After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. – Luke 10:1
“…the Lord appointed 72 others…”
I’ve heard this text used to support missionaries choosing those locals with whom they work — or rather to argue against a form of self-selection by local people for service in evangelism. After all, there are a lot of locals out there who see working with a missionary (and evangelism in general) as a means to financial gain and social power.*
The verses which follow our text, though, make clear that being sent by Jesus to do evangelism is not a means to financial gain (as my billfold can demonstrate), in that workers are told to go give up their sandals and money before even going (though I should confess I kept both when moving to Tanzania). Of course Jesus does expect them to be fed by the people to whom they’re sent. And in a similar text (Matthew 10), he tells the twelve that a worker is worth his keep — though, again, they’re being “paid” in the form of room and board.
The text does clearly state that Jesus appointed these 72 for their work. But it seems to me there is still an element of self-selection involved. Our text begins with “after this,” which directs us to the preceding story — a story of three men who were not fit for service in the kingdom of God. These men removed themselves (self-selection) from consideration by desiring 1) a place to sleep, 2) an opportunity to bury a father, and 3) a chance to say goodbye to a family. It is only after these men demonstrate they are inadequate for kingdom service that we read of Jesus appointing the 72.
It seems to me, then, that the task of a missionary is not simply to appoint others for service, but first to discern those who are fit for that service — or better yet to offer opportunities for others to discern this for themselves. Many will, in that way, remove themselves from consideration. There is need both for self-selection and appointment.
[I should confess that reading this text causes me some confusion. I feel that in most cases I should read myself (a missionary in a foreign context) as one of the 72. But missionaries also, in some capacity, are the senders in their situations -- as is evidenced by the above interpretation of how missionaries appoint workers for service.
It is at least very possible -- if not likely, even -- that we should read this text as giving us a better understanding of who the Spirit is today appointing to take the gospel into new areas. That is, how do I know if I am appointed by God for missions? And how do I know which local people are also being appointed? I feel we can never go wrong by ourselves doing less appointing, and more recognizing of whom God has already appointed.]
“…and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.”
[For a discussion on why the 72 were sent out in pairs, see missions: two by two.]
1. Jesus sent these men to particular places.
We’re not told exactly how Jesus selected these locations for evangelism,** but we do know these evangelists were not sent out to aimlessly walk the countryside, preaching the kingdom of God. They were given specific geographic and ethnic targets, and were even told in verse four not to greet anyone on the road; that is the extent to which they were to be focused on the task at hand.
I’ve heard many preachers teach, from Matthew 28:19-20, that the goal is to make disciples, and not to “therefore go.” The Greek apparently does read more like, “As you are going, make disciples…” But this does not lend to the text a meaning of wandering aimlessly through life, sharing the gospel. That the end goal is to make disciples does not require we perform the other tasks with recklessness and abandon. It seems that both Jesus (in the gospels) and the Holy Spirit (in the book of Acts) are more intentional with their sending than this. And I assume, then, that we also should be.
2. These were the places where Jesus was already planning to go.
It’s crucial we remember that our task is merely to announce the good news of the kingdom, and that we have no power with which to draw men into that kingdom. Jesus says in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Drawing men to Christ is the Father’s responsibility; saving them is Christ’s. I am merely an announcer of this good news. Missionaries take the gospel to people; we don’t bring people to God. All the better reason, then, that we (as much as is possible) announce God’s kingdom where God is moving and working.
Here are my biggest questions, then, though you’re welcome to chime in on anything related to the post:
- Should we read missionaries as the 72 when interpreting this text or as the sender (I hesitate to say I read myself as Jesus)? Or both?
- How do we know today where God is moving to work, so that we can announce the kingdom in those places?