03 July 2016

Before the Face of Christ Wherever He Goes

In the Old Testament, seventy-some persons of the family of Jacob entered the land of Egypt in the days of Joseph, thus bringing the people and presence of Yahweh into a new place.

Several centuries later, when Moses led the Children of Israel in the Exodus out of Egypt, he appointed seventy-some elders and ordained them with the Spirit of God to assist him in caring for the people.  For the Israelites were now the people of God on their way to the Land of Promise.

In later generations, it was commonly understood that seventy-some nations constituted all the tribes and languages of people in the entire world.  And so, for example, in popular tradition, a Greek translation of the Old Testament was known as the “Septuagint,” because it was said that seventy-some scholars — representing Jews from all the nations of the world — had come together to produce it.  In this way, the Word of God was rendered accessible to those around the globe.

Now, as Jesus makes a bee-line for Jerusalem, His face set resolutely on His Cross and Passion, His hand upon the plow with no thought of looking back, He makes provision for His Church on earth: He establishes His people and His presence in every time and place.  He causes His Word to be preached to all the nations, that those of every tribe and language might be re-constituted as members of His Body and as citizens of His Kingdom through Holy Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  And He shares His Table fellowship with sinners all over the world.

He has already called and sent His Twelve Apostles — the new Patriarchs of a new Israel, unique in their office and authority, superceding even the Prophets of the Old Testament because they see and hear what all the Prophets waited for.  But now He also provides for the continuation of the Apostolic Ministry by appointing and ordaining seventy-some others: seventy-some members of a new family, who go before the face of Christ into new places and territories; seventy-some shepherds of this growing flock, who lead the lambs and sheep of God into the Promised Land; seventy-some preachers of the Word, who bring the Gospel and the Sacraments to all nations.

Though not Apostles, per se, the Seventy(-two) are sent in the same way as the Apostles — in the Greek, they are “apostelled.”  And as such, they are the beginning of all those “Apostolic” Ministers of Christ who follow in the footsteps of the Apostles as pastors of the Church on earth, even to the close of the age.

To be “apostelled” in this way is to receive what we in our day call the “power of attorney.”  That is to say, a sent one speaks and acts with the legal and binding authority of the one who has sent him, as the official and personal representative of the sender.  So binding was this “apostolic” authority that the Jews had a saying: “The apostle of a man is equal to the man himself.”  So also the Word of Jesus this morning: “He who hears you, hears Me.”

Now, two things, in particular, are made absolutely clear and emphatic by St. Luke in this Gospel:

There is, first of all, the utter and complete nearness and “real presence” of Jesus Christ Himself in the preaching and Ministry of those whom He has sent, and so also the nearness and presence of the Kingdom of God in Christ.

And second, this Ministry of the Word of Christ is ever and always the way that He is received.  For He sends His preachers to every place where He Himself shall go.  Wherever the sent ones of Christ are not received, neither will Christ Himself remain.  Which is to say, that one does not and cannot have Christ apart from the preaching of His Gospel and the administration of His Sacraments in His Church by those whom He has sent in His Name and stead.

In contrast to the aspirations of the sinful human heart, it is not the world that draws near to God or enters into His Kingdom — not by good works, not by pious thoughts and feelings, not by sincere efforts, and not by any choices or decisions.  But the Kingdom of God draws near to the world in Christ Jesus, and Christ Jesus draws near to you in the preaching and Ministry of those whom He has sent.  You have only to receive this gracious gift of His presence.

Because the Lord has so chosen to come near to this world by way of His Apostolic Ministers, it is by all means necessary to do as He commands, that is, to beseech the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into His Harvest.  And according to His promise, that even before we call He answers, the Lord responds immediately and begins to provide the workers He requires, in this case by sending the Seventy(-two).

They are sent, two-by-two, to do what Jesus does: To preach the presence of the Kingdom, to heal and perform miracles, and to speak “Peace” to houses where they are received with hospitality and table fellowship.  But like Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy(-two) must also be prepared for the rejection of themselves and their preaching of the Kingdom of God.  For this rejection is a sign of the Holy Cross, which they too must carry, as Christ has carried it for them.

Not just what they say and preach, but who they are and Whom they represent — and what they do in the Name and stead of Jesus Christ — all of this is more than just a message or merely news and information.  It is the drawing near and the real presence of the Kingdom of God in Christ.

The focus of the Seventy(-two), and of pastors to this day, must be on this heavenly gift of grace — not upon sensational success or visible achievement.  For their names are written in God’s Book of Life, beside the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the chosen people of old.  And they are part of a pattern which stretches back to the Old Testament Prophets, but which is centered in Jesus, the Prophet par excellence, who testifies to God’s presence and salvation through preaching and teaching and miracles.  So also do His sent ones speak His Word and represent His Person in their Ministry, in accordance with His Word and promise.  As we confess, they act “in His stead and by His command,” and this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as by Christ Himself.

So to be “on the Way” of Christ, on the Way of His Cross, these men must travel with the same single-mindedness of purpose as Christ Himself on His journey to Jerusalem.  They are not to engage in trivialities, nor in the distractions and pursuits of the world, but to approach and serve the Lord’s people with His Peace.

Like the Twelve Apostles sent before them, the Seventy(-two) are not to carry any provisions for the journey.  Instead, they are given to bear and carry the Cross of Christ and His suffering.  For they represent emissaries who have forgotten the things of this world, who must depend upon the care and protection of others.  In fact, as Jesus indicated last week, they have renounced their homes and their families.  Their new kin are those who receive them and their word of Peace.  They are, therefore, not to rely upon themselves and their own resources, but to rest their entire hope on the Lord alone and on His Word of promise that nothing will by any means be allowed to hurt them.  Like the Levites of the Old Testament, their sole inheritance is the Lord Himself.

Not only are they New Testament Levites, the Seventy(-two) are sent as “lambs among wolves,” which implies the sacrificial character of their office and mission.  They will be rejected, as Christ Jesus is, and suffer the consequences of ushering in the Kingdom of God.  They are sent to carry out a cruciform Ministry of preaching and healing, for which they will be met with the hostility of the world and its violence.  Like their Lord Jesus, they will become the sacrificial victims of His Gospel, which calls for repentance and a reversal of the world’s values and priorities.  Hence, they are indeed sacrificial lambs, who are sent with full knowledge of the world’s enmity against them.  But in their proclamation they will show that they are not ashamed of Jesus and His Words.

Moreover, the Seventy(-two) carry in themselves, in their own bodies, Jesus’ redemption and His Peace.  For that Peace has come down from heaven in Jesus, and His Apostolic Ministers now bestow it in His Name and by His Word.  As His emissaries, they now represent Jesus.  And as Saint Paul would later write, concerning himself and others, they carry in their bodies the death of Jesus, so that His life may also be manifest in their bodies.

Or again, as we have heard Saint Paul describe so vividly in our Epistle this morning, those who are sent bear in their own bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus.  For those who are sent by Christ bear in themselves, in their conduct of the Ministry, the very Person of Christ Himself — to be received in faith by those who will receive them; but also to bear His Holy Cross and Passion in the rejection and persecution of those who will not.

So it is that our Lord provides for those situations in which His Apostolic Ministers will be rejected: “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.’”

This is a highly serious matter, one not to be taken lightly.  For a Minister of Christ to shake off the dust from his feet against a town or congregation is to place evidence on record for the Final Judgment, that the Kingdom of God has come to that place, and it has been rejected!

It is for this very reason that the Seventy(-two) are sent out in pairs, two-by-two, in keeping with the Old Testament requirement of at least two witnesses for any legal testimony.  Not only as witnesses of Christ to those who receive them, but as witnesses in the Final Judgment against those who do not receive them.

Whatever the excuses might be, for those who thus reject the Apostolic Ministers of Christ, the judgment will be more severe upon them than it is against the wicked Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Not only because this sin, above all others, is so terrible, but especially because it is the rejection of forgiveness and life and salvation in Christ Jesus.

But now, by the same token, let the Word of Jesus ring in the ears of those whom He has sent, and in the ears of those, like you, to whom His messengers are sent.  Twice He tells them to say that the Kingdom of God has come near.  For in the very preaching and healing of His sent ones, the Kingdom of God is already a present reality, and the kingdom of Satan is firmly defeated.

In the proclamation of the Seventy(-two), and so also in the proclamation of your pastor, week after week, the presence of Christ to redeem a lost and dying world is at hand — ensuring that His Kingdom will triumph — according to His promise, “He who hears you, hears Me.”  And those who thus speak for Christ should not fear any foe, even though Satan himself will assault them for their preaching of Christ and His Word, because Christ Jesus guarantees that nothing of Satan will by any means hurt them.

In the Old Testament Book of Job, Satan is revealed as the accuser of sinners before the judgment seat of God, the prosecuting attorney against mankind.  And sadly enough, we have all provided him with more than enough evidence to convict each and every one of us for all eternity.  But his case against you is thrown out, and he is thrown out, whenever Christ Jesus enters in as your Advocate and your Defender; for by the means of His Gospel–Word and Sacrament, He interjects Himself and His Cross between you and the judgment of God.  In such a case, Satan has no means or any way of harming you, nor of making any accusation against you stick.

Of course, as he did with Job (under the tolerance of God, who holds all things in His hands), Satan may attack your temporal circumstances, your earthly existence, and your body and life in this world, with all sorts of tricks and trials and temptations and crosses to bear, in an effort to get you to curse God and reject His Christ.  But do not fall for it or succumb to his trap.  It is a lie.

It is not the case that being a Christian will protect you from any and all harm and danger that might come your way in this life.  On the contrary, the Lord promises His people a share in His Cross and suffering.  But in Christ Jesus, no such harm and danger will ever put your soul and body under the judgment of damnation.  In Christ you are preserved for His salvation, ready to be revealed in the last day, but already come near to you in the preaching of His Gospel, in His Word of Absolution, and in His Body and Blood, given and poured out for you who are His own.  In fact, already by your Holy Baptism, your name has been recorded in the Lord’s Book of eternal life.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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