“Blessed to be a Blessing”
June 23, 2019
Obedient followers of Christ are blessed to be a blessing.
I. They are appointed (Luke 10:1-9)
II. They are empowered (Luke 10:10-16)
III. They are blessed (Luke 10:17-24)
Two months ago at a Harvey community dinner, one of the homeowners gave the Response staff these tee-shirts, which say “blessed to be a blessing.” I was struck by the phrase. I believe it’s true. All of us are blessed by God, a blessing that flows into others. Today’s text in Luke shows how obedient followers of Jesus are a blessing and concludes that it’s because they’ve been blessed.
Before we get to the passage, let me start with an example of someone blessed to be a blessing. Baseball fans have probably heard of Mariano Rivera. He pitched for the New York Yankees for 17 years, perhaps the best closing pitcher of all time. What I learned recently is that he’s a sincere, humble believer. Rivera was born in Panama and wanted to play soccer. His knees and ankles wouldn’t handle it, so he switched to baseball. A short time later the Yankees hired a Latin American scout born in Panama. He was told he had to see Rivera pitch, and he only saw nine pitches before he knew he had to sign this kid. Rivera says “I never wanted to play baseball. This is what God wanted me to do.” A few years later he began to throw his “cut fastball,” a pitch almost impossible to hit, and the Yankees made him their closer. His record is astounding. He had 652 saved games. He was especially effective in the playoffs, with 42 saves and an earned run average of 0.7. For those not into baseball that means that in 140 innings of postseason play only 11 runs were scored against him.
But his personal life is just as compelling. He become a believer in his teens and he humbly but boldly talked about his faith and trust in God. He said God had opened the doors of his career so he might share his faith. He started a church in his home and built several in Latin America, not by giving money but also by going and stacking cinderblocks. He taught young people baseball, and is currently building a youth center in New York. He’s a nice guy, tremendous friend to many in the sport, calming influence in the locker room, husband and father. During his last season, 2013, he was honored in every stadium. Five years later he became the first player in history unanimously elected to the baseball hall of fame. He’ll be inducted this summer. Mariano Rivera would, I’m sure, agree with the tee shirt. He’s been blessed to be a blessing.
Obedient followers, like those Jesus sends in Luke 10, are a blessing to others because they’ve been blessed. They’re appointed by Jesus, empowered by Jesus, and blessed by God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we follow Jesus in obedience we are blessed to be a blessing.
Let's explore this in Luke 10, beginning with verses 1-12. After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
What we’re seeing in these verses is the appointment of committed followers to take the blessing of the kingdom to those on Jesus’ way. After the recognition of Christ and his transfiguration, Jesus appoints and sends 72 followers. These were ordinary followers, not the named disciples who had been sent earlier on a similar mission. They are sent two-by-two because a minimum of two people were required to witness to an event. They are not sent off at random, but where these witnesses go, the Lord himself is planning to come. That’s still true of every response we make to his will today. If he sends us to do something, he himself is planning to be there.
In fact it is not only Jesus who sends out these messengers - it is God the Father. Jesus implies that in verse 2: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The Lord of the harvest, the one they pray to, is God the Father, to whom Jesus prays so often in Luke. And the laborers who are prayed for are people who are willing to go ahead of Jesus and bring the good news of his coming, his kingdom, his power and his rescue. Jesus looks ahead and sees men, women, and children desperate for the good news. He sends out these seventy-two, but they are not enough. So he says “while you are going pray for more laborers. Pray that the Lord would send out a great number of workers.” This is what Kat Welch says at orientation for a Harvey response team. “We always pray Matthew 9:38 [the parallel verse], for more laborers. You are an answer to our prayer, but we also ask you to pray.”
Before sending these laborers out, Jesus gives them brief instructions, specific instructions on how to carry out this mission at this time. We learn from these instructions, but as they are not exactly addressed to us, we need to see the principles he presents. Verse 3 “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” The messengers would understand from this that there would be opposition, that they were to trust God for their provision and that their mission was urgent. Greeting nobody on the road didn’t mean being impolite, but probably that they were to avoid the elaborate and time-consuming rituals of Jewish greetings, because of the urgency of their mission and their message.
These principles apply to us in whatever way he’s called us to follow him. Again, I think of the teams who come for Crisis Response. Kat guarantees, rightly so, that God will be with them, but that whatever plan is made for the week, it’s bound to change in response to circumstances, even opposition. On top of that team members are told that while Texas is not a third world country, they will need to give up their rights and expectations, their comforts and conveniences. Finally, she reminds them of the urgency of the mission. In our culture that means going out of our way to engage people, putting people over projects every time. These principles apply whether we are on a mission trip, Crisis Response or simply following Jesus into our own homes and communities.
In verses 5-7 Jesus tells them what to do when they are received into a home. “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’” This peace is not a wimpy lack of conflict, but a deep seated peace as pictured the Old Testament word “shalom,” still used as a Jewish greeting. This peace is completeness, wholeness, fulfillment, what we’ve called human flourishing.
It is specifically peace with and peace from God and it was this peace which the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, would bring. Verse 6: “If a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him.” In accepting the peace these messengers offered, the householder was more or less explicitly accepting the peace of Messiah. He or she might not yet be ready to follow Jesus, but they are willing helpers. And followers of Jesus are to be content with the hospitality offered. Verse 7 “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.” This is both encouragement to be content with what God provides through his people, and a reminder that God’s people are expected to provide. Paul himself sometimes resorted to his skill at tent-making to provide for his ministry, but he was also grateful when God’s people provided for his labor. He saw it as a blessing, not only to him but to those who sacrificially gave to the work.
Then in verses 8-12, Jesus tells them how to behave toward the towns they go to. They are to accept hospitality if it is offered, they are to heal the sick, and to say “the kingdom of God is near you.” These are the same tasks Jesus himself would do everywhere he came. These messengers are appointed to represent him, to do the same things he did, to be his hands and feet, his heart and voice.
In the villages that did not receive them, the disciples were to wipe the dust off their feet. This symbolic act came from a belief that even the dust of gentile lands carried defilement, so travelers would wipe the dust off before returning to Palestine. When a town rejects the messengers, they treat it as if it were not part of the Kingdom of God. This would have consequences. Jesus says it will be better for Sodom in the coming day of judgment than for that town.
We learn several things from these instructions. First, our message is very important. The kingdom of God is near. This is even more true on this side of the cross. Now that Jesus has died and risen to rescue those who trust him, his kingdom is even more among us, and its culmination is even more at hand. We have every reason to be urgent. Second, they are to meet needs. Specifically, they are authorized by Jesus to heal the sick. That’s still a ministry today. As we meet people one of the great ways we can minister is simply to ask how we can pray. If they give a request, as many will even in our culture, we can pray immediately, we can pray for them faithfully, And as God answers prayer the door to the Gospel is wide open. But the same can be true of meeting any need, whether rebuilding homes or restoring relationships. As we come alongside people we become the hands and feet and heart and voice of Jesus.
So Jesus appoints messengers and sends them out, and these, who obediently serve find that they are empowered by him. Look at Jesus' words in verses 13-20 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. 16“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” 17The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Picking up where he left off, Jesus now begins to speak in his role as a prophet. The power of the Old Testament prophets was that when they spoke the words given by God, all they predicted would inevitably follow. As Jeremiah says: “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. The Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah’s words became the overthrow and doom of some kingdoms, building up and planting for others.
In the same way Jesus here prophesies the doom of these three Galilean cities, Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. These were cities where he had worked great miracles, yet the hearts of many had remained hardened against him. He says, it would be better to be in Tyre and Sidon the Philistine cities whose downfall Jeremiah prophesied. If they had seen the miracles Jesus did, they would have repented, putting on sackcloth and sitting in ashes. Jesus says “If a town listens to you, it is really listening to me, but if a town rejects you, it is really rejecting me, and if it rejects me, then it rejects the one who sent me.”
Just as Jesus was given the power to declare doom on these Galilean cities, so also these obedient followers are empowered as prophets, to wipe the dust of these towns off their feet, and foresee a doom like Sodom and Gomorrah. Obedient followers are gifted to see how accepting or rejecting God’s rescue will impact the culture around us. We’re empowered to see and speak on his behalf.
Okay. Between verses 16 and 17 time passes. We don't know how much time. These messengers go out, they visit their cities, and meet with great success. They heal. They preach the kingdom. They cast out demons. Eventually they return to Jesus, rejoicing, “Even the demons obey us in your name.” Jesus responds by giving a behind-the-scenes look at their ministry. He says he was watching, and Satan fell from heaven. He say when he was watching. It’s hard to tell from the Biblical data when Satan was kicked out of heaven. Jesus is saying “the power I’ve given you is evidence that the power of Satan no longer rules.”
Jesus next says “I have given you authority to trample on serpents and scorpions.” Serpents and scorpions almost certainly represent demons and evil powers. Because of the victory of Jesus, who will crush the serpent’s head, the vassals of Satan will no longer have authority to harm God’s people. That’s important. In a day like ours, when so many are calling evil good, we need confidence that Satan is defeated. Jesus in us has all power over him, and the gates of hell cannot stand against it. We need to be cautious about the forces of evil, dependent on God in dealing with them, but we don’t need to fear.
On the other hand, Jesus says, don't get a spiritual swelled head. Don't get the idea, as too many have, that something about you is great, that you rout the enemy single-handedly. Jesus says “do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you.” Why? Because it’s God who does this. In fact you might expect Jesus to go on and say “Rejoice, rather that God does these works among you.” But he doesn’t even say that. He says “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” The important thing is not your spiritual power, but who gives it to you. The important thing is not that you defeat the enemy, but that you are redeemed. If you’ve trusted Christ as Savior, if you’ve put your faith and trust in Him, then rejoice, because your name is written in what Revelation calls the book of life. The Father has reserved, through the victory of Jesus, an eternal place for you, together with him in the new heavens and new earth. Rejoice that the good news is really good news, that all is made possible because he rescued you and works through you. As Paul says, his strength is made perfect not because of any strength or quality or ability I have, but through my weakness.
Jesus himself then models the right kind of rejoicing, in God. Verses 21-24 In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” 23Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
Verse 21 is a snapshot of the relationship of love that characterizes the Trinity. Here Jesus the Son is filled with joy through the Holy Spirit and praises the Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth. Each person in the Trinity gives honor and glory to another and is filled with joy because of the work of another in the Godhead. I’m convinced this personal relationship of love, joy and sharing is eternal, and that a God who rejoiced in personal relationships made man in his image.
What does Jesus praise the Father for? That he has revealed the Good News, the Gospel of the Kingdom to his little children, those whose names are written in heaven. As we said last week, the one who comes to God as a little child, in faith, is the one who is great in the kingdom. But this truth is hidden from those who are wise, sophisticated and great in the eyes of the world.
That’s still true today. Celebrity, fame, and recognition are not God’s standards of greatness. The fame of a celebrity preacher or the inevitable ego of a politician do not impress God. But those who come with the humility of a child are celebrated, their names written in heaven. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, to those who come as helpless children.
Even as Jesus rejoices in this revelation, he also acknowledges his role in it. Verse 22 “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” God the Father has given authority to Jesus to reveal, or yes, to not reveal, himself and the Father. Again, this is a tremendous witness to the reality of the Trinity, one God in three co-equal persons. Jesus claims in fact to be equal with God the Father: Just as God the Father reveals kingdom truth in verse 21, so Jesus the Son reveals it in verse 22. And like these followers, you and are the ones to whom Jesus reveals his Father. What a wonderful blessing and privilege, What a special relationship, to be chosen by the Son to know the Father.
He tells us just how blessed we are in Verse 23 “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” What was it these disciples saw? What did these disciples hear? It was Jesus. Peter tells us that “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” He goes on to say that even angels long to look into these things. Luke’s first chapters showed many people waiting with expectation. But it was these fisherman, tax collectors, common people who saw Jesus face to face. Obedient followers of Christ are blessed, as he saves us and writes our names in heaven.
Obedient followers of Christ are blessed to be a blessing. Let me close with another example. Just last week a man you may never have heard of, named David Powlinson, died of pancreatic cancer. Powlinson was a secular psychologist who was converted to Christ through a long-term friendship. He then set out to find a way of counseling which took into account the true spiritual nature of human sin and human brokenness. At the Christian Counseling Education Foundation he led a movement that revitalized Christian counseling. But like Mariano Rivera, it was his heart that made him beloved. I can’t tell you how many tributes I read that cited him as a compassionate caring friend. Tim Keller wrote, Randy Alcorn wrote, Ray Ortland wrote, Adree Sue wrote.
But my favorite was from Paul David Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Tripp says “I met David Powlison as a seminary student in 1985. He taught a course on the dynamics of the spiritual life that modeled the wise spiritual surgeon I later knew as a colleague and friend. The class rose way above an academic course, each session capturing my mind, stirring in my heart a deeper love for Jesus.”
Powlinson and Tripp worked to meld solid theology with practical help in Christian counseling, and then to communicate that to students and lay-people around the world. Tripp says “Each trip was more than a training opportunity. Each was marked by rich gospel fellowship with a uniquely gifted and godly friend. . . . I was not just shaped by David’s mind, but more profoundly by the way he lived his life. His infectious love for Jesus, his gentle love for God’s people, his humble scholarship, and his zeal to incarnate God’s love marked me and has marked my ministry to others.” That’s the special relationships that obedient followers enjoy with him, and it’s inevitably a blessing to others.