Believers in Christ have heard the good news of what Jesus has done and cannot help but tell others. The church is God’s messenger. Regardless of whether people believe it or not, Jesus has died and risen again in order to redeem His creation, and that is something the church cannot keep to itself. In fact, telling others about God and His work to save His creation is a direct commission from Jesus. He tells His disciples to do this when He sent the 12 out to preach in Luke 9 and then the 70 later on in chapter 10, ending in the Great Commission to all of Jesus’ followers to spread the word and Kingdom of God throughout all the nations. So, we as the church have been swept into spreading this good news, being the salt and light in this dark world. One mark of a healthy church is a true sense of knowing that this is our purpose, having a congregation of believers who grasp the seriousness and joy of our mission – to love the world and make Jesus known. But what does this actually look like? And what can we learn from the sending out of Jesus’ disciples in order to understand how the church is called to preach the gospel today?
When Jesus sent the 70 He said: “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3) This isn’t a very comforting picture or an ideal morale boost just as Jesus sends the 70 on their way to heal and preach. However, this is a loaded statement that had cultural meaning at the time, ultimately reflecting how we as the church need to understand the nature of our ‘going out’ into our cities.
The imagery of lambs among wolves was a recognised one in Judaism since it harped back to Isaiah 40:11 where the awaited Lord would come as a shepherd and gather His people to Himself like lambs. This seems like a stark contrast to what Jesus is saying here in Luke. Instead of gathering in His lambs, He is sending them out. Instead of providing shelter by His side, protection from the wolves, He is telling them to go to the wolves.
But there is a beautiful reflection here of what we as the church are like in our cities. The cross has brought us into the love of God to know the tender affection of the Lord of Hosts. But in doing this, God is sending us out. He did this with Abraham in Genesis 12. God declared that He wanted to bless Abraham profoundly with a nation, and that He would make his name great. God drew Abraham into His goodness and favour. But then immediately called Him out of his family and land. This is us as the church. We have been called into God’s profound love and acceptance, to then be called out and planted in every nation – to bless all people groups. A healthy church knows that in response to being drawn into God’s goodness, it cannot stop there, the church has to then ‘go out’ – loving, serving and blessing the city they’re in.
We as the church are God’s messengers, and a healthy church knows intimately the message they are carrying to their city. Jesus told the 12 and the 70 to preach that the Kingdom of God has come near to them. After Jesus was resurrected and the truth of who He is and what He had done was revealed, believers then called this message the gospel, the good news. ‘Gospel’ was a word at the time that meant a historical event had occurred and the announcement of that news must be told to all who could hear. The Kingdom of God has come near and we are citizens of that Kingdom, which means wherever we go the Kingdom is there (Luke 17:20) and we are to announce it’s coming. The church should be excited and eager to deliver this message of good news to the broken-hearted, weary and lost.
Once the 70 returned after spreading this message they marvel at how the demons are subject to them in His name. In response Jesus tells the 70 that He saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven. What Jesus was doing here was giving an indication to who He truly is. Some of His disciples were still debating in their minds who Jesus was: a good teacher, a prophet, the risen Elijah? But Jesus here is showing those with Him that He was there before the creation of the universe, He saw the things that came to pass before the world was made. That meant He was proclaiming Himself as God.
If the body of believers truly understands what Jesus says about who He is, then what is recorded in Luke, Matthew, Mark and John is astoundingly good news. Because the only one who could save us, God Himself, is there in the flesh drawing us in and calling us out. A healthy church then understands in a heart-felt way the important message that they are spreading.
In this same dialogue between Jesus and the 70, Jesus had to explain to them that they should not rejoice that demons obey their command, but rather that their names are written in heaven. The disciples had received power and authority from God Himself to cast out the demonic and sicknesses, yet this is not where Jesus tells them to find their joy or significance. Tim Keller states that Jesus did not like the way the disciples were getting their “drive for ministry”.
The reason we are not wolves going out amongst wolves is because the church does not delight in power, we are not called to be coercive to those who reject us. This kind of response was seen in the disciples when they asked if they should command fire down to consume a village in Samaria after they had rejected their preaching (Luke 9:54). Jesus had to rebuke and teach them like a disciplining father.
Jesus would not leave the disciples to find their ministry in aggression like wolves, but rather in sacrifice like lambs. The church’s healthy drive for ministry is in its rejoicing as the bride of Christ, the branches from the true Vine who calls us His children.
A healthy church, then, grasps that we have been called out to serve our cities rather than remain within an inclusive network, it understands that we are to declare the Kingdom come near and we find our drive for ministry in knowing that we are heaven-bound and delighted in by the Father.