about to be sent out are going to be met with opposition and the danger will be very real:
v.3 "Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves."
You know what: lambs generally don’t come out of this sort of encounter very well. Jesus is using picture language but for language to mean anything he must mean that the dangers to be encountered by his followers were likely to be very serious indeed.
In some parts of the world today it is really tough to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The "wolves" sometimes kill and sometimes they just ensure that life is made a misery for the "lambs". In Pakistan religious persecution is on the increase and discrimination against non-muslims is serious. Christians are often restricted to the lowest types of employment and many are tempted to leave.
For you to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the UK today is not yet likely to cost you your life but with the passing of poorly worded legislation and a liberal agenda faithfulness to Jesus is becoming more hazardous. Ask the Asher family with their bakery in Ireland (back in court on Mon.9 th in Belfast), or the Bull’s with their B&B business in Cornwall, or the NHS therapist who was disciplined for giving a book to a Muslim colleague in London.
In addition to what we’ve already said about Jesus’ optimism and realism we need to go further and say that he was immensely practical and gave practical instruction to his followers.
Just take a look at some of the wise, practical advice Jesus gave to his followers on this occasion as he sent them off on their mission. In doing so he made provision for their own well-being as they went as well as guiding them as to how they should execute their mission.
He sent out his followers in pairs, they were to go 2 x 2. This was the same procedure as when he had sent out his apostles though it was Mark who tells us that and not Luke. Going in pairs would enable mutual help and support in what promised at times to be a difficult task. It was also a means of ensuring that the words of one could be backed up by the words of the other. The truthfulness of what they said would be backed up by this two witness principle.
He sent them out with instructions that would keep them from being distracted and help keep them on track:
On the one hand, as they set off they were not to allow themselves to be weighed down by a whole load of items to carry – they were on a mission not off on a vacation and so should travel light. When they arrived they were to remember that they were on a mission and not move around from house to house. They weren’t to look for comfortable lodgings and shift from one place to another until they found something that satisfied them. When the hospitality in one home came to an end it would be time to move on to the next town. Jesus also told his messengers not to be pernickety about non-kosha food – they were to eat what was offered to them (Jesus had already declared all foods to be clean Mk.7:19). Was this an early example of Christian disciples being instructed to be "all things to all people in order to win some"?
On the other hand, these messengers were to avoid distracting conversations with others they might encounter on the road. They had to remember they had a charge to fulfil.
This charge too was carefully spelled out to them:
They were to do good by healing those who were sick
They were to do good by passing on the message entrusted to them
As far as speaking was concerned it was their responsibility to take the initiative by pronouncing a blessing upon arrival. The specific message they had to pass on was simple and clear:
v.9 "The kingdom of God has come near to you."
After all they had come ahead of Jesus, the King, who would soon be with them – it was time to welcome his rule and reign to enter their lives!
Jesus even told them what to do in the event of their not being well-received:
vv.10-11 "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.’"
Jesus followers were to be open and clear. To shake off the dust from the feet was a significant act and would denote here that those who refused to receive them were unworthy of their instruction, and that they declined all further connexion with them.
And yet, the same message was repeated. If the people did reject Jesus’ messengers they needed to know that they were rejecting something of extreme importance:
v.11 "The kingdom of God has come near to you."
The repetition of this message in two very different circumstances serves to underline the objective nature of this declaration. Those who rejected the message were not rejecting the opinion of the messengers they were rejecting the reality of God! Whether or not they believed it the kingdom had come near and it had done so in the person of the Saviour. The gospel is always true and should be believed, received and obeyed by all – it does not somehow become true only when we accept it.
Before we leave the passage this morning there is one final thing that we must notice and take seriously.
Jesus told his followers that rejection of the message, ultimately the message that spoke about him and what he had come to do, was a very significant matter with real and grave consequences. He told his followers that the fate of Sodom would be better than the fate of those who so rejected him. Sodom had been a dreadful place that was full of wickedness. It was so bad that God decided to overthrow the city and destroy it – the entire city would have been spared had just 10 righteous folk been found there but there weren’t and the city disappeared as the LORD rained sulphur and fire upon it.
This comparison tells us just how serious God considers the rejection of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Friends, don’t reject him. The Kingdom of God has come near you today, for it is yet the Day of Salvation and you are hearing more about the King, King Jesus.
May God bless his word to us all.