Christians are granted an unspeakable privilege: to serve the Lord in carrying the message of His kingdom to the lost. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Luke by teaching on Jesus’ sending His disciples on a missionary journey.
We will continue this morning with our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke, and this morning we will begin chapter 10. We bid adieu to chapter 9 which we had visited for several months now. I will read Luke 10:1–20:
After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades. He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”
Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”
And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
This is a holy moment because we have just heard the holy Word of God. This is something we must never take for granted or regard in a cavalier manner. This is God’s Word. These are the words that we hear from the Son of God in the lesson this morning. So, I urge you to receive them as such. Let us pray.
Again, our Father, on this, Your Lord’s Day, we pause to reflect on Christ’s words. We ask for Your help. Help us to have ears to hear and hearts that are open and willing to be instructed by Him. Melt the hardness of our hearts. Overcome the native hostility we have to You that we may be Your willing disciples. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Before I undertake the exposition of the text, I would like to ask you three questions: 1) Do you believe in God? 2) Do you believe in Christ as the Son of God? 3) Do you believe in hell?
If you believe the first, you must also believe the second, and if you believe the second, you must also believe the third, as we realize that our Lord taught more about hell than He did about heaven.
Any contemplation of the reality of hell necessarily makes us uncomfortable, not only because it is a place we hope never to visit or to abide, but also because it is a place that we desire none whom we love or know would ever go. Keep that in mind as we examine the text this morning in which we have Luke’s record of sending out not the Twelve, but the seventy or seventy-two, depending on which translation you have.
Sent into His Harvest
The question regarding the number of disciples sent on this missionary journey is a matter of a textual variant. Some copyists copied the original as seventy, others as seventy-two, and none of us know for sure which it was. In any case, we know that there are great similarities between the commission Jesus gave to the larger number and that which He gave to the Twelve at the beginning of chapter 9 when He sent the Twelve on a mission. In chapter 10, He sent a larger group, six times larger than the original twelve, and He appointed them to go two-by-two into all the cities to which He was about to go.
Jesus said to them at the beginning of the commission, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.” Elsewhere, He said, “The fields are ripe unto harvest.” They were ready for the harvest. The time of planting, the time of pruning, the time of tending was finished now. The crops had come in and they were to be harvested. It was a plenteous harvest, but the laborers were few.
“Therefore pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into His harvest.” We can apply that to the world in which we live today, which is ripe as it has ever been for the harvesting of the people of God. We are called in the church to be the laborers who go and gather the harvest. We are not the Lord of the harvest, nor do we even have the power to bring the fruit of the harvest. We can plant and we can water, but only God can give the increase.
God does not need us to harvest His elect. He could do it without us. He does not need us to proclaim His Word to the rest of the world. He could speak from the heavens to the whole globe if He chose to do so, but He has given us not only the duty and responsibility as laborers in His harvest but also the unspeakable privilege to participate with Him as those who carry the message of the kingdom to the lost. As He sent them as lambs among the wolves, so He sends us in similar circumstances.
Do Not Miss the Kingdom at Hand
The rest of Jesus’ instructions through verse 12 generally follow same list of instructions Jesus gave the Twelve at the beginning of chapter 9, where He said, “Stay at the house where you enter,” and “Give them peace who give you peace and take not all that extra equipment with you, and if they reject you shake the dust off your feet,” and so on. So, I will not comment much on that section, other than what we said already with respect to the commission of the Twelve and a few verses at the end.
In verse 10, after Jesus told them to announce the kingdom of God, He said: “But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’” The reality is that most of them missed it, and it was right there at hand.
In this very hour, at this very moment, in this very place where you are present, the kingdom of God is near to you. It is so near that you could touch it. So near that it could swallow you up. Yet, there will be people who leave this morning who will miss it.
Jesus continued, “But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.” If you leave and turn away from the nearness of the kingdom of God to you, dear one, on the Day of Judgment it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than it will be for you. You will wish you had lived in Sodom. You will wish that you were a citizen of Gomorrah rather than Central Florida or wherever you are from if you miss the kingdom that is near.
The Day of Judgment
I want you to notice a couple of things about this warning Jesus gave. First, not only here but again and again, Jesus the great teacher proclaimed that there would be a Day of Judgment and that every human being would be summoned before the tribunal of God for the last judgment.
If there is any concept in the New Testament that we find difficult to tolerate, if there is any idea taught repeatedly by Jesus that we want to ignore or forget or put away from us, it is the idea that we will be held accountable for everything we have done, everything we have said, and everything we have left undone that God called us to do. Dearly beloved, this is a moment in the future that is inescapable. It is impossible to avoid. We will be there, each and every one of us.
Second, Jesus indicated that there will be different levels of judgment. People have the erroneous idea that all sin is equal and if you sinned in one way then there is no greater guilt than what you have received. A man said to me once, “I have lusted after that woman, so I might as well commit adultery with her.” No, no, no—Jesus never said that all sins are equal. Some sins are far more egregious than others. All sin is serious, of course. As James said, if we sin against one point of the law, we sin against the whole law. But there are degrees of sin. The Apostle Paul warned his readers not to heap or pile up sin against the Day of Judgment.
Once again, we see Jesus talking about different levels of accountability. The principle He employed was that our culpability is directly related to the light that we have received, so that every time you hear the gospel preached, it is a double-sided coin. If you embrace it, it is to your blessedness. If you reject it, every time you reject it, you are heaping up guilt against that Day of Judgment.
Doomed Cities Reject the Son
Jesus went on, and it gets worse. He uttered oracles of doom, a prophetic technique to express God’s judgment. Listen to what He said: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” This was the pronouncement of doom, and He pronounced it upon two cities.
Jesus continued, “For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” In other words: “If those pagans in Tyre and those pagans in Sidon had beheld what you have beheld, there would have been mass repentance, but not so for you. Your hearts have been hardened.”
Jesus then moved on to another city: “And you, Capernaum, who has been exalted to heaven.” What about Capernaum, which was the headquarters of Jesus during His earthly ministry? “Capernaum will be brought down to Hades. He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”
We have seen this sequence before. You cannot say, “I believe in God and reject His Son.” You cannot say, “I believe in the Son and reject His Apostles.” If you receive the Apostles, you receive Christ. If you receive Christ, you receive the Father who sent Him and vice versa.
In the next part of the text, the report shifts to the response of the seventy upon their return: “The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us.’” Here we have some good news. Remember, when the Twelve went out there was not much joy because they failed to deal with the demonic world in many respects. However, when the seventy (or the seventy-two) came back, they were delighted: “Lord, you won’t believe it. We went out there, and all the villages and the forces of hell came out against us, and the last time we looked they were running away with their tails between their legs. Even the demons were subject to us in your name.”
Jesus responded: “I know. While you were gone, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven, like a lightning flash in the sky. I could see it wasn’t just lightning. It was Satan and the great fall of his power because of the ministry that you have undertaken in My name.”
Beloved, every time the people of God undertake the missionary outreach of Jesus Christ to the darkest places on this planet, there are lightning flashes of the satanic world falling from the sky.
A Greater Blessing
“Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpion”—some take this to be a metaphor for all kinds of evil resistance—“and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless…” Jesus said: “It is good that you have this power. It is good that you had a harvest. It is great that you are delighted in the victories that you have, but nevertheless...”
Let me pause for a second to ask you this question. There are many blessings you have received in your life, many good things; family, children, jobs, education, possessions, things that have made you happy, things that have brought you joy. I want you to think about the greatest thing that has ever happened to you or that ever could happen to you. If indeed it has happened to you, it is that for which you should be most exceedingly grateful. You know what it is.
Jesus had to remind His own disciples at this point amid their delirious joy over their newfound power and victory: “You’re happy about that, and it’s a good thing. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Jesus said: “You want to have joy and elation and excitement? Then let me tell you what to rejoice about: your greatest joy is that your names are written in heaven.” What does that mean?
Names Written in Heaven
To say that your name is written in heaven means that your name is written on the registry book of heaven. It is recorded that you are a citizen of heaven and you have an inheritance that has been stored up. You have a legacy to receive as a citizen of heaven. However, I have some questions to explore with you in the time we have left.
The first question is this: Who wrote your name in heaven? If it is there, who wrote it? Did you write it? Absolutely not. I remember almost jumping out of my skin once when I heard an evangelist enthusiastically summoning people to come and commit their lives to Christ. He said, “Come now and write your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Let me tell you something: the Lamb does not hand out pens. Your name is either in the Book of Life or it is not. You cannot add it. Nothing you can do can possibly add your name to that register, because the names in that register are written by God and by God alone.
Here is the second question: When were the names written? If you are a believer in Christ, your name is in the Book of Life. Did God write your name in heaven the day you trusted Christ? No, that is laughable. God only wrote in that book once, and He did it in eternity before you were born, before you did anything good or evil. The greatest gift you could ever receive would be to have the Lord God omnipotent, from all eternity, from all the names of all the people who ever lived, write your name in that register.
That leaves us with a third question: Why did God write your name or my name in that book? The only reason I can find is that, from all eternity, the Father determined to redeem a people as a gift for His Son, that His Son would see the affliction and travail of His soul and be satisfied, so that all whom the Father gave to Him would come to Him.
We are talking about the elect, language from which the Bible does not shrink. The Bible clearly tells us that the purposes for which God redeems us are His own good pleasure and the honor and glory of His Son. That is why on our bulletin we celebrate the five solas of the Reformation, not just sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone, or sola fide, by faith alone, but also sola gratia, by grace alone. To be a recipient of grace is to receive something that you do not merit, to receive something that you have not earned, to receive something that you have not achieved. Rather it is to receive something that is a gift—and purely a gift—from a gracious God who bestows it upon us.
Why did He write my name in the Book of Life? It is not because He looked down the corridor of time and saw that I would do this, that, or the other. I do not know why my name is in there. I cannot give the slightest clue as to why my name is in the book and not my neighbor’s name. I do know this: if my name is in the Book of Life, it has nothing to do with anything I have done or will do. Eternal life is a gift, received by the grace of God alone.
Jesus said: “You may be excited and happy because you had power over demons, but that’s nothing. If you are going to rejoice, rejoice in this, that your names are written in heaven.” When we understand the doctrines of grace and the biblical doctrine of election, it is time to be finished with complaining and time to start with rejoicing, because this is our greatest joy.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.