Sunday, July 4, 2004

Fifth Sunday of Pentecost
Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6: [1-6] 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Nevertheless in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

In last week’s Gospel lesson, we saw James and John being the Sons of Thunder, asking Jesus if He wanted them to call fire down from heaven in response to their refusal to welcome them on their journey to Jerusalem. Jesus rebuked the disciples and they went to another town.

In today’s lesson, Jesus sends seventy-two disciples out into the countryside to preach and heal – to do the work of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Go your ways; behold, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves.” It was not going to be an easy task. The twelve were sent out earlier and had great success. The signs and miracles they performed helped draw many people to Jesus. I suppose that’s why James and John thought they had the power and authority to call hellfire on the Samaritan village.

But they would face many such rejections. Jesus warned the seventy-two that some places would not welcome them or the message they bring. He also instructed them in how to handle it. “But into whatsoever city ye shall enter, and they receive you not, go out into the streets thereof and say, Even the dust from your city, that cleaveth to our feet, we wipe off against you: nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh.”

Then, in the part of the Gospel we do not hear this week, He added, “I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.” Doesn’t it seem strange that Jesus would threaten exactly what He had rebuked the disciples for wanting to do to the Samaritan village? After all, Sodom was destroyed by fire from heaven because of their sin against God. What could be worse than that? The worse thing would be for the Kingdom of God to pass them by.

Suppose someone created the perfect environment that would withstand a nuclear war but there was only room for a select few to live within its walls. What if you were not one of those chosen to live there, where would you want to be when the bomb fell? Would you want to be far enough from the bomb to survive or would you prefer to die immediately? Which would really be worse? Immediate death would mean the end. Survival would mean having to suffer the pain of the aftereffects of the bomb and having to watch the chosen living life to the fullest without any chance of joining in their blessings. I have always thought it would be better to die with the bomb than have to live in the hell that would follow.

The consequence of rejecting the Gospel is far worse than hellfire raining down on your parade. It is eternal suffering apart from God. This is a judgment that is not up to the disciples, which is why Jesus rebuked them at the Samaritan village. Rejecting the disciples meant rejecting God and it was up to God Himself to deal with it. They were to just wipe their feet, warn the people of that village that the Kingdom of God was near and then move on to the next town. They would face the judgment that comes with rejecting God, according to God’s good and perfect will.

Jesus sent the seventy-two with nothing – they were not to take money, extra shoes or clothes. This was a lesson in trust, so that they would have faith that God will provide all they need along the way. It must have been difficult, those times when they were rejected, because they were likely quite hungry and thirsty by the time they arrived at a new village. This was a test. Would they really trust God to provide them with all they need? The persecution they would face for the rest of their lives would be far greater than the rejection on this mission trip. It would mean death for many – some deaths more horrible than even Jesus suffered on the cross. Did they really have faith that God held them in His hands?

Today’s psalm was sung by someone who knew God’s saving grace. The protection He offers is not always for our flesh. Sometimes we will suffer hunger and thirst, and even death, for the sake of His kingdom, but we can rest assured that He will guard our souls. “Oh bless our God, ye peoples, And make the voice of his praise to be heard; Who holdeth our soul in life, And suffereth not our feet to be moved.” This is the reason we praise God.

The disciples didn’t always get things right. They never quite understood the work Jesus was calling them to do or even the work He had come to do. They constantly had questions that showed their ignorance of God’s plan. In this story we see them doing something right. Jesus sent them to preach and heal, and they were able to even cast out demons. Yet, even in this success, they still managed to get it wrong. They rejoiced over their gifts rather than God’s grace.

When the seventy-two finished their mission work, they returned to Jesus amazed. They told Him, “Lord, even the demons are subject unto us in thy name.” Jesus confirmed the good work they did by telling them that He saw Satan fall and that they had the authority over the enemy. “Nevertheless in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Jesus reminded them that their joy rested in their salvation and not in the work they would do.

It was very important for the disciples to learn this lesson. They could have easily fallen into the temptation to do ministry for all the wrong reasons. I have seen too many ministries destroyed because the leadership turned the focus from God to themselves. They set the spotlight on the pastor and his gifts and draw people in with a ‘look what we can do for you’ attitude. The Gospel gets lost in the midst of their healing ministry or their social programs. Far too many ministers have been destroyed by their need to satisfy their flesh.

The trouble with rejoicing in our gifts is that we are then tempted to compare our ministries to others. There are far too many churches that consider themselves better than others and who are striving to be the best – the biggest, the richest, the most spiritual, the most generous. When we turn our attention on ourselves, we take it off God. We also tend to focus in on the faults of our neighbors and use their difficulties to bring praise ourselves. In today’s epistle, Paul warned about this very problem. “For if a man thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”

Paul tells us that we should help our fellow Christians through their difficult times. When a brother or sister in Christ sins, we are called to teach them the truth in love and gentleness. He warns us to be careful, because it is so easy for us to fall to the temptation to use and abuse our brethren who are fallen, to call down fire and brimstone on their lives and ministries. We are to preach the Gospel and leave judgment to God, for He is the perfect judge of all.

Paul goes on to say that we will reap what we sow. When we call down the hellfire on other ministries, our own will go under the lens. Is our ministry perfect? Are we spotless? Do we focus our attention on ourselves; is the spotlight on our gifts? Or are we rejoicing in what God has done? Paul writes, “But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” The successes of our ministries do not give us reason to rejoice. We rejoice in the salvation that comes from faith in Jesus Christ.

Things are not always peaches and cream when we live in the salvation of God. The disciples suffered great persecution. In the Old Testament, Israel returned from exile to a city of destruction. They remembered the glory of Jerusalem and expected to see gleaming stone and strong walls. They found ruin. Yet, the message from Isaiah offered hope to the people. “And ye shall see it, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like the tender grass: and the hand of Jehovah shall be known toward his servants; and he will have indignation against his enemies.” God will bring His judgment upon those who destroyed His holy city.

The image in this passage is as Jerusalem as a mother, cradling her child and feeding him from her breast. We can also see God in this image, as the One who holds His people in His hands. “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream: and ye shall suck thereof; ye shall be borne upon the side, and shall be dandled upon the knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” There is hope beyond our present circumstances.

The Israelites were disappointed because their hope rested in a strong, safe home and all they found was destruction. Isaiah called them to look forward to the day when God’s promises would be fulfilled. The disciples thought the hope was found in their ability to overcome the devil, yet that was very shortsighted. They would not overcome the devil in their flesh – they would suffer persecution and he would win the war for their bodies when they died. Yet, in Christ they have a greater hope. They have eternal life in Christ, as His blood bought our salvation from sin and death. For this we sing praise and thanksgiving to God. “Make a joyful noise unto God, all the earth: Sing forth the glory of his name: Make his praise glorious. Say unto God, How terrible are thy works! Through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee. All the earth shall worship thee, And shall sing unto thee; They shall sing to thy name. Selah.” Thanks be to God.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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