The Mission of the Seventy
The Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come …. Said he unto them …. heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, the Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you — Luk_10:1, Luk_10:2, Luk_10:9
There Is a Place for You to Serve
Can you picture the distress of a farmer when he sees his fields golden with a harvest, and there are no servants to gather that harvest in? It was such an agony that filled the heart of Jesus as He looked out on His harvest field. The seed had been sown; sunshine and rain had come; by the songs of psalmists and the message of prophets, by national guidance and national disaster, God had been bringing Israel to its autumn. And now there was the harvest ready to be cut, but the harvesters—where were they? How intensely Jesus felt the need of helpers! How clearly He saw that the world was to be won through the enthusiasm and the effort of humble men! It is one glory of our joyful Gospel that if we wish to help, there is a place for us. I have seen boys left out in the cold by their schoolmates, but men by their Master, never.
It’s Safe to Be One of the Unnamed Disciples
Well, when the work of Jesus in Galilee was over, and a larger field was calling for larger service, Jesus chose seventy, as before He had chosen twelve. Who these seventy were I do not know. We find no list of their names in the Gospels. But one thing we are sure of, for we have it from the lips of Christ Himself, their seventy names were all written in heaven (Luk_10:20). One of our sweetest poets, who died in Italy, bade his friend write upon his tombstone, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” But the very feeblest of these seventy, when he came to die, would bid men write, “Here lies one whose name is writ in heaven.” What a debt we owe to the unnamed disciples! How we are helped by those we never heard of! If struggles are easier and life is brighter for us, we owe it largely to the faithful souls who pray and work and die, unknown. Do you long to be one of the twelve, till all the land is ringing with your name? Better to be one of the unnamed seventy, who did their work and were very happy in it, and whose names are only known to God. Better: perhaps safer too. There was a Judas in the twelve: we never read of one among the seventy.
And why did Jesus fix on that number seventy. Fine souls have dreamed (and sometimes it is sweet to dream a little) that Jesus was thinking of the twelve wells and seventy palms of Elim that had refreshed the children of Israel long ago (Exo_15:27). But if that be a fancy, this at least is fact. It was seventy elders who went up with Moses to the mount and saw the glory of the God of Israel (Exo_24:1-9). Now seventy workers are to go out for Jesus, and see a glory greater than that of Sinai. It was seventy elders who were afterwards chosen to strengthen Moses in his stupendous task (Num_11:24-25). Now seventy are set apart by Jesus to aid Him in His glorious service. Do you see how Jesus gathered up the past? Do you mark how He was guided by the past in making His great choices for today?
They Were to Win Men by Trusting Them
So the seventy were chosen; and with an exquisite kindness were sent out two and two. They were to heal the sick. They were to be the heralds of God’s kingdom. If men received them, let them rejoice. If cities rejected them, let them remember Jesus, for “he that despiseth you despiseth me.” He was the Lamb of God, and they were sent forth as lambs among the wolves. They were to try to win men, too, by trusting them. For when Jesus bade them leave their wallet and their purse behind, He was not only teaching confidence in God; He was teaching them to look for the best in man. That was one secret of the seventy’s success. They took it for granted they would be hospitably treated, and men responded to that trustfulness. They honored that confidence reposed in them; till the hearts of the seventy overflowed with praise, and they came back to Jesus full of joy.
No Time to Waste
It should be noted too, in their directions, how Jesus guarded against all waste of time. There is a note of urgency we must not miss. The value of precious hours is realized. Take this, for instance, “Salute no man by the way.” Did Jesus mean that the worker should be a churl? Not that. But in the East greetings are so tedious, so full of flattery, so certain to lead on to wayside gossip, that men who are out on a work of life and death must run the risk of seeming unsociable sometimes. When Elisha bade his servant carry his staff and lay it on the dead child of the Shunamite, do you remember how he said to him, “If thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again” (2Ki_4:29)? The call was so urgent, there was no time for that, and there is a thousandfold greater urgency here. Or why, again, did Jesus say, “Go not from house to house”? Did not the disciples break bread from house to house (Act_2:46)? Did not Paul at Ephesus teach from house to house (Act_20:20)? But what Jesus warned the seventy against was this. It was against accepting that endless hospitality that to this day is the custom in an Eastern village. It was against frittering all their priceless hours away in accepting the little invitations they would get. They must remember how the days were flying. They must never lose sight of their magnificent work. The time is short, and all must give way to this—the preaching of the Kingdom and healing the sick.
Their Success Brought Joy to Christ
The seventy did their work, then, and came home again (for it was always home where Jesus was); and when Jesus heard their story and saw their joy, there fell a wonderful gladness on His heart, This Man of Sorrows was often very joyful, but never more so than in His friends’ success. Now is not that a Comrade for us all? Is not that a Companion who will make life rich? We are so ready to envy one another. We cannot hear about a brother’s triumphs but it sends a sting into our hearts. Jesus exults when His nameless children prosper. He is jubilant, in heaven, when I succeed. It is worthwhile to master self; it is worthwhile to be a Christian, in my own nameless way, when I have a Friend like that to please.